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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Academic Forensics: Corporate Money Behind BDS in the United States


Editorial Note


Previous posts in the Academic Forensics series detailed how Arab foundations and governments underwrite scholarship and events casting Israel in a negative light. 


Large American corporations, including oil giants, are also major players in this game.  The Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. and its highly respectable, the Middle East Journal, has benefited from generous support of major corporations doing business in the Middle East.  Indeed, the annual conference of the Middle East Institute, features a veritable “who is who” in this regard.  


The recently popular Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has attracted its own share of corporate sponsorship.  The article below describes one such initiative at Harvard University held during the “Harvard Arab Week.”  Among others, McKinsey & Co, The Boston Consulting Group, Booz Allen Hamilton, Bank Audi, Strategy & and the energy giant Shell are listed.  

Sara Greenberg, a pro-Israel activist reacted by posting the below op-ed “Stop Sponsoring Reckless anti-Israelism.”

While the panel The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement: Accomplishments, Tactics and Lessons was clearly not well balanced, effort to cancel it were not successful as it is inherently difficult to claim that academic freedom requires a “well balanced” panel.  

There are some lessons from the Harvard event that throw light on the successful formula behind the BDS movement on campuses.  First, organizers need be careful about breaching red lines, such as overt expressions of anti-Semitism - barring this, an event would be allowed under the doctrine of academic freedom.  Second, as a rule, whenever a panel on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is offered, it attracts a disproportional share of attention. Third, attracting sponsorship from respectable corporation is key.  Not only does financial support help to organize countless BDS events, but it gives the organizers an air of legitimacy.  

Though it is not clear whether the corporate sponsors of the Harvard Arab Week knew that it would feature the pro-Palestinian panel, claiming that all these prestigious corporations advocate the destruction of Israel, as Greenberg asserted.  

Viewed as a template of the BDS dynamics, the Harvard event leaves anti-BDS activists in a quandary. Matching the corporate funds, not to mention the Arab donors, is a toll order, but crucial to providing a more balanced perspective.

Ahmad Alkhateeb, from Harvard Department of Genetics and Complex Diseases, the moderator of the panel, posted the following on Facebook:  


10 November 2014

Ahmed Alkhateeb

With more than 400 in attendance, The ‪#‎BDS‬ panel at the Harvard Arab Weekend was the largest panel in HAW's history. I was relieved to see it come through after many months of work. But it did not happen without controversy. Efforts were made to cancel it two days before it was to be held. This ‘controversy’ was probably due to the fact the panel addressed how to better advocate for Palestinian rights, rather than to endlessly discuss whether or not the Palestinians merit basic human rights… or even exist!

Activists highlighted recent successes in the United States. Thomas Abowd discussed the recent academic boycott of Israeli universities by the American Study Association – The oldest scholarly organization in the US. Andrew Kadi talked about how cultural boycott have changed media coverage and perception of the plight of the Palestinians, and Rev. Jeffery DoYoe shared his journey from being unaware of what’s happening in Israel/Palestine to authoring a resolution in the Presbyterian Church to divest 21 million dollars from companies aiding the Israeli occupation. Yousef Munayyer  and Noam Chomsky provided insights on how to balance tactics and principles without comprising on either. There were also some words of caution that any movement that does not allow itself to be criticized is destined to fail.

There was an interesting tactical point raised about how targeting multi-national corporations is the key to changing US policy on Palestine/Israel. Divestments targeting companies aiding and profiteering from the occupation by churches and pension funds should become a focus. If you are an activist for Palestinian rights in the United States (regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion), start attending your local church! Now!

— ‏‎Thomas Abowd‎‏ ‏‏3‏ ‏ ‏‎Harvard University‎‏.


Reckless Sponsorship of Anti-Israelism

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