Oct 242012
 

On Palestine, change is underway. Despite the best efforts of Binyamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and John Boehner, the Palestinian cause is gaining ground in the American mainstream – a necessary step for changing the reality on the ground. Just how much we have gained was evident in downtown Manhattan in the first week of October.

The first Russell Tribunal was convened by Bertrand Russell in 1966 in opposition to the American war in Vietnam. Jean Paul-Sartre and Julio Cortazar were only two of about 30 Tribunal members who gathered to review evidence of war crimes. Their activism led to a condemnation of the war and a non-binding, but morally profound verdict finding that crimes against humanity had been committed.

The 36 years since the first Tribunal was organised have seen the model replicated to highlight crimes in Chile and Iraq. Today, the Russell Tribunal on Palestine is the latest citizens’ reaction to a monumental injustice. Israeli apartheid has been permitted to metastasise unimpeded across Palestinian lives – and that has galvanised the human rights community.

I attended the New York session of the Tribunal – the fourth in a global series – on October 6. The discussions took place at Cooper Union, a venerable American institution of higher learning in downtown Manhattan. The auditorium hosting the Tribunal was full of participants and members of the media. On stage, Alice Walker, Roger Waters and others bore witness as evidence of apartheid was presented by a range of experts.

The fact that the gathering had been organised at a prominent venue in the heart of New York City was significant. Equally notable was the lack of visible protesters or disturbances at Cooper Union or in the surrounding area. By contrast, a small group of Palestine activists would have been greeted by zealous anti-Palestinian protests only a few years ago.

The difference indicates a change in American views. While there are numerous causes for it – including Israeli arrogance in Washington – civil society activism continues to be the most potent driver of progress. In other words, meetings like the Russell Tribunal on Palestine are driving normative change. In turn, that change strengthens the justice movement and enables meetings like the Tribunal to convene.
Organised gatherings like the Tribunal represent only one of three mutually reinforcing platforms of the Palestine justice movement in the US. Student and new media activism also contribute a great deal in changing perceptions of what is happening on the ground.

Activism at universities

Not surprisingly, some of the most committed social justice work takes place at universities. Politically conscious students were some of the most effective campaigners against the war in Vietnam, segregation in the American south and discrimination against LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) individuals. The university environment – with its high degree of ideological cross-pollination – allowed young people to learn from prominent activists like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky who helped cultivate their commitment to social justice.

Activism at universities is particularly notable for its self-propulsion and reliance on forward movement. In an environment where membership in organisations is subject to high levels of turnover, new ideas and energy are elemental parts of building an on-campus movement.

Today, that energy and focus on growth means that the national Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) movement is flourishing at an unprecedented rate. Young Americans of all races are taking a stand against apartheid in Palestine. If Palestine is anything like Vietnam, civil rights, or South Africa – and I believe it is – then their movement on this issue portends a policy change in the future.

The growth in student activism cannot be completely set apart from the role that new journalism and media are playing in highlighting occupation. Much of the video footage that has helped to move public opinion in the US has been recorded by citizen-journalists.

Young people who engaged at the undergraduate level are particularly good at adopting new technologies in service of their activism. Furthermore, many of them continue to participate in disseminating news and information after they have graduated and entered the workforce. Their inter-connectedness across social media facilitates the process of debunking hasbara, or Israeli propaganda, at a faster clip than it can be generated. Crucially, mendacity is not a viable tactic in an internet age.

Finally, new potency is being invested in the Palestine justice movement by veteran activists of other struggles. The impact of this relatively new phenomenon has been enormous. Gatherings like the Russell Tribunal help to reinforce the tendency of people like Sarah Schulman and Naomi Klein to work for justice in Palestine. Their work helps to generate support for the movement among other veterans who can offer valuable experience and tactical support.

For instance, one of the most important developments these past several weeks has been the emergence of a pro-justice Christian coalition in the US. A group of 15 ecumenical groups signalled a willingness to take on that most sacred of cows, American military aid to the Jewish-privilege state, when they sent a letter to Congress requesting a policy review . Their moral courage has resulted in defamatory campaign waged by several Jewish establishment groups. So far, the coalition’s resolve has not wavered.
As the conversation about Palestine matures and develops in the US, gatherings like the Russell Tribunal will only proliferate. The virtuous circle produced by different types of activism helps drive more types of engagement amongst different segments of society. These mutually reinforcing processes drive normative change. And as the organisers of the Tribunal know, that work is an indispensable part of what it takes to defeat apartheid.

Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian-American graduate student of Public Policy at Harvard University and co-editor of After Zionism (Saqi Books, July 2012).

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Oct 242012
 

AL-KHALIL, (PIC)– The Israeli occupation forces (IOF) kidnapped on Tuesday evening two students of Al-Khalil university in the context of its security cooperation with the Palestinian authority.

A force of Israeli troops raided and ransacked the house of student Muhannad Halayka in Al-Khalil before taking him in chain to an unknown destination, his family said.

The family noted that Halayka was detained many times by the Palestinian authority security forces because of his participation in protests against the arbitrary arrest of students.

The IOF also kidnapped student Mohamed Abu Arqoub in an ambush near Deir Samit village southwest of Al-Khalil.

Abu Arqoub is also one of the Al-Khalil university students who participated in the student sit-in that was staged on campus against political arrests.

The IOF kidnapped about 20 students from the Islamic student bloc of Al-Khalil students because of their participation or involvement in student protests against the Palestinian authority.

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Oct 242012
 

TEL AVIV // Ghadir Abu Rokba has become one of the latest victims of Israel’s years-long bid to separate the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The 18-year-old from Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp last spring applied for a US-sponsored scholarship to study mathematics at Birzeit University in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The two-year-old scholarship programme for academically talented but financially strapped Palestinians has become the sole opportunity for Gaza youth to enrol in West Bank universities, which are viewed to have more highly-qualified teachers and better facilities than those in Gaza, and offer more study programmes.

Palestinians from Gaza have not been allowed to study in the West Bank since 2000, except for three students who won the US scholarship programme when it began in 2010.

So when scholarship officials who interviewed Ms Abu Rokba indicated she had been accepted, she bought new clothes and told her family and friends about her departure from Gaza.

In August, however, programme officials quietly shelved applications from Gazans and granted all 36 scholarships only to West Bank candidates after Israel refused to allow any applicant from Gaza to cross its territory and enter the West Bank.

Ms Abu Rokba only found out about the programme’s cancellation when she called the US scholarship officials, wondering why she did not hear from them for several months.

She said the news was a crushing disappointment. “I was pretty sure I got in, so it was shocking,” she said.

“We have a right to go to the other part of our country. Students like us have nothing to do with politics.”

Ms Abu Rokba, who aspired to becoming a mathematics teacher in Gaza with her degree, is now studying English literature at Gaza’s Al Aqsa University.

The cancellation of the US programme for Gazans effectively limits them to study in Gaza or to pursue studies in other countries, to which they would be able to travel through Gaza’s Rafah crossing that borders Egypt and is run by Cairo. Israel’s refusal to allow Gaza students to study in the West Bank has been blasted by rights groups as violating their rights for access to higher education at all Palestinian institutions and their freedom of movement.

Nevertheless, Israel’s supreme court last month upheld the blanket ban that has been in place since the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000. The court ruling came following a petition by the Israeli rights group Gisha and the Gaza organisation Al Mezan arguing that Gaza and the West Bank are a single territorial entity in which people keep familial, economic and educational ties. They demanded that Israel subject Gazans wanting to go to the West Bank to individual security checks rather than employ a general ban.

Israel controls all the border crossings into the West Bank, territory it has occupied since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It also controls all the border crossings of Gaza except for Rafah and allows almost no one to leave. The only exceptions include owners of large businesses and patients seeking medical care.
Israel has bolstered restrictions on Gazans since 2007, when the Islamic group Hamas, which it views as an enemy, violently took over the strip from the secular Fatah movement that holds sway in the West Bank.
Since then, it has implemented a so-called separation policy between Gaza and the West Bank to pressure Hamas to stop firing rockets on Israeli territory. Activists have blasted the separation as collective punishment that especially hurts families, smaller businesses and students.

Still, Israel has insisted that students are a “high-risk” group and that West Bank universities are “terrorist hotbeds” that could be used for the recruitment of students. US officials said last week that it was Israel’s refusal to grant travel permits to Gaza students that prompted them to grant West Bank students all the scholarships. The scholarships were sponsored by the non-profit US group Amideast and paid for full tuition, books and travel.

The cancellation has spurred resentment and fury among some of the programme’s applicants in Gaza.
Mohammed Al Naqlah, an 18-year-old who had planned to study English literature in the West Bank, had been counting on the scholarship.

“It made me feel sad. My family doesn’t have money to pay for my studies. Also, the universities here are not so good and in the West Bank they are very good,” he said.

Basel Bashir, an 18-year-old from the Gaza town of Deir El Balah who had visited the West Bank only once for a few hours en route to a summer camp in Egypt in 2007, had planned to study law at Birzeit University.

“It was a chance to go to the West Bank and get to know different ways of living and of teaching and to meet new people,” he said.

He added that he had little hope the scholarships would be offered again for Gazans.
“I love Gaza and I had been planning to return. But the schools are not as good in Gaza and if I study here I will not help Gaza. It makes you more than angry,” he said.

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Oct 242012
 

In May 2012, the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP) issued a briefing document, “Universities rebranding Israel’s image: Hasbara posts in Israel Studies threaten academic integrity.”[1] This important activist tool provides information and suggestions for how to mobilize against Israel Studies chairs and posts in the UK, especially in view of the promotion of Israel studies by supporters of Israel to counter Israel’s increasingly tarnished reputation and in light of the growing global BDS movement. “Interrogating Israel Studies in the Academy” is a call to action by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

This call builds upon the BRICUP briefing document and provides brief information about Israel Studies in other parts of the world.

Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX). It was jointly established by the UK and Israeli governments, with support from the Pears Foundation and United Jewish Israel Appeal (Image: British Council)

We also outline for conscientious academics and students other components of Israel studies such as academic programs, centers, activities and opportunities in Israel studies.[2]

Background

For several years now, universities in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere have been establishing academic programs and centers, faculty chairs, fellowships and scholarships, study abroad programs, journals, and other activities and schemes in Israel Studies. There is no doubt that the proliferation of Israel Studies is linked to the increasing prominence of academic activism on university campuses around the world inspired by the Palestinian call for the academic and cultural Boycott of Israel and the impressive spread of the wider boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

As the BRICUP document makes clear, pro-IsraelHasbara (“public explaining,” or propaganda) initiatives have been well funded by the Israeli government and Zionist foundations, with strategic advice from organizations such as the Reut Institute, an influential Zionist think-tank. A recent investigation into Israel studies shows that while it is not an entirely new academic field, it has been particularly in the last decade that Israel’s deteriorating international image has prompted the establishment of new initiatives.[3]

As BRICUP has shown, in the UK a key propaganda initiative is the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX). It was jointly established by the UK and Israeli governments, with support from the Pears Foundation and United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA).[4] BIRAX has been facilitated by Lord Weidenfeld, a former Chef de Cabinet of Israel. BIRAX aims to strengthen research cooperation between Israeli and British academics and academic institutions, especially as a way to counter boycott calls against Israeli universities.[5]

In the United States, there is a robust effort to institute Israel studies through a multi-faceted array of academic programs, centers, endowed chairs, fellowships and scholarships, faculty training, and visiting lectureships.[6] The Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA, for example, has a fellowship program for academics and graduate students; training programs for teachers and university professors; an artist-in-residence scheme; and a publications series, among other activities.[7] Other examples of Israel Studies programs and centers in the US and Canada are those at Brandies University[8], Concordia University[9], and the University of Calgary.[10]

In Europe at large, the European Association of Israel Studies was established in 2011 with funding from the Pears Foundation, based at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London for the first four years.[11]Other programs are found at Manchester University, Leeds University (all funded by the Pears Foundation) and at Oxford University (Stanley and Zea Lewis Family Foundation).[12] At SOAS the posts are named Israel Studies. At the other universities the names link Israel with Middle Eastern or Mediterranean Studies. There are efforts to create more posts. At Sussex University in particular, the Yossi Harel Chair in Modern Israel Studies is named after a Mossad spy-provocateur who sought to escalate conflict with Egypt during the 1954 Suez crisis; he also fought in the Haganah. The Chair’s name indicates the pro-Zionist political objectives of the sponsors: the R and S Cohen Foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Atkin Foundation, the Gerald Ronson Foundation (see the Annexes in the BRICUP briefing document). Lord Weidenfeld welcomed the Yossi Harel Chair as ‘vital in the fight against anti-Zionism’. Indeed, Israel Studies ‘is very important to have in some key universities, particularly those with an anti-Israel presence’, he told the Jewish Chronicle (01.03.12).[13]

A Call for Action: Countering Israel-centered Academic Propaganda

It is important to have a well-studied strategy for countering the various manifestations of Israel Studies. It is important to show that Israel studies is driven by glaring political agendas that undermine academic integrity and stems from pro-Israel considerations and motivations in the face of the increasing international condemnation and isolation of Israel as a racist, colonial and apartheid state. It is equally important to show that Israel studies often conflicts with the more or less universal values of the academy. As the BRICUP briefing document states,

[the] hasbara agenda profoundly contradicts the mission and basic values of universities. They are committed to excellence, integrity and rigour in both research and teaching. This aim distinguishes universities from PR companies, advertising agencies, policy-based think-thanks, in-house research units, commercial R&D units and the like. It forms the core value of universities to the wider society. Research and teaching therefore must be carried out in ways that are not, nor seen to be, captured by special interests of any kind. Universities have a fundamental responsibility to students, tax-payers, donors, and the wider public in this regard. Their intrinsic value and wider reputation would suffer to the extent that they disregard this responsibility….Israeli PR has goals fundamentally at odds with the university’s mission. Such funding also generates a conflict with the ethical codes and standards that some universities are attempting to formalize. Academic integrity and freedom are under threat at every stage: in accepting such funds, selecting staff, setting the curriculum, research topics, framing issues, etc. Staff may well feel under pressure to keep quiet about such concerns. Such funds concern all those who wish to uphold basic academic standards in an era of greater austerity and private fund-raising.[14]

To defend the basic mission of the university, we have a responsibility to question the aims and conditions of a new program, center, or post in Israel Studies, regardless of whether or not it has already been established. Questions can be flexibly deployed for different purposes or at different stages, for example:

pressuring universities to demonstrate that the program or post is not Hasbara Studies, or
opening up debate about the academic integrity of such an undertaking , or
trying to set conditions for improving its integrity, or opposing the program, post, or center.

A campaign can maximize initial unity by posing questions to donors and universities, who may be sensitive about their reputation. Questions could be put more forcefully if sponsored by unions of university staff and students. The list of questions should be widely publicised; see examples below. As a general question: How do the criteria and procedures for the post, center or program compare with other new posts, centers or programs in the university or department?

University staff have already posed such questions about posts in Israel Studies. In some cases, donors’ terms have been clarified or improved, or else their offers have been withdrawn.

Depending on responses from the university and donors, a campaign can then decide on further demands or actions. This activity could be called, for example, the ‘Campaign Against Hasbara Studies’ or the ‘Campaign Against Apartheid Apologetics’, or the “Campaign for Academic Integrity”. Groups to be engaged in a campaign include: academic and other staff; students, student societies and student unions; academic unions and associations; and the local community. Appropriate methods include public meetings, press announcements, cross-university collaboration, etc.

Questioning Israel studies posts, chairs, programs, centers, fellowships, and other schemes

Rationale

What academic need informed the decision to create the program, center, or post? Or did the initiative come from the donors?

What are the aims for establishing the center, program or fellowship? What is the justification within the academic framework and the university’s programs?

Is the program or center involved in any academic exchange relations with Israeli universities? If so, is the relationship part of a formal agreement between the institutions? If these Israeli universities/partners are implicated in grave violations of international law and human rights principles, how does that affect the host institution’s image and possible liability?

Criteria for candidates for posts, fellowships, and scholarships

What are the criteria and specifications for selecting a candidate?

Is the position or opportunity open to all applicants, regardless of ethnic or religious origin?

Will the donors accept a decision to select a Muslim, Arab or Palestinian?

Role of donors

Will the center, program, or appointment be set up on a basis independent of the donors? Have they expected or requested a role in the process? Do they have the opportunity to set criteria? If so, what are they?

Have any donors suggested names of candidates for posts or fellowships? Have such suggestions resulted in applications?

Will the financial contribution be an annual renewal and therefore vulnerable to donor interference, or by a long-term guaranteed endowment?

Application and selection process

Where is the post, fellowship, or scholarship to be advertised?

Who are the members of the appointment committee? Will it include a staff-appointed representative?

Has a shortlist been established? What are the shortlisting procedures?

After shortlisting, will candidates give presentations accessible to staff members?

Hasbara Funding: who’s who

Below are some examples of Israel Studies programs in the US and Canada. For information on the UK, see the BRICUP document “Universities rebranding Israel’s image: Hasbara posts in Israel Studies threaten academic integrity.”[15] This list is by no means exhaustive, and we encourage groups around the world to identify programs and posts related to Israeli hasbara and to add to this research related to their particular region. We also encourage communication with us to make this list more comprehensive.

Further resources for researching Israel Studies

Chairs in Israel Studies in the USA and Canada: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/isdf/chairs.html
Israel Studies Centers in the US and Canada:http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/isdf/centers.html
A list compiled by the Association for Israel Studies of “centers, institutes, study programs, endowed chairs, and faculty that focus on the academic study of modern Israel. It includes only institutions whose primary focus is on modern Israel, rather than on Jewish or Middle Eastern studies more broadly” : http://www.aisisraelstudies.org/centers.ehtml
Some American and Canadian funders of Israel Studies:
Israel On Campus Coalition (ICC): http://www.israelcc.org/

American-Israeli Cooperation Enterprise (AICE):http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/about/index.shtm

Hillel, the Foundation for Campus Jewish Life: http://www.hillel.org/index

Azrieli Foundation (Canada): http://www.azrielifoundation.org/

Younes & Soraya Nazarian Family Foundation (UCLA):http://nazarianfamilyfoundation.com/about_us_eng.html

Visiting Israel Professors (VIP), a partnership between Schusterman Family Foundation and AICE: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/isdf/announce12.html

Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation :http://www.thegilbertfoundation.org/gilbert/home.html

Mirowski Family Foundation (Temple University):http://www.cla.temple.edu/submit/submit-events/mirowski/

Stoll Family (chair at Brandeis): http://my.brandeis.edu/news/item?news_item_id=100344&show_release_date=1

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation: http://www.schusterman.org/

[1]BRICUP, “Universities rebranding Israel’s image: Hasbara posts in Israel Studies threaten academic integrity.http://bricup.org.uk/documents/HasbaraStudiesBriefing.pdf

[2] PACBI has adapted the BRICUP briefing for global use in coordination with and with the permission of BRICUP.

[3]Ben White, “The Case for Israel (Studies): It’s not Hasbara. Honest.” Mondoweiss, June 21, 2012.http://mondoweiss.net/2012/06/the-case-for-israel-studies-its-not-hasbara-honest.html. White provides a useful chronology of academic hasbara efforts, mainly in the United States.

[4] http://www.biraxrmi.organd http://www.britishcouncil.org/israel-education-birax.htm

[5]See PACBI’s analysis of the BIRAX role in the anti-boycott campaign: http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1177&key=birax

[6] Ben White, op. cit.

[7] http://www.international.ucla.edu/israel/about/article.asp?parentid=117533

[8] http://www.brandeis.edu/israelcenter/

[9] http://www.concordia.ca/alumni-giving/giving/reasons-to-give/news/2011/06/azrieli-foundation-donates-5-million-to-concordia-university.php

[10] http://arts.ucalgary.ca/isst/

[11]BRICUP, op. cit.

[12] BRICUP, op. cit.

[13] The information on UK universities is taken from the BRICUP briefing document.

[14]BRICUP, op. cit.

[15]http://bricup.org.uk/documents/HasbaraStudiesBriefing.pdf

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