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Lisa Taraki, a sociologist at Birzeit University near Ramallah on the West Bank and co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, was the main speaker. Like Bazian, she relied heavily upon inflammatory language, labeling Israel a “colonial, settler, Zionist enterprise” that maintains power through “colonial rule, apartheid, and military occupation.” She also invoked Berkeley’s anti-war movement, likening it to the Arab-Israeli conflict:
I used to mingle with the anti-war crowd when I was a student at Mills College [in Oakland, California]. I tasted the tear gas on Telegraph Avenue, yes, and later tasted the same tear gas by the same manufacturer in Palestine.
She then outlined her vision for the BDS movement:
What Palestinians are beginning to realize now with the failure of the political process and dialog, is a new logic of BDS; not a logic of persuasion but of pressure. . . . There is a great deal the academic community can do to express solidarity and effectively work for change. . . . In the U.S., no one would have dreamed there would be a campaign like this; now they have 500 endorsements from American academics. . . . It’s not a boycott of individual Israelis, but of institutions, and the major cultural institutions are complicit in the domination of oppression. . . . The problem is the Israeli state and what upholds its power . . . virtually all Israeli institutions are complicit.
Although both speakers claimed they were not boycotting individuals, it is impossible to boycott institutions in the abstract. Real people are harmed. The academic boycott would in effect discriminate against students and faculty on the basis of national origin and religious and/or ethnic identity. Activists, for example, were urged to pressure universities to end study abroad programs in Israel, student exchanges between American and Israeli universities, and foundation grants to Israelis or Israeli institutions. The campaign calls for a thorough shunning of every element of Israeli society. Thirty-eight Nobel scholars have already condemned this move as “antithetical to principles of academic and scientific freedom, and antithetical to principles of freedom of expression and inquiry.”
The UC Berkeley chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine was the primary sponsor for the BDS event, while the Muslim Identities and Cultures—a working group of the university’s Townsend Center for the Humanities—was a co-sponsor. As noted in a letter of protest sent by California academics Leila Beckwith, Roberta Seid, and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin to UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, this “establishes an official association of the University of California at Berkeley with the promotion of a boycott against Israel.” In response, the Townsend Center claimed that it “would not fund any group that does not act in the spirit of intellectual openness,” nor was it “endorsing any position that could be construed as hateful of any religious or ethnic group.” But under its aegis, Bazian and Taraki promoted a mean-spirited discourse replete with phrases extracted from other contexts in order to legitimize a campaign of discrimination.
Is this really a campaign with which UC Berkeley wishes to be officially associated?
Berkeley resident Rima Greene co-wrote this article with Cinnamon Stillwell, the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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