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PACBI-A Month to Celebrate, a Month of Global BDS Accomplishments!

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PACBI | 27 March 2011

A Month to Celebrate, a Month of Global BDS Accomplishments!

March 2011 was marked by major successes for the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, especially on the academic and cultural boycott front. There is much cause to celebrate, take stock of and continue to creatively and affectively mobilise around, based on the three basic and just demands of the BDS campaign. We hail BDS victories, knowing full well that they are the result of remarkable efforts by people of conscience around the world working tirelessly to support Palestinian human rights. For every victory, we salute BDS activists, from those who stood for hours on street corners leafleting to promote Israeli Apartheid Week, to those who for months built the inspiring campaign that led to the precedent-setting decision by the University of Johannesburg to sever ties with Ben Gurion University over the latter’s complicity in human rights violations.

This decision by the University of Johannesburg is certainly a watershed moment for the academic and cultural boycott. The sustained campaign of education and outreach undertaken by activists and engaged academics in South Africa (with resolute support from colleagues in Palestine and globally) is a remarkable model that should be developed and deployed in BDS campaigns the world over. [1] It is also of extreme symbolic significance for all those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle (past and present) that a South African university is the first to sever ties with an Israeli academic institution, underlining the message that apartheid is wrong anywhere.

This victory comes on the heels of the most successful Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) to date. [2] This year more than 100 cities participated in the seventh annual IAW. This is a very significant increase from the 55 cities that hosted the week last year, and a remarkable achievement considering it started seven years ago on one university campus in Toronto, organized by a handful of students, mostly Palestinian refugees in the diaspora.

IAW activities vary from one city to the next, including academic lectures, cultural festivals, and BDS actions that raise awareness about the apartheid dimension of Israel’s multi-tiered regime of oppression against the Palestinian people and promote the BDS campaign. While IAW has been consistently growing across North America, this year it spread further in Europe, Australia, Latin America and significantly in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. IAW 2011 happened in the wake of the inspiring popular uprisings across the Arab world, making it very important to add the efforts of IAW to the multitude of youth voices calling for justice, freedom and self determination across the Arab region and beyond. In close cooperation with many international partners, PACBI members participated as guest speakers in IAW events across the globe and supported divestment campaigns and motions on various campuses.

The spread and continued success of IAW, despite Zionist efforts to undermine it, clearly show that the BDS movement is not only growing and gaining momentum, but also that after years of building an understanding of the institutional academic and cultural boycott, university students, often supported by progressive faculty, are beginning to take action in the form of divestment campaigns and challenging specific academic links between their universities and Israeli academic institutions, all of which are deeply complicit in Israel’s occupation and apartheid.

For example, in Toronto, the entire week of IAW events, including guest lectures from Judith Butler, Ali Abunimah, Judy Rebick and Riham Barghouti, focused on the complicity of western academic institutions in supporting and sustaining Israeli apartheid. Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) officially launched a divestment campaign, joining with the existing divestment campaign at Carleton University in Ottawa. The students opened the week with demands for the University of Toronto and York University officially to divest from four companies involved in violations of Palestinian human rights. [3]

In Edinburgh, Israeli Apartheid Week lectures were followed by the passing of a motion to boycott Israel at the Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA) General Meeting on Monday, 14th March. The motion was passed with an overwhelming majority, with 270 votes in favour and 20 against. It called for a boycott of Israeli goods in EUSA shops and supply chains. [5]

IAW in the Arab world was also a success, and with the recent wave of democratic revolutions, it looks even more promising for the years to come, as Israel loses more of its tyrannical friends in the region. Quite significantly, Gaza weathered the illegal siege to hold its second IAW. Exceptionally determined students and faculty there found creative ways to use technology and hold Skype events to bring speakers from around the world, and to build linkages between Palestinians and the international solidarity movements. Jordan and Lebanon also held impressive events. In Jordan, where there is an official “peace” with Israel, activists had to brave the secret police to ensure events would take place. They are at the forefront of redeveloping and renewing a consistent and effective discourse of boycott and normalization, and we encourage others in the Arab world to work with them and build on the momentum of this month.

It is also worth noting that Palestinian and anti-colonial Jewish-Israeli student activists held IAW events in Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

The success of IAW in promoting the analysis of Israel as a state practicing apartheid, among other violations of international law, and spreading the BDS movement can be partially gauged by the hysterical and unprecedented Zionist response to the week. This year, there was a concerted and well-funded effort, led by the Israeli establishment and its main lobby groups, to counter the week, with Israeli universities recruited to play a significant role in these attempts. For example, Ben Gurion University and the Weizmann Institute joined forces with Israel’s Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs to support and finance a delegation of Israelis going to the UK to counter IAW. It is not surprising with the tight connections between Israeli academic institutions and the Israeli state that the universities would help launch this effort.[6] The 'tour’ of Israeli students so far in the UK has been an abysmal failure; students are simply rejecting - and often ridiculing - the main propaganda message that Israel is a multicultural haven. The tour has been met with protests or empty rooms. A similar effort was launched in North America as well but was also unable to generate any interest from the general student body, while IAW speakers consistently spoke to overcrowded rooms.

There is a crisis in the Zionist camp on how to react to the diverse, creative and strategic student activism in the BDS movement and how to react to the recent spread of the academic and cultural boycott, specifically. They shift from hard to soft tactics, on one hand using smear campaigns and legal repression to shut down Israeli Apartheid Week activities in some places [7], in others trying to desperately rebrand Israel as a friendly place for students. Yet they do not seem to galvanize any excitement, let alone respect, even within their own ranks. On the other hand, Israeli Apartheid Week’s reach continues to grow and inspire students. Israel and its key pressure groups, addicted to the singularly arrogant and ultimately futile tactics of intimidation and intellectual terror, fail to see what many around the world are starting to clearly articulate: there is no way to rebrand or beautify apartheid, ethnic cleansing, medieval siege or military occupation.

PACBI warmly welcomes the successes of this week and salutes our allies around the world, especially in the birthplace of IAW in Canada, for their principled positions and actions, and for standing in solidarity with Palestinians struggling for their inalienable, UN-sanctioned rights. Finally, we look forward to working with solidarity movements around the world to build on the achievements of IAW over the next year and to forge new and strong relationships as we struggle together to end Israeli occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.


[3] Full details on the campaign and promotional materials here:
[4] Quoted in
[7] As with the cancellation of an IAW event in New York City at the LGBT Centre, details here:

Posted on 27-03-2011

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