Taking Academic Freedom Seriously: Exploring the Legal and Moral Underpinnings of BDS

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The call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel that was launched by Palestinian civil society in 2004 represents a decisive turning point in the long-time Palestinian struggle for social justice and academic freedom and the broader struggle for Palestinian self-determination. Alongside petitions, worldwide demonstrations and other national and global advocacy initiatives, as well as a vigorous debate in the alternative and occasionally also the mainstream media, substantial scholarly literature has emerged. This literature introduces legal and moral arguments that underpin the broader call by Palestinian civil society in 2005 for ‘boycotts, divestment and sanctions (hereinafter “BDS”) against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights’. This essay builds on some of my earlier reflections and reviews six books (some in more detail than others) from among a growing pool of literature addressing the Palestinian calls for BDS, and the legal and moral justifications that reinforce these calls. I will explore the way in which the authors explain a way out of the impasse between Israel and the Palestinians and develop two positions that emerge from their contributions. Firstly, robust legal arguments, especially if accompanied by moral clarity, can provide a rigorous normative basis for why BDS against Israel is justified. Second, irrespective of one’s view regarding BDS, legal explanations alone can be rendered meaningless and can lead to highly misleading conclusions if they are not grounded in a social and political context. This essay will conclude that any discussion on international law and the morality of BDS must critically engage with not only the politics of law and legal institutions, but also the politics of resistance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palestine Yearbook of International Law
EditorsA. Imseis
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherBrill Publishers
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)9789004227965
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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