Once again the Israeli military has invaded a Palestinian university in the occupied territories. On Friday January 29, 2016, Israeli soldiers entered Abu Dis’ al-Quds Open University, wrecking facilities and confiscating equipment and documents. According to “Hassan Dweik, the university’s deputy head, . . . up to 300 soldiers stormed the campus, holding six security guards in a room and preventing them from leaving for two and a half hours. He said the soldiers raided the university’s Islamic studies department, as well as its student union offices after smashing their way through their doors.” (Ma’an News Agency, Jan 30, 2016)
Over the last several months, Israeli military operations have intensified the targeting of Palestinian universities and other civilian institutions in the occupied territories. On a daily basis, Israel’s occupation undermines Palestinian rights to education through the imposition of check points, denial of entry to visiting scholars, and limitations on materials, but the military assaults on the universities constitute extraordinary violation of Palestinian academic freedom. How are Palestinian students and faculty expected to carry out normal academic activities of holding classes, studying and doing research when their universities are subject to military attack? For a full report on the Jan 29, 2016 incident, see “Israeli forces storm al-Quds University, seize documents.”
In a paper presented at the 2016 MLA Convention, Bill Mullen gives an overview of the PACBI (The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) guidelines for the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli Universities.
He also shows how the guidelines are incorporated into the 2013 American Studies Association resolution to boycott Israeli Universities, which ASA members voted to pass by 2 to 1 margin in 2013. Mullen quotes from an ASA statement published after the boycott vote titled “What Does the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions Mean for the ASA?: “As a U.S.-based organization, the ASA condemns the United States’ significant role in aiding and abetting Israel’s violations of human rights against Palestinians and its occupation of Palestinian lands.”
Click on this link to download a pdf of Bill Mullen’s presentation:Bill Mullen MLA 2016
Bill V. Mullen is Professor of American Studies at Purdue University. He is the author of Un-American: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Century of World Revolution (2015 Temple). He is co-editor with Ashley Dawson of Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities (Haymarket). He is a member of the organizing collective of USACBI (United States Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) and faculty adviser to Purdue Students for Justice in Palestine.
At the MLA 2016 Convention in Austin, Fady Joudeh, the Palestinian poet and translator, gave a paper that focused on the implicit embargo of Palestinian Literature, which has gone for decades. He discusses the prime but not sole example of such censorship in the example of the poetry of the great late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. For decades Darwish’s poetry was near-invisible in America, which was all the more noticeable considering his grand stature in the world of letters. More recently, this implicit embargo manifests itself differently, in a lack of exposure in mainstream literary outlets. Currently the situation inside the West Bank and Gaza is essentially one where checkpoints for access to books dominates. Recently, several Palestinian or Arabic authors with Palestinian connections have been denied entry into the US. The implication of this implicit embargo has contributed to the continuation of seemingly inevitable erasure of Palestinian presence especially in the English language. The politics of dispossession and occupation persist in literature. In English there is little meaningful knowledge of Palestinian literature while knowledge, visibility and appreciation of Israeli literature abounds in comparison. Joudah eloquently calls for more translation of Palestinian literature and greater critical interest in Palestinian letters.
To download a pdf of Joudah’s MLA paper, click this link: Fady Joudah MLA 2016
Fady Joudah is a Palestinian American physician, poet, and translator. He is the recipient of the Griffin International Poetry Prize in 2013, for his translation of Ghassan Zaqtan’s Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me. Joudah’s poetry won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, and his translations of Mahmoud Darwish’s work earned him a Banipal prize from the UK and a PEN USA award. Alight and the ebook Textu, which is composed on cell phone in character count, are his most recent poetry collections from Copper Canyon Press.
W. J. T. Mitchell, editor of Critical Inquiry, reflects on the increased interest in Palestinian culture and politics at the 2016 MLA Convention in Austin. He also notes the growing commitment to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions among US scholars and students of languages and literatures. He writes: “There were no less than a dozen sessions devoted to the question of Palestine. Many of them were, of course, devoted to the movement known as BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction), which for the last ten years has been directed at Israel’s financial, agricultural, and military institutions and now includes academic and cultural institutions as well. Like the boycott of apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, the BDS movement seems to be reaching a critical mass in its effect on professional organizations in the American academy.” Mitchell then goes on to point out that these developments are “a far cry from the days when Palestine was only a distant rumor at the MLA, with the voice of Edward Said crying in the wilderness. Today numerous scholars from many different disciplines are converging on the issue, using their considerable skills of research and analysis, not only to illuminate the oppressive conditions of Palestinian life in Israel, but also to bring Palestinian culture into a new prominence.” You can read Mitchell’s post on the Critical Inquiry blog here: Palestine at the 2016 MLA
Below is link to Alex Lubin’s presentation at the 2016 MLA. The paper was given as part of the roundtable “What It Means for MLA Members to Support the Academic Boycott of Israel” (Austin, Jan. 8, 2016). Lubin situates BDS activism in relation to what he calls the de-facto boycott of Palestinians orchestrated by US Foreign policy, analyzing how US affective, diplomatic, and economic investment in Israel contributes to the epistemic and ontological erasure of Palestinians.
Download Lubin MLA 2016 Paper
Lubin is Professor and Chair of the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. He is the author of Romance and Rights: The Politics of Interracial Intimacy, 1945-1954 (2005) and Geographies of Liberation: The Making of an Afro Arab Political Imaginary (2014). He is also the editor of Revising the Blueprint: Ann Petry and the Literary Left and the co-editor of American Studies Encounters the Middle East (2016). This essay is a modified version of his chapter in Vijay Prashad’s Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation (Verso Books, 2015).
Sign an appeal to academics around the world to protest France’s law against BDS. Click here to read and sign the petition.
See the article in Libération on the October 2015 decision of a French court to prohibit the boycott of Israeli goods. Glenn Greenwald’s insightful analysis puts the court’s decision in a broader context, exposing the suspension of freedom of expression when it comes to criticism of Israel. Greenwald writes:
The absurdity of France’s celebrating itself for free expression was vividly highlighted by this week’s decision from that nation’s highest court, one that is a direct assault on basic free speech rights. The French high court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 political activists for the “crime” of advocating sanctions and a boycott against Israel as a means of ending the decades-long military occupation of Palestine. (The Intercept )
One of Greenwald’s most revealing observations is that many of those in high places who defended Charlie Hebdo‘s free speech, endorse the criminalization of BDS:
Where are all the newfound free speech activists who insisted after the Charlie Hebdo murders that a defense of free expression was so vital to all that is good and just in the Western world? Why isn’t the #JeSuisBDS hashtag trending in defense of these activists who have been persecuted — prosecuted — by France for their political views? The answer is clear: Many who reveled in wrapping themselves in the “free speech” banner earlier this year — beginning with France itself and extending throughout the West — have no genuine belief in that right. (The Intercept ) Continue reading
“It is beginning to seem as if the arrival of winter spells academic boycott season as well as the festive season,” writes David Lloyd in his recent contribution to Jadaliyyah. In the essay titled “Racism in the Defense of a Racist State: Some Reflections on BDS at the Modern Language Association,” Lloyd reports on the 2016 MLA convention and the growing support for an academic boycott resolution among members of the largest humanities professional association. He notes that during the two MLA debate panels included in the convention program, opponents of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, exposed “The intimate connection between the partial defense of academic freedom and the defense of Israel’s systemically racist state became all too apparent . . . It would be invidious to dwell on the breath-taking assertion let slip by one opponent of the boycott, that ‘Muslims are terrorists’, though it certainly revealed how swiftly indifference to the plight of Palestinians slips over into the scarcely concealed racism that underlies it.” Lloyd concludes with the affirming observation that, despite the important work that needs to be done within the MLA, “literary scholars . . . are ceasing to be intimidated or confused by the monotonous reiteration of misrepresentations and half-truths, slurs and invective, that have been the unchanging mantras of Israel’s supporters.”
David Palumbo-Liu reports on the statements of Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Minister of Education, who has called for “the permanent annexation of the West Bank, and also banned a book from being taught in Israeli schools.” Israeli politicians have long dreamed of annexing the Palestinian West Bank, which has been subject to a brutal military occupation since the 1967 War. They have also engineered a exceedingly narrow nationalist and exclusivist discourse that intolerant of cultural diversity or narratives that challenge the Jewish character of Israel.
On the first day of the MLA 2016 Convention in Austin (Thursday January 7), two academic boycott debate panels took place. MLA Members for Justice in Palestine organized the first debate. Opponents of academic boycott organized the second debate panel. Approximately 75 people attended the first debate panel, which included remarkable presentations by Saree Makdisi and Rebecca Comay. About half that number of MLA members were present at the second panel, which appeared to be a staged attempt to discredit the MLA for even allowing the debate to take place. The comparatively low attendance at the second panel suggests that a greater number of MLA members sympathize with the pro-boycott position. Furthermore, based on the force their presentations and the applause, supporters of the resolution who presented on the 2 panels clearly won the day. Continue reading