The struggle away from the headlines

John Docker is an Australian Jew long associated with human rights. He’s also one of the founders of the Committee to Dismantle Zionism.

He presented the following paper yesterday at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies conference, “After Israel’s attack on Gaza: How do we work for peace and justice?”.

In 2002, following a letter to the British Guardian by Hilary and Steven Rose, Ghassan Hage and I put out a call for an Australian boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The call was denounced by various Howard government ministers, so Ghassan and I immediately knew we were doing something right. We received some prominent newspaper coverage, drawing attention to an Arab man and a Jewish man coming together in opposition to Zionism. We regarded our call as in the tradition of the international academic and cultural boycott of Apartheid South Africa. So does BRICUP in the UK, the boycott group inspired by the Hilary and Steven Rose letter.

As far as I’m concerned, the 2002 Australian boycott call is still in effect; it was signed by a hundred or so humanities intellectuals, infinitely superior to the Zionist functionaries who opposed it – we might think of Jeff Halper’s recent comments on the immaturity and lack of independent thought of the mainstream Australian Jewish community, reprising similar comments I have made in the past. This is an important point: the ever more apparent intellectual inferiority of the Zionists, which is why they resort to ad hominem vilification of those who disagree with them.

In the years since 2002, Zionist organizations worldwide have tried, by censorship and persecution, to intimidate academic critics into silence and fear. Nevertheless, during the horrors of the Gaza Massacre in early 2009, Ned Curthoys and I formed the Committee for the Dismantling of Zionism, and issued another call for an academic boycott. So far, there have been forty one signatories; if you want to add to that number, please email me.

I’ll read out the actions we support:

1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli academic institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by academic institutions;
4. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
5. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

Our boycott call is based on the call put out by PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, who point out that all Israeli universities are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and other forms of colonial and racist oppression. PACBI points out, for example, that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – with which, by the way, the research office at this university has established an agreement for staff exchanges – was the beneficiary of land confiscated from Palestinian families in 1968, a year after Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem. A large part of this confiscated land was then given to the Hebrew University to expand its campus. Such expropriation is illegal under the terms of international humanitarian law, specifically in relation to the Fourth Geneva Convention concerning the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949). It is noteworthy that such international law was passed in a flurry of humanitarian law legislation in the late 1940s; in just a few days in December 1948, there was the UN Genocide Convention, then the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then, the following day, UN Resolution 194 declaring the unconditional right of the Palestinian refugees, near 800,000 people, to return to their homes.

A very interesting aspect of our 2009 call is that it has been signed by a number of Indigenous academics. I take this to be a sign that Israel is now clearly perceived as a brutal settler-colonial society as well as a nationalist project.

At the end of the First World War, the famous writer Stefan Zweig wrote a letter to the philosopher Martin Buber, a Zionist since the late 1890s. How can you, Zweig asked Buber, support a nationalist movement like Zionism, having seen what nationalism did to the world in the war coming to an end? Zweig predicted a Jewish State would be a “state with cannons, flags, and military decorations”. How prescient Zweig was! The people of conscience of the world, Jewish and non-Jewish, have increasingly recognised and now fully recognise that Zionism is dead, spiritually, ethically, intellectually, after the 1948 ethnic cleansing and genocide and certainly after the Gaza Massacre. Zionist Israel still has power, frightening lawless military power. But it has no moral legitimacy. That is why the academic boycott is part of a more general BDS movement across the world: to defeat by Gandhian non-violence a soulless Zionism and return Palestine to a society and state for all its peoples.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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