WOCMES’s Decision to Move Conference from Tunisia to Accommodate Israeli Apartheid is Orientalist and Unethical
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and the Tunisian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (TACBI), supported by the overwhelming majority of Palestinian academics, and the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), strongly protest the decision by the World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies (WOCMES) to move its 6th conference from its original designated location at the University of Manouba in Tunisia, which was supposed to be held on 19-23rd September 2022. WOCMES’s decision to cancel its Tunisia conference and re-issue a new call for hosting at a later date came after it had realized that Israeli academics would not be granted visas to travel to Tunisia.
Tunisia, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and was attacked by the Israeli military, has a firm and admirable stance in support of the Palestinian people and against Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. It does not engage with Israel on any level, including academia. Hence the non-granting of visas to Israelis, including academics, is not a discriminatory policy, rather it is based on a firm anti-colonial stance towards an apartheid regime. This stance should be supported by academic congresses and institutions that supposedly support freedom, justice and equal rights to all and reject colonialism and apartheid.
As PACBI has stated elsewhere, the peoples of the Arab world, with their diverse national, religious and cultural backgrounds and identities, are organically tied to the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Palestine is an Arab cause, not just a cause for Palestinians. In addition to historical kinship with the Palestinian people, several Arab peoples continue to face serious political, economic and military threats by Israel. So long as Israel’s oppression continues, any engagement by Arabs and Arab institutions with Israelis (individuals or institutions) that is not within a framework of full recognition of the comprehensive rights of the Palestinian people and of co-resistance to oppression ends up justifying or covering up normalization of Israel’s regime of oppression. It is, therefore, imperative that any relations between people in the Arab world and Israelis are based on co-resistance. This is not a call to refrain from understanding Israelis, their society or polity. Rather, it is a call to condition any such knowledge and any such contact on the ethical principles of joint resistance to dismantle the structures of Israel’s regime of settler-colonialism and apartheid.
It is worth reminding WOCMES that many states, especially in Africa, had a similar policy against apartheid South Africa and refused to engage in any relations with it, including academic relations.
There is a growing international consensus that Israel is perpetrating apartheid and persecution, both crimes against humanity, against the Palestinian people. Following the lead of Palestinian human rights organization and advocates, Human Rights Watch has recently published a damning legal analysis of Israel’s regime against the Palestinian people concluding that it meets the international definition of apartheid. B’Tselem, the most prominent Israeli human rights organization, a few months earlier this year issued its own report titled, A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.
Israeli universities are profoundly complicit in designing, implementing, justifying and whitewashing this Israeli regime of oppression and its grave violations of international law. They produce the research, the knowledge, and the technical tools that enable and justify Israel’s ongoing denial of Palestinian refugees’ rights, unlawful policies of forcible population transfer, house demolitions, apartheid walls, wanton killings, and theft of land, water and natural resources. These policies are designed to entrench and facilitate the systematic ethnic cleansing of the Indigenous Palestinians for the purpose of building and expanding a Jewish supremacist state.
Israel’s academic institutions are active and indispensable partners in this regime of colonial oppression and apartheid. They have actively participated in developing weapons systems and military doctrines, including the Dahiya and Hannibal Doctrines of “disproportionate force” against the civilian population which animated the banned scorched earth policy deployed in Israel’s recent wars against Lebanon and Gaza.
Furthermore, Israeli universities systematically discriminate against “non-Jewish” students in admissions, housing eligibility, financial aid, and impose restrictive processes aimed at the systematic exclusion of Palestinian students from academic life.
Just this last Friday, Israel brutally attacked Palestinian worshipers in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, injuring over 200, in addition to its vicious assault on Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied Jerusalem to evict them from their homes and provide these homes to Israeli settlers in blatant violation of international humanitarian law. The Hebrew University has committed similar crimes of forcible displacement of Palestinians to expand its facilities since 1968, and Tel Aviv University was built on the ruins of the ethnically cleansed Indigenous Palestinian village of Sheikh Muwannis, near Jaffa.
WOCMES should not be involved in the clearly biased attempt to undermine the ethical, legal and politically praiseworthy position of Tunisia and its academic institutions against engagement with Israel and its complicit institutions. By moving its conference outside Tunisia, WOCMES is unabashedly “punishing” Tunisia for being on the right side of history against colonialism and apartheid. By moving, WOCMES will be normalizing the acceptance of Israeli apartheid in the “best” traditions of Orientalist and colonial institutions of the past. We call for pressure by WOCMES members and affiliated organizations to convince it to end this bias and to hold its congress in Tunisia. That is the moral position to take.
Finally, we salute our Tunisian colleagues at the University of Manouba for upholding their moral principles against colonialism, despite WOCMES’s Orientalist bullying.
TACBI and PACBI