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Pro/Con: Are groups promoting boycott of Israeli institutions misguided?

No: It mirrors sentiment in U.N., other global bodies

The 5,000 member American Studies Association voted last December to join the academic boycott of Israel, the third scholarly group in the United States to do so in 2013. Their decision was both reasonable and commendable.

The call for boycott, divestment and sanctions — or BDS — against Israel was first issued in 2005 by more than 170 Palestinian non-governmental organizations, representing all facets of Palestinian society.

One year before, the International Court of Justice had found the parts of Israel’s separation wall built on Palestinian soil to be illegal, and called for its destruction and payment of restitution to Palestinians harmed by its construction.

Israel’s separation wall and other policies toward Palestinians have prompted repeated comparisons to South African apartheid.

Israel does not precisely replicate South African practices, but nonetheless systematically discriminates in favor of Jews and against Palestinians — by granting automatic citizenship to Jews from anywhere in the world, while denying return to expelled Palestinians who still possess the keys to their homes; by more than 50 laws designed to privilege Jews over non-Jews within Israel itself; and by maintaining separate roads, communities and legal systems for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has subjected Palestinians to torture, assassinations, lengthy detentions without trial, home demolitions, banishments, curfews, school closures, restrictions on movement and other violations of human rights.

Some prominent South Africans, including African National Congress chair Baleka Mbete, deem Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories “far worse” than their own version of apartheid.

The international community imposed a comprehensive boycott on South Africa that spared neither business people, athletes nor authors. The academic boycott of Israel, facing an evidently more brutal system of oppression, solely targets Israeli academic institutions. Individual Israeli academics remain free to attend conferences, visit universities abroad, and publish articles without restriction.

More than 40 times U.S. diplomats have vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli actions. We have overseen a peace process that Israel has exploited to expand its illegal West Bank settlements, now housing nearly 600,000 Israeli Jews, and thus to negate the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.

The international community must now grapple with the reality that Israel has fatally undermined the two-state solution.

When governments fail in their duties, as ours has done in its futile Middle East policies, citizens — academics and others — must take action. The non-violent academic boycott of Israel, while primarily symbolic, can still be powerful, as the furious reactions of Israeli leaders to BDS attest.

George Bisharat is a professor at University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. Readers may write to him at UC Hastings College of Law, 200 McAllister St., San Francisco, Calif. 94102; email: bisharat@uchastings.edu.

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