“If we have learned the most important lesson promulgated by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — that justice is always indivisible — it should be clear that a mass movement in solidarity with Palestinian freedom is long overdue” -Angela Y. Davis, Distinguished Professor Emerita, University of California, Santa Cruz.
In early December, the Academic Studies Association — the largest academic organization devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history — decided to heed Palestinian civil society’s call for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions,” and voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The decision made headline news, appearing on the front page of The New York Times, and sparked much heated debate and conversation on academic freedom, collective solidarity and the silencing of those who critique the Israeli military occupation. Numerous influential academics and public intellectuals have voiced support of the ASA’s resolution including Angela Davis, Judith Butler and Carolyn Karcher, among many others.
As conscientious students who strive for social justice, we, the Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, stand in full support of the ASA’s resolution. We applaud the organization for its courageous stance as well as the remarkably transparent and democratic process it took to reach its decision. We are also pleased with the general progress in the public’s attitude toward Israeli settler colonialism and the BDS movement, recognizing that such a resolution would have been unthinkable in previous years. We advocate and affirm the Palestinian activists who have worked tirelessly to amplify their global calls for BDS, even amid a colonial regime that works tirelessly to systematically silence their existence.
The resolution is not without its opponents though, and some, including our own University President Mary Sue Coleman and Provost Martha Pollack, publicly opposed the resolution in a reactionary statement. It disturbs us that our University administration does not stand against harsh settler colonial policies rooted in racism and segregation that limit people’s basic right to education. It’s just as startling to us that the administration can speak on behalf of the entire University community without consulting the numerous faculty, staff and students who do support the boycott.
Our University is complicit in Israel’s human rights violations not only through its investments in companies that facilitate Israeli militarism and Palestinian displacement — what #UMMockEviction sought to highlight — but also through its ties to several Israeli universities that haven’t denounced said violations, including The Technion Israel Institute of Technology, Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University. These universities participate in hindering the academic freedoms of Palestinians and non-Jewish Israelis through preferential treatment of reserve soldiers and Jewish Israelis overall, through public acquiescence with the occupation and through close collaboration with Israeli military and intelligence agencies.
This discussion on violation of academic freedom by Coleman is contradictory when Palestinians’ very access to education is literally obstructed through daily interferences of checkpoints, arbitrary and systematic stop-and-search policies by Israeli soldiers, Israeli-only roads and the ever-expanding apartheid wall.
Additionally, African asylum-seekers in Israel are subjected to living indefinitely in open-air detention centers — in desert temperatures in the Negev known to exceed 120 degrees — limiting their access to educational resources. An amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law of 1954 was made to grant Israeli authorities the power to detain migrants and asylum-seekers up to three years without trial or deportation, while “anyone helping migrants or providing them with shelter could face prison sentences of between five and 15 years.” This “anti-infiltration law,” as it is known, is not only immoral and in violation of international convention, but also goes against the stated nature of a democratic state. Targeted by anti-Black racist policies, they are kept in detention facilities isolated from civil life to prevent them from infiltrating Israel’s nature of a Jewish-Israeli-only state.
Palestinians and African asylum-seekers are unable to produce and share knowledge without undue constraint, which Coleman claims is an academic freedom. They are excluded from fully exercising their right to academic freedom. How can our University boast “exciting and productive collaborations” with Israeli institutions when the Prevention of Infiltration Law and other racist policies are meant to exclude from civil society anyone who threatens the religious and/or racial composition of the Israeli state?
Opening a platform for discussion on the boycott while some are held in detention facilities or are prevented access to schools because of their non-Jewish identity would normalize these people’s marginalization in society. Dialogue would center on privileged voices that have unrestricted access to academic resources, detracting from the narratives of those being stripped of their right to academic freedom. Thus, it’s important to focus on those narratives by boycotting institutions and companies that contribute to their marginalization.
This article was written by members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.
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