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January 16, 2017 9:22 am

Who’s Really Behind the Academic Boycott Against Israel?

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avatar by Max Samarov and Shahar Azani

"Israeli Apartheid Week," an annual anti-Zionist initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

“Israeli Apartheid Week,” an annual anti-Zionist initiative at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

One of the main challenges to hopes for peace in the Middle East is the campaign to boycott and isolate Israel, the only true democracy in the region. This campaign, whose ultimate goal is the elimination of Israel and the destruction of Jewish rights, is active primarily in the economic, cultural and academic spheres.

On January 7, 2016, anti-Israel activists tried and failed to persuade the Modern Language Association (MLA), a 25,000-member academic organization, to pass a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Similar proposals had previously been widely condemned and rejected by the MLA. Indeed, a large group of Nobel Prize winners called the boycott against Israel “antithetical” to academic freedom and freedom of expression, and said it was most likely a form of “discrimination by virtue of national origin.”

Meanwhile, supporters of the boycott have largely responded to critics by claiming that their actions are grounded in principles like social justice, human rights and international law.

This stated commitment to progressive values should be judged against a disturbing new fact that has come to light: the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) receives its funding through a hate group with a long history of promoting racism and violence.

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The USACBI is the leading organization pushing for academic boycotts against Israel in American academic associations. Numerous members of USACBI’s leadership spearheaded the campaign within the MLA, including one individual who was recently elected to the MLA’s executive committee. In its mission statement, the USACBI claims to stand up for, “equality, self-determination, human rights… and true democracy,” while espousing non-violence. And yet for years now, the USACBI has received fiscal sponsorship from Al-Awda – a group that represents the very opposite agenda.

Al-Awda is an activist organization that traffics in racism and wild conspiracy theories, and whose leaders have celebrated the murder of innocent civilians. According to the ADL, Al-Awda has voiced support for racist terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah since its inception in 2000. In a series of protests sponsored by the group in 2006, Al-Awda speakers made statements such as, “[W]e are all Hezbollah…I believe in armed struggle,” and “[T]his will not come to an end until Israel is finished, until there is no Israel”. Meanwhile, the crowds at these protests chanted racist slogans like, “Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs!”


Fast forward 10 years, and little has changed. Scroll through Al-Awda’s official pages and you will find the organization stating unequivocally that “Israel does not have a right to exist,” spreading imagery that equates Judaism with Nazism, and claiming that “there’s no Jewish history” at the Temple Mount (the Jewish people’s holiest site). As world leaders mourned the passing of Shimon Peres in September, Al-Awda celebrated and promised to “honor him with a public toilet in a Free Palestine.” The group also seems to have appointed itself as the ultimate judge of who “Real Jews” are — conveniently choosing the 1% fringe who burn Israeli flags in the streets and support discriminatory boycotts against Israel.


The views of individual Al-Awda leaders are deeply disturbing as well. The group’s chairwoman has posted support of Hamas on social media, and spread a wild conspiracy theory about Israeli involvement in ISIS. Al-Awda co-founder and Vice Chair Abbas Hamideh hailed Samir Kuntar — a terrorist infamous for murdering a four year old child — as a “legendary Hezbollah martyr,” and glorified Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Al-Awda’s Treasurer celebrated a wave of car ramming attacks against Israeli civilians by posting the chilling image below, along with the phrase, “by all means necessary!!”


Al-Awda has been USACBI’s fiscal sponsor since 2013 (details on what this means can be found here), and the two groups were linked before that as well. Multiple members of USACBI’s original “Organizing Committee” were also representatives of Al-Awda, and many current USACBI leaders have spoken at Al-Awda conferences.

The USACBI might protest that they cannot be held responsible for Al-Awda’s racism and support for violence, and it goes without saying that well-meaning supporters of academic boycotts should not be considered guilty by association. Yet the USACBI itself has demonstrated that it is, at minimum, very tolerant of extremism and hate.

Steven Salaita and Jasbir Puar continue to hold prominent positions in the organization, despite being repeatedly exposed for using classic antisemitic slurs to slander and dehumanize Israelis. As a matter of policy, the USACBI boycotts all, “academic activities and projects involving Palestinians and/or other Arabs on one side and Israelis on the other,” unless the Jewish and Israeli side agrees in advance to effectively oppose its own right to self-determination. This is not a stance an organization that is genuinely committed to justice and peace would ever take.

The USACBI cannot claim to support principles like justice, equality and non-violence while gaining significant financial benefits from what can only be described as a hate group. At a time when antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism increasingly threaten campus life, there is no place for political agendas that fan the flames of hatred and further divide our diverse communities. Al-Awda’s deep involvement in campaigns like the one that was waged against Israeli academics in the MLA is yet another reason why people of conscience should stand up for their values and reject the academic boycott.

The road to peace can only be found through building bridges of understanding and tolerance between peoples, not through further alienation and estrangement. It seems nothing could be more true and relevant in today’s Middle East.

Shahar Azani is Executive Director of StandWithUs Northeast. Max Samarov is Senior Director of Research at StandWithUs. His focus is Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the discourse about these issues on North American campuses.

This article was originally published by The Huffington Post.

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