Sunday, July 27, 2008

More calls for sanctions against Israel:

As Palestine suffers "ethnic cleansing, occupation, detentions and assassinations of civilians..."

"Israeli academic boycott:
" 'Sanctions, not connections' "

In "The Guardian" (U.K.), at:

July 25, 2008

Gordon Brown's speech to the Knesset left me unsure whether to laugh or cry, says Sue Blackwell of the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP).

I laughed at his pompous declaration that "the British government will stand full-square against any boycotts of Israel or Israeli academics and their institutions." After all, the University and College Union has not yet voted for a boycott: merely that "colleagues be asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions". This modest call to conscience has induced apoplexy in both the British and Israeli cabinets. Clearly we have struck a raw nerve.

I also laughed, rather bitterly, at Brown's inability to perceive his own ironies. For instance, his reference to 1948 as the year when "the centuries of exile ended", whereas for thousands of Palestinians it was the year when exile began; or his pledge to "show those who would give licence to terror... that the path to a better future runs not through violence, not by murder, and never with the killing of civilians." Coming from one failing prime minister with blood on his hands to another, this was a bit rich.

There wasn't a lot to laugh at: mostly I cried. I cried at our prime minister's utter lack of historical awareness. As my colleague Dr Ghada Karmi put it: "He is either ignorant of or indifferent to the facts". His praise for Israel's achievements in "draining the swamps in the 20th century" was an uninspired variant on the "making the desert blossom like the rose" theme. He only managed to introduce the word "Palestinian" two-thirds of the way through his speech.

I cried at his abject hypocrisy in praising Israeli achievements in the face of "war, terror, violence, threats, intimidation and insecurity". Where was his praise for Palestinian achievements in the face of ethnic cleansing, occupation, detentions and assassinations of civilians, an illegal wall through the West Bank and the siege of Gaza? When he said "the people of Israel have a right to live here, to live freely and to live in security", which people of Israel did he mean? Did he include the Arab citizens of villages like Dar El-Hanoun, whose roads and playground were demolished by the Ministry of the Interior because the village was "unrecognised"?

Brown drew attention to Israeli achievements in medicine, academia, the arts, sport, music, science and technology. BRICUP is currently campaigning for boycotts in each of these spheres.

The Israeli Medical Association is a pariah because it fails to investigate allegations that its members condone torture during interrogation. The Israeli football team gets picketed because Israel has repeatedly prevented the Palestinian team from travelling and has destroyed Palestinian football pitches. Musicians, artists and writers intending to appear in Israel are being urged to treat Tel Aviv like Sun City in the days of South African apartheid.

Architects are called on to stop underpinning the occupation. Scientists and academics are challenged about their institutions' complicity with the military establishment.

So when Brown announced grants for joint initiatives through the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership, BRICUP urged British and Israeli academics of conscience not to participate. This is an attempt to continue "business as usual" and we should have no part in it. As Ghada Karmi puts it: "Israel needs sanctions, not appeasement."