On the occasion of the international Day of Action in Solidarity with the Palestinian Uprising, and in light of the recent escalation of Israeli violence towards the entire Palestinian nation, the Just Mathematics Collective (JMC) urges all mathematicians to heed the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Sign USACBI's pledge to boycott here: https://usacbi.org/about/
Register your pledge with the JMC here: pledge form.
Why an academic boycott?
We affirm that the Palestinian struggle is that of an Indigenous people against a settler-colonial apartheid1 2 state that legally enshrines3 and violently upholds the supremacy of its Jewish subjects. We refuse to be complicit in Israel's program of occupation, separation, mass incarceration, dispossession, displacement, dehumanization, siege, and police/military aggression, of which the recent crimes against Palestinians in Jerusalem4 5, in Gaza6 7 8, in Jaffa9, in Lydda10, in Haifa11, in Umm al-Fahm12, in Hebron13, and throughout occupied Palestine are instances and outcomes.
Israeli universities are partners in this genocidal program. Deeply embedded in the Israeli military-industrial complex14 15, they are involved in developing weapons, surveillance technologies, and military strategies deployed against Palestinians16 17 18; in justifying the colonial narrative of the Israeli state19; and in ethically buttressing military violence20.
We can no longer stand by silently while apartheid reigns in Palestine. As mathematicians, we have a special responsibility to honor the call, considering that our discipline plays a key role in creating the weapons and surveillance technology used to uphold the status quo21.
What does the academic boycott entail?
We strongly urge all mathematicians, as well as all professional mathematical societies, to abide by the guidelines of the academic boycott. Below, we highlight some of these guidelines of particular relevance to international22 mathematicians:
In the words of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), “These non-violent punitive measures should be maintained until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:
We also wish to highlight the following message that was communicated to us directly by a representative of PACBI: “PACBI's guidelines specify that the academic boycott is institutional in nature, and like all BDS campaigns, is based on complicity and not identity. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, including PACBI, rejects on principle boycotts of individuals based on their identity (such as citizenship, race, gender, or religion) or opinion. The only exception to this would be for an official representative of the state of Israel or a complicit Israeli institution (such as a dean, rector, or president).”
How does the academic boycott relate to issues of academic freedom?
A frequently expressed objection to calls for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions is that it violates the academic freedom of Israeli academics. We emphasize that the BDS call does not target individual academics (unless they are participating in an event in their capacity as an official representative of, and advocate for, their institution-- such as a dean, rector, or president). This call is aimed at the academic institutions which help to uphold the apartheid regime, and which, as institutions, have no greater claim to academic freedom than corporations do to freedom of political expression through unlimited campaign donations. Anyone who disagrees with conservative and anti-democratic rulings like Citizens United v. FEC can appreciate the speciousness of this objection.
On the other hand, the occupation and apartheid regime severely infringes upon the freedom of Palestinian academics to participate actively in their international research communities. Many Palestinian scholars cannot travel freely to attend conferences or visit their collaborators, and those who are not being held captive in the world's largest open-air prison25 (or being held indefinitely without cause or trial26) still face the terribly exclusionary barriers to freedom of movement that accompany statelessness. Therefore, the JMC argues that anyone who values academic freedom should in fact vehemently support this principled call to boycott.
Finally, we point out that a true commitment to academic freedom must include the freedom of individual academics to decide not to participate in certain academic events and activities. This point dovetails with the JMC call for mathematicians to choose not to write letters of recommendation for NSA- or DoD-related mathematics employment27. Just as such a choice does not constitute a restriction of the freedom of a given student to pursue employment at the NSA, neither does a choice to refuse participation in academic events based at Israeli institutions amount to restricting the will of Israeli academics. It is imperative that academics not forfeit their own right to choose how they want to engage, or not engage, with oppressive institutions.
Why isn't the boycott of Israeli institutions antisemitic?
By boycotting the Israeli occupation, we join many Jewish individuals and organizations28 who recognize that solidarity with oppressed peoples has deep roots in Jewish culture. We affirm and acknowledge these continued and developing strains of anti-colonialism, anti-fascism, and anti-Zionism in modern Jewish thought. We emphasize that the Israeli state and its apologists, Jewish or otherwise, do not have the authority nor the right to dictate what it means to be Jewish, and that while anti-Zionism, as a form of anti-imperialism, is core to the movement for Palestinian liberation, antisemitism has no place in any movement for liberation.
How can I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian-led call for an academic boycott?
The BDS call comes from Palestinian civil society and individual Palestinians living under occupation, as refugees, and in the diaspora. The JMC is honored to join this movement that centers the demands of Palestinian people all over the world.
Since a majority of JMC members are based at institutions in the US -- by far the largest supporter of the apartheid regime as measured by military aid -- we are asking supporters to join thousands of principled academics in signing on with the US branch of the Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott (USACBI). Note that USACBI includes and invites international signatories.
We are further asking supporters to register with us that they have endorsed the call. We will not post names of signatories here. We would, however, like to keep a publicly running tally of the number of mathematicians participating in order to send as strong a message as possible that the mathematics community is not willing to be complicit in the crimes of the Israeli state.
Don't many of the arguments here apply equally well to other settler-colonies like the United States?
Yes. Both in spirit and in ethical practice, many of our arguments also demonstrate the need for land back and other restitution for both historical and ongoing colonial violence against Indigenous peoples in what is known as the United States. Propagandists for the Israeli apartheid regime accurately draw comparisons between the two settler-colonial states, but from the point of view that the genocidal actions of the US justify those of Israel29 30. We are more interested in the contrapositive implication: since the Israeli settler state has no basis for its constant land grabs, home demolitions, murders, and ethnic cleansing, neither of course does the US (or Canada, or any other nation-state built on the genocide of Indigenous peoples). Especially since many of us are based at academic institutions in the US and Canada (many of which are land grant universities and colleges31), it is imperative that we extend our solidarity to the Indigenous peoples on whose stolen lands this document was prepared.
Am I too professionally or societally vulnerable to publicly endorse the boycott?
This is a question only you can answer, but as you make this decision, it is important to remember the stakes in this issue. While joining an academic boycott might involve forfeiting professional opportunities, whether they be speaking invitations or job offers, many of our Palestinian colleagues have long endured marginalization in academic spaces by mere virtue of their being Palestinian. The freedom to decide whether or not to take this risk should not be taken for granted. We urge you to realize the power you do have and to build genuine solidarity.
Nonetheless, anti-BDS legislation has been pushed forward in certain US states, and for members of our community with precarious immigration status, experience suggests that participation here could be dangerous. If you would like to register your adherence to the academic boycott but feel constrained by such laws, you can still register your participation by selecting the tally but no sign option. We designed this option for those mathematicians who cannot publicly express their participation by signing on with USACBI due to concerns of immigration status, but who would still like to register that they will not cross this important picket line. For those participating with the tally but no sign option, the JMC will ask for your information so we may verify and vet your identity, but the only public record of your participation will be as a +1 to a running tally of mathematicians choosing to honor the boycott call. Those of us in a position to use our names can send a strong and bold message by providing them for all to see, but everyone -- especially those who are more likely to be harassed by the state -- should be given the opportunity to express their right to boycott.
Sign USACBI's pledge to boycott here: https://usacbi.org/about/
Register your pledge with the JMC here: pledge form.
21. See for instance our recent Twitter thread on the revolving door between military, industry/tech, and science communities in Israel and the US: https://twitter.com/jm_collective/status/1392929383908839424. See also this promotional video from the Technion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTHdoO3o0yQ
22. international relative to Israel and the territories over which it exerts control
23. Note that the guidelines stress that mere attendance of an Israeli academic or an academic affiliated with an Israeli university does not subject a conference to boycott.
28. We highlight the following organizations who have endorsed the USACBI call for academic and cultural boycott: American Jews for a Just Peace, Another Jewish Voice (Sante Fe chapter), Birthright Unplugged, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (both the network and the LA chapter), Los Angeles Jews for Peace. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) also actively endorse the BDS call.
29. Consider the following excerpted quote from an interview with influential Israeli historian Benny Morris: “The great American democracy could not have been achieved without the extermination of the Indians. There are cases in which the general and final good justifies difficult and cruel deeds that are carried out in the course of history.”
30. We note that US propagandists and politicians also call on these comparisons, in the other direction, as a means of justifying American aggression and militarism. E.g. Consider Kamala Harris' speech at the 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McK8bPR8pzU&ab_channel=AIPAC): “I stand with Israel because of our shared values which are so fundamental to the founding of both our nations. I believe the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and we can never let anyone drive a wedge between us.”