One of my most unpleasant tasks as president of the Graduate Student Senate at UMass was having to interact with university executives. It would be only a slight overgeneralization to call them a bunch of snakes who combine the cleverness of academics with the slipperiness and amorality of corporate executives. They profess high-minded principles like intellectual achievement, academic freedom and humanistic values, while their actual concern is primarily to manage universities to respond to the technological, personnel and even ideological needs of the corporate and military sectors.
In 2007, hundreds of presidents of American universities signed a statement opposing a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions for their role in Israeli war crimes. The list of signatories is here:
In 2008-09, zero American university presidents condemned the incomparably worse Israeli bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza and the headquarters of its faculty association.
Many of us have been desensitized to this kind of vile double standard, but publicly pointing them out can still be a powerful moral action.
If your university’s president was among those who signed the statement, you might like to hold them accountable by making a public statement. I have written the following open letter, which for various strategic reasons, we have decided not to publish on my campus. Feel free to adapt it and use it on your own university campus. Remember to add a salutation and signature.
In 2007, you signed an open letter condemning an effort by British academics to hold Israeli academic institutions accountable for their collusion with the criminal Israeli occupation of Palestine. The academics opted for a selective boycott, which aimed to target culpable institutions while exempting Israeli academics who oppose Israel’s crimes.
Because of your open letter’s patent silliness – it called on the British academics to boycott American colleges and universities for not engaging in discrimination – and because it trivialized opposition to Israel’s severe war crimes as “political disagreements of the moment,” we assumed, along with the rest of the justice community, that you and the other signatories were motivated not by “fundamental values of the academy” such as “intellectual exchange,” as you claimed, but by the cheap, cynical Zionist partisanship that we have come to expect from the American elite.
We are pleased to present you with an opportunity to prove us wrong, by condemning the recent Israeli bombing of Palestinian academic institutions.
Several weeks ago, the Israeli Air Force bombed several academic buildings of the Islamic University of Gaza in six air strikes, including the science laboratory building and the “Ladies’ Building,” where women attend classes. More recently, Israel bombed the headquarters of the University Teachers’ Association.
Media reports on the Israeli bombing of the Islamic University were in near unanimous agreement that the university was targeted because it is a cultural symbol of Hamas. Astute observers have noted that these bombings are consistent with Israel’s policy of scholasticide – the systematic destruction of Palestinian education institutions, including, in the last several weeks, the destruction of at least four schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
The Israeli government has made the unsubstantiated claim, disputed by Islamic University officials, that the university was used by Hamas for military purposes. In view of the Israeli government’s history of lying about its wartime actions, its extensive targeting of educational and other civilian institutions, and its refusal to permit independent observers into Gaza to verify its allegations, this claim cannot be taken seriously. The Israeli academic institutions targeted by the British boycott, in contrast, are known to made substantive contributions to Israel’s criminal aggression and occupation.
There can be no doubt that bombing universities and faculty buildings are a more severe form of interference with the “fundamental values of the academy” and with “intellectual exchange” than a nonviolent, targeted boycott, and therefore at least as worthy of condemnation. We invite you to publicly condemn these bombings.
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This post was written by Uri on February 9, 2009