Activists are imploring Australia to boycott Palestinian human rights abuses. Credit: Flickr

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Academics say Australia is endorsing the violence in Palestine by keeping open channels with Isreali universities– at least when compared to our international counterparts on the global stage.

Thousands of academics all over the world have boycotted Israeli universities and academics for their role in promoting the Israel-Palestine conflict. Now, they’re calling on Australia to do the same.

Leading the cause is the Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions group (BDS), a global, Palestinian-led movement that focuses their attention on large corporations and institutions rather than governments, whom they view as having failed to act to protect the Palestinian people.

The BDS recently held a two-day conference at the University of Sydney, called ‘Driving Global Justice for Palestine’. The conference was supported by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network to show solidarity with Palestinian university communities. One of the keynote speakers was the US-Palestinian political analyst and writer Yousef Munayyer.

Munayyer discussed how the politics that brought US President Donald Trump to power would now be supported and amplified by the highest levels of government, and how this will impact the movement for Palestinian rights.

According to Munayyer, the movement needs to rethink its approach in light of the new political climate in the US, asking the audience to consider the questions: “How does the movement for Palestinian rights adjust and adapt during America’s Trumpian moment? What does operating in this new political context look like and how do we carry our work forward toward our goals in this new environment?”

But not everyone agrees that boycotts are the way to go. Australian teacher Nicholas Rowe, who attended the conference, thinks the BDS should be clearer about what they want to achieve with the boycotts.
“In this corporate climate university world, in this shift from civic university to corporate university, are we simply supporting that shift when we make our focus of a boycott on the very tangible performances of the boycott? If we are going to be living in a future society, and we do want to support something like the BDS, what is the responsibility of artists to show and reunite in what that future will be once that has been achieved?” he said.

He agrees, though, that something needs to be done.

“We do need this, and we need it to be manifested and acknowledged. And that’s as important as other BDS actions in order for people to see what direction BDS is headed towards and for our society to achieve equality.”

Universities are often seen as progressive hubs of knowledge and culture, but this isn’t always the case in Israel. According to the BDS, Israeli universities are “major, willing and persistent accomplices in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid,” helping to develop weapons and doctrines used to promote the conflict.

Chris Anderton, who is Global Solidarity officer on the university’s Student Representative Council, said student activists also play an important role in the international Palestine solidarity movement , and in the BDS campaign specifically.

“Students are capable of providing and almost constant source of organised protest, keeping the issue of Palestine in the public sphere in a way that does not suffer from the weaknesses of working within and institutional framework”, he said.

“However, because of their often prominent protests and activities, they are also the regular target of political repression from both governments and university managements, facing discrimination for their support of the Palestinian cause.’”

Munayyer said that in the Trump era, it’s more important than ever for citizens to get involved with causes they believe in because they’re unlikely to see any action from governments on this issue.

“We’re working for freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians and that’s why it’s very important to pressure Israel until it complies with international law”, he said.
“We want to end international support for Israel’s policies of oppression.”