‘Against Apartheid’ deconstructs assumptions, showcases change
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is as a tool for Palestine liberation and is often questioned by skeptics or naysayers who contend with various arguments such as a denial to academic freedom for Israeli academics. Such a claim (and numerous others) is masterfully put to rest in “Against Apartheid: The Case for Boycotting Israeli Universities,” a thrilling compendium of BDS-inspired or related essays with a focus on academia, published by Haymarket Books.
Editors Ashley Dawson and Bill V. Mullen introduce the book as a “tool” and a “living chronicle” of continued efforts by BDS activists and proponents, and it is certainly that. Featuring a diverse array of voices, “Against Apartheid” is a concrete and accessible kit for anyone interested or already entrenched in BDS. Organized and categorized, the book does a good job of balancing action and thought, practice and theory, as well as encompassing the breadth and progress of the BDS movement, tracking the growth of a global human-rights consciousness for Palestine and the Palestinians.
Of particular note is Omar Barghouti’s essay in which he argues, using Judith Butler’s words on the matter, for a contextualization of circumstances when dealing with the topic of “academic freedom” in dialogue. On the claim that academic boycott, if employed well, could injure some academics and thus stand in contradiction with the principle of academic freedom, Barghouti is quick and right to expose racism. “By ignoring the real, systematic Israeli suppression of Palestinian academic freedom and focusing solely on the hypothetical infringement on Israeli academic freedom that the boycott allegedly would entail, this argument is racist” (60). Rima Najjar Kapitan’s “Climbing Down from the Ivory Tower: Double Standards and the Use of Academic Boycotts to Achieve Social and Economic Justice” is also wonderful on this topic.
Other highlights include Steven Salaita’s essay which provides professors eager to support BDS but rightfully hesitant about job safety examples of actions that can help the cause, like expressing support to student activists even if only privately, or encouraging students to attend BDS-related events or talks. Salaita says that even for a professor to attend an event and ask a question is meaningful, as the “mere existence of supportive people makes the work of BDS easier” (137).
Activist and writer Kristian Davis Bailey takes BDS into the less discussed arena of Palestinian right to education, telling descriptive, firsthand stories and divulging correspondence between himself and Palestinian university students from two of his visits to Palestine (one for the “Right to Education” tour). Reading the voices of Palestinians under occupation in Bailey’s essay is a powerful reminder of the people the movement seeks to serve.
But the most exciting and infuriating essay is Nadine Naber’s on Rasmea Odeh, whose story is told with detailed care and extensive scope. Odeh’s resilience, as an influential community activist and individual who has suffered so much from displacement, to torture and rape, is brought to life in Naber’s essay. It details the obscene and embarrassing tactics pulled by Judge Gershwin Drain and the Department of Justice to vilify Odeh, a modern-day Mandela. Such actions, Naber writes, were the literal extension of Israeli colonialist logic and perpetuated misogyny, heterosexism and even rape culture. Naber draws on the U.S. as a “principal spatial-temporal location of Zionism and Israeli colonization” (192) of which this trial is the capital. Naber also notes that it was Odeh’s trial in the fall of 2014 that united BDS activists in the Palestinian diaspora.
The book also does a great job of exposing the interconnectedness of neoliberalism with Zionism, especially in the case of Steven Salaita’s firing.
Haymarket does it again. “Against Apartheid” is a must-read.