PACBI: Six Years of Struggle for Justice
This article was written in 2010 as a contribution to a BNC e-magazine commemorating the 5th anniversary of the BDS call in July 9th 2005. Click here to read other articles in the magazine.
"Whereas Israel's colonial oppression of the Palestinian people, which is based on Zionist ideology, comprises the following:
- Denial of its responsibility for the Nakba -- in particular the waves of ethnic cleansing and dispossession that created the Palestinian refugee problem -- and therefore refusal to accept the inalienable rights of the refugees and displaced stipulated in and protected by international law;
- Military occupation and colonization of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza since 1967, in violation of international law and UN resolutions;
- The entrenched system of racial discrimination and segregation against the Palestinian citizens of Israel, which resembles the defunct apartheid system in South Africa; …"
With these few opening lines of the historic 2004 PACBI Call for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, the Palestinians demand for human rights and self determination was about to witness a radical departure from a narrow focus on occupation alone. The new focus was towards a more comprehensive approach to fundamental Palestinian rights that correspond to the three main components of the Palestinian people: Palestinian refugees; Palestinians in the Occupied Territories; and Palestinian citizens of Israel. The latter, in particular, had long been expunged from official definitions of the Palestinian people. This inclusive rights-based approach was PACBI's main contribution to the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), that was launched a year later by a great majority of Palestinian political parties, trade unions, mass movements, networks and NGOs representing the three segments of the people.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched in April 2004 following several public meetings in Ramallah. From which a proposal to establish an academic and cultural boycott campaign was received with enthusiasm by academics, writers, cultural workers, and other intellectuals. Just two years previously in 2002 the world had witnessed the large-scale re-invasion of Palestinian cities and towns and the Israeli campaign of death and destruction that accompanied it. By then it had become clear that the path for achieving freedom, justice and self determination for the Palestinian people was not that of diplomacy. The alternative path proposed was one of effective and persistent pressure upon Israel, as was done with apartheid South Africa. Decades of UN resolutions, negotiations, and diplomatic initiatives had yielded no results in the face of the long-standing Israeli refusal to acknowledge Palestinian rights.
That the academic and cultural boycott was the starting point of what later became a full-fledged BDS movement was based on the understanding by Palestinian activists of the centrality of the arts, science, and scholarship to Israel's hasbara efforts to cover up its nature as a colonial and apartheid state and deceptively market itself as part of the “civilized” west. Worldwide censure and opprobrium by academics, writers, and artists would represent the effective pressure that the academic and cultural boycott activists were anticipating. Today, PACBI and the BDS movement of which it is a part are witnessing the consolidation of opinion in favour of shunning Israel until it abides by international law and the achievement of Palestinian rights. Israel and the Zionist establishment are taking note of this development with increasing alarm, as attested to by several reports and opinion pieces in the Western and Israeli media.
In July 2004, the Campaign issued a statement of principles, addressed to academics and cultural workers around the world urging them 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”.  The statement was met with widespread support, and was endorsed by nearly sixty Palestinian academic, cultural and other civil society federations, unions, and organizations, including the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees; Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions; Palestinian NGO Network, West Bank; Teachers' Federation; Palestinian Writers' Federation; Palestinian League of Artists; Palestinian Journalists' Federation; General Union of Palestinian Women; and Palestinian Lawyers' Association; among many others.
Today, PACBI’s work is led by a Steering Committee of volunteers based in Ramallah, Gaza, and other places in the Palestinian diaspora in Europe and North America. April 2008 saw the establishment of the BDS National Committee (BNC) as a wide civil society coalition representing major sectors of Palestinian society in Israel, the Occupied Territories, and the diaspora. Since then PACBI has continued to play a leading role, along with other BNC partners, in initiating international action, giving advice to BDS activists around the world, and representing the BNC in national and international forums. Members of PACBI’s Steering Committee have participated in many conferences, workshops, lectures, and seminars around the world to promote BDS and form alliances within the international community. PACBI has also issued numerous statements and open letters, and continues to receive positive feedback and requests for advice from artists, academics and activists using this material. In response to the many inquiries received by PACBI from individuals and groups seeking advice on boycott actions and criteria, PACBI issued two important documents, “PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel” and “PACBI Guidelines for the International Cultural Boycott of Israel” in the hope that these guidelines will assist and empower the increasing number of academic and cultural activists in launching their creative initiatives around the world. The PACBI website continues to be a valuable source of information and analysis for BDS campaigns around the world.
Some examples of PACBI's engagement in academic and cultural boycott in particular include co-ordination with and serving as a reference point for a number of international initiatives for academic and cultural boycott, such as the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), the oldest and most prominent of such groups; the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI); the Catalan Commission of Universities for Palestine (CUNCAP); the French-based Association of Academics for the Respect of International Law in Palestine (AURDIP), the Lebanese Campaign for the Boycott of Zionism, and other developing academic boycott initiatives throughout the world. Close working relations with BRICUP continue, especially in co-ordination of activities surrounding the annual conferences of the University and College Union (UCU) and with academic activists at UK universities. PACBI contributes a monthly column in the BRICUP newsletter, of which 29 issues have been published since February 2008.
PACBI, as well as the larger BDS movement, are witnessing the fruits of the hard work of the past six years of spreading the BDS message around the world. In particular, PACBI is gratified by the tremendous surge in advocacy and activism for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel since 2009, following the massive lethal Israeli war of aggression on the Gaza Strip in the winter of 2008-2009 and the resultant high losses in life and material infrastructure. The Israeli massacres and ongoing illegal and immoral siege of Gaza galvanized many organized groups and individuals around the world to call for BDS actions as a means to end Israel’s criminal impunity and disregard for international law. The report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission led by Judge Richard Goldstone, released in September 2009, found strong evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the assault on the Palestinian people in Gaza, and called for holding Israel accountable before international law. That report, and the media attention given to it, moved the terms of international solidarity with Palestine into a new plane. Now the demands of BDS including academic and cultural boycott are no longer considered "unrealistic" or "counterproductive". A widening circle of world public opinion today views BDS as the most effective form of struggle to end Israel's criminal impunity and hold it accountable to international law and universal human rights.
In the course of the past year, artists of the calibre of Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron and Carlos Santana all cancelled scheduled performances in Israel after receiving appeals from Palestinian and international BDS groups. The statement by 500 Artists against Apartheid in Montreal is one of the most impressive cultural boycott initiatives to date.
A further surge in BDS activism, and cultural boycott in particular, occurred in 2010 in reaction to Israel’s Freedom Flotilla massacre at the end of May which led to the murder of nine unarmed Turkish humanitarian relief workers and human rights activists and the injury of dozens more from several countries. Cultural figures and bands scheduled to perform in Israel reacted swiftly and decisively.
To give some examples, British writer Iain Banks wrote in The Guardian that the best way for international artists, writers and academics to “convince Israel of its moral degradation and ethical isolation” is “simply by having nothing more to do with this outlaw state”. Many British literary and academic figures published a letter in The Independent urging “British writers and scholars to boycott all literary, cultural and academic visits to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government, including those organised by Israeli cultural foundations and universities". Prominent US author Alice Walker reminded the world of the Rosa Parks-triggered and Martin Luther King-led boycott of a racist bus company in Montgomery, Alabama during the US civil rights movement, calling for wide endorsement of BDS against Israel as a moral duty in solidarity with Palestinians, "to soothe the pain and attend the sorrows of a people wrongly treated for generations".
On the Arab and Palestinian levels, PACBI has expanded its outreach to Palestinian and Arab academics and cultural workers in the form of consultations, public meetings, and giving opinions on cultural and academic projects that may be subject to boycott according to the PACBI guidelines. PACBI members have spoken at seminars and conferences at several venues to promote BDS in Gaza and the West Bank. Members have also published several opinion pieces in the Palestinian and Arab media about the dangers of cultural and academic normalization with Israeli institutions. Directly inspired by PACBI, the establishment of the Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PSCABI) in Gaza is another important development. PACBI is also playing the key role in galvanizing civil society support for BDS in Gaza and in promoting civil resistance through media interviews, public lectures and many meetings with civil society representatives.
PACBI looks forward to continue playing an effective role in the new stage in the struggle for holding Israel accountable and ending its decades-old impunity. Through its careful research and analysis, PACBI hopes to continue being an important accurate and timely resource for activists implementing the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, as well as a force for change in its own right.
 Hasbara refers to the propaganda efforts to sell Israel, justify its actions, and defend it in world opinion. Using contemporary euphemisms, it is Public diplomacy for Israel, or using a pejorative interpretation, then it is apologia. Israel portrays itself as fighting on two fronts: the Palestinians and world opinion. The latter is dealt with hasbara. The premise of hasbara is that Israel's problems are a matter of better propaganda, and not one of an underlying unjust situation.
 As of the end of June 2010, the PACBI website has received over 2.5 million hits (individual visits, not page hits).