Labour's Corbyn Backs Boycott of Israeli Universities Linked to Arms Research

The surprise left-wing front-runner in the UK Labour Party's leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn, has endorsed a boycott on Israeli universities that are involved in researching high-tech military and police hardware to use against the Palestinian population.

In an exclusive interview with pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada, the Labour MP for London's Islington North constituency repeated his support for elements of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Academic boycott is one strand of the global campaign. Its Palestinian academic and cultural boycott campaign (PACBI) calls for the international community to "comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural end Israel's occupation, colonisation and system of apartheid."

Corbyn admits that the academic boycott is "very complicated," as it effectively means ruling out cooperation with members of Israel's academic elite who are opposed to the occupation of Palestinian territories, such as professor Ilan Pappe. However, the potential opposition leader is firm on his view that universities aiding the Israeli military and police should be included in any BDS effort.

"If it is a university that is doing research into drones, taser weapons, or doing research into surveillance of the occupation in Gaza and elsewhere then they should be part of the boycott," he told Electronic Intifada, although he also advocated "dialogue" with academics.

An example of an Israeli academic institute involved in the research and development of military hardware is the Haifa-based Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, which develops drones and a number of technologies employed by the Israeli military, such as robot bulldozers that have been used to demolish Palestinian homes.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, counters Corbyn's endorsement of a boycott, condemning the campaign as harmful to the peace process while pointing out that Israeli drones have benefitted Britain in its wars in the Middle East over the last decade.

"Israel strongly rejects the divisive BDS campaign, whose aim is to demonise and delegitimise, and does nothing to promote peace. On the subject of military research, it should be recalled that Israeli drone technology has protected the lives of troops, including British troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan," the official says.

In the interview, Corbyn, a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, also endorsed an arms embargo on Israel and criticised the Conservative government for continuing its arms sales to the country despite 1,585 civilian deaths in last summer's Gaza conflict, of which 530 were children.

"Israel is after all facing an investigation...for war crimes, as indeed are the Hamas forces on a much different or lesser scale," he said. "I think we should be very cautious about supplying arms in those circumstances."

He said such action would be justified because Israel is "continuing with the imprisonment of [Palestinian] children, elected parliamentarians, expulsion of African asylum seekers from Israel, and of course the siege of Gaza, refusing to allow any reconstruction."

Riya Hassan, BDS National Committee (BNC) Europe campaigns officer, welcomed Corbyn's comments, arguing that the international community should implement a two-way arms embargo on Israel "as was done against apartheid South Africa."

"The BDS movement has consistently called for boycotting Israeli universities, not individual academics," she says. "All Israeli universities are involved, to various degrees, in planning, implementing and whitewashing the crimes committed by Israel's regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid."

Corbyn, 66, was recently challenged in a Channel 4 interview about his reference to Palestinian militant group Hamas as "friends," but maintains that the group should be part of any peace process with Israel. "A peace process will come about when Israel understands that there is not a military solution," he added.

The veteran Labour candidate this week is to set out his plan to bring an end to "political and economic austerity" and make Britain fairer through the "sound economics of public investment," according to the Guardian.

Corbyn is up against Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall in the party's leadership election, triggered after Ed Miliband resigned in the early hours of 8 May following a crushing general election defeat. Two opinion polls, including one for respected polling organisation YouGov, have placed Corbyn far ahead of his rivals and he has received the backing of four trade unions in the vote, including the country's two biggest, Unite and Unison. Corbyn's rise to the front of the pack has seen Labour figures such as Tony Blair and Lord Mandelson clamour to condemn the leftist politician.