This week a leading US Jewish newspaper, The Forward, has published an article with the headline “Palestinian-led movement to boycott Israel is gaining support”. It explains how the global and targeted “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” campaign against Israel has exploded due to Israel’s refusal to abide by international law by continually expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank and blockading 1.6 million Gazans.
Instead of addressing ways to alleviate this suffering, Philip Mendes and Nick Dyrenfurth (“Racism risk in call for Israeli boycott”, Focus, 19-20/9) accuse Australian supporters of the BDS movement, including me, of trying to “prevent a large number of students, Jewish and non-Jewish, from learning about the rich history of the Jewish people”. This is simply untrue.
Context is everything. For example, Israeli institutions, filmmakers, academics, security firms or universities directly connected to the ongoing subjugation of the Palestinian people will be isolated. Supporting in any way the ever-expanding occupation on Palestinian land, in direct contravention of international law, is intolerable to millions of concerned citizens around the world. Tellingly ignored by Mendes and Dyrenfurth is the fact that Palestinian institutions in the West Bank overwhelming support a global BDS campaign to highlight their desperate situation.
The point of an academic boycott of Israel is not to prohibit “all electronic communication”, as misleadingly stated by Philip Mendes and Nick Dyrenfurth. I myself hosted a talk at the University of Sydney by an Israeli academic earlier this year, and I’m inviting others to the international peace research conference we’re hosting in 2010.
It’s institutional ties, connecting us to the revenue streams of a strategic industry, that make us complicit in the brutal occupation of Palestinian territory and the impunity Israel has enjoyed, up to now, for its serial breaches of international law. In the same way, protests over the celebration of Tel Aviv in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival do not preclude invitations to individual directors, highlighting the iniquities of Israeli government policies, to show their work.
The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” initiative is spreading, notably to Britain’s Trade Union Congress, which adopted a boycott motion, by overwhelming vote at its annual conference last week, because millions of people around the world are determined to see change. No wonder defenders of the unjust status quo, such as Mendes and Dyrenfurth, are getting rattled.
Director, Centre for Peace and Conflict
Studies, University of Sydney