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Just the Facts: What You Need to Know About the BDS Movement


 HNN Hot Topics  The BDS Movement 

Social justice or academic censorship? Anti-Israel or Pro-Palestine? These are some of the questions that must be grappled with by those who are engaged in the intellectual battle that is taking place across universities, in editorials and journals, academic organizations and in every form of media possible. This is the battle for the academic boycott of Israel, which in itself is part of an even larger economic and cultural campaign.

In protest of Israeli settlers moving into the West Bank, Palestinians have begun a campaign to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctioning of Israeli businesses and universities. This movement, spurred by various Palestinian organizations, formed a coalition called the BDS National Committee or BNC. The BNC seeks to achieve these goals: ending Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantle the wall: recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.” The BNC is the focal point of the movement, and it oversees more than 20 Palestinian labor unions, charitable groups and youth groups.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is the organization that has been placed in charge of the academic portion of  the boycott by the BNC. PACBI holds the view that academic institutions and scholars are integral parts to Israel’s “regime of occupation, colonialism, and apartheid against the Palestinian people,” and argues that all Israeli academic organizations have been complicit through either silence or involvement in “diverting attention from Israel’s violation of international law and human rights.” PACBI attempts to urge institutions and individuals to end ties with their Israeli counterparts. This includes ceasing involvement on research projects, ending study abroad programs, abstaining from publishing in academic journals that are based in Israel or collaborate with them, and other activities. PACBI wants the boycott to continue until Israeli academia recognizes the “inalienable rights of the Palestinian people” and “end…complicity in violating Palestinian rights.”

 PACBI’s mission has slowly gained traction in the international community. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking has expressed support for the boycott movement, as has Israeli historian Ilan Pappe. Several academic organizations have lent their support to the boycott as well including the Association for Asian American Studies, the Association for Humanist Sociology, the American Studies Association , as well as 1,241 individual academics. 

 The boycott has drawn sharp criticism. The Anti-Defamation League has stated the boycott attempts to “demonize” Israel and that if the movement were successful in attaining the right of return for Palestinians, it would see Israelis become a minority in their own country.  Harvard University has also stated its opposition to the academic boycott movement, arguing that it is a “direct threat” to the idea of academic freedom.

 Palestine’s academic boycott movement, which aims to promote the viewpoint that Israeli scholars and universities are either complacent or proponents of Palestinian oppression, has been divisive. Individual scholars and entire organizations have issued their support for the movement, while other universities have stated their opposition to the boycott. PACBI is still organizing and the debates over whether or not to endorse the group’s call for a temporary end to cooperation with Israeli academics is continuing.

 In January the American Historical Association took up two resolutions critical of Israel at its annual Business Meeting.  The members present voted not to debate the resolutions.  Backers said they’d try again later.