Over 300 academics primarily specializing in the Middle East have released an open letter calling for an academic boycott of Israel over its actions in Gaza and elsewhere.
The list of signatories includes over 20 professors or postdoctoral fellows at Ivy League schools. Several other elite global universities are represented as well, including McGill University in Canada, the University of Tokyo in Japan, and both Oxford and Cambridge in the United Kingdom. The initial letter originally consisted primarily of experts on the Middle East, but since its publication many professors from other fields have endorsed the letter as well.
“World governments and mainstream media do not hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law,” the letter says. “We, however, as a community of scholars engaged with the Middle East, have a moral responsibility to do so.”
The scholars attack Israel not only for its recent incursion into Gaza, but also for “the occupation and dispossession in East Jerusalem, the Naqab (Negev), and the West Bank; the construction of walls and fences around the Palestinian population, [and] the curtailment of Palestinian freedom of movement and education.” They also put emphasis on the damage suffered by several Palestinian schools due to raids and bombing from the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The letter calls upon other Middle East scholars to follow the current signatories in undertaking a general boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Such a boycott will include refusing to teach or attending conferences at Israeli schools and declining to publish scholarly work in any journals based in Israel.
The letter says punishing Israeli academic institutions for the actions of the wider Israeli state is justified due to “complicity” by said institutions, which it says have offered “unconditional support” to the IDF.
The scholars say their boycott will continue until Israel meets three demands. First, they say that Israel must “end its siege” of the Gaza strip and dismantle all settlements in land acquired in 1967 (which includes the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights). Second, they say Israel must recognize the “full equality” of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens. Lastly, they say Israel must grant a “right of return” that would allow Palestinians to return to lands and properties lost in the wake of Israel’s 1948 war of independence.
The demands are those of the wider BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement which seeks to force a change in Israeli policy by economically isolating the country and turning it into a pariah. The BDS movement has previously been endorsed by several academic groups, most notably the American Studies Association, as well as prominent individual academics such as physicist Stephen Hawking.
However, BDS has been subject to a great deal of criticism from both defenders and critics of Israel, who say the movement’s demands are too extreme and amount to a denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that combats anti-Semitism and defends Israel, was sharply critical of the letter.
“The letter is another misguided, ideologically driven example of academics with a history of bashing Israel. It promotes a strategy that undermines peace, and goals that would lead to the elimination of Israel as a Jewish State,” a spokesperson for the ADL told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “BDS is a failed strategy, not supported by fair-minded people of good will. Many of the letter’s signatories are long-standing and well-known anti-Israel activists within academia.”
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