In the face of the increasing impact of the BDS movement, many university presidents across the country are taking stances similar to Wiewel’s. Unlike the average individual, these university presidents are probably under enormous pressure to maintain the current status quo. The need to serve vested political interests, attract wealthy donors and placate influential groups like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is doubtless crucial to their survival and success. Nevertheless, people of conscience must eventually confront the issues raised by BDS. I offer the following analysis of Wiewel’s statement in the hope that it will help clarify some key issues for those who are already working for the BDS movement, or who are considering joining it.
The current BDS movement is aimed at ending Israel’s continuing oppression of the Palestinian people and the illegal seizure and settlement of their land. Ending the Israeli occupation and attaining a just and comprehensive peace in Palestine/Israel is one of the most pressing issues of our time. In the face of continued Israeli intransigence and continuing official US support for the current Israeli regime, the BDS movement is one of the only effective non-violent options left to the Palestinian people in their ongoing quest for peace and justice. The ASA was simply one of the latest groups to recognize this fact and take action on it.
I cannot say whether President Wiewel’s position stems from mere ignorance, personal bias, a willful attempt to mislead, or a combination of these, but whatever the underlying cause, his argument is indefensible. His position discredits his institution and calls his credibility as an academic into serious question.
His response to the ASA’s vote reads as follows:
As the president of Portland State University, I join with many colleagues (as I already did through the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities) in condemning the call of the American Studies Association for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
As academics, we are committed to the free and open exchange of ideas and knowledge. Thus, in principle, organizational attempts to stifle such exchange are antithetical to our beliefs.
Even if a nation's politics or policies were abhorrent, it would be extremely rare for an academic boycott to be appropriate or useful. In the case of Israel, while reasonable people can certainly debate the merits of any number of specific policies and programs, the totality of the practices and beliefs of the country does not even come close to meriting a boycott.
Indeed, the ASA action has encouraged me to strengthen my pursuit of academic exchanges between Portland State University and Israeli institutions.
January 14, 2014
His statement is so typical of current opposition to the BDS movement, and so free of real facts and any plausible argumentation, that it is worthwhile to “unpack” his words in detail. Let’s start with paragraph three, where he writes that:
“Even if a nation's politics or policies were abhorrent, it would be extremely rare for an academic boycott to be appropriate or useful.”
Really? The usefulness of the BDS movement rests precisely in that it draws needed attention to a neglected human rights issue. As to appropriateness, surely it is obvious that if boycotts do succeed in gaining attention and redress for neglected human rights violations in a non-violent way, they are perfectly appropriate.
Boycotts were a vital feature of the Indian National Movement, the US Civil Rights Movement, and the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa. The Israeli and European presses are filled with reports that the growing BDS movement against Israel is beginning to gain significant ground. It is forcing Israeli hardliners to rethink the viability of their oppressive and illegal polices. Because any action that is democratic, voluntary, and non-violent, and that also helps bring attention to the gross violations of human rights inherent in Israel’s occupation of Palestine, is useful by definition, it is also perfectly appropriate.
The non-violent nature of the BDS movement is especially significant in the Palestinian situation. For decades Israel has tried to direct attention away from its own responsibility for dispossessing and oppressing the Palestinian people by criticizing the violence that a few extreme Palestinians have sometimes used in their efforts to defend their homeland and their rights. The unspoken argument behind this stance has seemingly been that, ‘if only the Palestinians had resisted non-violently, then the entire Zionist project might have been reconsidered.’ That is pure nonsense. Israeli efforts to cut off and discredit non-violent means of Palestinian resistance (whether they were pursued through political action in the UN, through the BDS movement, or through countless other non-violent means) reveal this hypocrisy quite clearly. The fact is, Israel has never been that fussy about the means it has used to attain its ends: (It was, after all, a Zionist terrorist group which assassinated the first UN mediator in the region, Count Folke Bernadotte, while he was engaged work to find a non-violent solution to the Palestinian crisis in 1948.) Like their terrorist counterparts of the 1940s, the hard-line Zionists who rule Israel today have little concern for the violence they use daily; they only care about achieving their own end—i.e. the complete conquest of Palestine and the relegation of non-Jewish people to second or third class status in the resulting state. This is not a goal people of conscience should be party to, or be forced to participate in.
In paragraph two, Mr. Wiewel misleads readers by invoking the issue of “academic freedom.” He claims that:
As academics, we are committed to the free and open exchange of ideas and knowledge. Thus, in principle, organizational attempts to stifle such exchange are antithetical to our beliefs.
President Wiewel uses the pronouns “we” and “our” very nicely, but I’m still not with him. What is antithetical to my beliefs is that people of any kind should support (as the US government does) the kind of disenfranchisement, displacement and suffering that Israel has been inflicting on the Palestinian people for the last 66 years. I have no interest in stifling intellectual exchange—unless that “exchange” either morally or materially furthers the agenda of an oppressive entity. In this case it does: on the moral side, a failure to speak up about injustice essentially gives that injustice tacit moral support. On the more tangible side, Israel’s economy is highly reliant on specialized high-tech products that depend on the latest scientific expertise in numerous academic fields. Israeli academics take that expertise (often gained through seemingly benign academic “exchanges”) and help convert it into real goods which produce real money which props up the Israeli government in real ways as it continues its current policy of oppressing Palestinians.
Some opponents of the BDS movement would apparently have us believe that academic boycotts will subject Israeli academics to “shunning” or some equally archaic and personally degrading treatment. That is absurd, and I suspect President Wiewel knows it. As Michelle Goldberg recently wrote in “The Nation”:
There is no limitation on Israeli scholars coming to give lectures or talks or engaging in any other kind of dialogue or project,” says national council member Sunaina Maira, a professor at UC Davis. “It is targeted at formal collaboration with or sponsorship by Israeli academic institutions. Mere affiliation is not boycotted. (my emphasis)
But even if hurt feelings on the part of Israeli academics might result, a much deeper double standard is embedded in Wiewel’s position on this issue. President Wiewel apparently feels that the goal of protecting a few Israeli academics from possible hurt feelings (apparently the only real result of being denied formal collaboration or sponsorship) completely outweighs the greater goal of relieving the real and ongoing trauma being suffered by the Palestinian people. (Either that or Wiewel is admitting that an academic boycott by the ASA might really have a profound negative impact on Israel’s economic viability, in which case his other argument that boycotts are not “useful” rather falls to pieces….) But that aside, hurt feelings or economic impact have little to do with “academic freedom.” The feelings of academics doubtless get hurt in many professional arguments. That is not the real issue.
If President Wiewel really believed in academic freedom, he would consider the way Israel controls the curriculum taught in Palestinian schools and how Israel controls the checkpoints and arbitrary closures that make it almost impossible for Palestinian children to get an education. He would look at the 2008 Israeli assault on Gaza, where TV reports showed third grade classes that had lost three or four students each, all killed in the Israeli attacks. That is the kind of “academic freedom” that the current Israeli policy produces—and which Wiewel is using his position as president of PSU to defend.
I see no reason to submit the readers of this letter to a long list of all the other infringements of “academic freedom” that Israel has been guilty of. Isn’t it bad enough that every day Israel deprives Palestinians of the most basic human rights: the right to live in their own land, to own their own property, to exercise freedom of movement, to participate in the political process, and to marry whom they choose? To pretend that Palestinians have any academic freedom under these conditions is absurd. I guess (ironically) one might even say that for Palestinians the concept of “freedom” under these conditions is purely academic…
The simple fact is, the ASA’s decision to endorse an academic boycott is simply part a much broader BDS movement where people of all kinds democratically use their American right of freedom of choice to express their views and take action on matters of conscience. Wiewel’s opposition to the democratically-taken stance of ASA members not only infringes on their academic freedom, but on their personal freedom as well. Who is Wiewel to use his position as president of the university to cancel out the moral choices made by people who clearly understand the overall situation much better than he does?
When one steps back and considers Wiewel’s statement as a whole, and in its broader context, one quickly sees that concepts like effectiveness, appropriateness, and academic freedom are merely afterthoughts and excuses. The real core of Wiewel’s message is starkly revealed in his assertion that:
“In the case of Israel, while reasonable people can certainly debate the merits of any number of specific policies and programs, the totality of the practices and beliefs of the country does not even come close to meriting a boycott.” (my emphasis)
The word “totality” is puzzling. To my knowledge, no government anywhere, at any time, has had a totality of consensus on anything. We generally accept that the majority rules. What exactly does his qualifier “totality” really mean?
As a nation, Israel is currently ruled by an elected group of hard-line Zionists—the Likud party and its right-wing settler party allies. While there are dissenters, Israel’s state institutions and laws totally embody Zionist practices and beliefs. Furthermore, the Zionist creed of the currently ruling Likud Party specifies that under Likud leadership the state of Israel intends to keep taking Palestinian land and to render the creation of a Palestinian state impossible (this is in direct contradiction of international law and official US policy). As a result, the state of Israel continues to seize Palestinian land both within its 1967 borders and in the occupied territories outside them. Israel also continues to ignore outstanding UN resolutions and refuses to meet its obligations under international law (the right of return of refugees and the evacuation of illegally confiscated land). It also continues to construct an apartheid wall. All of these Israeli state policies are in violation of International Law. All are totally implemented by the Israeli state. It just doesn’t get more “total” than that.
Furthermore, Israel has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), or ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). And even though it owns chemical weapons and a huge nuclear stockpile, Israel hypocritically claims that other states in the region must be held to the standards of these treaties. Finally, Israel continues to hold itself apart from and above the jurisdiction of the World Court. That is, by the standard of international law, the totality of the beliefs, as reflected in the practices, of the current government of the state of Israel completely merit the use of Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions.
In the real world, the US has implemented countless sanctions (Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Libya, and Syria to name but a few) and has threatened to, and finally has used, military force to punish states which (allegedly) violated these treaties (Iraq and Syria). So for Wiewel to argue that the same kind of violations that have been used to justify outright war against America’s state-approved enemies, don’t even (when committed by Israel) warrant the non-violent response of boycotts by people of conscience is truly remarkable.
In a just world, the US government would recognize inherent unfairness of Israeli policy. In a just world a BDS campaign would not be needed because the US government would cut off all aid and comfort to the state of Israel. Were the US to take such a position, many other states would follow suit. I believe such measures would quickly bring about a new regime in Israel that would be much more serious about peace and human rights than the current Likud government. That’s one thing the BDS movement might well accomplish. That would be a good thing.
Critics of the BDS movement often complain about the fact that the BDS movement doesn’t target countries like China, Iran, North Korea, etc. There is a simple reason for that –the US government regularly criticizes those countries and brings OFFICIAL pressure on them to change their behavior. We certainly don’t give them financial support. In the case of Israel, on the other hand, the US government actively SUPPORTS Israeli policy with 8 million dollars a day, military hardware, intelligence and, diplomatically, by using our UN veto to stop any real sanctions on Israel. That is why a civil society movement like BDS is essential in the case of Israel, while it is far less applicable when it comes to other nations involved in gross violations of human rights. In the absence of principled government action against Israel by the US, however, civil society can only do its best to rectify the matter by non-violent direct action. That is what the BDS movement is really all about.
To argue (as Wiewel’s qualifying word “totality” seems to imply) that the Israeli government should be shielded from a boycott because a few Israelis of conscience (consistently ignored by that government) object to these Israeli state policies is a truly mind-boggling assertion. In fact, it rises to a level of hypocrisy that is hard to comprehend.
For years the various governments of Israel have insisted that the Palestinian side enforce total control over its people. That, as I already noted, is impossible for any government, no matter how powerful. In many cases over the years, the non-violence of the vast majority of Palestinians has been deemed insufficient to demonstrate the very real interest that most Palestinians have in a just and comprehensive peace. Over and over again, acts of violence by individual or fringe groups on the Palestinian side (or provocateurs posing as such) have been used by Israel to justify postponing Palestinian independence, or even simple relief from occupation and settlement. Now, apparently, Wiewel is suggesting that the presence of a few peace-minded dissenters on the Israeli side is an excuse to absolve the state of Israel from any responsibility for the illegal nature of its state policy and somehow immunize it against the BDS movement. There is apparently a huge double standard when it comes to the concept of “totality.”
Wiewel’s position would not fill me with such outrage if it were simply the expression of his own, personal conscience. Two issues convince me that his position is far more than that. First, if it were a matter of personal conscience, he could personally condemn the vote of the ASA. As a private person he could stay true to his obvious pro-Israel bias by becoming involved in a host of other ways. Instead, when he says, “Indeed, the ASA action has encouraged me to strengthen my pursuit of academic exchanges between Portland State University and Israeli institutions,” he is going far beyond voting on a matter of personal conscience. He is really saying that he will unilaterally use his position as President of PSU to implement what amounts to a “buycott.”
This is a crucial implication of his statement and deserves clarification. A “buycott” is a response to a boycott where the person involved shows their support for the target of the boycott by buying more of the goods or services that are being boycotted. This way of showing support for the target of the boycott is not only NOT neutral, it actually underlines the effectiveness of the boycott. Clearly, if buying something shores up the position of the target, then it is an admission that not buying the good or service in question really does threaten the target. Please note— a “buycott” is not an intellectual or a moral argument— it simply celebrates the assessment by one side that they can maintain the existing inequality of force that called the boycott into being in the first place… In other words, if there had been enough racists in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 to offset the absence of black bus riders during the Rosa Parks inspired bus boycott, then the Civil Rights Movement in the US might well have faltered or even failed. Would that have been a victory for “academic freedom” or, indeed, freedom of any kind?
President Wiewel’s effective declaration of a “buycott” on behalf of PSU, clearly moves Portland State University from being a neutral bystander in the Palestinian issue (because the ASA vote does not really directly reflect on PSU as an institution), to being an avowed supporter of the Apartheid regime which Israel maintains within its 1948 boundaries as well as in the occupied territories.
I think this is not a step that PSU faculty, alumni, or Oregonians in general are ready to take with him, but Wiewel has already taken it—and has taken it their name.
The seriousness of Wiewel’s position cannot be viewed in a vacuum. I take the concept of “academic freedom” very seriously. The position Wiewel states and the reasons he gives for his position are on exactly the same track (and just half a step short) of recent legislation recently introduced in the US Congress. That legislation (HR 4009) is “The Protect Academic Freedom Act” introduced by Congressman Peter Roskam (6th District, Illinois). I quote from his website which claims that he introduced his bill:
.,.to address the growing threat of unjustified boycotts against the Jewish State of Israel. In December 2013, the American Studies Association (ASA) became the second major educational organization to adopt an academic boycott of Israel. This measure (H.R. 4009 –my clarification) would block federal funding for American universities engaging in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to fund bigoted attacks against Israel that undermine the fundamental principles of academic freedom. (my emphasis)
As Roskam’s website adds in his own name:
This bipartisan legislation seeks to preserve academic freedom and combat bigotry by shielding Israel from unjust boycotts. It is ludicrous for critics to go after our democratic friend and ally Israel when they should be focusing on the evils perpetrated by repressive, authoritarian regimes like Iran and North Korea. (Congressman Roskam, the Chief Deputy Whip and co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus)
The core of Roskam’s argument is identical to Wiewel’s. Their main point is that (to use Roskam’s words) the boycott is unjust, bigoted, or unjustified. From any empirical point of view these claims are absurd. All the talk of academic freedom, effectiveness, or appropriateness is just so much squid ink thrown out to obscure the real issue. The game is up when Roskam effectively reduces the concept of academic freedom to the “freedom” to attack a short list of state approved enemies—namely Iran and North Korea. That isn’t academic freedom at all. It is simply a new McCarthyism. The very title “Protect Academic Freedom Act” is either Orwellian or Kafkaesque in this context —but it is certainly not “American” as I understand the term.
Roskam’s threat to academic freedom is much more substantial than Wiewel’s, but there is no mistaking the fact that the two are on exactly the same page. Wiewel would use his administrative powers as President of PSU to impose his personal version of academic freedom. Roskam would take it a step further and use federal powers to fund or defund academic actions that the US Congress (in its infinite wisdom) should choose to consider “just” or unjust.” One must remember that this is a congress that refused to read the “Goldstone Report” because it was deemed “biased.” How they could make that judgment without actually reading the report is a Congressional mystery I leave for your serious consideration.
Both Wiewel and Roskam are acting on the same premise: a total denial of the factual record of the Zionist takeover of Palestine and America’s complicity in that (ongoing) action and (above all) a prejudgment that any real criticism (by which I mean criticism with real consequences) of Israel is “unjust” by definition.
At a recent debate on the Wiewel Statement, held on March 4th at Portland’s Grace Presbyterian Church and sponsored by the Eastside Democratic Club, Bob Horenstein of the Jewish Federation spoke in support of President Wiewel. His opponent, Peter Miller (a BDS supporter), presented the basic facts regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, the violations of human rights associated with it, and the cost it imposes on the US. After a little shmoozy talk about the weather, and comments about what a lovely vacation destination Israel is, Horenstein responded by saying, "I can show you maps and throw out facts and we will go nowhere."
Wow. That is the perfect example of the kind of academic rigor that Wiewel, Roskam and Horenstein all seem to have in common when it comes to “academic freedom” –it’s a good thing as long as you don't bother us with the facts...
We should not continue to tolerate such all encompassing blindness to facts in either administrators or legislators. When ideological prejudgments trump the facts, any talk of academic freedom becomes meaningless. To those who ask us to make critical judgments about national policy or matters of conscience without reference to facts, we should send a clear message—you are no credible arbiter of our national values and it’s time for you to go.
So, having taken the time to reflect on President Wiewel’s words and what they really mean, and also to reflect on what is best for PSU, I urge Mr. Wiewel resign. If he fails to do so, I suggest that students, faculty and alumni urge him to do so. I urge fellow alumni to withhold financial support from the university until he does so. I urge teachers and students to organize and take simple measures to signal their stand (wearing a simple green armband of some kind might be good). I urge everyone to do what they can to create a real conversation in the community about the price that Israeli behavior imposes on the Palestinians and the US.
Above all, I urge people to respond to Roskam’s really atrocious HR 4009 by writing their representatives and expressing their rejection of this dangerous corruption of the concept of “Protecting Academic Freedom.”
The simple fact about the BDS movement is this: if you care about remedying the human rights violations that happen almost daily in Palestine, and if you care about finally bringing peace to the Middle East and helping to create a viable and sustainable US policy there, then BDS is about the only real option left to you.
Friends of Sabeel--North America (FOSNA) is pleased to present a regional conference with the theme "Seeds of Justice and Hope for Palestinians/Israelis: What is Required of US?" All who wish to learn more about the situation in Palestine/Israel are cordially invited to attend.
Featured Speakers include:
• Rev. Brian McLaren ~ leading Christian pastor in the emerging church movement and
author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? and more.
• Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek ~ founder and director of Sabeel-Jerusalem and author of
A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.
• Max Blumenthal ~ New York Times best-selling author. His new bold and
controversial book is Goliath:Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.
• Hatem Bazian ~ is a senior lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Ethnic
Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, co-founder and Chair of American
Muslims for Palestine and author of Jerusalem in Islamic Consciousness.
• Miko Peled ~ author of The General's Son.
• Pamela Olson ~ author of Fast Times in Palestine.
• Phyllis Bennis ~ author of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.
• Mark Braverman ~ author of A Wall in Jerusalem.
• Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb ~ author of Trail Guide to the Torah of Nonviolence.
• Josh Ruebner ~ author of Shattered Hopes: The Failure of Obama's Middle East
• Rev. Don Wagner ~ co-founder of FOSNA and of Evangelicals for Middle East
Understanding and author of Dying in the Land of Promise.
• Mads Gilbert MD ~ specialist in anesthesiology and emergency medicine at
Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Author with Erik Fosse of Eyes in Gaza.
• Mazin Qumsiyeh ~ media activist, public educator, and author of Sharing the Land
of Canaan: Human Rights and the Israeli/Palestinian Struggle.
• Shakeel Syed ~ Executive Director - Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.
Additional confirmed speakers include: Ned Rosch ~ Zaha Hassan ~Chris McGreal ~ Steve Niva ~ Cindy and Craig Corrie ~ Janet Lahr Lewis ~ Claire Anastas ~ Donna Boyd ~ and more
Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity, said Amnesty International in a report published today.
The report, Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank, describes mounting bloodshed and human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a result of the Israeli forces’ use of unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force against Palestinians since January 2011.
In all cases examined by Amnesty International, Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers did not appear to be posing a direct and immediate threat to life. In some, there is evidence that they were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes.
“The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy.”
Read more: Amnesty: ‘Trigger-happy’ Israeli army and police use reckless force in the West Bank
Poem by Remi Kanazi Video by Suhel Nafar Audio by Andrew Felluss This Divestment Bill Hurts My Feelings this divestment bill hurts my feelings that Caterpillar bulldozer ended life in the body of an American citizen. drove her bones into the ground while a company cashed in on the sale . . .
JERUSALEM — IF Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail because of Israel’s continuing construction of illegal settlements, the Israeli government is likely to face an international boycott “on steroids,” as Mr. Kerry warned last August.
These days, Israel seems as terrified by the “exponential” growth of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or B.D.S.) movement as it is by Iran’s rising clout in the region. Last June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared B.D.S. a strategic threat. Calling it the “delegitimization” movement, he assigned the overall responsibility for fighting it to his Strategic Affairs Ministry. But B.D.S. doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel; it poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide isolation.
The Israeli government’s view of B.D.S. as a strategic threat reveals its heightened anxiety at the movement’s recent spread into the mainstream. It also reflects the failure of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s well-endowed “Brand Israel” campaign, which reduces B.D.S. to an image problem and employs culture as a propaganda tool, sending well-known Israeli figures around the world to show Israel’s prettier face.
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Ilan Pappe's Revealing Book: