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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/11/18

At 70, Israel more than ever deserves a cultural and academic boycott

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From Middle East Eye

Recent events have highlighted why the continuing refusal by many Western academics and artists to take up the Palestinian call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel is so wrong-headed.

Opponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement argue that such penalties harm, rather than assist, solidarity with Palestinians.

That, for example, was the conclusion of the 18,000-strong Modern Language Association (MLA) in the United States when it rejected a boycott motion last year. Academic freedom was presented as paramount and a route to dialogue with Israeli scholars that could influence Israeli society for the better.

It is also claimed that Israel's arts community is largely progressive and that continuing cultural engagement will bolster voices expressing solidarity with oppressed Palestinians.

But in reality, the space in Israel for academic dialogue, as well as cultural freedom, is shrinking rapidly. And the few Israeli academics or artists who are taking a stand on behalf of Palestinians are more isolated than ever before.

This week, Palestinians mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the dispossession of their homeland that they describe as "the catastrophe." But with the conflict still unresolved after many decades, the signs are not only that Israel fully deserves an academic and cultural boycott, but that without such external pressures, the oppression of Palestinians will intensify.

No welcome for law professor

It emerged last week that two human rights activists -- one a prominent legal scholar -- were barred entry to Israel. They were due to lead a delegation of lawyers and academics assessing the human rights situation in Israel and the occupied territories.

Katherine Franke, a law professor at New York's Columbia University, was among four of the group detained at Israel's Ben Gurion airport. She was deported after a lengthy interrogation during which she was shouted at and accused of lying.

Franke found herself falsely characterised as a leader of the BDS movement. She and Vincent Warren, head of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, posted on Twitter a photo of themselves under an airport "Welcome" sign, with the caption: "Don't let the 'Welcome' sign fool you. It doesn't apply to #humanrights."

Earlier this year, Israel's police minister, Gilad Erdan, issued a blacklist of 20 organisations accused of supporting BDS whose leaders were barred from entering Israel.

But in fact, the evidence cited by airport officials came from another source: two far-right websites, the Canary Mission and Amcha, that seek to damage the reputations of students and academics in the United States who have taken public positions critical of Israel.

It was for this reason that Franke observed: "The [Israeli] government is essentially outsourcing their security to rightwing trolling websites."

It is bad enough that Israel is relying on bullying, virulently anti-Palestinian groups to determine which foreign academics will be allowed into Israel to conduct dialogue with Israeli academics and community leaders.

But, given that Israel also controls the entry points into the occupied Palestinian territories, these same hate groups are also deciding whether overseas academics will be able to meet and work with Palestinian academics and civil society leaders.

Critics barred entry

There is nothing new about this policy, though the trend has gotten significantly worse in recent years. Israel has long denied visas to professors and students hoping to teach in the West Bank and Gaza. Two famous US Jewish scholars, Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky, were barred from entering the occupied territories in 2008 and 2010 respectively.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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