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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Targeted Academic BDS: A New Phase in the Movement?


Editorial Note

School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London announces referendum, to assess whether to boycott Israeli academic institutions, on February 23-27, 2015. 

SOAS has a long history of launching “anti” movements. Going back to the twenties and thirties of the previous century, SOAS was a hotbed of anti-colonial, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activity. 

In recent times, SOAS was one of the first to embrace BDS or even pioneer it. In late 2004, a little noticedconference took place in SOAS, where Ilan Pappe appeared to plead for a wide academic boycott against the Israeli academy.   In 2005 SOAS students were the first to vote for academic boycott of Israeli universities, a vote that the Student Union is still very proud for. 

It is no surprise that SOAS is taken the BDS into a new level by providing hand-tailored “charge sheets” for individual universities. As the items below indicate, according to the SOAS Student Union the Hebrew University has a long list of anti-Palestinian transgressions.  Part of it is built on Palestinian land, it offers classes to security personnel, has links to Ariel University that is based “in the West Bank colony of Ariel” and recognizes its degrees, and preferential treatment is offered to IDF solders “who are engaged in daily human rights violations of Palestinians.”  The video documenting the alleged military-academic collaboration pertains to Tzameret, a military medicine program in conjunction with the HUJ medical school.  

Given the pioneering role of SOAS, the new strategy of targeting a particular university and compiling a list of alleged charges can be expected to be adopted by other BDS groups.


SOAS BDS Campaign for Academic Boycott - SOAS Referendum on Academic Boycott

Hear the voices and see the faces of SOAS people calling you to vote YES at SOAS Referendum on Academic Boycott! It's time to boycott institutions complicit in occupation, apartheid, racism and war crimes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uL9GFMr_1ck&feature=youtu.be

Referendum to assess whether SOAS should boycott Israeli academic institutions.

At the end of February SOAS students and staff will be called to vote in a referendum about the possibility of implementing an Academic Boycott on Israeli institutions.

The Academic Boycott is part of the worldwide campaign of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel. This campaign has been called for by the Palestinian civil society.

The objectives of BDS are: 

1) the ending of Israeli occupation and the dismantling of the Wall;

2) the granting of full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel;

3) the assuring of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.

SOAS Student Union has for long time been supportive of the BDS campaign. No Israeli products have been sold in the SU shop for more than 15 years.

Now the call is to push SOAS Management to implement another aspect of the BDS Campaign, namely Academic Boycott, which means to refrain from any academic cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.

The SOAS referendum on the academic boycott of Israel has a clearly-defined target: the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ). SOAS maintains institutional ties with HUJ, which has a notorious record of providing assistance to groups committing human rights violations, including the Israeli army (IDF). We call on the SOAS community to vote YES in the referendum taking place between 23-27 February in order to pressure HUJ into upholding the principles of academic freedom.

How the Hebrew University facilitates human rights violations:

• Last summer, when Israel carried out “Operation Protective Edge” which claimed the lives of over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the Hebrew University declared that “it is joining the war effort to support its warrior students, in order to minimize the financial burden” on those who were called up to join the attack on Gaza. Here’s a link for further information and screenshots of the declaration: http://electronicintifada.net/…/warrior-students-how-israel…

• It is unintelligible to argue that a university that joins a “war effort” is free from the pressures of politics, let alone a safe space for dissident voices.

• The Hebrew University provides training for Shin Bet operatives. Shin Bet is Israel’s “General Security Service” notorious for the torture of Palestinian prisoners. In February 2013, a Palestinian prisoner, Arafat Jaradat, was killed under torture by the Shin Bet: 

• In October 2014 the giant US weapons-maker Lockheed Martin announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement with Yissum Research and Development Company. Yissum is a “technology transfer” firm belonging to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: 

• Dissident voices are also muzzled. On 28 September 2014, twelve of the Hebrew University’s Palestinian students received threatening letters. They were informed that they may be brought before a disciplinary board because they had organised demonstrations on campus, without having permission to do so from the university authorities:

• In 2006, a report was released that the Hebrew University demands that Palestinian citizens of Israel who wish to visit its campuses present a character reference from the police as a condition for entrance, a condition Israeli Jews do not need to fulfil: 

• As this brief record provides, HUJ’s involvement in human rights violations isn’t an “isolated incidence.”

• Suspending academic collaboration with the Hebrew University necessarily means that it will be forced to re-examine its position at the forefront of despicable violations of human rights and involvement in “war efforts.”


Thank you everyone who attended the amazing talk last night with Prof. Ilan Pappé and Prof. Karma Nabulsi on the Academic Boycott. For those who couldn't make it, the talk was filmed and will be oploaded on this page asap.


‏‎SOAS Referendum on Academic Boycott‎‏ שיתף/שיתפה את ה‏אירוע‏ של ‏‎Palestine Society - SOAS‎‏.

Don't miss the exciting talk tonight with Dr. Lori Allen at 19:00 in G3


Do you think that punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade Israelis?
Or that it is not possible to compare Israel to South Africa as apartheid states?
Or even that the Boycott will severe communication and dialogue?
Read what Naomi Klein says about all these questions.



Naomi Klein: The best way to end the bloody occupation is to target Israel with the kind of movement that ended apartheid in South Africa
Vote ‘yes’ to boycotting Israeli academic institutions by SOAS Spirit · February 4, 2015 BDS Working Group SOAS is buzzing with conversation about the...


Vote ‘yes’ to boycotting Israeli academic institutions

BY  · FEBRUARY 4, 2015 

BDS Working Group
SOAS is buzzing with conversation about the academic boycott of Israel referendum, which is to be held on campus from 23-27 February. The referendum will be school-wide and will call on students, academics, and other staff members to vote in favour of boycotting Israeli academic institutions. The campaign aims to raise awareness of the political stakes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which calls for the international isolation of Israel until it unconditionally terminates all forms of colonial practices against the Palestinians. Academic Boycott, which is part of the BDS call, is a necessary tactic in bringing down the Israeli system of oppression.

Academic Boycott seeks to target Israeli institutions that are a key part of the ideological and institutional foundation of Israel’s apartheid regime. This is because these institutions make up a knowledge-production apparatus that is complicit in Israel’s settler-colonial practices. The boycott is achieved by refraining from any academic cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions such as conferences, workshops, and other forms of academic and cultural relationship; it is important to note that it does not target individuals, but institutions.

In the context of SOAS, this partly means cancelling study abroad programmes to Israel, which aim to whitewash Israel’s colonisation and denial of Palestinian rights. This is a particularly contentious point, because although study abroad programmes are seen as vital for those wishing to learn a foreign language, one should ask if, in this case, millions of Palestinians are put at a disadvantage by legitimising, and paying for, the very institutions that oppress them. For example, SOAS’ programmes are currently linked to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which is an institution that offers preferential treatment to Israeli soldiers who are engaged in the daily violations of Palestinian lives. Therefore, it is the responsibility of SOAS to ensure that its students learn the languages they need without legitimising colonial regimes such as that of Israel.

In 2006, Professor Baruch Kimmerling revealed in Haaretz newspaper that the Hebrew University was providing fast-track degree programmes for members of the General Security Service (Shin Bet), which is notorious for its torture of the Palestinians. The Hebrew University also produces knowledge that facilitates and furthers Israel’s violations of Palestinian bodies and livelihood. A recent example of such violations is the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip last summer, which resulted in the cold-blooded murder of over 2000 Palestinians. These massacres could not have been conceived had it not been for the technology produced on Israeli campuses.

The BDS movement advocates for co-resistance rather than co-existence, and demands that the masses everywhere fight colonial oppression. By promoting this demand, particularly in the form of academic boycott, the SOAS community has the chance to emphasise that co-existence is a natural result of, and conditioned on, co-resistance. Furthermore, the boycott is not about preventing conversations from taking place, but about cutting ties with institutions that are complicit in the normalisation of Israel and continuous violations of Palestinian lives and land.

By voting yes in the referendum, SOAS will take a stand and show solidarity with the Palestinian people. We, the BDS working group, believe that the Palestinian struggle for liberation from the colonial regime of Israel cannot be comprehensively understood outside the context of anti-colonial struggles globally. The struggle for justice in Palestine ties to wider struggles for justice, whether it takes place in Ferguson, Missouri, or Kashmir. It is through small actions at points of confrontation that change can be initiated. Therefore, we urge you to vote yes and to stand on the right side of history.



Shahar Hlinovsky February 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Vote ‘yes’ to boycotting Israeli academic institutions !
Call your friends, family, work place… to join the BDS !


Vote ‘no’ to boycotting Israeli academic institutions

BY  · FEBRUARY 4, 2015

Kay Lees, LLB Law

The BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), calls for international support to help achieve its goals of boycotting Israeli academic institutions and academics in order to chastise Israeli treatment of Palestinians— from human rights violations to the marginalisation of academics and activists.

Taking into account the conflicts over the past year and the various international human and territorial rights violations that the Israeli government has been committing against its neighbours and minority inhabitants, many are calling for BDS tactics once again to put international pressure on the Israeli government to change their stance on such matters. Israeli institutions receive funding and recognition from many foreign governments, and it is proposed that by stopping international recognition and funding, the Israeli government will be put under pressure to reform.

SOAS is holding a referendum to discuss the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in the upcoming months. The question is whether an academic boycott is the most effective way of putting pressure on the government; will the boycott make much impact, and more importantly, do the potential problems outweigh the benefits? Are there other ways that the international community can put pressure on Israel without the “collective punishment” of Israeli academia?

The Association of University Teachers (AUT) and National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE) have attempted to initiate boycotts of Israeli academic institutions in the past, but faced condemnation and backlash from Jewish groups and Jerusalem-based universities and their presidents. Jewish academics have pointed out how extensive discussion and criticism of the Israeli government’ actions have taken place within the academic field. Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh of al-Quds University says: “if we are to look at Israeli society, it is within the academic community that we’ve had the most progressive pro-peace views and views that have come out in favour of seeing us as equal.”

The NATFHE had also attempted to boycott Israeli academics that did not speak out against their government in 2006, noting Israeli apartheid-like policies (towards Palestinians in particular), calling on its members to exercise “moral and professional responsibility.” The argument against boycotting institutions has also been raised by several Nobel laureates, who say that doing so would limit academic freedom. As Frank Wilczek of MIT points out: “the primary value of the scientific community is pursuit of understanding through free and open discourse. The clarity of that beacon to humanity should not be compromised for transient political concerns.”

The Universities and College Union (UCU)—a merger between the AUT and NATFHE—has attempted to hold various academic boycotts over the years. Its annual congress held in 2009 passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions by a large majority. Despite this, many professors and academics still had their doubts. UCU discussions held in 2010 and 2011 once again yielded no results.

In 2013, Stephen Hawking joined the ranks of academics calling for a boycott of Israeli academics. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS movement, thanked Hawking for his participation and hoped that his actions would rekindle the “kind of interest among international academics in academic boycotts that was present in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa”. Academics have made comparisons between South Africa and Israeli boycott movements before, due to the discriminatory nature of Israeli treatment towards Palestinians, such as the establishment of Jewish-only settlements. However, is it over-simplifying the successes of the academic boycott on South African institutions? George Fink’s 2002 article in Naturemagazine criticises this comparison by arguing that apartheid was not terminated by the boycott of the world’s academic communities, but by “two pivotal and interrelated political events”—the imposition of strict economic sanctions in South Africa by the US and thus the scrapping of the Separate Amenities Act in 1989.

Casting that doubt aside, whilst prejudice and discrimination towards any group of people is abhorrent, should the Israeli government’s actions be likened to apartheid policies? It is easy to lump oppression and prejudicial governments into one category, but it should be pointed out (hopefully not to SOAS students) that Israel and South Africa do not share the same historical and cultural background, and the reasons for their discrimination towards another group do not stem from the same roots. Therefore, asserting that it “worked for South Africa” does not guarantee that the Israeli government will react in the same way.

In 2009, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology rejected the academic boycott, stating that cooperating with their Israeli counterparts and listening to their views on the conflict can be critical for studying the underlying tensions and may even lead to a solution in the conflict. Intriguingly, according to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin in The Case Against Academic Boycotts in Israel, the main proponents in the boycott at American university campuses are in the humanities and social science departments (49% and 37% respectively), while only 7% associated with departments in engineering and natural sciences support it.

SOAS is clearly not a science-based school, but for those institutions that are dependent on research and analysis in the scientific fields, Israeli researchers and collaborators are very useful. Their universities are consistently ranked in the top 50 in the world for disciplines such as Computer Science, Chemistry, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, and their IT and weaponry databases are unparalleled, due to internationally recognised intelligence and military sectors. It can be suggested that perhaps one of the reasons the boycotts failed the first few times is due to scientific and medically strong universities unwilling to compromise their research and collaboration positions with major Israeli players.  Aside from internal opposition by university boards and union members, it certainly may be an answer as to why previous attempts towards pro-boycott movements have never extended past the declarative stage, and may be why it will be difficult for them to do so in future boycotts.

The potential violation of academic freedom is also a concern. Should politics and academia overlap? As pointed out earlier, many opponents of the act were clear about defending Israel’s academic freedom and highlighted the fact that ostracising individuals and refusing to engage them is counter-productive. It would also affect the learning of students within the institutions or countries that have boycotted Israel, such as those who take a gap year or wish to study abroad. The British National Postgraduate Community has opposed the boycotts, stating that it runs contrary to their objective, which is to advance the education of postgraduate students in the UK.

Boycotting will not only cost the Israeli scientists a significant portion of their funding, but may also lead to less exchange of knowledge between the scientific community. In 2003, an article in The Guardian emphasised that the academic ban would only harm progressive Israeli academics campaigning against the government.

Further, academic boycotts are difficult in the sense that it is never entirely clear what is actually being boycotted. Would it affect current academics on expert panels, who are doing research, or who sit in international organisations? Would it affect international conferences, Israeli researchers and their papers, and existing ties with Israeli universities?  Whilst economic and political bans are clearly targeted at the GDPs and economies of nations, academic bans are simply symbols expressing the disapproval of the international community, and thus may not have the effect intended. Restricting the flow of ideas is not a long term solution, but a short term one.

Whilst recognising the fine line between limitations on academic freedom and the potential problems that may arise from it, such as anti-Semitic individuals who use the boycott as a guise, for instance; it doesn’t change the fact that obstacles facing this boycott are inevitable. In terms of solutions I, unfortunately, have none; I have simply pointed out the flaws that resulted from previous movements, and the issues that may arise from the boycott. That being said, one of the best things about studying at SOAS is the opportunity we are given to openly discuss alternatives, meet with learned individuals and come up with creative ideas to allow ourselves to learn about important issues. Humanitarian crises must be addressed, no doubt, but how they are addressed should be up for discussion.


‏‎SOAS Referendum on Academic Boycott‎‏ שיתף/שיתפה את ה‏אירוע‏ של ‏‎Palestine Society - SOAS
29 ינואר‏ ב-‏19:41‏ 

Thank you everyone who joined us in the JCR for an exciting discussion.

Don't miss our next event where Paul Keleman will talk about the British Left's relationship with Zionism and its eventual 'divorce'. TONIGHT in KLT at 7PM

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