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PACBI-Open Letter to Professor Jacques Rancire

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PACBI | January 9, 2012

Open Letter to Professor Jacques Rancire

Occupied Ramallah
It has come to our attention at the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) that you will be giving a public lecture at the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University on 25 January 2012. If our information is correct, then we urge you in the strongest terms to cancel your visit to an institution that is complicit in maintaining a regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid [i]. Tel Aviv University in particular is a full partner in maintaining the military and security infrastructure of the Israeli state, as outlined in two recent reports [ii].
As a prominent global scholar, you are certainly aware that Israel has flouted international law for several decades.  Since the hegemonic world powers 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.  
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 occupation and apartheid [iii]. We wish, in this appeal to you, to stress the importance of this Palestinian call; to underscore the rationale for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, of which PACBI is a member; and to urge you to respect the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel
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[iv]. 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 [v]The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights and international law 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." [vi]
Your decision to speak at Tel Aviv University will violate the Palestinian call for boycott and will constitute a blunt rejection of the appeal from over 170 civil society organizations that comprise thePalestinian BDS movement.
Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination 
Your lecture would function as a whitewash of Israel’s 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 occupied Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans. The International Court of Justice in its historic 2004 advisory opinion concluded that Israel’s wall and colonies built on occupied Palestinian land are illegal [vii].
  1. 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.
  1. Since 1948, when Zionist militias and later 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 Palestinian communities from their lands in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley 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.
  1. 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, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also books from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [viii].
Can you possibly speak at a university in such a state with a clear conscience?
The Necessary and Important Consideration of Academic Freedom
The UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights defines academic freedom to include:
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. [ix, emphasis added]
Keeping in mind the validity of this definition, we are keenly aware of the importance of the academic freedom of the individual, but also recognize that such freedoms should not extend automatically to institutions. Judith Butler has called on us to question
the classically liberal conception of academic freedom with a view that grasps the political realities at stake, and see 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. [x]
It is incumbent on academics to develop such a nuanced understanding of academic freedom if we are to call for social justice and work alongside the oppressed in their struggles.  
The Israeli academy is not the bastion of dissent and liberalism it is purported to be by those who seek to defend Israel, and, in doing so, attempt to delegitimize the call for academic boycott.  The vast majority of the Israeli academic community is oblivious to the oppression of the Palestinian people--both inside Israel and in the occupied territory--and has never fought to oppose the practices and policies of their state. In fact, they duly serve in the reserve forces of the occupation army and as such are either perpetrators of or silent witnesses to the daily brutality of the occupation.  They also do not hesitate to partner in their academic research with the security-military establishment that is the chief architect and executor of the occupation and other forms of oppression of the Palestinian people. A petition drafted by four Israeli academics merely calling on the Israeli government to allow [Palestinian] students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the [occupied] Territories, and to allow lecturers and students who hold foreign passports to teach and study without being threatened with withdrawal of residence visas,” was endorsed by only 407 out of 9,000 Israeli academics – less than 5% of those who were invited to sign it [xi].
This is without mentioning academic collusion in the various institutional structures of oppression, such as support of the military, building universities on dispossessed Palestinian land, or practicing forms of discrimination against Palestinian students. All this and more, make Israeli academia deeply complicit in the practices and sustenance of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
We, therefore, call upon you once again to cancel your lecture at Tel Aviv University.

[i] In its most recent session in Cape Town, South Africa, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine concluded that, “Israel’s rule over the Palestinian people, wherever they reside, collectively amounts to a single integrated regime of apartheid,”
[ii] Alternative Information Center, “The Economy of the Occupation: Academic Boycott of Israel,” October 2009.; and SOAS Palestine Society, “Urgent Briefing Paper: Tel Aviv University-a Leading Israeli Military Research Centre.” February 2009.
[iv] Ibid
[ix] UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, “The Right to Education (Art.13),” December 8, 1999,
[x] Judith Butler. "Israel/Palestine and the Paradoxes of Academic Freedom." in: Radical Philosophy. Vol 135. pp. 8-17, January/February 2006. (Accessed on December 10, 2011)

Posted on 09-01-2012

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