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Thursday, April 17, 2014

[haw-info] HAW Proposes Work on Israel/Palestine and BDS

Dear members and friends of HAW,

Following the American Studies Association's endorsement of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and the ongoing debate in the Modern Language Association over a resolution to censure Israel's violations of academic freedom, the Steering Committee of HAW began considering what (if any) action we should take.

After an extensive discussion, we agreed that the most appropriate process was for the Steering Committee to vote on whether HAW as an organization should publicly endorse BDS ("a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights" -- BDS movement website, http://www.bdsmovement.net/).

The majority of the SC has voted "yes" on this motion, committing us to begin work. This was not a simple decision; some members spoke strongly in favor of the position taken by historians Linda Gordon, Alice Kessler-Harris, and Elaine Tyler May, that an academic and cultural boycott was counter-productive and would be divisive, and that US activists should focus on US policy, in particular its military support for Israel's illegal occupation.  Others countered that we can, in fact, do both, that the boycott was the call of Palestinian civil society which deserves to be heeded, and that it will have the greatest effect inside Israel, in terms of motivating a turn to real negotiations and an end to the occupation.

We support an academic boycott (of institutions & their funding streams, not of individuals) because most large universities in Israel have been helping the Israeli government to use academic research as a cover for propaganda. Israel's government has pushed ahead aggressively on archaeological excavations that expropriate Muslim holy sites and Palestinian village lands, and much "archaeological research" in East Jerusalem and elsewhere has proceeded with the financial backing of right-wing Israeli foundations, through university conduits. The area around the Western Wall, e.g., has been designated an "Archaeological Park" by the Israeli government, consolidating Israeli ownership of a space that has in the past been shared with Arabs; Hebron has similarly designated nearby Palestinian lands "archaeological sites." The trick is well known and understood by Israelis (see, for instance, http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.567898). We as historians need to counter this falsification of academic research.

What shall we do now?  How should this decision be implemented? Actions in support of the academic and cultural boycott, and more generally against the occupation of Palestinian lands, are an entirely new arena of work for HAW, and we need to recruit a group of members who want to develop a program.   We propose the following steps:

1. Form a working group of people interested in challenging the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and US support for Israel, including work on an academic and cultural boycott;

2.  If you are interested in participating in this group, please send an email to Jeri Fogel (fogelj@mail.montclair.edu) and/or Van Gosse (van.gosse@fandm.edu);

3.  Once HAW's Israel/Palestine Working Group (temporary name) is formed, we will generate an online discussion of its process and goals, and then hold a conference call to discuss more in-depth;

4.  The result will be a plan of work for this and the coming academic year, including possible subgroups.

We welcome your thoughts and queries, and we hope many of you will sign up for the new working group.

Van and Jeri



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