Supporting the call for sanctions against the Israeli academic institutions by Emmanuel Farjoun

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By Emmanuel Farjoun | AURDIP | 23/07/2010 |

Recently there was an extensive discussion in Haaretz about the call for sanctions against Israeli industry and institutions, including academia. Here are some reasons for supporting sanctions.

Take the example of academia. The present situation in which the EU considers Israel as almost equal to any European country in regards to most academic grants and supports is conditioned, in documents from the Oslo era, by the respect of human rights. These agreements demand from Israel to respect the basic human rights of the Palestinian population under its control. Since it is clear to me that Israel, including its universities, do not respect many of the very basic human rights, these special privileges should be stopped. Removing them is hardly a sanction, but it is still seen as such.

« How can you call for sanctions against your very workplace ? » we are asked. My response : Any worker/employee who engages in a strike action, hurts, deliberately, of course, the very institution, office, or enterprise where he works. This include medical staff, academic and workforce in any factory. Our union engaged in very long strike actions against out very own university. Those who are surprised by a call that might hurt my very university, my very colleagues, and myself, forget that just as in any strike, we consider a temporary sanction against Israeli Intitutions as a tool to improve our overall situation, including our universities.

So we are no so different from a football player in South Africa who called for sanctions against South Africa sports teams, or a professor who strikes in order to further improve his mode of living, even if it not so bad.

At present Israeli universities and society at large are captured and degraded by the apartheid-stricken Israeli state, Israeli policies and Israeli Jewish culture. Israel has been swept for forty years by manic land-grabbing and outright denial of many basic right to almost four million people. The most important of them is the right to be a citizen of some state, formally expressed in the basic human right declaration posted on the walls of too few Israel high schools. No
point in detailing further the atrocities propagated with and without the excuses of the security of masters against their (not very often) revolting slaves. Enough to say that in my eyes they are comparable to apartheid regime.

Will sanction really hurt Israeli society ?

Luckily, it is clear that Israel is so sensitive to real outside pressure by Europe and USA that even a hint of real sanctions can alter its addiction to de-facto modern enslavements of millions of people. Modern housing in Ramalla notwithstanding --- stateless persons, in the case of Israel-Palestine, just as slaves in Rome, may live materially better than some full-status free men--- the civilian status of most Palestinian remains one without some minimal protection against systemic kick-your-neighbor policies of Israel. Witness the very recent deportations, expulsion and killing without trial.

In such a grave and open ended state of affairs, almost any form of non-violent struggle and civil disobedience against these well documented practices and policies can rightly be considered.

You may further ask why single out universities. Well, first, one does not single them out. Second, it is more moral, not less moral, to try to struggle in one’s own society, office, community then to call for sanctions against someone else. Had we called only for some anti-high-tech or anti-settlement sanctions one would rightly say : « Ha, you are protecting your own domain while attacking others.. »

Third, the universities as a heaven of relatively well educated people who know the world better than many others, who read some philosophy, who know about Rome, the US slavery system, South Africa, and have a special responsibility to act to ameliorate and soften the impact of the all embracing Israeli occupation-apartheid regime. Now, unfortunately the universities have done nothing of this kind. Notwithstanding the very few very super-talented Arab scientists they employ and the many Israeli Arabs they educate.

Consider the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Although is situated right in the middle of Arabic speaking neighborhood of Jerusalem, its academic services to this community are far less than minimal. Of course no basic courses are give in Arabic (it is the Hebrew University) say, to prepare them to study history, science, or Arabic language and culture. The department of Arabic studies is minimal too. My colleague Levi, former dean, told me some stories about artificial high barriers for Arab students in medicine. To some, these problems may seem slight, to me they look like a major negligence of basic responsibilities toward the people of the city where the Hebrew University is situated. When coupled with the general apartheid regime, they merit a sharp response and pressure.

To recapitulate, in a small and westward-looking Israel, no pressure is as effective as outside pressure even though it runs counter to the basic knee-jerk instinct of tribal solidarity.

Emmanuel Farjoun is Professor of Mathematics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.