Against the academic boycott of Israel

Ron Evans

This is an updated version of an article written in December 2002.
Sadly the academic boycott is still a timely topic in 2011.



Author and peace activist Amos Oz observed [1] that Palestinians are simultaneously engaged in two wars: a just war against occupation, and an unjust war aimed at destroying Israel. Willful blindness towards the second war is a hallmark of anti-Israel prejudice, and is a common denominator in petitions for academic boycott of Israel.

Under the mantle of a general concern for human rights, a group of scientists circulated the following declaration in April 2002 [2] :

CALL FOR A BOYCOTT OF ISRAELI SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTIONS
The campaign against the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority launched at the end of March 2002 by the government headed by Ariel Sharon, in defiance of United Nations Resolutions and the Geneva Conventions, has led to a military reoccupation of the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to a dramatic increase in human rights violations. Under these circumstances, I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities. I will attend no scientific conferences in Israel, and I will not participate as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies. I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on an individual basis.

The boycotters shamelessly omit that Israel's military reoccupation was a response to a massive campaign of suicide bombing.  In March 2002, the month scornfully referenced in the declaration, Israel suffered a tenfold increase in casualties over the previous month: 130 dead and 645 injured [3]. Relative to total population, this is equivalent to 7000 French or 33,000 American casualties, all from attacks designed to maximize civilian deaths.  Had the French or Americans been victims of this level of terrorism, they would have mounted a vigorous military response.

Those who view these attacks as resistance to the 1967 occupation are hard-pressed to explain the attacks that have occurred every year since 1948 [4]. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), formed to liberate Palestine (aka all of Israel), originated in 1964, not 1967. The Intifada is not simply about territories occupied in 1967. As we fully document below, Hamas and other Palestinian militant organizations contend that they will settle for nothing less than the dissolution of the entire Jewish state.

While Israel must be accountable for her transgressions, there is enormous inequity in a boycott that punishes Israel while ignoring the relentless attacks of implacable Palestinian terrorist organizations.  PFLP, responsible for suicide bombings and the 2001 assassination of Israel's Tourism Minister Ze'evi, has the goal of retaking all of Palestine from Israel [5]. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, responsible for over 20 major suicide bombings in the period 2001 - 2003 [6],   declares that all peaceful compromise must be rejected and that martyrdom operations should continue until the Jewish State is destroyed [7].   In 2002, Islamic Jihad's secretary-general Ramadan Shalah defined the goal of the Islamic movement within Palestine as "liberating Palestine, all of Palestine, and eliminating the Zionist state within it" [8].   Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam promised that resistance will continue until all of Israel is replaced by an Islamic State [9]. The radical Islamic organization Hamas averaged more than one major suicide bombing per month during 2001 - 2003, killing hundreds of Israeli civilians [10].  

Hamas admits outright that these attacks are not simply a response to occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.  To Hamas, all of Israel is occupied; Article 13 of the Hamas Charter [11] proclaims

"...the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion..."
Hamas's animus to destroy Israel is conflated with antisemitism [12]. Article 32 of the Hamas Charter [13] resurrects a notorious antisemitic forgery:
"After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion', and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying."
Hamas makes no secret that its goal is to replace Israel with an Islamic state, from "the river to the sea" [14], [15], [16], [17].  From the New York Times (August 21, 2005 front page):
Hamas has a "mission," said Ziad Abu Amr, a political scientist and independent legislator who serves as a liaison between Mr. Abbas and Hamas. "They want to Islamicize the state and society. Yes, in the final analysis, they want control."
On December 29, 2002, Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin said to a crowd of over 15,000 supporters in Gaza [18],
"The Zionist entity will be destroyed within the first quarter of this century. I ask you to be patient. We will continue our martyrs operations until the end of the Israeli occupation."
In a 2002 interview, Roger Gaess asked Yassin:
"When you refer to ending the occupation, do you mean the occupation since 1967 or the whole deal?"
Yassin answered, "All of Palestine is occupied." [19].

Abdel Aziz Rantisi, who succeeded Yassin as top leader of Hamas in March 2004, had been opposed to peace with Israel since cofounding Hamas in 1987. In June 2003, Rantisi said, "I swear we will not leave one Jew in Palestine. " [20]

After Arafat's death on November 11 2004, new President Mahmoud Abbas suggested that this was an opportune time for nonviolence. Hamas spokesman Ahmad Hajj Ali countered that Hamas will not yield to demands by the Palestinian leadership to stop attacks on Israel. He said,
"Hamas will continue to resist with arms until Palestine is liberated from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." [21]
In May 2005, Hamas released a statement referring to Israel as a "cancer" and promising to continue fighting "until the liberation of the last inch of our land and the last refugee heads back to his home." [22]

In a January 25, 2006 televised interview, Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar stated:
"Palestine means Palestine in its entirety - from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River, from Ras Al-Naqura to Rafah. We cannot give up a single inch of it. Therefore, we will not recognize the Israeli enemy's [right] to a single inch." [23]
In March 2006, Zahar became the Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs, but he didn't soften his position. In an April interview with Xinhua [24], he stated:
"I dream of hanging a huge map of the world on the wall at my Gaza home which does not show Israel on it... our dream [is] to have our independent state on all historic Palestine (including Israel). This dream will become real one day. I'm certain of this because there is no place for the state of Israel on this land."
Zahar made similar pronouncements in 2008; see the January 15, 2008 New York Times. And in a televised speech on November 5, 2010, he said:
"Blood continues to be shed, martyrs continue to fall, our sons continue to hoist the banner high, and Allah willing, their expulsion from Palestine in its entirety is certain to come. We are no weaker or less honorable than the peoples that expelled and annihilated the Jews. The day we expel them is drawing near." [25]
In January 2006, Hamas wrested control of the government from Fatah in the parliamentary election. Three months later, nine Israeli civilians were killed and sixty were injured in Islamic Jihad's suicide attack at a falafel restaurant. Hamas government's official spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that this attack was a legitimate response to Israeli crimes [26]. Five years later, Zuhri re-emphasized the need for continued attacks on Israel [27].

Ismail Haniyeh has been the Hamas Prime Minister since January 2006. On December 14, 2010, he told a crowd of tens of thousands of supporters in Gaza City that Hamas would never recognize Israel, and he said [28], [29],
"When I say 'the land of Palestine,' I am not referring [only] to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jerusalem. When I say that the occupation has no future on the land of Palestine, I refer to Palestine from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River, and from Rosh Hanikra to Rafah."
In the same speech, Prime Minister Haniyeh spoke of the "American enemy" and saluted the [Taliban] resistance in Afghanistan. Subsequently [30], [31], Haniyeh condemned the assassination of Osama bin Laden and referred to it as a continuation of an American policy to oppress and kill Arabs and Muslims. Haniyeh then suggested that bin Laden had a rightful place among "the martyrs and the righteous".

Boycotters turn a blind eye to Palestinian extremists leaders. Preoccupied with castigating Israel, they show no interest in supporting moderate Palestinian voices such as Salam Fayyad. (In contrast with Haniyeh, Fayyad expressed the hope that bin Laden's death "would mark the beginning of the end of a very dark era" [32].)

The Palestinian people must be answerable for systematic terrorism.  In June 2002, the approval rating for suicide bombings of Israeli civilians was over 60% [33].  At that time, a majority of Palestinians said that the Intifada's aim is to liberate all of historic Palestine, rather than to end occupation [34].  The JMCC polls over the next two years showed little change; throughout this period, over 60% approved of suicide bombings and less than half supported a two-state solution [35].  The February 2006 poll showed that only 56% of Palestinians supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, and support for a two-state solution rose to a high of 58% [36] . In ten subsequent polls between June 2006 and April 2010, support for a two-state solution has varied from highs of 55% (February 2009 and June 2009) to lows of 44% (October 2008 and April 2010) [37].

According to the Pew Research Center surveys, [38], 72% of Palestinian Muslims voiced confidence in Osama bin Laden in 2003. This figure dropped to 57% in 2007, 52% in 2009, and 34% in 2011.

Hamas leaders are greatly revered by the populace. On August 22, 2003, nearly 100,000 Palestinians crowded the streets to mourn the death of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab [39]. Abu Shanab, considered moderate by some, supported suicide bombings of civilians inside Israel and spoke of purifying Tel Aviv from the Jews (New York Times, October 28, 2000). On March 22, 2004, over 200,000 Palestinians, many in tears, marched in the funeral for slain Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin [40]. On April 18, 2004, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians mourned the death of assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi [41].

Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) has also been responsible for systematic terrorism. Following an Arafat speech in Ramallah (February 6, 2002) railing against infidels and hailing martyrs [42], the military wing of his own Fatah party (Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades) launched nine suicide bombings in quick succession [43].   Documents prove that the Palestinian Authority directly financed suicide bombings [44], [45]. The Palestinian Authority proudly accepted responsibility: "We have clearly declared that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are part of Fatah," said Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei in a June 2004 interview with the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat [46].

Khatibs (preachers) paid by the PA and schools run by the "Islamic Association" have exhorted children from kindergarten up to kill Jews and die as martyrs [47], [48]. In 2002, Voice of Palestine, the official PA radio station, regularly referred to murders of Israeli civilians as acts of heroic martyrdom; see for example [49]. A video clip from 2004 [50] shows Arafat inciting a crowd of Boy Scouts to die for Jerusalem.

Palestinian TV programs continue to teach children that all of Israel is occupied Palestine; see the sample videos [51], [52], [53], [54], [55], [56], [57], [58], [59], [60], [61], [62]. Palestinian children have also been taught to hate and kill Jews and aspire to martyrdom; see the sample videos [62a], [63], [64], [65], [66], [67], [68], [69], [70], [71], [72], [73], [74], [75], [76], [77], [78], [79], [80]. Moreover, PA TV and Hamas TV regularly broadcast astonishingly hateful antisemitic messages [81], [82], [83], [84], [85], [86], [87], [88], [89], [90], [91], [92], [93], [94], [95], [96], [97], [98], [99], [100], [101], [102], [103], [104], [105], [106], [107], [108], [109].

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, and a strong critic of Israel, stated in 2002 [110],

"The people who carry out suicide bombings are not martyrs, they're war criminals, and so are the people who help to plan such attacks. The scale and systematic nature of these attacks sets them apart from other abuses committed in times of conflict. They clearly fall under the category of crimes against humanity. ...The greatest failure of President Arafat and the PA leadership is their unwillingness to deploy the criminal justice system to deter the suicide bombings, particularly in 2001, when the PA was most capable of doing so."

The state of Israel does not appear on Middle East maps in Palestinian school texts [111]. According to the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information [112],
"Israel, as a political entity, does not appear on any map, nor do any Israeli towns or villages, and a good number of maps show Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as one geographic entity."
For examples of maps omitting Israel, see [113], [114]. Such denial reflects the view that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Tawfik Hamid writes [115], "It is impossible to negotiate with a partner about borders if this partner does not accept your existence to begin with." And on March 19, 2011, President Barack Obama said, "How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question." [116]

There are troubling questions about the boycotters' motivation. Why does the declaration call for sanctions against Hebrew University but not Al Quds University? If Israeli academics should pay for human rights violations of their government, why should Palestinian academics be absolved from the human rights violations of theirs? Why do boycotters reserve their indignation for academics of a single nation? They express no reservations about attending conferences in China, even though Tibet has suffered under occupation for over 50 years [117].  They do not object to refereeing for Iranian, Syrian or Turkish journals, despite subjugation of the Kurds and occupation of Cyprus [118], [119]. They do not spurn hiring decisions at Kuwait University, despite Kuwait's expulsion of more than 400,000 Palestinians after the Gulf War [120]. And why have they been willing to attend conferences in the US and the UK following the occupation of Iraq? [121]

The academic boycott is an invidious form of collective punishment that for the most part discriminates based on nationality. Would it be acceptable for opponents of Hamas to boycott academics from Birzeit University simply because these academics are Palestinian? For those who counter that the boycott targets institutions rather than individuals, Neve Gordon (who supports a general boycott of Israel) explained in The Nation [122] why "an assault on the university is in fact an assault on its faculty".

Boycotters have sought to involve the American Mathematical Society (AMS) in advancing their agenda.  In late 2002, they attempted to elicit AMS endorsement for Palestinian academic freedom [123], while indicating no concern for the academic freedom of the 94 victims of the Hamas bombing a few months earlier at Hebrew University [124].

Stung by reproach from members of the mathematical community [125], boycotters lament in AMS Notices [126] that their intentions have been misunderstood.  Au contraire, their discriminatory anti-Israel agenda is all too transparent.

In March 2009, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated [127]:
"We believe academic boycotts were a bad idea in 2002 and are a bad idea now. Academic boycotts are inconsistent with the democratic values of academic freedom and free expression. We want to make clear that this position does not in any way discourage an open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of ways to resolve it. However, we expect that such a discussion would not be one-sided and would consider the behavior of all the relevant actors."
The boycotters have utterly failed to meet this expectation.



Epilogue:  For official responses to the academic boycott from organizations such as the American Mathematics Society and the American Physical Society, see [128]. For U.S. Congressional Bill H.Res.499 condemning the boycott, see [129]. In May 2003, two thirds of the 200 delegates of the UK's 46,000 member Association of University Teachers (AUT) voted against a call for an academic boycott of Israel [130]. In April 2005, the AUT  voted (96 to 92) to boycott two universities in Israel [131], but this vote was overturned the following month by a relatively large majority [132] . In June 2002, UMIST professor Mona Baker removed two colleagues from her private editorial board, saying that she no longer wanted "an official association with any Israeli" [133]. This elicited a new university rule that enjoins academics, in their capacity as employees, from engaging in an academic boycott of Israel [134]. In October 2003, Oxford University suspended professor of pathology Andrew Wilkie for two months because of his boycott of an Israeli graduate student based on nationality [135]. In March 2004, around 300 advocates of academic boycott issued a call for principal Israeli academics to come clean on their level of support for Israeli government policy [136]. (These 300 devotees of human rights expressed no interest in asking Palestinian academics to reveal the extent of their support for Hamas.) At the University and College Union (UCU) annual congress in Bournemouth, UK on May 27, 2009, a large majority of Lecturers voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israeli universities. Immediately afterwards, the UCU leadership nullified the vote, on the advice of their lawyers [137]. For further instances of anti-Israel academic boycotts, see [138].

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