LONDON – The British capital will host this week a major international academic
conference looking at the issue of boycotts, with a focus on the boycott,
divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.
conference will take place at University of London’s Birkbeck College, and is
being hosted by the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Birkbeck,
in conjunction with the International Consortium for Research on Anti-Semitism
“Boycotts have been a longstanding form of protest. By
addressing this history from the eighteenth century to the present, the
conference will break new ground,” Prof.
David Feldman, the director of
the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Birkbeck told The
Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
“In taking this long-term view, we will be able
to achieve a better understanding of the causes, rhetoric and impact of boycott
movements in the past and, at the same time, shed light on boycott movements in
the present day, including the current movement to boycott Israel,” he
In an attempt to investigate how boycotts work to weaken and
delegitimize their target in order to fulfill their objectives, the conference
will explore the history and make-up of boycotts.
The findings will be
applied to the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel –
widely known as the BDS movement – in order to see where the movement would be
classified in reference to the debate on contemporary anti-Semitism.
conference will take an academic stance and will look at the different
narratives and viewpoints that make boycotts such a contentious and emotive
One narrative places the BDS movement within the long history of
“struggles for human rights,” while the other deems it a racist
The conference brings together an array of speakers from
various disciplines, including a number of Israeli academics. On Thursday
morning, Prof. Eyal Naveh of Tel Aviv University will chair a session on the
politics of resistance and mobilization. Bar- Ilan University’s Dr. Hizky Shoham
will be one of the academics participating in the session.
A panel on
Thursday afternoon will delve into the subject of boycotts during the Nazi
Friday will be dedicated to investigating the BDS
The morning session will look at the rhetoric, politics and
economics of the boycott campaign and will delve into why activists frequently
compare Israel to apartheid South Africa. Afternoon sessions will look at the
legal and ethical issues surrounding the BDS movement and its implications on
human rights and anti-Semitism. A round-table discussion will end the
There was discontent from some sections of the Jewish community that
questioned the participation of Dr. John Chalcraft of the London School of
Economics. Chalcraft is a major supporter of the BDS movement.
described Israel as a “heavily militarized, nucleararmed, expansionist apartheid
state with extensive illegal settlement, land seizure and wallbuilding
However, Feldman underlined that the conference is an academic
“It is not intended to be a forum for advocacy. All those speaking
at the conference are scholars, whose papers have been selected on the basis of
their academic merit,” he told the Post.
“Political engagement, both
among those who oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against
Israel and those who support it, is not incompatible with scholarship.
Collectively, the 29 speakers at the conference encompass a range of
perspectives on boycott movements and on BDS,” he added.
Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism was created in 2009 following a
1.5-million-pound investment from the Pears Foundation, a London-based family
trust that invests more than 6 million pounds annually to organizations
addressing social issues in both the UK and abroad.
It is the only
institute in the UK, and one of just two in Europe, that describes its mission
as working to promote the understanding of anti-Semitism in order to gain a
broader understanding of racism, religious intolerance and
The conference will run from Wednesday to Friday, and is
intended primarily for academics and postgraduate students.