Eminent international researchers are calling on an Australian historian to refuse a controversial Israeli award.
In a highly unusual instance of global pressure, over 220 international and Australian academics have written an open letter to UNSW Laureate Professor of History, Alison Bashford, appealing to her to support the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions by rejecting the US$1million 2021 Dan David prize, which she is sharing with two other researchers.
The academics’ letter says that accepting this year’s prize, which rewards Professor Bashford’s contributions to the understanding of public health, ‘serves to legitimize and normalize Israel’s colonial violence and apartheid’ against Palestinians. The letter points out the irony of an award for public health from a country actively blocking the delivery of vaccines to the five million Palestinians living under its control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Among the letter’s signatories are the internationally-renowned gender and cultural theorist, Judith Butler, Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley; Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York; Laleh Khalili, Professor of International Politics at Queen Mary, University of London; Jasbir Puar, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, Professor of American Studies at Wesleyan University; John Keane, Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney; Mark Levine, Professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at UC Irvine; and Meaghan Morris, Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies, University of Sydney. The letter has also been signed by Ahmed Alnajjar, Director of Public and International Relations in the Palestinian Ministry of Education.
As well as signatories in Australia, including at Bashford’s own institution, the University of NSW, the letter is signed by academics from the US, UK, France, Belgium, Malaysia, Germany, Italy, Canada, Ireland and Palestine itself.
The signatories write that ‘Israel’s racist policies against Palestinians, long criticised as instances of apartheid by Palestinians themselves, as well as by international legal and humanitarian authorities (including recently by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem) are an egregious example of racial segregation imposed on an entire population, with all the desperate consequences for Palestinians’ health and well-being that this implies.’
They say that ‘refusing the award, opposing the whitewashing of Israel’s crimes, and rejecting collaboration with an Israeli academic institution complicit with the oppression of Palestinians would earn [Professor Bashford] the respect and admiration of all those who believe that academic research must serve the cause of freedom, in Palestine and in the world.’
Professor Bashford has so far not replied to the letter, signatures to which continue to arrive.