This is the background to the growing movement to "boycott Israel". This Wednesday Britain's University and College Union (UCU) voted to promote a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, protesting Israel's policy on the Palestinians. The vote was preceded by a heated discussion in which Israel was repeatedly referred to as an apartheid state, engaging in crimes against humanity in the occupied territories. The motion was approved by a 158 to 99 vote, and called for freezing European funding for Israeli academic institutions, while condemning "Israeli academia's cooperation with the occupation.
The movement to boycott Israel is not limited to Britain. Last year the largest union in Canada the Ontario division of Canada's largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) voted to support the international campaign that is boycotting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
Now we are informed that South Africa's largest trade union, the Congress of South African Trade Unions also seeks to boycott Israel. The president of the Congress of COSATU, Willy Madisha, announced the launching of the campaign last week in Johannesburg, calling on the government to boycott all Israeli goods and cease all diplomatic relations with Israel after its attacks on Palestinian leaders.
"The best way to have Israel comply with United Nations resolutions is to pressure it by a diplomatic boycott such as the one imposed on apartheid South Africa," Madisha said. COSATU belongs to a recently-formed coalition of organizations operating under the banner "End The Occupation". This runs contrary to South Africa's official stance, and to President Thabo Mbeki's decision to strengthen trade ties with Israel. Mbeki, who heads the ANC ruling party, even appeared as a guest at Israel's Independence Day celebrations in Durban last month.
The Campaign organizers intend to picket outside selected stores selling Israeli goods.
The supporters of the Israeli ruling class are very upset of course and are try to accuse the growing International movement in support of the boycott of being Anti-Semitic. Israel's ambassador to Britain, Zvi Hefetz, responded to the UCU's resolution by saying that the resolution was offensive to Britain's Jewish community. "Its slanted phrasing reeks of ignorance," he added. Adrian Fronda, a senior mathematics lecturer who had joined the union solely to vote against the boycott, was less diplomatic. "I came here to oppose the prevalent anti-Semitism we see all around us here," he said. Israeli Education Minister Yuli Tamir condemned the British union's decision, saying she would address the British education minister on the matter, and the chairman of the Committee of University Heads, Professor Moshe Kaveh, called on British scientists to continue conducting joint projects with Israeli scientists.
The supporters of the Israeli ruling class are the last ones who can complain about boycott. Last year the Israeli liberal journalist Gidon Levi, in his article titled "With a little help from the outside", pointing out to their cynicism replied to them:
"The laugh of fate: The state waging a broad international campaign for a boycott is simultaneously waging a parallel campaign, no less determined, against a boycott. A boycott that seriously harms the lives of millions of people is legitimate in its eyes because it is directed against those defined as its enemies, while a boycott that is liable to hurt its academic ivory tower is illegitimate in its eyes only because it is aimed against itself. This is a moral double standard. Why is the boycott campaign against the Palestinian Authority, including blocking essential economic aid and boycotting leaders elected in democratic and legal elections, a permissible measure in Israel's eyes and the boycott of its universities is forbidden?
"Israel cannot claim the boycott weapon is illegitimate. It makes extensive use of this weapon itself, and its victims are suffering under severe conditions of deprivation, from Rafah to Jenin. In the past, Israel called upon the world to boycott Yasser Arafat, and now it is calling for a boycott of the Hamas government - and via this government, all of the Palestinians in the territories. And Israel does not regard this as an ethical problem. Tens of thousands have not received their salaries for four months due to the boycott, but when there is a call to boycott Israeli universities, the boycott suddenly becomes an illegitimate weapon." (Gidon Levi, Haaretz, June 4, 2005)
The supporters of the oppression of the Palestinian are trying to hide the role of the Israeli academic institutions in helping the Israeli war machine and propaganda. Most academics and intellectuals in Israel have never condemned the Nakba - the massive dispossession and ethnic cleansing campaign carried out by Zionists around 1948, transforming close to 800,000 Palestinians into refugees. Nor are they supporting the right of return of the refugees. Nor have they condemned Israeli boycotting of other countries like Cuba for instance. Israeli universities - all government controlled - have not only been complicit in justification of various aspects of the occupation, but have also directly participated in acts of robbery of the occupied Palestinians.
The Hebrew University has been engaged in expropriating lands and expelling their Palestinian owners in occupied East Jerusalem. Tel Aviv University (TAU) refuses to date to acknowledge the fact that it sits on top of an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village. Some of TAU's departments are also organically linked to the military and intelligence establishment.
Bar Ilan University not only operates a campus on the illegal colony of Ariel near Nablus, but has also awarded Ariel Sharon an honorary doctorate for his role in the March 2002 reoccupation of Palestinian cities, which witnessed atrocities in Jenin and Nablus as well as the destruction and indiscriminate killings in all the major Palestinian cities and refugee camps in the West bank. Ben Gurion University has supported in various ways the discrimination of the Bedouins in the Negev.
Haifa University not only employs one of the most racist academics in Israel, Professor Arnon Sofer, who relentlessly and influentially provides academic justification for ethnically cleansing Palestinians - including citizens of Israel but the University has itself sponsored a wide campaign attempting to cover up a Zionist massacre in the Palestinian village of Tantura, near Haifa, during the Nakba, and went through motions to fire, discredit or silence Professor Ilan Pappe and one of his students for daring to reveal the facts about this massacre.
The political question however is not about whether boycotting the Israeli ruling class and its academics servants or particular departments of the universities is justified on moral grounds - this is obvious. This however, is not the same as boycotting all the academic institutions that will hurt all the students and teachers.
The real question we should be discussing is what is the programme and perspective that will end the occupation and the repression. What will end the misery of the masses?
Those who advocate the boycott of Israel as their strategy refer to the boycott of the Apartheid regime in South Africa as their model. They claim that it was the international boycott of South Africa that brought down the Apartheid regime. That is totally false! What brought down the Apartheid regime was the mobilisation of the black masses of South Africa. In particular the organisation of the working class into massive trade unions, eventually leading to the formation of COSATU, combined with a wave of strike action and mass mobilisation is what forced the hated, white capitalist class to look for a way out of the impasse they were facing. That is what forced them to bring to an end the hated Apartheid laws and the regime that went with them. If this mass movement had not developed the boycott would not have brought an end to the Apartheid regime.
However, the fall of the Apartheid regime was not the end of the story! Anyone who is familiar with the history of South Africa knows that the revolutionary struggle of the black masses was eventually betrayed and instead of overthrowing the capitalist system that gave birth to the Apartheid regime, as was possible in 1994, the outcome of this heroic struggle of the workers and poor ended with a counter-revolution in democratic clothing. The reformist leadership of the ANC and the SACP saved the capitalist ruling class and their bourgeois state.
The gulf of inequality between the poor and the wealthy is as great or greater today than it was under white minority rule, although a slight redistribution has taken place, but only to the benefit of a thin layer of blacks brought into government and onto corporate boards. For the broad masses, conditions have grown increasingly desperate, with nearly one third of the population unemployed and a quarter infected with the HIV virus. While these conditions are justified as the "legacy of apartheid," they are also the legacy of a power transfer that kept capitalism intact, an outcome that was realized in part through the boycott campaign.
The boycott movement that many people around the world supported, but that was led by liberals and reformists with a wrong perspective, in the end played into the hands of the ruling class of South Africa. The same wrong perspective is being offered today.
The reason this movement is growing today 40 years after the 1967 war has nothing to do with the "newly" discovered evils of the Israeli occupation on the part of the likes of Jimmy Carter and imperialist politicians like him. It has to do with the failure of Israel as the major local power as a tool of imperialist control of the Middle East.
Following the UCU's resolution the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) issued the following statement. (PACBI, May 30, 2007) In spite of its length we reproduce it word for word.
"Academic boycott has been advocated in the past as an effective tool in resisting injustice. In the 1920s, Mahatma Gandhi called for boycotting British-run academic institutions, to increase Indian self-reliance and also to protest the role of those institutions in maintaining British colonial domination over India. In the 1950s, the African National Congress (ANC) called for a comprehensive boycott of the entire South African academy, as a means to further isolate the apartheid regime. To their credit, British academics were among the very first to adopt the latter boycott. Moral consistency makes it imperative to hold Israel to the same standards.
"Israel is now widely recognized as a state that actually practices apartheid, as evidenced in recent declarations by international figures from Jimmy Carter and UN Special Rapporteur on human rights Prof. John Dugard to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South African government minister Ronnie Kasrils, among many others. During the ongoing occupation of Palestinian land, Israel's policies have included house demolitions; Jews-only colonies and roads; uprooting hundreds of thousands of trees; indiscriminate killings of Palestinian civilians, particularly children; relentless theft of land and water resources; and denying millions of their freedom of movement by slicing up the occupied Palestinian territory into Bantustans - some entirely caged by walls, fences and hundreds of roadblocks.
"Throughout forty years of Israeli military occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), Israeli academics have duly continued to serve in the occupation army, thereby participating in, or at least witnessing, crimes committed on a daily basis against the civilian population of Palestine. No Israeli academic institution, association, or union has ever publicly opposed Israel's occupation and colonization, its system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens, or its obstinate denial of the internationally-sanctioned rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties. Furthermore, the Israeli academy has been in direct or indirect collusion with the military-intelligence establishment, providing it with ‘academic' research services to sustain its oppression.
"This courageous and morally laudable decision by the UCU to apply effective pressure against Israel in the pursuit of justice and genuine peace is only the latest measure adopted by an international community that can no longer tolerate Israel's impunity in trashing human rights principles and international law. In the last few months alone, groups heeding - to various degrees - Palestinian calls for boycott and effective pressure against Israel have included the British National Union of Journalists (NUJ); Aosdana, the Irish state-sponsored academy of artists; Congress Of South African Trade Unions (COSATU); and prominent British and international architects led by Architects for Peace and Justice in Palestine (APJP).
"Once again, the taboo has been shattered. It has now become more legitimate than ever to denounce Israel's oppressive policies and to hold the state and all its complicit institutions accountable for human rights abuses, war crimes, and the longest military occupation in modern history. The Israeli academy will no longer be able to enjoy international recognition, cooperation, and generous support while remaining an accessory to crimes committed against the Palestinians.
"Palestinians are now more confident than ever that international civil society is indeed capable of shouldering the moral responsibility of standing up to injustice and demanding freedom, self-determination, and unmitigated equality for all."
This is an utterly reformist perspective that seeks a solution to the Palestinian national question within the confines of the imperialist order and capitalism, the economic foundation of the imperialist order. This is the perspective of Mahatma Gandhi, who served British imperialism in India and whose perspective led to the partition of India while helping to block the mass movement in India from overthrowing the capitalist system. This is the perspective of the imperialist politicians, of the former president of American imperialism, Jimmy Carter, the perspective of the leadership of the ANC that now that they are in power have close ties with the Israeli ruling class.
It is not by mere chance that the resolution does not deal concretely with the question of how the refugees would return. Palestinian refugees who will never be allowed to return as long as Israel remains capitalist and the imperialist order continues. It ignores the fact that the only power that can overthrow the Israeli capitalist ruling class and offer a genuine solution to the refugee question among other questions is the working class struggling for a socialist transformation of society.
As Marxists we support trade unions in other countries that come out in defence of the right to self-determination of the Palestinians. However, we would ask one thing of our brothers and sisters around the world. They should word their protest resolutions and develop their activities in such a way as to differentiate between the rulers of Israel and the workers and the poor who also live here.
Many academics in Israel do indeed oppose the occupation. The average Israeli worker is not the one to be blamed for the reactionary ruling class and politicians who run Israel. It would be much better to formulate resolutions and actions clearly aimed against the Zionist ruling class and its interests, to organize a workers' boycott of Israeli military equipment that is sold to reactionary regimes around the world.
Israel is not one reactionary bloc, as many people on the left unfortunately believe. It is a class society. There are Jewish capitalists and Jewish workers. The Jewish bosses exploit the Jewish workers. There are class antagonisms. Yes, it is true that these are blurred by the national question. But is it not obvious that it is in the interests of the Israeli bourgeoisie to make the Jewish workers of Israel feel that they can only protect their interests through "national unity"? This means oppressing another people, the Palestinians.
It is the duty of genuine Marxists to work to break down this false unity. The same Israeli ruling class that oppresses the Palestinians is also cutting pensions for Jewish workers, increasing fees for Jewish students, sacking Jewish workers. So long as this situation is maintained, the workers in Israel will never really be free. It is in the interests of the Jewish workers to transform capitalist society, and their only real allies in this struggle are their Arab sisters and brothers, the workers in the Occupied Territories and beyond.
Unlike the whites in South Africa, Israel is a relatively new nation. It is a nation that oppresses another nation. Marx pointed out that a nation that oppresses another nation can never be free itself.
In spite of all this, however, sooner or later class contradictions will prevail in Israel. There is an ideological stranglehold at the moment, and the politics of the Labour Party right-wing bureaucracy is an important contributing factor in maintaining the present status quo. But the workers of Israel have no other choice. Poverty and unemployment are growing. There are constant attacks on their living standards. The objective situation will push the workers of Israel into struggle. If they want a better future they must struggle for a new society, namely socialism.
We do not believe that the struggle against the oppression of the Palestinian people will find a solution either in the creation of a Palestinian mini-state, or in the creation of a bourgeois state for all the people who live in this country. For almost 60 years, the national question has appeared to many to be the axis of the Middle East conflict. However, the bitter experience with the existing nationalist movements, all of which have proven politically bankrupt, everywhere, has shown - as Trotsky explained already in the "Permanent Revolution" - the organic incapacity of the national bourgeoisie to establish genuine independence from imperialism or lay the foundations for economic development capable of improving the life of the masses of the workers and oppressed. This is the task of the workers once the class takes power.
The idea behind indiscriminate boycott of all Israelis regardless of their social class is wrong. Israel is a capitalist state, which means it is founded on the exploitation of the working class. While characterizing these workers as "colonialists" may satisfy those venting their frustration and moral outrage, it does not provide the basis for a revolutionary perspective.
The conditions that presently exist in Israel are the product of a complex historical development. The lack of a socialist consciousness among the Israeli workers is the product of the betrayal of the international working class by Stalinism, Social Democracy and, of course, the bourgeois nationalist movements in the Arab world as well.
Today the Israeli army is killing innocent people in Gaza but the Qassams are falling not on the Israeli generals or the capitalists in Israel but on the working people of Sderot. This is not an accident but the result of the belief that all Israelis are one reactionary bloc.
Those who advocate boycott of indiscriminate boycotting of all Israelis as a strategy should be asked: why should the boycott be limited only to Israeli academics for instance? Why should it not include US and British academics, given that Washington and London have long supplied the money, and bombs to Israel to be used to kill Palestinians, and that both governments are responsible for crimes even worse than those carried out by Israel?
The reason the left reformists advocate the strategy of indiscriminate boycotting of all Israelis regarding of class, is to be found in the lack of authority of the ideas of Marxism among the new generation. The legacy of decades of Stalinism has been to undermine the influence and prestige of genuine Marxism.
What we are witnessing at this stage in the West is the strong influence of petty bourgeois ideas, which unfortunately have even penetrated the workers' movement, especially its upper layers. The middle class intellectuals who are "leading " the masses have introduced all kinds of alien ideas and prejudices into the Labour movement. The defenders of these ideas imagine that they represent "new" ways of thinking that have overcome the "old" and "irrelevant " ideas of Marxism. In reality they are simply repeating the ideas of the "True Socialists" whom Marx and Engels already answered over 150 years ago in the Communist Manifesto.
It is an elementary duty of the Marxists to initiate, support and encourage each and every protest against imperialism, especially to support the most militant forms of mass protest. But our fundamental aim is to involve the masses at every stage in every country including in Israel.
For this reason we call for a trade union based, workers' boycott of all the shipment and transporting of all military hardware and weaponry from and to Israel. The ports, trains and trucks must not be allowed to be used for the war effort of the Israel ruling class. The dockworkers', the railway workers', the truck drivers' unions must be called upon in every country to use such a boycott systematically. This however is very different than boycotting all the Israeli academics, and very different from boycotting all Israelis regardless of class.
- Israel orchestrates new dance of death in Gaza by Yossi Schwartz (22 May 2007)
- Israel and Lebanon: What next? by Yossi Schwartz (30 Aug. 2006)
- The fiasco of the Israeli offensive by Greg Oxley (23 Aug. 2006)
- Lebanon: A kind of a ceasefire by Yossi Schwartz (23 Aug. 2006)
- Ground offensive in Lebanon -- Israeli ruling class faces dilemma by Yossi Schwartz (5 Aug. 2006)
- The past of Lebanon weighs heavily on what is happening today by Yossi Schwartz (5 Aug. 2006)
- Israel prepares to invade Lebanon by Greg Oxley (20 Jul. 2006)
- Stephen Harper defends Israel's right to kill Canadian family and innocents in Lebanon by Camilo Cahis (18 Jul. 2006)