Last month, over 150 academics, including at least 50 oral historians from across the globe, launched a campaign to persuade the oral history community not to participate in the June 2014 'International Conference on Oral History’ organised by the Oral History Division of the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and to put pressure on keynote speakers to cancel their participation . At PACBI, we found it important to highlight this campaign for its pioneering role in mobilizing a large group of academics and in building the networks needed to cancel an academic event.
In recent months, there have been several victories on the academic boycott front, not least of which were Stephen Hawking’s heeding of the boycott and withdrawing from a conference sponsored by Shimon Peres, the Teachers Union of Ireland’s endorsement of the academic boycott, the decision by the 100,000-strong federation of Francophone students in Belgium to sever all links with Israeli universities, and the resolution in favor of academic boycott passed by the Asian American Studies Association. On the heels of this, a group of academics, mainly in the US (USACBI), Britain (BRICUP) and France (AURDIP), decided to take PACBI’s call for boycotting conferences at complicit Israeli institutions to a higher level. A concerted and well-coordinated campaign has been launched, similar in nature to those in the cultural realm, to gather signatures from and mobilize the academic community against the oral history conference at Hebrew University due to the institution’s well-documented complicity in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law.
The campaign is based on the fundamental principle that the academic freedom afforded to individual academics does not extend to giving academic institutions a carte blanche to freely conduct their activities any way they like and with total disregard to international law, principles of basic morality and human rights. Institutions must be held accountable for their role in society and their complicity in their state’s criminal behaviour. As previous PACBI statements have mentioned, and as the campaign letter states, the principles of the boycott are mindful of the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights’ definition of academic freedom that includes:
the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfill their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the state or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds. , emphasis added]
It is for this reason that the campaign focuses on Israeli institutions, and reminds its audience of Judith Butler’s injunction that: “our struggles for academic freedom must work in concert with the opposition to state violence, ideological surveillance, and the systematic devastation of everyday life” . The letter calls on academics to develop a nuanced position on academic freedom if they wish to remain true to their commitment to human rights and their solidarity with the oppressed.
In this regard, the Hebrew University is deeply complicit in Israel’s ongoing occupation, colonization and apartheid policies, and in the violation of Palestinian rights. Not only does the Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus extend into occupied land, an act illegal under international law, but it also treats its Palestinian students unequally by not affording them teaching services offered to Jewish students.
The Hebrew University conference boycott campaign took its letter to academics around the globe to gather a base of support from which to then approach the oral history society and potential participants of the conference in Israel. Campaign organizers have sent numerous emails to academics, and spent countless hours explaining the campaign’s position that, in Alice Walker’s words, “now is not the time” for academic engagement with Israeli institutions. Pushing future conference organizers to choose destinations away from Israel, and ensuring participants do not attend, will need sustained action, and will need to take letter writing to the next step of building networks of support. This campaign offers a model for how we can all sustain our action and put further pressure on international academics and their institutions.
Contact the campaign to add your name at email@example.com
 UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999
 Judith Butler. "Israel/Palestine and the Paradoxes of Academic Freedom." in: Radical Philosophy, Vol. 135. pp. 8-17, January/February 2006.
http://www.egs.edu/faculty/judith-butler/articles/israel-palestine-paradoxes-of-academic-freedom/ (Accessed on December 10, 2011)
Posted on 05-09-2013