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US academic organization endorses boycott of Israel

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Al-Akhbar | December 5, 2013

The American Studies Association, a 60-year old US academic organization with 5,000 members, passed a resolution on Wednesday committing to the boycott movement against Israel.

Citing its commitment to “the pursuit of social justice” and to “the struggle against all forms of racism,” the ASA revealed in a statement published on its website that it had voted to support the academic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“The American Studies Association endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” the statement read.

“The ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement.”

ASA noted the “significant role” played by the United States “in enabling the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the expansion of illegal settlements and the [apartheid] Wall in violation of international law, as well as in supporting the systematic discrimination against Palestinians, which has had documented devastating impact on the overall well-being, the exercise of political and human rights, the freedom of movement, and the educational opportunities of Palestinians.”

The BDS movement has gained traction over the past years, as a growing number of scholars and academic entities have committed to the cause.

More than 950 scholars working in American institutions have endorsed the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

The Association for Asian American Studies became the first US academic organization to officially support the boycott movement in April.

In May, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking withdrew from an Israeli conference, citing his decision to respect the Israel boycott.

December 5, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on US academic organization endorses boycott of Israel

Israel, Hawking and the Pressing Question of Boycott

By Ramzy Baroud | Palestine Chronicle | May 16 2013

It is an event ‘of cosmic proportions’, said one Palestinian academic, a befitting description regarding Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israeli academic conference slated for next June. It was also a decisive moral call which was communicated on May 8 by Cambridge University, where Hawking is a professor.

Hawking is a world-renowned cosmologist and physicist. His scientific work had the kind of impact that redefined or challenged entire areas of research from the theory of relativity, to quantum mechanics and other fields of study. This towering figure is also wheelchair-bound – suffering from complete physical paralyses caused by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) disease. For Hawking, however, such a painful fact seems like a mere side note in the face of his incredible contributions to science, ones that are comparable to only few men and women throughout history.

What is considered a prestigious scientific conference in Israel is hosted by President Shimon Peres, most remembered by Lebanese and Palestinians for ordering the shelling of a United Nations compound near the village of Qana in South Lebanon in 1996. The compound was a safe heaven, where civilians often sought shelter during Israeli strikes. Not that time around, however. 106 innocent people that were mostly children and women were killed and 116 wounded, including UN forces. That harrowing event alone would have sent Peres, then Israel’s prime minister, to serve his remaining years in jail. But of course, Israel is above the law, or so the Israeli government believes and thus it has consistently behaved accordingly in the last 65 years with a price tag of uncountable lives, untold destruction and protracted suffering of entire nations.

Hawking’s response to the boycott call was immensely important. The man’s legendary status aside, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has proved more durable and successful than its detractors – mostly Israel’s apologists – want to believe. Hawking’s decision was also a testament that reason and morality should and must go hand in hand. Israel’s boasting of its scientific accomplishments should mean zilch if such technology is put to work to advance state violence, tighten military occupation and make killer drones available to other countries, thus exporting violence and mayhem. That very ‘science’ was used in abundance in Israel’s latest two wars on Gaza (2008-09 and 2012) which claimed thousands of lives between the dead and wounded.

Cambridge University, perhaps wary of a possible backlash, tried to mask Hawking’s decision as one that is compelled by health reasons, which, of course, was not the case at all. The university eventually retracted the statement, for the British scientist wished to make his decision crystal clear. The UK Guardian newspaper reported on Hawking’s rebuff of the conference, citing a statement by the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine, as it had coordinated with Hawking’s office:

“We understand that Professor Stephen Hawking has declined his invitation to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference Facing Tomorrow 2013, due to take place in Jerusalem on 18-20 June. This is his independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there.”

Unlike other acts of boycott, sometimes dismissed by Israeli officials as insignificant, this one was manifestly shocking for Israel. Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry was quoted by the New York Times saying “never has a scientist of this stature boycotted Israel.”

And since it was unexpected, Hawking’s respect of the boycott generated disorganized Israeli and pro-Israeli responses, ranging from demeaning jokes and insults pertaining to his illness, unwarranted accusations and even shaming him for using technology supposedly developed in Israel to combat his deteriorating ALS condition.

Never before has the country lost control over its carefully tailored narrative of its military occupation and violations of human rights in Palestine as is the case these days. While on one hand, Israeli officials speak of ‘peace’, they continue to issue tenders to build more settlements or expand existing ones, all built illegally on Palestinian land. On the very day that Hawking’s decision to boycott the conference was announced, ‘civil administration’ in Israel agreed to the construction of 296 new housing units in the illegal settlement of Beit El, thus entrenching military occupation and ethnic cleansing. Israeli officials and media still insist that there are no links whatsoever between such stark violations of international and humanitarian law and the rising boycott movement. They indefatigably accuse their critics of ‘anti-Semitism’ (which is hardly effective anymore) and warn of attempts at the ‘de-legitimatization’ of Israel, as if they expect the world to remain completely oblivious to its perpetual war crimes, illegal occupation and institutionalized discrimination against non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine and Israel.

The dialectics of Hawking’s decision are also important. It is a proof that civil society remains relevant, can be effective and also shows that official venues are not the only platforms in which the occupation of Palestine can be discussed and justly addressed. Nearly 20 years have passed since the Oslo Accords were signed, yet the Israeli occupation seems much more rooted than it was in 1993.

There is little doubt that the boycott movement is in constant growth and not simply because of the recurring news of artists and academics refusing to visit Israel, or take part in Israeli-sponsored events. Equally significant is the existence of strong layers of support being provided by civil society that makes it possible for artists, academics and others to adhere to the call of boycott, without fearing serious repercussions.

It was revealed that a letter to Hawking, aimed at dissuading him from joining the conference was signed by 20 top academics from many universities, including MIT, Cambridge, London, Leeds, Southampton, Warwick, Newcastle, etc. The professors told Hawking they were ‘surprised and deeply disappointed’ that he had agreed to take part in the conference, which is also to be attended by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former US President Bill Clinton, each with his own record of war crimes accusations spanning from Sudan, to Afghanistan, to Iraq.

But criticism of Hawking is not only emanating from Israel and its predictable circle of diehard supporters. It is also coming from some of those who count themselves as members of the Palestinian solidarity camp. The latter group, which is shrinking in number and outreach, argue that boycotting all aspects of Israel’s academic, cultural and political life will play into Israel’s ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘de-legitimization’ arguments.

But can the solidarity movement limit its boycott to the few Israeli companies with links to West Bank settlements and expect to achieve tangible, long term results? Those who think that boycotting the occupation is enough, seem not to understand the nature of the relationship between West Bank setters and the Israeli government. Israel treats the settlements and its well-armed inhabitants as part and parcel of the Israeli state and economy. They are residents of Israel, even if they live near Ramallah. There is no separation whatsoever except for some imaginary ‘Green Lines’ and such. And now with the Apartheid Wall, even that separation is being blurred and redefined.

Palestinians in Gaza or Nablus don’t see any difference between a solider who lives in an illegal Jewish settlement or another who lives inside Israel. They are all capable of committing murder, as many surely have, unhampered by geography or borders. International civil society should not fall into the trap of illusory distinctions. This also makes Hawking’s decision to boycott an Israel-based conference “of cosmic proportions”. It is morally defensible and ethically sound, qualities befitting a formidable man of reason like Stephen Hawking.

Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father Was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stephen Hawking Stuns Israel With Conference Boycott

By James M. Wall | May 14, 2013

University of Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking stunned Israel last week with his announcement that he would boycott the fifth annual Israeli Presidential Conference, scheduled to be held in Jerusalem, June 18-20.

Hawking was responding to an incongruity: He had been invited to attend an Israeli conference of scientific, economic and political world leaders under the lofty title: ”The Human Factor in Shaping Tomorrow”.

Many usual political suspects are expected to speak at the conference, including noted Israeli friends Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Also listed as speakers are Stuart Eizenstat, Larry Summers and David Axelrod. George W. Bush was a speaker for the 2008 inaugural conference.

As a matter of conscience, Hawking will not be there.

What makes this conference such an incongruous event is that it will hold its “Shaping Tomorrow” sessions in close proximity to what is essentially a prison wall built to separate an occupied, entrapped Palestinian population, from the rest of the world.

Is this the future Israel would have us shape? Prison walls enforcing ethnic cleansing?

In his conference withdrawal statement Hawking explained his boycott decision:

“I accepted the invitation to the Presidential Conference with the intention that this would not only allow me to express my opinion on the prospects for a peace settlement but also because it would allow me to lecture on the West Bank” 

“However, I have received a number of emails from Palestinian academics. They are unanimous that I should respect the boycott. In view of this, I must withdraw from the conference.

Had I attended, I would have stated my opinion that the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”.

The term “boycott” is part of the Palestinian civil society’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) non-violent campaign, a grassroots movement launched in 2005 to non-violently bring an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and people.

Israel is holding its fifth conference in close proximity to the Israeli-built prison wall that enforces that occupation.

Stephen Hawking has not been known for political activism. His story unfolded in a different arena. It is a story of  his enormous personal courage and significant achievement as a physicist and cosmologist.

Hawking, who tells his personal story in “Living With ALS“, has to be the most high-profile invitee yet to boycott an Israeli Presidential conference, an event which in the past has attracted little media attention. Hawking has changed that.

In her 2012 Scientific American essay“How Has Stephen Hawking Lived to 70 with ALS?”, (on January 7, 2013, he turned 71) author Katherine Harmon provides background both on Hawking and his disease:

The famous theoretical physicist has helped to bring his ideas about black holes and quantum gravity to a broad public audience. For much of his time in the public eye, though, he has been confined to a wheelchair by a form of the motor-neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). And since 1985 he has had to speak through his trademark computer system—which he operates with his cheek—and have around-the-clock care.

But like his mind, Hawking’s illness seems to be singular. Most patients with ALS—also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, for the famous baseball player who succumbed to the disease—are diagnosed after the age of 50 and die within five years of their diagnosis. Hawking’s condition was first diagnosed when he was 21, and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday.

But his disease seems hardly to have slowed him down. Hawking spent 30 years as a full professor of mathematics at the University of Cambridge. And he is currently the director of research at the school’s Center for Theoretical Cosmology.

Hawking is the sort of high profile public figure whose boycott action is most feared by Israel.

The Guardian takes note of the blow Israel has received to its scientific prestige:

Stephen Hawking’s decision to boycott the Israeli president’s conference has gone viral. Over 100,000 Facebook shares of the Guardian report at last count. Whatever the subsequent fuss, Hawking’s letter is unequivocal. His refusal was made because of requests from Palestinian academics.

Witness the speed with which the pro-Israel lobby seized on Cambridge University’s initial false claim that he had withdrawn on health grounds to denounce the boycott movement, and their embarrassment when within a few hours the university shamefacedly corrected itself.

Hawking also made it clear that if he had gone he would have used the occasion to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

While journalists named him “the poster boy of the academic boycott” and supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement celebrated, Ha’aretz, the most progressive of the Israeli press, drew attention to the inflammatory language used by the conference organizers, who described themselves as “outraged” rather than that they “regretted” Hawking’s decision.

That the world’s most famous scientist had recognised the justice of the Palestinian cause is potentially a turning point for the BDS campaign. And that his stand was approved by a majority of two to one in the Guardian poll that followed his announcement shows just how far public opinion has turned against Israel’s relentless land-grabbing and oppression.

Full article

May 15, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism | , , , | Comments Off on Stephen Hawking Stuns Israel With Conference Boycott

Stephen Hawking boycotts Israeli regime

Press TV – May 8, 2013

British theoretical physicist professor Stephen Hawking has joined an academic embargo on the Israeli regime by refusing to attend a conference hosted by the regime’s president Shimon Perez.

The prominent Cambridge professor was to take part in the Facing Tomorrow annual conference planned to be held in June but pulled out in protest at Tel Aviv’s treatment of Palestinians.

Hawking has not publicly announced his decision, but the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine said he has written a brief letter to Perez to inform him that he has sanctioned the conference.

“[Hawking has made] an independent decision to respect the boycott, based upon his knowledge of Palestine, and on the unanimous advice of his own academic contacts there,” the committee said.

Hawking’s move follows a boycott of the Israeli regime by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and by the American members of the Association for Asian American Studies.

Back in 2009, Hawking had also condemned the regime’s three-week onslaught on Gaza, saying Tel Aviv’s response to firing of rockets from the coastal strip was “plain out of proportion … The situation is like that of [Apartheid] South Africa before 1990 and cannot continue”.

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation, Solidarity and Activism, War Crimes | , , | 1 Comment