It has long been the case that Israel sought to undermine Palestinian civil society by attacking its educational institutions. “In 2007, Al Jazeera’s Witness strand commissioned a special series, Two Schools in Nablus, from filmmakers Tom Evans and George Azar, which documented the extraordinary daily struggle of getting and delivering an education under the constant threat of violence and intimidation.” Recently, as part of its REWIND, Al Jazeera “updates some of the channel’s most memorable and award-winning documentaries of the past decade. We find out what happened to some of the characters in those films and ask how their stories have changed in the years since our cameras left.”
Click here to watch Two Schools in Nablus.
In October 2016, The New York Review of Books published a statement calling for an Economic Boycott and Political Nonrecognition of the Israeli Settlements. Over 70 American intellectuals signed the statement, which endorses the politics of boycott in response to Israeli settlement policy in the Occupied Territories. But the statement stops with the settlements and does not address Israel’s responsibility for the settlements or the draconian measures used by Israel to control, police and punish the Palestinian population in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Israel. Writing for The Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah noted that “This is precisely the kind of attempt to co-opt the success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that Columbia University professor Joseph Massad cautions about in a 2014 article for The Electronic Intifada: liberal Zionists aim to redefine and redirect the movement’s strength and efforts towards preserving, instead of challenging, Israel as a racist, apartheid and colonial state.”
In a letter to the editor which appeared in the NYRB (included below), another group of American intellectuals committed to Palestinian solidarity have challenged the limited statement supporting a boycott of only the settlements, and reasserted the Palestinian call for Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS).
David Simpson is Distinguished Professor of English at University of California, Davis; he received the G. B. Needham Endowed Chair in English in 2008. He previously he taught at Columbia, University of Colorado, Northwestern University, and Cambridge. He is a member of the editorial boards of Cambridge Studies in Romanticism and Modern Language Quarterly. Simpson is the author of numerous books, including Situatedness; or Why we Keep Saying Where We’re Coming From (Duke U P, 2002), 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (U of Chicago P, 2006); Wordsworth, Commodification, and Social Concern: The Poetics of Modernity (Cambridge U P, 2009); and Romanticism and the Question of the Stranger (U of Chicago P, 2013). He has received numerous scholarly awards, and in 2016, he became a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Science. In summer 2016, he traveled to the West Bank.
Sign the “Open Letter” calling on the MLA membership to endorse a resolution in support of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Only the signatures of (former or current) MLA members will be included.
I have just returned from my first trip to Israel-Palestine. I went as a committed supporter of the BDS campaign, so yes, I was predisposed to feel judgmental. And even during a period of relative calm, with the IDF in (mostly) stand-down mode for Ramadan, the atmosphere of oppression was palpable. I will spare you numerous anecdotes of and insights into the mechanisms of occupation, from the relatively petty to the outright fatal. Suffice it to say that there is no significant freedom for Palestinians, either in Israel or in the West Bank (Gaza was of course off limits: no one can get in or out except illegally and at real personal risk). And without basic freedom there is no academic freedom, which is after all what we scholars are supposed to care about. The nuts and bolts of day to day oppression and persecution will be the topic of another narrative. Vividly as they were brought home to me, they are not news to those who have been following the situation with any attention.
. . . no one said anything to suggest that the decisions of academic groups like the MLA were other than extremely important. They are watched especially closely by the Palestinians, and are taken as tangible evidence that the situation of Palestinian scholars is not forgotten, that they are still regarded as members of an international academic community . . .
Here I want to write not about what confirmed, over and over again, and made more visceral and immediate what I already knew from the recounted lives of others, but what surprised me. I came to realize that I have been functioning with a not uncommon cynicism about how much (i.e. how little) it matters that armchair activists thousands of miles away are trying to draw attention to the plight of faculty and students seeking to pursue first and higher degrees and minimally flourishing careers in conditions of coercive, racist oppression and outright violence. Who really cares, I have been thinking to myself, if the good folk of the MLA do or do not pass a resolution in support of BDS? What difference will it make, in a world governed by ruthless neoliberal values and an international security industry to which the Israeli government has hugely contributed and from which it continues to profit, if a few humanities professors bang their shoes on the table and express polite dissent? I had felt a strong obligation to support BDS, but had no clear sense of its impact or likely success. I felt I was doing the right thing, but very much for its own sake.
A milestone in the global BDS and Palestine solidarity movement was achieved in the last week of September 2016 when more than 1,000 University faculty across the world signed a published petition condemning the Islamophobic, racist and sexist website Canary Mission: http://againstcanarymission.org
As reported previously on the MLAboycott website in August, Canary Mission is an anonymous on-line website dedicated to smearing, blacklisting and harassing Palestine solidarity activists. Continue reading