Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Geldof and Apartheid
Some might be shocked at Bob Geldof's plans to accept an award in Israel--given his reputation as a sincere do-gooder in the music world. Others, who have observed the less-than-savory aspects of Band Aid and other mega-concerts like it, might be less surprised that he's aligning himself with colonialism in such a cavalier fashion.
Either way, however, his presence within Israel's borders can only serve--like Bieber, like Gene Simmons and Elton John--to legitimize some very real atrocities. That's why the campaign urging him to turn down the award is important.
Geldof plans to travel there in May to receive an honorary degree from Ben Gurion University. Recently, an individual from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine reached out to me asking if I would run their letter to Geldof on this site. My response was obvious: of course.
22 March 2011
Dear Sir Bob,
I understand from a report in the Jewish Chronicle (21 March 2011) that you are
accepting an honorary degree from Ben Gurion University in Israel in May.
Your name is associated with campaigns to make the world--particularly the non-Western world--a better place.
But Israel--adopting nineteenth century European colonial attitudes of civilizational superiority over "Asian barbarism"--was founded on the dispossession of the Palestinians. Since 1948, Israel has been justifiably censured in more UN resolutions
than any other state.
Ben Gurion University, where you will accept your not-so-honorable degree, is not a
progressive force in an Israel that has otherwise lost its way. Instead, this academic
institution is heavily implicated in ongoing violations of international law and human
rights, and the world’s longest-running military occupation.
During the widely-condemned Operation Cast Lead (Dec 2008-Jan 2009), the Israeli
army (the IDF) massacred with state-of-the-art weapons more than a thousand largely
defenceless Palestinians, most of them civilians already living under a cruel siege in
the the world’s largest open air prison (Gaza). The impeccable Judge Goldstone
found, under the auspices of the UN, that Israel should be investigated for war crimes.
But Ben Gurion University actually outdid other Israeli universities in its support for
the soldiers who helped carry out these atrocities. Ben Gurion gave a special grant of
NIS 180 (around 35 Euros) per day, to students who did reserve duty during the
This should be no surprise, given that although Ben Gurion was not given the tender,
it claimed to have originated the idea in 2008 of a school for military medicine,
designed specifically to train medical staff for the Israeli armed forces. Indeed, Ben
Gurion complained when the tender was awarded to the Hebrew University . It has
also been the case for some time that Ben Gurion, like other Israeli universities,
routinely offers special privileges to the Israeli military. For example, as part of their training, military pilots receive a BA from Ben Gurion University in the course of a single year (instead of the normal three years).
And whereas it is hard to imagine the work of Sir Bob Geldof without thinking of the
importance of the freedom to engage in political activism, Ben Gurion University has
played its part in stifling dissent on campus at crucial moments. While the world
demonstrated in horror at the massacre in Gaza, Ben Gurion’s security guards were busy photographing and monitoring political activists, and put in place unreasonable
obstacles to activism, even preventing students from mounting legal political
demonstrations and activities.
I write in the hope that facts such as these will appeal to your conscience and you will change your mind about accepting this degree from an institution that is materially and ideologically complicit in occupation, siege, and massacre. Your acceptance will be treated as a propaganda victory by those shrill voices who seek neither justice nor peace in Israel and Palestine.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Dr John T. Chalcraft
Writing on behalf of BRICUP (The British Committee for the Universities of