Academic and Cultural Boycott in the BNC’s Fourth National BDS Conference
On 8 June 2013 the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) organized its fourth National BDS Conference at Bethlehem University under the title: “Boycotting Israel and opposing normalization contribute to Liberation, Return of Refugees, and Self-Determination.” The conference was attended by more than 700 participants, mostly representatives of the national committee member entities -- including political parties, trade unions, women’s organizations, professional syndicates, youth and student groups -- as well as members of the P
On 8 June 2013 the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) organized its fourth National BDS Conference at Bethlehem University under the title: “Boycotting Israel and opposing normalization contribute to Liberation, Return of Refugees, and Self-Determination.” The conference was attended by more than 700 participants, mostly representatives of the national committee member entities -- including political parties, trade unions, women’s organizations, professional syndicates, youth and student groups -- as well as members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the PLO Executive Committee, and most political parties.
When one speaker saluted Stephen Hawking for heeding the Palestinian call for boycott by withdrawing from an Israeli conference headed by Shimon Peres, the 700-strong audience broke into sustained applause, reflecting the spreading awareness in Palestinian society of global BDS successes and their significance in strengthening internal Palestinian resistance to Israel’s regime of occupation, colonization and apartheid.
Academic and cultural boycott of Israel (ACBI) issues were at the heart of the conference’s deliberations. This included presentations and debates on the principles and guidelines of countering normalization, according to the definition adopted by representatives of the absolute majority of Palestinian civil society at the first National BDS Conference in 2007. Academic and cultural normalization was highlighted as particularly detrimental to the struggle for self determination, given how Israel is increasingly seeking Palestinian and other Arab fig-leaves, especially in the academic and cultural spheres, to cover up its intensifying occupation, colonization and apartheid.
The conference also highlighted youth and student normalization and its role in colonizing minds and hindering the struggle for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. Speakers addressed the role of cultural boycott in the Palestinian and Arab struggle for freedom and emancipation.
The renowned Lebanese singer Marcel Khalifeh, addressing the conference via videoconference from Beirut, stressed the importance of “saying NO” and standing up to tyranny. He saluted the boycott movement, focusing on the role of cultural boycott in the Palestinian and Arab struggle for freedom and emancipation. Sustained, loud applause was the audience’s response.
The fourth National BDS Conference represented a turning point in the impressive global growth of the BDS movement, and ACBI activities in particular, for a number of reasons. It provided a distinguished platform for exchanging ideas among representatives of political parties, Palestinian youth and student activists, trade unionists, women activists, decision makers, intellectuals, academics, representatives of the private sector, and leading NGO networks. It also brought together a unique combination of Palestinians, other Arabs, and internationals working in the area of academic and cultural boycott, including artists and writers from Lebanon (via videoconference), a Druze Palestinian writer and conscientious objector from the Galilee, activists from the Israeli occupied Syrian Golan Heights, academics and students from local Palestinian universities as well as from the 1948 territory, amongst others.
Roger Waters’ video message of solidarity was a qualitative addition to the conference, underlining the critical role that artists of conscience are playing in spreading the BDS movement worldwide, as they did in the cultural boycott against apartheid South Africa.
The conference also highlighted the successes of the various academic and cultural boycott campaigns, from student union activists at university campuses in North America and Europe to divestment efforts by teacher unions to cultural boycott campaigns in the Arab world and South Africa. More importantly, the conference contributed substantially to enabling Palestinian society’s effective development of sector-based campaigns with clear strategies and leadership teams.
This year’s National BDS conference sets the stage for furthering the growth of the movement, both in terms of areas of activism and in terms of expanding its support base, particularly in the Arab world. This takes BDS as a strategy of resistance and global solidarity into a totally new level in terms of its capacity to apply effective and mounting pressure to isolate Israel, just as apartheid South Africa was, until it ends its three-tiered system of oppression against the Palestinian people.