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A Just Boycott for Palestinian Rights

By Alexander Abbasi, Giacomo Bagarella, and Asmaa Rimawi

Last month, Harvard President Drew G. Faust issued a condemnation of the American Studies Association’s vote in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, a decision meant to redress the injustices that face Palestinians within both Israel and the occupied territories of West Bank and Gaza.

As members of the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student organization whose mission is to support the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and equality, we find Israeli academic institutions to be complicit in Palestinian oppressions and limitations to education.

Faust’s condemnation is apathetic to the systematic oppression faced by Palestinians under the yoke of Israeli institutional racism.

The ASA, established in 1951, is a respected institution whose boycott is an example of growing consciousness within the public and academic worlds on the issue of Israel-Palestine. The vote for this ASA resolution received the largest voter participation in the organization's history.

Alongside the ASA, the Association for Asian-American Studies, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and the Association for Humanist Sociology have endorsed resolutions to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The Modern Language Association hosted a roundtable at its conference this month in Chicago to discuss academic boycotts “through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

These boycotts demand justice for a Palestinian population, particularly students, that is consistently harassed by the Israeli military, infringing upon their lives and academic freedoms—such as the frequent and vastly documented child arrests recorded in the West Bank in a 2013 report by UNICEF.

Just last school-year, members of our organization wrote an article, “Israel vs. No. 2 Pencils,” on Israel’s sudden seizure of all October SAT exams destined for the occupied territories, forcibly delaying the exam for a class of applicants.

Harvard itself has only one student from Gaza, Abderhman Abuhashem ’16, whose travel to and from home is severely affected by arbitrary travel restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This is a true example of the “subversion” by Israel of the very “academic freedoms and values necessary for the free-flow of ideas” Faust advocates. Yet, Abderhman represents one of many Palestinian students and youth who resiliently seek their human rights, dignity, and education. We stand in solidarity with them.

Moreover, we were disappointed that The Crimson’s reporting on Faust’s statement did not include voices of those who formed and endorsed the academic boycott. Better coverage might have noted that this boycott, part of the broader Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, is in fact increasingly supported by groups across the United States and the world.

The global movement seeking to end the occupation and enfranchise Palestinians through boycotts is growing, and winning, following in the footsteps of the South African anti-apartheid movement that also included academic boycotts.

The boycott is a nonviolent approach supported by Palestinian solidarity and justice groups to demand that Israel abide by international law and that Palestinians be given fair opportunities, in their daily lives and in academic institutions globally, without severe limitation by Israeli policy. Attempts to label those who criticize Israel for its anti-Palestinian state policies as “anti-Semitic” are ideologically incoherent and are rejected categorically by social justice organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace.

President Faust said in her statement on fossil fuel divestment that steps “that would appear to position the University as a political actor rather than an academic institution” are contrary to Harvard’s goals as an academic institution. Yet, on the issue of Palestinian life and human rights, Faust takes issue with a nonviolent movement against oppressive Israeli state policies. As Harvard students, we recognize this as our university’s disappointing complicity in perpetuating systems of injustice, alienating our cause.

President Faust has taken an anti-humanitarian position on the issue of the ASA boycott, a position insupportable before international law or by the history of other movements that sought to end systems of apartheid.

President Faust should retract her statement with growing campus and global support for the BDS human rights movement in mind and adhere to a position as a Harvard president on the side of human rights that are necessary to academic freedom. Her current position perpetuates the systematic injustice Palestinians face.

As Harvard students committed to social justice for all, we will not stand for academic institutions that do not secure the basic human rights due to all people, from Cambridge to Palestine.

Alexander Abbasi, Harvard Divinity School ’15, is an A.M. candidate in Theology and a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee. Giacomo Bagarella ’13 is a former chair of the PSC. Asmaa Z. Rimawi ’14 is a Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations concentrator in Lowell House. She serves as the PSC’s current chair.

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