Why Should Irish academics boycott Israel?

On November 12 Academics for Palestine (AfP) organised a public debate asking ‘should academics boycott Israel?’ with renowned Israeli historian Prof Ilan Pappe, Palestinian academic and writer Dr Ghada Karmi, and British political scientist Prof Alan Johnson. People often ask why boycott Israeli academics who might be partners to a fruitful academic dialogue, so let me propose that the academic boycott is justified because Israeli universities collaborate with the occupation and the discrimination of Palestinian citizens and subjects, and are also pivotal to Israel’s multi-billion dollar armament industry.

Long before the 1967 occupation, Israeli universities were steeped in Zionist ideology, and helped the state to uphold Jewish existence in Palestine in what they saw as a hostile environment. More recently, declining resources led neo-liberal Israel to rely on the universities to bring in much needed revenue by developing military equipment. A 2009 report for the Alternative Information Centre shows that in order to maintain the occupation, Israel’s security forces are heavily dependent on technological means and developments that facilitate the continuation of the occupation with reduced manpower and government funding. For which they need the universities.

Military technology such as electro-optics and robotics developed by Israeli universities sounds almost like science fiction. It includes drones, remote controlled D9 bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes, artificial intelligence for unmanned combat vehicles, and tunnel detection instruments, all used in the last assault on Gaza. Israeli higher education institutes collaborate closely with, the private armament development company Elbit and Rafael, its government counterpart, which, among other things, offer scholarships for high school and university students. The collaboration also spills into the social sciences, devising new warfare discourses such as bursting into Palestinian homes and erasing the divide between inside and outside. Finally, Israeli historians collaborate in constructing the Zionist narrative of ‘the few against the many’ and of Israel as a Jewish state under (Muslim) siege, as documented in Ilan Pappe’s latest book The Idea of Israel.

Furthermore, as befits a militaristic society, all the universities in Israel support student-soldiers and give extra credits, grants and additional exam dates to serving reservists. They also sponsor special programmes for student-soldiers, while discriminating against students who do not serve in the IDF: Palestinian students make up just 10% of BA students, 7.3% of MA students and 4% of PhD students. Likewise, in 2011-12 only 82 of Israel’s 4,665 senior lecturers were Palestinian.

Israeli universities are also directly involved in the occupation; the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus campus has expanded into Palestinian lands and Tel Aviv University is built on the ruins of the Palestinian village Sheikh Muwanis. Israeli universities are also deeply involved in directly determining official policies of occupation. Thus, Haifa University Professor of Geo-strategy Arnon Sofer is the head of the Israeli army’s College for National Security, and has influenced Israeli policies on the Apartheid wall and refugee return.

Moreover, Irish academics should boycott Israel because of the involvement of Irish universities in Israel’s military and security industries. AfP’s research shows that Irish universities have collaborated with Israel in 257 projects to date, seven of them listed as “security” and 13 as “aerospace”.

Some examples:

•    Academics at Trinity College Dublin have worked with Israeli drone manufacturers Elbit Security Systems and two other Israeli firms in an airport security project, ended March 2014, and on a separate project with Israel’s notorious International Security and Counter-Terrorism Academy.

•    Researchers at University College Cork actually collaborated with the Technion and coordinated a recently completed counter-terrorism project to improve the detection of traces of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

•    Researchers at the University of Limerick (UL) collaborated with an Israeli security company, Athena GS3-Security Implementations Ltd, on an EU-funded programme worth almost €4 million from April 2009 to March 2011. (The project researched digital support systems for first responders). Athena, on its website, claims to be a world leading counter-terror advisory group with indigenous expertise from the Mossad and other elite Israeli counter terrorist units. UL also partnered with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). IAI are key players in the development of security and surveillance for Israel’s separation wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

We should boycott Israel because more than most western universities, Israeli universities uphold military state ideology and practice. Israeli universities are highly involved with the military and with developing and manufacturing armaments used against the occupied Palestinian population. Israeli universities, central to upholding and sustaining the occupation, discriminate against Palestinian students and academics, and help to produce consent and stifle dissent.