Cutting through the bullshit.

Thursday 31 May 2007

Paths to peace

As reported on Jew sans frontières, lenin’s tomb, Ha’aretz, and everywhere, Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) voted by a large margin yesterday to submit ‘the full text of the Palestinian boycott call to all branches for information and discussion'. That would be the call for the academic boycott of Israeli universities by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

While this is of course a very welcome step towards the isolation of Israel, as I wrote in December, although I have reservations about sanctions, and an academic boycott in particular, as a tactic, the call by Palestinian unions and academics for it trumps my reservations.

One of the strongest arguments I’ve encountered in support of the boycott is the self serving hypocrisy of those who bleat about infringing academic freedom for Israelis while issuing not so much as a peep against the almost total eradication of academic activity of any kind in Palestine, both for Palestinian academics and students and for anyone wanting to do research in the Occupied Territories.

In this connection, Dr Rima Merriman of Arab American University in Jenin writes of a student who had applied for

a Paths to Peace scholarship to attend NYU for a year. There were six scholarships offered, three for Israeli students and three for Gaza and WB students. Over fifty applications were submitted and our student was shortlisted and invited to an Jerusalem…But how to get to Jerusalem? [Palestinians require permits to enter Israel, not readily obtainable] He called the coordinator of the scholarship, a Professor Zweig, and said he needed a letter to submit to the Israeli military post at Salem here in Jenin in order to get a permit. He submitted his request and was told he would get a permit, but when the Israeli official called him in for an interview, he was bluntly told that the price of the permit was to "cooperate" - i.e., inform on the people around him in his village or on campus, etc. He ended up not getting a permit…Not only that, any hope of his ever getting to the US is probably non-existent now, because the visa computers of the US consulate are apparently on the same network as Israeli so-called "intelligence" networks - no questions asked. In fact, one of the rationales used by Professor Zweig for NOT conducting the interviews in Ramallah is that a. Israeli students wouldn't have been able to get to them, and b. if our student couldn't get to Jerusalem, he wouldn't be able to get a visa to the US and that would be that. Apologetically, he explained that this brick road to peace he is coordinating has nothing to do with politics!...

I hasten to recall that a much more extensive and broadly supported boycott of apartheid South Africa was first called in 1959. Even though the Black population comprised an 80% majority in South Africa, while the populations of Palestinians and Jews within historic Palestine is currently about even; even though the South African economy depended crucially on Black labour while the Israeli economy was founded on ‘Hebrew labour’ and has been conscientiously reducing Palestinian labour in Israel and the settlements since 1999; even though Black South Africans had a strong union movement and an armed insurgency and didn’t have to contend with anything resembling Holocaust guilt, it still took 35 years before those sanctions achieved the end of apartheid. So don’t hold your breath.

[Thanks to Tony Greenstein for the Paths to Peace story.]

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