Zane Razzaq '15 Contributing Writer
Last week, so-called peace talks between Israel and Palestine appeared to be in a state of crisis, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry saying it was “reality check time.” This threw into question what the next step in bringing a conclusion to the Israeli occupation and making way for the creation of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel would be. Last Wednesday, Palestinian American journalist Ali Abunimah took on this question in a lecture at Hampshire titled, “The Battle for Justice in Palestine.” While discussing his new book of the same name, he offered an analysis of this crossroads moment.
Abunimah started his lecture discussing the controversies around the current Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement that is gaining slow popularity across U.S. campuses. Last year, the American Studies Association joined the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions to raise awareness to challenges to Palestinian academic freedom. He pointed out that Hampshire in particular played “a special role in solidarity with Palestine on U.S. campuses,” as it was the first college to divest from companies profiting off the occupation.
He went on to discuss the efforts to suppress this movement. An example is the New York State Senate’s attempt in early 2014 to pass a bill that would bar the use of state funds to support academic entities “if that academic entity has undertaken an official action boycotting certain countries or their higher education institutions.”
In addressing diaspora activism and Palestine-solidarity activists, he noted the importance of drawing comparisons between the Palestinian cause and other struggles for justice. Abunimah mentioned how the company Elbit Systems, a major Israeli arms company that built the wall surrounding the West Bank and supplied the surveillance system, has also been contracted by the Obama administration to provide a similar system on the U.S.-Mexican border. Highlighting the importance of drawing these connections, he called it both “a tactical and moral imperative” because a divestment campaign with a broader analysis will be more powerful than one that focuses solely on Palestine.
Abunimah is the co-founder of the website Electronic Intifada, which is an independent online news publication and educational resource focusing on Palestine, its people, politics, culture and place in the world. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian and New York Times. His latest work is not without criticism. For example, M.J. Rosenberg, who was a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network, wrote a review calling the book valuable but only because “it definitively demonstrates that the goal of the BDS movement is to eliminate the State of Israel, utterly and completely.” On the flip side, Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, has called The Battle for Justice in Palestine “the book to read to understand the present bizarre and ongoing complexity of the Palestine-Israel tragedy.”
These discussions on the BDS movement bear special relevance to Smith right now. Last year, during winter break, President McCartney released a statement rejecting the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israel, saying “we will continue to support our students and faculty in pursuing opportunities in Israel” and “we are actively exploring the possibility of faculty and student exchanges with Israel.” In addition to this statement, according to The Jerusalem Post, in January 2014, a delegation of provosts from leading American universities, chaired by Marilyn R. Schuster, who is the provost and dean of faculty at Smith, traveled to Israel to “explore academic partnerships and collaboration opportunities with Israeli universities.”
Abunimah ended his lecture with a sense of optimism, rejecting the way the conflict is thought of as intractable. “I want to make the case that radical transformation for the better is possible,” he concluded, “and it’s possible in relatively short time.”