We are writing to you from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) to urge you in the strongest terms to cancel your co-sponsorship of the public lecture on “The Crisis of Governance in the Middle East”, co-organized with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya to be held in Herzliya on October, 10, 2012.
Going ahead with this conference would inadvertently lend a stamp of approval to Israeli policies of massive human rights and international law violations. This is especially so given the ties of these institutes to the Israeli military establishment, and the way they abuse public events as an opportunity to whitewash Israeli crimes under international law.
According to your own words, you “support the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law in Israel”. However, you must be aware that the lectures will be given by Israeli public figures who have been responsible for severe violations of human rights or for advocating for such violations, including:
- - Boaz Ganor, Executive Director of the ICT, who has advocated strikes on Palestinian civilians and called for the Geneva Convention to be “fine-tuned” so as to legalize the Israeli military’s use of “disguised commando soldiers in raids”. Also, Ganor argues for the racial profiling system, a discriminatory policy strongly criticized by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
- - Avraham Dichter, who has served as internal security minister and head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, and now Home Front Defense Minister. Dichter has been charged by the US-based American Center for Constitutional Rights with extrajudicial killings, including both direct and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, war crimes and other human rights violations during the 2002 air strikes on Gaza. He has been found responsible for planning and directing “targeted assassinations” with the knowledge that civilians would be killed in the attack.
- - Amos Gilad, who has served as former head of the Defense Ministry's political-security branch and the government's caretaker coordinator in the West Bank. In 2004 it was revealed that Gilad fabricated intelligence reports to discredit Palestinian officials as wanting to destroy Israel and as being not worthy of being addressed [as “partners for peace”]. He has also been found responsible for the promotion of civil war between Hamas and Fatah. Mr Gilad is blamed by some Israeli analysts for fuelling Israel’s hawkish policies throughout the second intifada. In circles of the Israeli Defense and Foreign Ministry, Gilad is known as intimately involved and responsible for the policy over the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
The Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya (IDC) is in itself an institution complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. It is a private university with strong ties to the Israeli military intelligence community. It expresses pride in its links with the Israeli army, despite the army's role in enforcing the unlawful occupation and a brutal siege on the Gaza Strip. Representatives of Israel's most profitable arms manufacturers frequently sit on the IDC's management committee, while 10 percent of its student admittance is reserved for veterans of elite combat units in the Israeli army. Also, each year the IDC hosts the Herzliya security conference, attracting Israel's political, military and business elite, as well as foreign guests. The IDC is giving speakers at this conference a platform to make openly racist statements without being challenged. For instance, in 2003, Yitzhak Ravid, a senior researcher with Israel's weapons development authority Rafael, called for coercive measures to curb the birthrate among Palestinians. The delivery rooms in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba have turned into "a factory for the production of a backward population," he said, alluding to an area with a considerable number of Bedouin inhabitants. The Interdisciplinary Centre, headed by Uriel Reichman, is concerned with strengthening Israel, especially with regards to maintaining a Jewish demographic majority. Policies that guarantee Jewish supremacy over non-Jews become paramount in both the IDC’s Herzliya conferences as well as Reichman’s public statements. Additionally, the IDC is accused of actively opposing human rights groups. The IDC and its events are thus part and parcel of building Israel’s military and political strategy to enhance its oppressive system of settler-colonialism, occupation and apartheid.
As you publicly adhere to “Christian-social” traditions, the words of former archbishop Desmond Tutu (2010) must speak to you: 'It can never be business as usual. Israeli Universities are an intimate part of the Israeli regime, by active choice. While Palestinians are not able to access universities and schools, Israeli universities produce the research, technology, arguments and leaders for maintaining the occupation.” He reminds us that “[b]y maintaining links to both the Israeli defence forces and the arms industry,” any Israeli academic institution “structurally supports and facilitates the Israeli occupation”. This equally applies to the ICT and IDC: Both are military laboratories largely funded by the Israeli military.
Exemplary for the embeddedness of military and academia is the biography of Gen. (Res.) Ilan Biran, member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. He was a former General Director of the Ministry of Defense, and despite decade long criticisms of the Israeli military by many human rights organizations, he does not shy away from admitting to have served in the Israeli military “for 32 years in various staff and command positions, including Commanding General, Central Command, Head of the Technology and Logistics Branch, and Head of the Operations Division at the General Staff.” Significantly, he is also Chairman of the Board of Rafael ADS. Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is one of Israel’s largest government-sponsored weapons manufacturers famous for its “advanced hybrid armour protection system” used in Israel’s Merkava tanks and “tested in battle” in Gaza.
As an independent foundation, yet affiliated to the governing German Christian Democratic Union party, your co-sponsorship and the participation of your party members in this event will place an additional moral responsibility on your shoulders, since by sponsoring and appearing at this event you will be unwittingly bestowing legitimacy upon a colonial and apartheid regime. You are certainly aware that Israel has flouted international law for several decades. Since many European states, including Germany, are actively complicit in enabling and perpetuating Israel's colonial and oppressive policies, we believe that the only avenue open to achieving justice and upholding international law is sustained work on the part of Palestinian and international civil society to put pressure on Israel and its complicit institutions to end this oppression. We urge you not to lend your name to this propaganda exercise.
Your mission statement reads: “In our […] international cooperation efforts we work for people to be able to live self-determined lives in freedom and dignity. We make a contribution underpinned by values to helping Germany meet its growing responsibilities throughout the world. We encourage people to lend a hand in shaping the future along these lines.”
Your decision to cosponsor the lecture event with the ITC and IDC goes against your own principles, and will violate Palestinian’s right to self-determination, freedom and dignity. It will also violate the Palestinian call for boycott and will constitute a blunt rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. We urge you to stand with Palestinian, International, and increasingly Israeli civil society against Israel’s criminal practices, or at the very least, not to cross this Palestinian picket line.
In 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, PACBI issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel's violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to the international academic community to, among other things, “refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions.” Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality. The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as other nations. It is asking the international academic community to heed the boycott call, as it did in the struggle against South African apartheid, until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid."
In our 2004 call we stated that the academic boycott
is in line with the authoritative call by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education (CHE) for "non-cooperation in the scientific and technical fields between Palestinian and Israeli universities." Academic institutions in particular are part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of the Zionist settler-colonial project in Palestine, and as such are deeply implicated in maintaining the structures of domination and oppression over the Palestinian people. Since its founding, the Israeli academy has cast its lot with the hegemonic political-military establishment in Israel, and notwithstanding the efforts of a handful of principled academics, is deeply implicated in supporting and perpetuating the status quo. [1
While it is common to think of universities as ivory towers separate from society, this view ignores the deep roots of the academy in society, and in shaping our knowledge of the world. Universities influence political power, shape future generations, and structure the moral and ideological underpinnings of our societies. In the case of Israel, the academy gives the state a veneer of being liberal, tolerant, and just. This is an image that serves to combat and whitewash the state’s ongoing occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination
Perhaps you are not familiar enough with Israel’s practices, widely acknowledged as violations of international law. If this is the case, then we hope you will reconsider your planned event after thinking through some of Israel’s trespasses. Your event would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:
- 1. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.
- 2. Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel's borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people's daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
- 3. Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
- 4. In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison.
Could you possibly hold an event in such a state with a clear conscience?
Conte, Alex and Ganor, Boaz. 2005, “Part V: Case Study – Racial Profiling in the War on Terror.” ICT
Paper: Legal and Policy Issues in Establishing an International Framework for Human Rights Compliance
 See, for instance, the IDC Herzliya Conference Report, 2000; http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/zionist-and-democratic-1.291844