But something is changing [over Israel/Palestine]. Perhaps last summer’s panoramic horror beamed from Lebanon on to the world’s TV screens provided the catalyst. Or perhaps cynicism of Bush and Blair and the incessant use of the inanity, “terror”, together with the day-by-day dissemination of a fabricated insecurity in all our lives, has finally brought the attention of the international community outside the rogue states, Britain and the US, back to one of its principal sources, Israel.
I got a sense of this recently in the United States. A full-page advertisement in the New York Times had the distinct odour of panic. There have been many “friends of Israel” advertisements in the Times, demanding the usual favours, rationalising the usual outrages. This one was different. “Boycott a cure for cancer?” was its main headline, followed by “Stop drip irrigation in Africa? Prevent scientific co-operation between nations?” Who would want to do such things? “Some British academics want to boycott Israelis,” was the self-serving answer. It referred to the University and College Union’s (UCU) inaugural conference motion in May, calling for discussion within its branches for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. As John Chalcraft of the London School of Economics pointed out, “the Israeli academy has long provided intellectual, linguistic, logistical, technical, scientific and human support for an occupation in direct violation of international law [against which] no Israeli academic institution has ever taken a public stand”.
The swell of a boycott is growing inexorably, as if an important marker has been passed, reminiscent of the boycotts that led to sanctions against apartheid South Africa. Both Mandela and Desmond Tutu have drawn this parallel; so has South African cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils and other illustrious Jewish members of the liberation struggle. In Britain, an often Jewish-led academic campaign against Israel’s “methodical destruction of [the Palestinian] education system” can be translated by those of us who have reported from the occupied territories into the arbitrary closure of Palestinian universities, the harassment and humiliation of students at checkpoints and the shooting and killing of Palestinian children on their way to school.