This statement initially appeared as a letter to the editor in the Daily Orange, an independent newspaper run by Syracuse University Students.
It is with extreme disappointment that we read Interim Chancellor Eric Spina’s statement against boycotts of Israeli academic institutions.
We also find it hypocritical that just more than a month after Spina issued a statement commemorating the legacy of Nelson Mandela — who led a revolution against a racist, apartheid state — he issued what is effectively a statement in support of another racist, apartheid state.
In 2008, a group of veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa led a delegation to the West Bank. Afterward, one of the delegates was quoted as saying, “The apartheid regime viewed the blacks as inferior; I do not think the Israelis see the Palestinians as human beings at all” (Ha’aretz, July 10, 2008).
In the West Bank, about half a million Israeli colonial settlers took over huge swaths of territory, diminishing the viability of a Palestinian state, while two million Palestinians live under direct military occupation. There are even “Jewish only” roads. This racist segregation is not only maintained by the official Israeli “Defense” Forces, but also by armed bands of Israeli settlers.
The purpose of the boycott is not to limit free expression, and it is certainly not to promote the abhorrent ideology of anti-Semitism. An academic boycott of Israeli institutions is an extension of the struggle for the equal rights for Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign strives to call into question the legitimacy of Israeli institutions that participate in racist, colonial-settler power structures.
We recognize that the Israeli apartheid state is a strategic deployment of U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, and our own government is responsible for the promotion of massive inequalities in the region. The fight against the Israeli apartheid state is also a fight against U.S. imperialism.
Spina’s statement, although inoffensive and neutral on the surface, does little more than serve to condone the apartheid policies of the Israeli state. This is not a question of respecting an open exchange of ideas. Paolo Freire, the creator of the critical pedagogy philosophical movement, said, “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
Progressive members of the SU community should oppose the racist policies of the Israeli state, encourage the BDS campaign against Israeli institutions and promote a socially just peace for Jews and Arabs in Palestine/Israel.
Syracuse University Youth and Student ANSWER Coalition