Unpacking the PACBI Excuse

In my last entry, I pointed out the various excuses the boycott-Israel crowd uses when forced to confront their clear double-standard on human rights stances (i.e., Israel deserves to be boycotted for building a separate fence to keep suicide bombers from its cities, but Syria and China should not be boycotted since they merely killed 50,000 or 70,000,000 of their own people).

As noted, most of these excuses have the distinction of being both transparently self serving and unbelievably lame. But one “reason,” the one claiming that the call to boycott Israel wells up from Palestinian civil society and is thus unique, begs for a more careful review.

The claim that BDS is a response to boycott calls originating from people in the region is based on the 2004 Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (or PACBI). Whenever Naomi Klein or the UCU boycotters talk about a boycott call endorsed by over 200 Palestinian civic organizations, these are the organizations to which they refer.

Before getting to more meatier issues, allow me a couple of lawyer’s points regarding the claim that PACBI represents the will of the Palestinian people to comprehensively boycott, divest from and sanction Israel.

First off, if you look this list over, between 10-15% of the signatories whose origins are identified are from outside Israel, the West Bank or Gaza, including over 20 organizations from surrounding countries (13 from Syria, 6 from Lebanon and 2 from Jordan) and another 9 from Europe or North America. Now it may be that some of these (as well as some of the organizations not identified by location) are refugee or Diaspora groups, but given the large Syrian contingent in PACBI’s roster, the notion that we’re talking entirely about un-coerced volunteers becomes shaky.

Second, as the name implies PACBI stands for an academic and cultural boycott (the least popular form of BDS, by the way), not for the wholesale economic isolation of the Jewish state. So those claiming that PACBI is the origin for all of their BDS activities may be putting words into the mouths of Palestinian agricultural, medical and industrial unions/organizations, many of whom may not be that excited about economic boycotts that punish them as well as Israel.

On more meatier matters, the first group that tops the list of “Unions, Associations, Campaigns” supporting the PACBI boycott call is the Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine, a coalition that includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and some of the more violent sub-sets of Fatah. Call me crazy, but I suspect that it’s much easier for this Council to get the Palestinian Dentist’s Association to agree to its requests that vice versa.

The potential that the PACBI boycott call arises from coercion within Palestinian society (vs. being a consensus welling up from the grass roots) also points out an interesting paradox. The claim that Israel uniquely deserves the BDS treatment is, to a certain extent, based on Israel supposedly being exceptional with regard to its level of human rights abuses (vs. Iran, China, North Korea, etc.). And yet the members making up PACBI can only be seen as legitimately representing Palestinian civic society if Israel’s “repression” does not extend to eliminating such civic space in both Israel and the West Bank.

Like the claim that Israel is inflicting a “Holocaust” on a Palestinian population that is simultaneously experiencing a population explosion, the very existence of PACBI demonstrates that the level of repression found in countries ignored by BDS activists (Sudan, Saudi Arabia, etc.) does not exist in Israel. And thus we are led back to the conclusion that the best way to avoid being a target of alleged “human rights” activists pushing boycott, divestment and sanction is to actually be a repressive dictatorship that crushes civic society rather than letting it exist to sign boycott petitions.

Finally, a note on dates. PACBI, as stated on their own Web site, made its “plea” for academic BDS in 2004, years after divestment programs originating at the 2001 Durban conference were well underway in North American and European universities, unions, churches and municipalities. In other words, the PACBI call was the result of the success BDS was seeing between 2001-2004, and being the result it could not have simultaneously been the cause.

Time travel underlies much of the BDS project, as is underlies much of what passes for analysis of the Middle East. My favorite example of this is the projection of today’s US support for Israel (which didn’t really kick into high gear until the 1970s) back to 1948 and beyond in hopes of finding a US-Zionist conspiracy going back to before the founding of the Jewish state.

If ignorance is bliss, then the folks behind the PACBI excuse for BDS are either the happiest people on earth, or at least the most manipulative.

4 thoughts on “Unpacking the PACBI Excuse”

  1. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is partnering with Pitt Students for Justice in Palestine and Pitt Students for Radical Liberation to hold a conference at the University of Pittsburgh on campus boycott & divestment. There is a growing consensus that boycott and divestment are the best nonviolent strategies to bring human rights for all and an end to Israel's occupation of Palestinian people and land. Please join us for panel discussions on the question of Israeli apartheid, skill-building workshops, and strategy sessions.

    It is free to attend, but we ask you to please register ahead of time here: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/form.php?modin=177

    Agenda for the Pittsburgh Conference:

    OCTOBER 23rd
    7-9 PM
    Poets4Palestine: Poetry performance featuring Remi Kanazi
    David Lawrence Hall, Room 120
    3942 Forbes Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15260

    OCTOBER 24th
    10 AM – 5 PM
    BDS Skill-building Workshops
    All workshops and plenary sessions on Oct. 24th will be in
    the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, please register for further details.

    – 10:00-10:30 AM – Welcome & introductory plenary

    – 10:45 AM -12:00 PM – Workshop A:
    The international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement /
    connecting with Palestinian activists.
    OR
    How to research corporations involved in Israeli occupation and
    apartheid.

    – 12:00-1:00 PM – Lunch break, lunch will be provided to conference participants

    – 1:15-2:30 PM – Workshop B:
    How to research your university's investments.
    OR
    Creative Arts in Activism

    -2:45-4:00 PM – Workshop C:
    Media 101
    OR
    Academic and cultural boycotts

    – 4:15-4:45 PM – Debrief & announcements in plenary

    OCTOBER 25th,
    10 AM – 3 PM
    Campaign Planning and Action Steps
    All workshops and plenary sessions on Oct. 25th will be in the University of Pittsburgh's David Lawrence Hall, please register for further
    details.

    – 10:00 AM -11:30 PM – Workshop report backs and ongoing workshops

    – 11:30-12:03 PM – Lunch on your own

    – 12:30-3:30 – Strategic planning session, including introduction to using an anti-oppression framework. Come together to plan campaigns using skills from workshops

    – 3:30-4:00 PM– Conference evaluation

    – 4:00-7:00 PM – Dinner on your own

  2. I like to go to these in my best progressive garb and ask wide-eyed “Over 600,000 children died in Iraq because of sanctions and they didn't work. Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions only hurt the poorest and most marginal in a society. Do we want the deaths of Israeli children on our conscience?”

    Of course, the answer is yes, they want as many Israeli deaths as possible, but they can't possibly admit that, so they usually twitch uncomfortably and try and BS their way out of it….

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