They say they are responding to a call for such action made by Palestinian academics and civil society, for whom boycotting is an alternative, non-violent method of liberation. The boycott aims to put pressure on Israeli academics to oppose the 42-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank, modelling itself on the academic boycott of Apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 80s.
The Commitment states: “As scholars associated with British universities, we are deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people … We will maintain this position until the State of Israel complies with international law, and respects universal principles of human rights.”
Many Oxford academics are among the signatories of the Commitment, including Dr James McDougall from Trinity college, who stressed the difference between being anti-occupation and anti-Israeli. “This is a protest against the occupation. It is not an attack on Israel or on Israel’s right to exist. It is a non-violent means of pressuring Israeli democracy, in support of the movement … for a just and viable peace settlement.”
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead from LSE explained that his signing of the Commitment stemmed from his becoming disillusioned with the Zionist dream. “As somebody Jewish, I needed to say ‘this is not in my name’. This is not something that is being done for all the Jews, it is being done by an Israeli government for expansionist purposes, taking the liberties and the land of the people who were there before.”
Israeli universities have been accused of being complicit with and even aiding successive Israeli governments’ actions in the West Bank and Gaza. However, a statement from the Association of University Heads, Israel, argues that universities provide a potential bridge between Israeli and Arab society, which should be encouraged rather than boycotted. The statement declares, “Academic research around the world is based on international cooperation between institutions … Men and women from every strata of society, including the Arab sector, attend Israeli universities, where all students are treated equally.”
A student from the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa) similarly expressed frustration with the boycott, which she viewed as counterproductive and misguided. She urged international academics to help promote progressive discussion and debate from within Israeli Universities and argued that boycotting only serves to alleviate the conscience of the signatories. “Talk with the Israeli and Arabic students” she continued. “Tell them what you think, don’t be polite … The academy is a stage for making change.”
Published on October 27th, the Commitment originally held signatures from 343 academics across 72 institutions. Since then a further 260 scholars have signed. All the signatories are acting in their own personal capacity and are not representing either their college or university.
Image: Oxford History Faculty