Time to divest from Israel

SUPPORTERS OF the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) held a public meeting on November 17 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at the American Studies Association to protest the continued Israeli attack on Gaza and occupation of Palestine.

About 80 students and faculty from universities around the world converged to support USACBI and BDS by petitioning the association, an international body of scholars, to honor the Palestinian boycott.

Israel's bombing of Gaza began the same day as organizers gathered in San Juan. USACBI advisory board member Sunaina Maira opened the meeting by pointing out that Palestinian civil society activists had begun the academic and cultural boycott campaign in 2005.

USACBI, an American solidarity campaign, was launched in 2009 in the wake of Operation Cast Lead's bombings and the murder of more than 1,200 Palestinians. It demands an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli universities until the illegal Israeli occupation is ended, the 700-meter apartheid wall is torn down, and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland is honored.

At the San Juan meeting, more than 120 attendees of the American Studies Association annual conference signed a petition and resolution asking ASA to comply with the academic boycott.

Signatories included scholars from Cairo University in Egypt, University of Toronto in Canada, University of Puerto Rico, Ben Gurion University in Tel Aviv, as well as major universities across the U.S.--Yale, New York University, University of Southern California and Stanford.

The American Studies Association has faced stiff opposition in the past from supporters of Israel to proposals to honor the academic boycott. At this year's conference, USACBI activists tabled openly for four days virtually without opposition.

The ASA would be the first major U.S. academic professional organization to honor the boycott of Israeli universities if its leadership chooses to support the mass petition. In the past year, student body governments at the University of California Irvine, the University of Massachusetts Boston, Hampshire College, Evergreen State College and Carleton University in Canada have passed resolutions asking their universities to divest holdings in Israel and to honor the BDS campaign. Hampshire College was also the first American college where students voted to divest from South Africa.

The groundswell of support for BDS and USACBI signals the widening global condemnation of Israel's illegal, racist and genocidal occupation of Palestine. The ASA could point the way forward academic organizations around the world to help achieve a "South Africa moment" that will end Israeli apartheid forever.