Hawking and the Growing Israel Boycott Movement
BDS activists in Gaza (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) consider renowned physicist Stephen Hawking’s decision to cancel his participation in an upcoming conference in Israel as part of an academic boycott “a huge victory for the BDS movement”
YOUSEF ALHELOU, TRNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA: The world-renowned British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking has joined the Academic boycott of Israel by refusing to attend a conference hosted by the Israeli president Shimon Perez, in protest at Tel Aviv’s treatment of Palestinians. Hawking’s move follows a boycott of Israel by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland and by the American members of the Association for Asian American Studies.
BDS activists consider Hawking’s decision a huge victory in the campaign for boycott, divestment, and sanctions targeting Israeli academic institutions.
In the past few years, dozens of artists, musicians and cultural figures have refused to perform or canceled scheduled performances in Israel, in response to calls by the global movement for the campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which was launched in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics, cultural figures and intellectuals say that boycotting Israeli academic and cultural institutions is an urgently needed form of pressure against Israel that can bring about its compliance with international law and the requirements for a just peace.
HAIDAR EID, PALESTINIAN CAMPAIGN FOR THE ACADEMIC AND CULTURAL BOYCOTT OF ISRAEL: I think one of the most important forms of BDS campaign is the Academic and cultural boycott. I mean, during the heydays of apartheid, the apartheid system of South Africa suffered from the sport boycott. And here right now in Palestine we are calling on international academic institutions, cultural figures, singers, writers, you name it, to boycott apartheid Israel until it complies with international law.
What is extremely important for us is that our movement is a movement of civil society and it calls for the implementation of international law. We have three demands. Demand number one is for the international community to impose sanctions against Israel until it withdraws from Arab lands it occupied in 1967. And we also expect Israel to implement United Nations Resolution 194, which calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees. And demand number three is an end to Israel’s discriminatory policies against the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel.
In 2011, the University of Johannesburg severed ties with Israel’s Ben-Gurion University in a campaign backed by over 400 South African academics and the Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
BDS–Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions–is a global campaign led by Palestinian civil society, which issued a call back in 2005 calling on the international community to boycott what they termed “apartheid Israel”, impose sanctions against it, and divest from it and from companies that invest in it, in line with the same policy that was used against the apartheid system in South Africa, which untimely led to the collapse of the apartheid system in 1994.
ADIE MORMECH, BRITISH BDS ACTIVIST: One barometer of the success of the boycott is that Israel has called them an existential threat. So they see the threat of the growing boycotts around the world. They need the Western appreciation and the Western links, the connections culturally, commercially, diplomatically. [incompr.] always maintain their position, really. They need Europe and America to be continuously supporting.
So they want to show that they’re the–they call themselves the only democracy in the Middle East, when really they’ve got a military dictatorship over 2.5 million people in the West Bank, and of course the siege and complete imprisonment of Palestinians in Gaza.
So they are worried. They’re worried that the West is going to gradually turn against them. The victories around the world have been huge, and they’re growing not only on a symbolic level, which is on the cultural boycott with many famous musicians such as Snoop Dogg, Massive Attack, Elvis Costello, The Pixies, Faithless, and many others, Annie Lennox, all saying they will not perform in Israel–these are big groups.
ALHELOU: For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation.
EID: What we are actually calling for is an end to Israel’s illegal polices against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Palestinian refugees. We want an end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing.
ALHELOU: The BDS campaign has also attracted some leading Jewish peace activists. And one of the most effective solidarity groups are the Israeli group Boycott from Within, a group made up of Israeli peace activists who are encouraging the boycotts against Israel until it ends its oppression of the Palestinian people.
Hasbara propaganda campaigns have been initiated by Israel to counter the damages caused by the growing Palestinian-led BDS campaign.
AYAH BASHIR, PALESTINIAN BDS ACTIVIST: Actually, Israel tries to accuse BDS activists of trying to delegitimize the state of Israel. And I will argue here that the effectiveness of the BDS primarily comes from being a strategy of nonviolent resistance and cross-border solidarity for advancing our rights.
ALHELOU: Demonstrations, banner drops, flashmobs, workshops, as well as the annual Israeli apartheid week are different forms of actions organized by BDS activists to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.
Israeli Apartheid Week’s rapid expansion, alongside that of the BDS movement, has arguably established the two as the most prominent global projects by Palestinian activists and their supporters.
Students often play an important role in driving the growth of progressive movements and the BDS movement is no exception, with a rapidly growing number of student groups working to pressure their universities to end ties with Israeli universities and corporations that are complicit with Israeli human rights violations.
Palestinian academics and students have issued a thank you note to Professor Hawking in which they express their deep appreciation for his principled position and for his support of the Palestinian civil struggle for justice and peace in Palestine.
Yousef Alhelou for The Real News, Gaza.
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