by Ilan Pappe | | 7 May 2005
The AUT’s decision to reconsider its motions on the academic boycott of Israel seems to confuse procedure and principle. I am not a trade union activist, neither am I a British citizen, but I understand there may – or may not – have been procedural and even tactical errors in the way the decision was taken. Either way, these issues cannot be the focus of the debate over sanctions and boycott. Judging by the amount of time spent – especially by the opponents of the new AUT policy – on debating procedural matters and tactics, there is a risk of the wider public losing sight of the main issue, namely the need to apply external pressure on Israel as the best means of ending the worst occupation in recent history.
I believe I am in a better position than many to judge the tactical and moral dimensions of the academic boycott of Israel. My case was singled out by the AUT as the reason for boycotting my own university, Haifa. I felt honoured by this attention to my predicament and at the same time hoped that the general context, the need to end the callous Occupation, will not be forgotten. In fact, judging from the reactions in Israel, after an initial confusion between the principled issue and private case, there seems to be a better understanding here of the link between the Occupation and the silencing of those who oppose it.
Whether the AUT decides to leave the motions intact – despite the wrath they brought upon me as public enemy no. 1 in Israel – or reword the Haifa motion in such a way as to deflect attention from my own case and stress the link between the boycott policy and the Occupation, I will live in peace with both options. I will feel in both cases that a great cause is being served. The AUT cannot go wrong whichever way it decides to pursue the much needed policy of academic boycott – if only to express solidarity with Palestinian colleagues, whose every basic human and civil right is being violated daily by Israel. Whatever the means, provided the AUT reaffirms its boycott policy, the Association will be remembered in history very much alongside those British and European NGOS whose bold and honourable stand against Apartheid in South Africa will always be engraved in our collective memory.
Two issues must not be obfuscated. The first is that many of those official Israeli and Zionist bodies demanding that the AUT rescind its early decision on the boycott openly justify and actively support the Occupation, some in an official capacity as an integral part of the Occupation itself. Secondly, and most importantly to my mind, should the AUT retract its principled and ethical policy of boycott, it will inadvertently send a message to all Israelis that the Occupation is legitimate and immune from any external pressure or condemnation. The Occupation is a dynamic process, and it becomes worse with each passing day. The AUT can choose to stand by and do nothing, or to be part of a historical movement similar to the anti-Apartheid campaign against the white supremacist regime in South Africa. By choosing the latter, it can move us forward along the only remaining viable and non-violent road to saving both Palestinians and Israelis from an impending catastrophe. Clearly, someone has to be bold enough to take the lead in pressuring Israel through sanctions and boycott in order to avert another cycle of bloodshed that is destabilizing the Middle East and undermining world security and peace. Who, other than academics and intellectuals, can be expected to provide this much needed leadership