Why boycott Israeli universities?
For decades, Israeli universities have played a key role in planning, implementing and justifying Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies, while maintaining a uniquely close relationship with the Israeli military. Tel Aviv University, for example, has developed tens of weapon systems and the “Dahiya doctrine” of disproportionate force employed by the Israeli military in committing war crimes against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. The University of Johannesburg in 2011 severed links with Ben Gurion University over its complicity in Israel's human rights violations, including the theft of Palestinian water. A Human Rights Watch study reveals institutionalized racial discrimination against Palestinians throughout Israel’s education system, including universities.
Universities constitute an organic part of Israel’s military establishment and its role in denying Palestinian rights.
- Technion develops military drone technologies and remote-controlled weaponized bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes.
- Tel Aviv University was responsible for developing the "Dayhiya doctrine", which calls for disproportionate force against civilian infrastructure and which was implemented by the Israeli occupation forces in their massacres of Palestinians in Gaza.
- Graduates of the Hebrew University’s Talpiot military program, sponsored by the Israeli Air Force and army, pursue higher education while serving in the army, utilizing their expertise to further military research and development.
Israeli universities make up a key part of the ideological infrastructure of the Israeli colonial regime and produce knowledge that contributes to the subjugation of the Palestinian people.
In partnership with Elbit, a leading Israeli weapons manufacturer, Technion has played a leading role in the construction and surveillance of Israel’s wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
Israeli universities often directly participate in Israel's colonisation of Palestinian land. Hebrew University, for instance, has participated in the confiscation of Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem. Some of the university’s student accommodation is located in an illegal Israeli settlement.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has condemned Israeli universities’ disciplinary measures against Palestinian students protesting on social media their universities’ unabashed support for Israel's 2014 Gaza massacre.
A Human Rights Watch study documents institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in Israeli universities and segregated school system.
A top Israeli education official once called Bedouin Palestinian citizens of Israel "blood-thirsty Bedouins who commit polygamy, have 30 children and continue to expand their illegal settlements, taking over state land."
Racial incitement against Palestinians has become mainstream in Israeli universities. Extremist anti-Arab and Islamophobic speech by Israeli academics, like one who advocates for deterring Palestinian militants by raping their sisters and mothers, almost never triggers disciplinary measures.
Israel’s relentless and deliberate attack on Palestinian education, which some have recently termed scholasticide, goes back to the 1948 Nakba, when Israel plundered and/or destroyed tens of thousands of Palestinian books.
During the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993), Israel shut down all Palestinian universities, some for several years, all 1,194 Palestinian schools and eventually kindergartens, prompting Palestinians to build an “illegal network” of underground schools.
In its assault on Gaza in 2014, Israel targeted at least 153 schools, including 90 run by the UN, and the largest university, according to UNICEF.
Israeli universities have not only remained silent, but in many cases have directly supported or justified the state’s ongoing suppression of Palestinian education.
Given the decades-long complicity of Israeli universities in the denial of Palestinian rights, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in 2004 issued its call for a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.
In harmony with the internationally-accepted definition of academic freedom, PACBI’s guidelines set out how the boycott should be applied to Israeli institutions, not individuals. They specifically call for:
Refusing any form of academic and cultural cooperation with Israeli institutions;
Advocating a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions nationally and internationally;
Promoting divestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
Working toward institutional condemnation of Israeli policies;
Supporting Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts.
The academic boycott of Israel is shining a spotlight on the role that Israeli universities play in the colonial oppression of Palestinians. Supported by thousands of academics across the world and many academic associations, the campaign has had some remarkable achievements.
University of Johannesburg cuts ties with Ben-Gurion University
Following an appeal signed by 400 academics from all South African universities, including 9 university heads, the Senate of the University of Johannesburg (UJ) voted to allow its formal relationship with Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel to lapse on 1 April 2011. The appeal was also supported by main trade unions in the country, including COSATU and NEHAWU.
Associations & unions join the academic boycott
The academic boycott is supported by academic associations across the world, including the American Studies Association, National Women’s Studies Association, African Literature Association, among others. The Teachers Union of Ireland, Federation of Francophone Students in Belgium (FEF), the National Union of Students (NUS) in the UK, Qatar University Student Representative Board (QUSRB), the graduate student workers unions at New York University and University of Massachusetts Amherst, among others, have endorsed the academic boycott of Israel.
Since Palestinian academics launched the campaign in 2004, the academic boycott has successfully spread to countries and campuses across the world. Get involved today, especially if you're an academic, university worker or student. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is here to support your campaigning or answer any questions, just get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spread the word!
Ideas for action
Sign a declaration in support of the academic boycott
Find out more and show your support
Organize for an association or union to support the academic boycott
Research links with Israeli universities and arms companies
Start an academic boycott campaign on your campus
Spread the word on your campus
Invite a speaker or organize a debate or teach-in
Campaign against Israel's involvement in international programs
Build direct solidarity with Palestinian universities
The reference for the academic boycott of Israel is the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), a collective of Palestinian academics, artists and cultural workers. PACBI is a founding member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the coalition of Palestinian civil society that leads the BDS movement and runs the BDSmovement.net website. PACBI has set out detailed guidelines outlining the principles of the academic boycott and how it should be implemented. What follows below is a summary of those detailed guidelines. It is intended to give a general sense of how the academic boycott works. If you are trying to establish whether or not an institution, project or event is boycottable, it is important that you consult the full guidelines and/or contact PACBI.
Boicote acadêmico - um resumo
Israeli academic institutions are a key part of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. PACBI urges a boycott and work for the cancellation of all forms of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, including events, activities, agreements, or projects with them. PACBI also urges a boycott of propaganda initiatives that promote Israel or whitewash its violations of international law. The academic boycott is a boycott of complicit Israeli academic institutions not individuals. This boycott should continue until Israeli academic institutions recognize the rights of the Palestinian people as set out in the BDS call and end all forms of complicity in Israel’s violations of international law.
Specifically, the following activities are violation of the PACBI call for boycott:
This includes the convening in Israel of meetings of international bodies and associations and academic activities or fact-finding missions that receive funding from Israel, its complicit institutions or its international lobby groups.
This includes cooperation and joint research agreements/projects between: a) International universities and complicit Israeli academic institutions or companies, particularly military corporations. b) International governments (or set of governments, such as the EU) and the Israeli government. c) International corporations and Israeli academic institutions
International academic activities receiving funding from Israel, its lobby groups or universities are boycottable.
Speeches (including debates) at international venues by Israeli state officials or representatives of complicit academic institutions are boycottable.
This includes exchange programs and “study abroad” schemes at Israeli universities, which are designed to give international students a “positive experience” of Israel, whitewashing its occupation and denial of Palestinian rights. This also includes International students enrolling in or international faculty teaching or conducting research at degree or non-degree programs at an Israeli institution.
Awards given to Israeli state officials or complicit Israeli institutions or their representatives are boycottable.
In the Palestinian context, normalization refers to any activity that creates the impression that Israel is a state like any other and that Palestinians, the oppressed, and Israel, the oppressor, are both equally responsible for “the conflict”. Far from challenging the unjust status quo, such projects contribute to its endurance and are intellectually dishonest and should be boycotted. However, a joint Palestinian/Arab-Israeli project is not boycottable if: (a) the Israeli party in the project recognizes the comprehensive Palestinian rights under international law (corresponding to the 3 rights in the BDS call); and (b) the project/activity is one of “co-resistance” rather than co-existence.
Just as South Africa’s membership was suspended in world academic--among other--bodies during apartheid, so must Israel’s.
Publishing in or refereeing articles for journals based at complicit Israeli universities is boycottable.
International academics who choose to review the academic work of faculty or students at Israeli universities on a personal basis are not conflicting with the boycott guidelines, so long as their names are not used by those universities in any way. However, being on a review board, for example, would violate the boycott.
Common sense boycotts
Being the part of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) tasked with overseeing the academic and cultural boycott aspects of BDS, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has advocated, since 2004, for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. This is based on the fact that these institutions are deeply complicit in planning, implementing, justifying and/or whitewashing the Israeli system of oppression that has denied Palestinians their basic rights guaranteed by international law, or has hampered their exercise of these rights, including academic freedom and the right to education. There is a growing number of anti-colonial Israelis who support BDS, including the cultural boycott of Israel. The BDS movement opposes all forms of discrimination, including Islamaphobia, anti-semitism and discrimination on the basis of nationality. The academic boycott is a boycott of Israeli institutions not individuals. The BDS movement rejects boyctting individuals on the basis of their identity and does not call for a boycott of individual Israeli academics simply because of their affiliation to a complicit university. However, this does not exclude Israeli academics who are appearing as representatives of a complicit institution (such as a president or spokesperson). It also does not exclude Israeli academics from “common sense” boycotts that are organised on the basis of opposition to someone’s support for or participation in violations of international law and human rights. Note: The PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel are the authoritative guide for academic boycott of Israel. They can be viewed here. This brief only introduces the essence of the guidelines.
Because boycotting Israel’s academic institutions can pressure them to end their decades-old complicity in violating Palestinian rights and can further isolate Israel’s regime of oppression.
Academic institutions are a key part of the ideological and institutional scaffolding of Israel’s regime of occupation, colonialism and apartheid against the Palestinian people. Israeli universities are profoundly complicit in developing weapon systems and military doctrines deployed in Israel’s recent war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza; justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land, rationalizing the gradual ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians; providing moral justification for extra-judicial killings and indiscriminate attacks against civilians; systematically discriminating against “non-Jewish” students in admissions, dormitory room eligibility, financial aid, etc.; and many other implicit and explicit violations of human rights and international law. Some Israeli universities, such as Ariel and Hebrew University, are built fully or partially as colonies in the occupied Palestinian territory in contravention of international law.
Absolutely. When it was launched in 2004, the PACBI Call was endorsed by the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees (PFUUPE), the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) and many other civil society networks. The PACBI call, which was later officially endorsed by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education (CHE), is in line with the CHE’s authoritative call for "non-cooperation in the scientific and technical fields between Palestinian and Israeli universities."
The academic boycott that we are calling for is institutional. The BNC, including PACBI, upholds the universal right to academic freedom. The institutional boycott called for by Palestinian civil society does not conflict with such freedom. PACBI subscribes to the internationally-accepted definition of academic freedom as adopted by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNESCR).Anchored in precepts of international law and universal human rights, the BDS movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion. If, however, an individual is representing the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution (such as a dean, rector, or president), or is commissioned/recruited to participate in Israel’s efforts to “rebrand” itself, then her/his activities are subject to the institutional boycott the BDS movement is calling for. Mere affiliation of Israeli scholars to an Israeli academic institution is therefore not grounds for applying the boycott.
Note: The PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel are the authoritative guide for academic boycott of Israel. They can be viewed here. This brief only introduces the essence of the guidelines.
No. Our academic boycott targets institutions, not individuals. The only exception is when an individual academic is an official representative of, not merely affiliated to, her/his complicit Israeli academic institution. An individual academic, Israeli or otherwise, however, cannot be exempt from being subject to “common sense” boycotts (beyond the scope of the PACBI institutional boycott criteria) that conscientious citizens around the world may call for in response to egregious individual complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of war crimes or other grave human rights violations; incitement to violence; etc. At this level, Israeli academics should be treated like all other offenders in the same category, not better or worse. Note: The PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel are the authoritative guide for academic boycott of Israel. They can be viewed
The academic boycott that we are calling for is institutional and therefore does not conflict with academic freedom. The BNC, including PACBI, upholds the universal right to academic freedom. PACBI subscribes to the internationally-accepted definition of academic freedom as adopted by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNESCR). Israeli academics may lose privileges, not rights, due to the boycott of their institutions.
Some opponents of the academic boycott may argue, still, that it contravenes academic freedom because it cannot but hurt individual academics if it is to be effective at all. This argument is problematic on many levels. By ignoring the real and systematic Israeli suppression of Palestinian rights, including academic freedom, and focusing solely on the hypothetical infringement on Israeli academic freedom that the boycott allegedly would entail, hypocritical, to say the least. Israel’s relentless and deliberate attack on Palestinian education, which some have recently termed scholasticide, goes back to the 1948 Nakba, the wave of systematic ethnic cleansing of a majority of the indigenous Palestinians to establish a Jewish-majority state in Palestine. An Israeli researcher’s dissertation reveals that in that period tens of thousands of Palestinian books stolen from homes, schools and libraries in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Safad and elsewhere were plundered and destroyed by Zionist -- and later Israeli -- militias. In the first few weeks of the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-1993), Israel shut down all Palestinian universities, some, like Birzeit, for several consecutive years, and then it closed all 1,194 Palestinian schools in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza. Next came the kindergartens, until every educational institution in the occupied Palestinian territories was forcibly closed. This prompted Palestinians to build an “illegal network” of underground schools. Palestinian scholars and students are methodically denied their basic rights, including academic freedom, and are often subjected to imprisonment, denial of freedom of movement, and even violent attacks on themselves or their institutions. If exercising the right to academic freedom is conditioned upon respecting other human rights and securing what Judith Butler calls the “material conditions for exercising those rights,” then clearly it is the academic freedom of Palestinian academics and students that is severely hindered, due to the occupation and policies of racial discrimination, and that must be defended. Palestinian citizens of Israel have also suffered for decades from the structural racism that pervades the Israeli educational system. According to Human Rights Watch: “Discrimination at every level of the [Israeli] education system winnows out a progressively larger proportion of Palestinian Arab children as they progress through the school system—or channels those who persevere away from the opportunities of higher education. The hurdles Palestinian Arab students face from kindergarten to university function like a series of sieves with sequentially finer holes.” Finally, Even though the academic boycott of Israel does not undercut academic freedom, PACBI founders, in harmony with the BDS movement’s profound commitment to universal human rights, have consistently argued that this freedom should not be privileged as above other human rights. The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights proclaims, “All human rights are universal, indivisible . . . interdependent and interrelated. The international community must treat human rights globally in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing, and with the same emphasis.”
No. The boycott does not target individuals and does not prevent Israeli scholars from engaging with international scholars and international institutions. Only if an exchange is part of an institutional relationship with a complicit Israeli institution does it become subject to boycott.
Absolutely not. BDS guidelines distinguish between coercive and voluntary relationships. Palestinian citizens of Israel – those Palestinians who remained steadfast on their land after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 despite repeated efforts to expel them and subject them to military law, institutionalized discrimination, or apartheid – live under Israeli apartheid. As citizens and taxpayers, they cannot but engage in everyday relations including employment in Israeli places of work and the use of public services and institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals. Such coercive relations are not unique to Israel and were present in other colonial and apartheid contexts such as India and South Africa, respectively. Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot be rationally asked to cut such ties, at least not yet. While BDS does not encourage Palestinians in the 1967 occupied Palestinian territory to enroll in Israeli academic institutions, unless they are compelled to, it does not consider such enrolment as a violation of the boycott guidelines. There is no double standard when the oppressed community calls on the outside world to boycott institutions that it itself cannot boycott due to coercive conditions of living under apartheid or colonial rule. Having the choice to boycott complicit academic institutions or not, which international scholars do, engenders an ethical responsibility which is absent when one has no choice. Based on the same principle above, Israelis, as citizens and taxpayers, cannot be expected to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
When it comes to Palestinian rights under international law, Israeli universities are a pillar of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. The assumption that they are “progressive” and “at the forefront of defending Palestinian rights” is false; it results from baseless propaganda and fabrications circulated mostly by Israel, including by Zionist Israeli academics. Censorship and denial of academic freedom in Israeli universities have been well documented by Palestinian as well as Israeli scholars. Discussion of fundamental subjects such as the Nakba, the right of Palestinian refugees to return, Zionism, the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in settler-colonial and apartheid projects, etc. are often off-limits on campus. When Israeli historian Ilan Pappe supervised a graduate thesis by a Jewish student on one of the massacres committed by Zionist militias during the Nakba he suffered serious institutional and individual repercussions. Moreover, the assumption that “most” Israeli scholars are “progressive,” by any objective definition of the term, is flatly false. Even speaking out for the most basic demands of academic freedom for Palestinians is opposed by an overwhelming majority of Israeli academics. Expressing "great concern regarding the ongoing deterioration of the system of higher education in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip," four Jewish-Israeli academics in 2008 drafted a petition calling on their government to "allow students and lecturers free access to all the campuses in the Territories …." Although the petition was sent to all 9,000 plus Israeli academics, only 407 signed it – slightly over 4%.
Clearly. Just ask Israeli leaders. Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has recently described the academic boycott of Israel as a “strategic threat of the first order.” The “threat” here refers to the role this boycott plays in undermining Israel’s entire regime of occupation and apartheid, given the central role of academia in this system. Israel has for decades succeeded in projecting in the west a false image of democracy, covering up its decades-old denial of Palestinian rights. Israeli academia has always been the main diffuser of this propaganda, contributing to whitewashing Israel’s crimes and enabling it to continue oppressing the Palestinian people with impunity. With the spreading academic boycott of Israel, this role is being undermined and Israel’s true face as a regime of oppression is being revealed to the world like never before. Former Israeli president Shimon Peres explains the connection: “Israel has been blessed with a lot of talent that manufactures many excellent products. In order to export, you need good products, but you also need good relations. So why make peace? Because, if Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts.”
Yes, a major difference. BDS calls for a boycott of Israeli institutions, not individuals. The South African anti-apartheid boycott targeted both institutions and individuals. Those who are still reluctant, on principle, to support a boycott that expressly targets Israel's academic institutions while having in the past endorsed, or even struggled to implement, a much more sweeping academic boycott against apartheid South Africa’s academics and universities are hard pressed to explain this peculiar inconsistency.
While conscientious Israeli academics who support BDS are not expected to boycott Israeli universities, obviously, they have supported the academic boycott of Israel in various ways. All of them have advocated for Palestinian rights in public, thereby contributing to the fight against Israel’s dehumanization of the Palestinians. Most have called on international academics and institutions not to continue business as usual with Israeli institutions until they end their deep complicity in Israel’s regime of oppression against the Palestinians. Many have played an indispensable role in exposing Israel's system of colonialism and apartheid, whether through their academic work or public advocacy.
Few forms of pressure have triggered as much alarm in Israel’s colonial establishment as the growing divestment movement on US college campuses, the mushrooming support for an institutional academic boycott of Israel among US academic associations, and the silent boycott exercised by many individual academics around the world. Israel realizes as much as Palestinians and our supporters do that an effective, comprehensive academic boycott of Israel would irreversibly hurt the “Brand Israel” and feed the growing economic boycotts and, eventually, sanctions. Israel’s academic institutions, after all, have been one of the pillars of Israel’s regime of oppression, playing a major role in planning, implementing, justifying, and whitewashing Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Isolating those institutions would deprive Israel of a weapon arguably more potent and effective on a day-to-day basis than its entire nuclear arsenal. As the prominent US academic Joan Scott argues, the academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions is an effective way to expose the true nature of Israel’s regime: “The country that claims to be the only democracy in the Middle East is putting in place a brutal apartheid system; its politicians are talking openly about the irrelevance of Arab Israeli votes in elections and developing new methods for testing Arab Israeli loyalty to the Jewish state. Israel’s legal system rests on the inequality of Jewish and non-Jewish citizens; its children are regularly taught that Arab lives are worth less than Jewish lives; its military interferes with Palestinians’ access to university education, freedom of assembly, and the right to free speech; …. The hypocrisy of those who consider these to be democratic practices needs to be exposed. An academic and cultural boycott seems to me to be the way to do this.” Note: The PACBI Guidelines for the International Academic Boycott of Israel are the authoritative guide for academic boycott of Israel. They can be viewed
Clearly, this claim is not addressed to Palestinians who are calling for this institutional boycott. The oppressed, after all, never choose their oppressors; it is the other way around. Because Israel’s regime and its complicit corporations and institutions are responsible for denying the Palestinian people our rights under international law and because of the failure of the “international community,” under US hegemony, to hold Israel to account, we have called for BDS. When you are sick with the flu, you naturally must single out the flu for treatment! This charge, however, is often made against western academics and academic associations that support the academic boycott of Israel. The main response to this is that it is false. Israeli columnist Larry Derfner, who recognizes that the world displays a “blatant double standard … in Israel’s favor,” argues: “If you look at the serious, painful punishments the world metes out to oppressor nations, Israel is not being singled out, it’s being let off the hook.” In fact, the European Union has imposed sanctions on many countries, including the U.S., Russia, several European states and China, but not on Israel. The unconditional economic, academic, diplomatic, military and other forms of support showered by the US and Europe on Israel singles it out and places it outside the realm of accountability. Derfner argues: “The Western powers can punish Russia, they can punish China, they can lay in to Iran, Syria, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Sudan and the like – but they won’t touch Israel (the European Union’s wussy “guidelines” notwithstanding). Indeed, the strongest country in the world not only won’t punish Israel for its near half-century of tyranny over the Palestinians, it keeps feeding it arms while shielding it in the UN. America coddles Israel, the world’s last outpost of colonialism, like few countries have ever been coddled by a superpower in history.” This is the main reason why western academics in particular have a moral obligation to support the boycott of Israel, including its complicit academic institutions, to offset the fact that their states use their tax money and silence to maintain Israel’s brutal regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.