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PACBI Issues Guidelines for Applying Academic Boycott

October 6, 2009

PACBI [1 October 2009] - Since its founding in 2004, PACBI has advocated a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, based on the premise that these institutions are complicit in the system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law.  




PACBI [1 October 2009] - Since its founding in 2004, PACBI has advocated a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions, based on the premise that these institutions are complicit in the system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law.  

This position is in line with the authoritative call by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education for "non-cooperation in the scientific and technical fields between Palestinian and Israeli universities"[1].  Academic institutions in particular are part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of the Zionist colonial project in Palestine, and as such are deeply implicated in maintaining the structures of domination 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, carries on business-as-usual in support of the status quo.

The beginnings of the academic boycott of Israel can be traced to 2002, the year in which Israel launched its destructive assault upon Palestinian cities, towns, refugee camps and villages, targeting the institutions of Palestinian society and wreaking havoc on communities, residential neighborhoods, and urban infrastructure. The April 2002 statement by 120 European academics and researchers urging the adoption of a moratorium on EU and European Science Foundation support for Israel was followed by a number of pro-boycott initiatives in the same year by academics in the USA, France, Norway, and Australia. Particularly noteworthy have been the annual congresses of UK academics’ unions, where boycott-related resolutions have been debated and passed since 2002. PACBI’s key partner in the UK, BRICUP [2] has been instrumental in the ongoing struggle to popularize the academic boycott in the union movement in the UK and beyond.

In October 2003, the first Palestinian Call for Boycott was issued by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals in the diaspora and the occupied Palestinian Territory.  Building on all previous boycott initiatives, PACBI issued its Call for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel in Ramallah in 2004, providing the Palestinian reference for a steadily growing and sustainable institutional academic boycott effort throughout the world.  The lethal Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip in December 2008-January 2009 served as a catalyst for further activism, and the period since then has witnessed a tremendous growth of initiatives in the spirit of BDS and targeting Israeli academic institutions.  Such efforts have come from Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Scotland, Lebanon, Spain and the United States.  Particularly encouraging has been the founding of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural boycott of Israel (USACBI), inspired by PACBI and basing itself upon the PACBI Call.

During five years of intensive work with partners in several countries to promote the academic boycott against Israel, PACBI has examined many academic projects and events, assessing the applicability of the boycott criteria to them and, accordingly, has issued open letters, statements or advisory opinions on them. Based on this experience and in response to the burgeoning demand for PACBI’s specific guidelines on applying the academic boycott to diverse projects, from conferences to exchange programs and research efforts, the Campaign lays out below unambiguous, consistent and coherent criteria and guidelines that specifically address the nuances and particularities of the academy.

These guidelines are mainly intended to assist academics around the world in adhering to the Palestinian call for boycott, as a contribution towards establishing a just peace in our region.  Similar guidelines for the cultural boycott have been issued by PACBI [3]. 

Academic Boycott Guidelines

Inspired by the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa as well as the long tradition of civil resistance against settler-colonialism in Palestine, the PACBI Call [4] urges academics and cultural workers “to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel‘s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid, by applying the following:

1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;

2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;

3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;

4. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;

5. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.”

Before discussing the various categories of academic activities that fall under the boycott call, and as a general overriding rule, it is important to stress that virtually all Israeli academic institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence, actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights, or indeed through their direct collaboration with state agencies in the design and commission of these violations.  Accordingly, these institutions, all their activities, and all the events they sponsor or support must be boycotted.  Events and projects involving individuals explicitly representing these complicit institutions should be boycotted, by the same token.  Mere institutional affiliation to the Israeli academy is therefore not a sufficient condition for applying the boycott.

While an individual’s academic freedom should be fully and consistently respected in this context, an individual academic, Israeli or not, cannot be exempt from being subject to boycotts that conscientious citizens around the world (beyond the scope of the PACBI boycott criteria) may call for in response to what is widely perceived as a particularly offensive act or statement by the academic in question (such as direct or indirect incitement to violence; justification -- an indirect form of advocacy -- of war crimes and other grave violations of international law; racial slurs; actual participation in human rights violations; etc.).  At this level, Israeli academics should not be automatically exempted from due criticism or any lawful form of protest, including boycott; they should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse.  

The following guidelines may not be completely exhaustive and certainly do not preempt, replace or void other, common-sense rationales for boycott, particularly when a researcher, speaker, or event is shown to be explicitly justifying, advocating or promoting war crimes, racial discrimination, apartheid, suppression of fundamental human rights and serious violations of international law.

Based on the above, PACBI urges academics, academics’ associations/unions and academic institutions around the world, where possible and as relevant, to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation or annulment of events, activities, agreements, or projects that promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinians rights, or violate the boycott.  Specifically, the Palestinian academic boycott against Israel applies to the following events, activities, or situations:

1. Academic events (such as conferences, symposia, workshops, book and museum exhibits) convened or co-sponsored by Israeli institutions.  All academic events, whether held in Israel or abroad, and convened or co-sponsored by Israeli academic institutions or their departments and institutes, deserve to be boycotted on institutional grounds.  These boycottable activities include panels and other activities sponsored or organized by Israeli academic bodies or associations at international conferences outside Israel.  Importantly, they also include the convening in Israel of meetings of international bodies and associations.

2. Institutional cooperation agreements with Israeli universities or research institutes.  These agreements, concluded between international and Israeli universities, typically involve the exchange of faculty and students and, more importantly, the conduct of joint research.  Many of these schemes are sponsored and funded by the European Union (in the case of Europe), and independent and government foundations elsewhere.  For example, the five-year EU Framework programs, in which Israel has been the only non-European participant, have been crucial to the development of research at Israeli universities.  European academic activists have been campaigning for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement since 2002; under this Agreement, Israeli and European universities exchange academic staff and students and engage in other activities, mainly through the Erasmus Mundus and Tempus schemes [5].  It should be noted that Israel is in violation of the terms of this Agreement, particularly of the second article [6].

3. Study abroad schemes in Israel for international students. These programs are usually housed at Israeli universities and are part of the Israeli propaganda effort, designed to give international students a “positive experience” of Israel.  Publicity and recruitment for these schemes are organized through students’ affairs offices or academic departments (such as Middle East and international studies centers) at universities abroad.
4. Addresses and talks at international venues by official representatives of Israeli academic institutions such as presidents and rectors.

5. Special honors or recognition granted to official representatives of Israeli academic institutions (such as the bestowal of honorary degrees and other awards) or to Israeli academic or research institutions. Such institutions and their official representatives are complicit and as such should be denied this recognition.

6. Palestinian/Arab-Israeli collaborative research projects or events, especially those funded by the various EU and international grant-giving bodies.  It is widely known that the easiest route to securing a research grant for a Palestinian academic is to apply with an Israeli partner.  This is a case of politically motivated research par excellence, and contributes to enhancing the legitimacy of Israeli institutions as centers of excellence instead of directly and independently strengthening the research capacity of Palestinian institutions. The argument that “science is above politics” is often used to justify such collaborations.  In PACBI’s view, no normal collaboration between the institutions of the oppressor and the oppressed, or indeed between the academics of the oppressor and oppressed can be possible while the structures of domination remain in place.  In fact, such projects do nothing to challenge the status quo and contribute to its endurance.  As an example, Palestinian/Arab-Israeli research efforts in the field of water and environment take as given the apartheid reality; tackling Palestinian/Arab and Israeli water and environmental “problems” as commensurate, without recognizing the apartheid reality, only contributes to the continuation of that reality.

As in the cultural field, events and projects (such as those involving educators, psychologists, or historians) involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives or “traumas,” as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible.  Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization and perpetuation of oppression and injustice.  All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless based on unambiguous recognition of Palestinian rights and framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott.  Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the project or event, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.

7. Research and development activities in the framework of agreements or contracts between the Israeli government and other governments or institutions.  Researchers in such projects are based at American, European or other universities.  Examples include the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF), an institution established by the US and Israeli governments in 1972 to sponsor research by Israelis and Americans, and the “Eureka Initiative,” a European inter-governmental initiative set up in 1985 that includes Israel as the only non-European member.

8. Research and development activities on behalf of international corporations involving contracts or other institutional agreements with departments or centers at Israeli universities.

9. Institutional membership of Israeli associations in world bodies.  While challenging such membership is not easy, targeted and selective campaigns demanding the suspension of Israeli membership in international forums contribute towards pressuring the state until it respects international law.  Just as South Africa’s membership was suspended in world academic--among other--bodies during apartheid, so must Israel’s.

10. Publishing in or refereeing articles for academic journals based at Israeli universities.  These journals include those published by international associations but housed at Israeli universities.  Efforts should be made to re-locate the editorial offices of these journals to universities outside Israel.

11. Advising on hiring or promotion decisions at Israeli universities through refereeing the work of candidates [7], or refereeing research proposals for Israeli funding institutions.  Such services, routinely provided by academics to their profession, must be withheld from complicit institutions.


[1] The Palestinian Council for Higher Education, composed of heads of Palestinian universities and representatives from the community, has, since the 1990’s, adhered to its principled position of non-cooperation with Israeli universities until Israel ends its occupation; this position was reiterated in a statement of thanks to the UK academic union NATFHE in 2006:
[5] See  and  
[7] In 2002, more than 700 European academics signed this declaration:  "I can no longer in good conscience continue to cooperate with official Israeli institutions, including universities. I will attend no scientific conferences in Israel, and I will not participate as referee in hiring or promotion decisions by Israeli universities, or in the decisions of Israeli funding agencies. I will continue to collaborate with, and host, Israeli scientific colleagues on an individual basis."  (

October 6, 2009


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