Academic Boycott and Academic Activism

In her recent essay for Social Justice, Sunaina Maira provides analysis of the importance of Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.45.24 AMacademic boycott resolutions, both in their passage and in the spaces they create for dialogue, education, and democratization of the neoliberal university. She begins by noting, “Something unthinkable has happened in the United States in recent years: The boycott of Israeli academic institutions has expanded rapidly, with one major academic association after another endorsing the boycott or voting on boycott resolutions. Just as recently as in 2010, it was unimaginable for many, including Palestine solidarity activists and Palestinians themselves, that the academic boycott could win support in the United States. Our government, after all, is the most powerful ally of Israel and has provided unconditional military, political, and economic support to the Israeli state. Concomitantly, the issue of Palestinian liberation has historically been suppressed and subjected to censorship in the US academy and public sphere, representing what many describe as a new McCarthyism.” She goes on in this essay, found in full here to explore the significant role that the Palestine question and BDS have played in movements for social justice, and in challenging foundational colonial narratives. Maira also makes the case for the political principles that structure the boycott movement, and for the way it relies on autonomous grassroots mobilizing, done in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

She makes an argument that resolutions adopted by academic organizations are important not just for their outcomes, but because they create an important intellectual and political space, that contributes to the struggle to democratizing the neoliberal university. She concludes, “The boycott is thus central to the contemporary culture wars, and is an important site for academic activism and struggles for emancipation.”

As MLA Members for Justice in Palestine partake in this struggle with a boycott resolution—and build on the space for dialogue and education created by the Right to Enter Resolution passed at the 2014 Delegate Assembly—a resolution that received the majority of votes without reaching MLA’s required 10 percent threshold—Maira’s analysis of the importance of this campaign is timely and inspiring.