Hebrew University sociologist Baruch Kimmerling coined the term
"politicide" to describe Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
approach toward the Palestinians.
In a 2002 article that was expanded into a book, Mr. Kimmerling
wrote that Mr. Sharon was undertaking "a gradual but systematic
attempt to cause their annihilation as an independent political and
social entity." Since then, his criticisms of what he terms Israel's
"colonial project" in the West Bank have been no less devastating.
But Kimmerling and other Israeli academics who unabashedly oppose
the occupation now find themselves, along with colleagues of
different political hues, on the defensive against an unprecedented
boycott approved last month by the governing body of Britain's
40,000-strong Association of University teachers (AUT).
The boycott specifically targets Haifa and Bar Ilan universities,
but it is being taken as a sanction against Israeli academia as a
whole - and being opposed virtually across the political spectrum
One of its lone Israeli supporters, Haifa University political
scientist Ilan Pappe, who cooperated with AUT members in advancing
it, sees the boycott as a key step toward pressuring Israel to end
its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, much as
international sanctions were used against apartheid South Africa.
Independent analysts differ over whether the British move is
likely to reverberate into further boycotts emanating from Europe.
Even withing the AUT, there are misgivings, with opponents hoping
to overturn the boycott decision during a special meeting of the
organization's national council, scheduled for May 26. AUT has yet
to spell out precisely what the boycott entails.
"It is very significant," Mr. Pappe says. "Boycotting should
bring the same results as in South Africa: a fundamental change in
Pointing to a decision by the Presbyterian Church in the United
States last year to seek "phased selective divestment" from Israel,
Pappe adds: "There's a chance such civil society activity would
accumulate and become significant. It's the only thing that can save
Palestine and Israel from catastrophe."
But Kimmerling says targeting academia is a mistake. It "will
just weaken the last public sphere of free thinking and free speech
in Israel - precisely what the Israeli rulers want," he says. Oren
Yiftachel, a geographer at Ben-Gurion University known for his sharp
criticisms of Israeli policies toward Palestinians, adds: "One
doesn't dish out collective punishment on that scale against whole
institutions, especially when most Israeli faculty members are
against the occupation, at least passively. In South Africa, the
university system, almost in its entirety, was a part of apartheid,
with racist rules. …