London to host conference on boycott campaigns

British capital to hold academic gathering to focus on BDS movement in relation to contemporary debate on anti-Semitism.

PRO-PALESTINIAN protesters hold a banner 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRO-PALESTINIAN protesters hold a banner 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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.
The three-day 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 and Racism.
“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 added.
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.
The conference will take an academic stance and will look at the different narratives and viewpoints that make boycotts such a contentious and emotive issue.
One narrative places the BDS movement within the long history of “struggles for human rights,” while the other deems it a racist phenomenon.
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 era.
Friday will be dedicated to investigating the BDS movement.
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 day.
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.
He has described Israel as a “heavily militarized, nucleararmed, expansionist apartheid state with extensive illegal settlement, land seizure and wallbuilding activity.”
However, Feldman underlined that the conference is an academic event.
“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.
The Pears 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 xenophobia.
The conference will run from Wednesday to Friday, and is intended primarily for academics and postgraduate students.