Thanks to my Twitter friend Annie Levy who tipped me off to another forceful and thought-provoking piece by the American scholar and Palestine supporter David Lloyd. Annie writes a wonderful blog called Kitchen Counter Culture about food and the way we live, and while we’ve never met (she lives in Wales and I’m in London) our exchanges invariably leave me with the sense of being on the road with a fellow traveller.

A few weeks ago, I shared Lloyd’s essay ‘Racism in the Defense of a Racist State‘ in which he describes the ‘moral eviction of the Palestinians’ and advocates an academic boycott of Israeli institutions by the Modern Languages Association.

Here Lloyd tells us about ‘Walter Benjamin in Palestine: On the Place and Non-Place of Radical Thought’, a workshop and conference he attended last December in Ramallah.

Lloyd’s comments constitute the most morally and intellectually coherent case for academic boycott I’ve yet come across. They are also the most persuasive response to the the sneering imperialist dismissal of the London Mayor Boris Johnson, not to mention the cynicism masquerading as idealism of the ‘culture for coexistence coterie’, as Omar Robert Hamilton has called them. These are the writers, performers and politicians who came out last Autumn against boycotts of Israel and in favour of ‘dialogue’, whilst remaining predictably silent on the de facto boycott of Palestinian artists, athletes, academics and other professionals over whose every movement Israel wields absolute power.

Like last time, Lloyd’s piece is scholarly in tone and style without straying into abstraction or purism. Instead, his rigorous scholarship works in the service of a profound humanity that enables Lloyd to shine a sometimes unforgiving light on the tensions and contradictions between academic study, political struggle and the life of the mind.

‘Some mornings the smell of tear gas still hung in the air as people gathered for the workshops, the only trace of the night’s violent invasions of Palestinian space that the IDF conducted in its hunt for student or political leaders,’ he writes. ‘Under such conditions, what could it mean to devote hours to reading a few pages of Benjamin’s most esoteric writings?’

And make no mistake: those of us who care deeply about Israeli colonialism and Palestinian dispossession and dehumanisation need people like Lloyd now more than ever.

Despite claims last summer in the Financial Times and elsewhere that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is negligible, fighting it has swiftly become a key policy in many Western nations.

In the US last week, three members of Congress tabled the ‘Combating BDS Act of 2016’, while five state legislatures are currently considering legislation to blacklist companies and individuals who boycott Israeli products and businesses.

Here in the UK, despite the government’s own position that Israeli settlements are illegal, it is aggressively attempting to prohibit public bodies, including local councils, from divesting from Israeli settlement and weapons companies. The Independent reports that next week the Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock will seize the opportunity to curry favour with Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week called Palestinians ‘wild beasts’, by announcing on a trip to Israel proposals to criminalise opposition to Israel’s contraventions of international law and the Geneva Conventions.

As Hugh Lanning, chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign put it, ‘As if it is not enough that the UK Government has failed to act when the Israeli government has bombed and killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and stolen their homes and land, the Government is now trying to impose its inaction on all other public bodies.’

Meanwhile, leaked documents show that school teachers have been advised to regard concern for the Palestinians as a ‘warning’ sign about radicalisation. In case you think fears about where these McCarthyite attacks on free speech will lead are paranoid, consider that a 15 year-old Luton school boy was questioned by anti-terror police for wearing a ‘Free Palestine’ badge just like the ones sold at rallies against the Israeli massacre of more than 550 children in Gaza in 2014, of which I possess at least half a dozen.

When my family and I were in Canada last Christmas, we all had lunch one day at my mother’s smart flat. An entrepreneur and well-known arts patron, she runs a market-leading small business in the stringed instrument sector. At Grammy’s, my four year-old son spotted a small flag which he began waving around and took with him when we left. In fact, it was a Palestinian flag which my mother – who is well past retirement age – had picked up at a protest against the 2014 Gaza siege. I recall a sea of such flags at the Hyde Park protest I attended, along with 50,000 other people. The Palestinian flag now flies at the United Nations.

We left the flag behind in our rented car (God forbid we take it into an airport), and I checked in for our flight wondering what the staff at Budget would make of it. What’s certain is that in David Cameron’s Britain, my son’s nursery would be required to report us if they’d spotted him with it.

In short, as the stakes get higher we are increasingly beholden to people like David Lloyd, who give force and meaning to the urgency of justice.

Here’s an excerpt from Lloyd’s essay:

The very common space that study under such conditions [of occupation and oppression] created, conditions extraordinary not least for the numbers that gathered consistently each morning to read two or three pages of difficult philosophical prose, was testimony to the belief that intellectual and cultural life matters, not in the way that “culture” enhances the vacuous conversation of the financiers and professionals, but with the urgency and excitement of survival itself. That is precisely what Israel has targeted, with steady consistency and unrelenting callousness, from the theft of Palestinian libraries and archives in 1948 to the ongoing invasions or bombings of university campuses and facilities that seem like a constant of its assaults on Palestinian life, whether in Gaza or Tulkarm. The attempt to destroy Palestinian intellectual life is as unstinting as the uprooting and burning of the ancient olive trees of the Holy Land, some 800,000 of which have been destroyed in the course of Israel’s occupation.

Read more here: Walter Benjamin in Palestine

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