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Brazil’s ‘Israeli Universities Festival’ has been cancelled after public protest

April 4, 2023 at 3:30 pm

Palestinian and Brazilian activists at a pro-Palestine protest in Brazil, April 2023 [Public/Social media]

Palestinian and Brazilian activists have succeeded in forcing the cancellation of the “Israeli Universities Festival” which was scheduled to take place this week at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), near Sao Paulo, Brazil. Student, labour unions and organisations and left-wing political parties came together with Palestinian flags and banners proclaiming “Free Palestine” and “Unicamp – territory free from apartheid” at the entrances of university. They declared that they would not allow Brazilian universities to be used for supporting Israeli apartheid.

Unicamp’s administration confirmed that the festival was no longer going ahead after discussions with its organisers. The decision was taken to suspend it “for security reasons”.

According to the president of the Israeli Federation in the state of Sao Paulo, though, the demand for the festival to be cancelled was absurd. “Unicamp is a democratic space that maintains six agreements with Israeli universities,” said Marcos Knobel. “It is always working towards mutual cooperation between the two countries.”

Knobel claimed that Unicamp has a similar number of agreements with universities in Arab and Muslim countries. “We have six agreements with Israeli universities and six with countries in the Arab and Islamic world. We had 66 professors in 72 activities with universities in Israel, and 63 professors in 66 Arab and Islamic countries,” he pointed out. “We believe that the correct procedure is to work in contact with the universities and spread our message. It’s okay to speak out about it, but our management’s assessment is to keep up the conversation with the institutions of both worlds.”

Palestinian activist and representative of Samidoun network Rawa Alsagheer told me that the concept of having festivals for different nationalities in Brazilian universities is in itself a good thing, and is encouraged, but not with Israeli universities that participate in committing war crimes against the Palestinian people. “These universities have a fundamental role in supporting the pillars of the Israeli apartheid regime and justifying the crimes of the Israeli army,” she explained. “The general public must know that the Israeli government depends on these institutions to perpetuate the occupation and mislead international public opinion.”

For Alsagheer, the Israeli universities participating in the festival are linked to the construction of the apartheid regime in Israel by generating knowledge and applied technologies in occupied Palestine. Evidence has been cited for the contribution to apartheid of each educational institution.

“Accepting their participation means accepting that colonialism enters our universities and agreeing with cultural and political normalisation of relations. Academic and educational institutions must play an important role in protecting students and building a society that fights racism, Zionism, colonialism and exploitation in Palestine, Brazil and elsewhere. We must reject the relationship with these institutions.”

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The cancellation of the festival was, added Alsagheer, dedicated to the steadfastness of the prisoners’ movement fighting for Palestinians behind bar, in particular Walid Daqqah, the Palestinian writer and freedom fighter held in Israeli jails for 37 years and now in a critical condition. She asked the Brazilian government to stick to the international covenants that Brazil has signed and adopted.

“Latin Americans are fighters with a long history of colonialism, wars and imperialism. That’s why we witness broad popular solidarity with the cause and rights of the Palestinian people.”

When the festival was announced by an email sent on 17 March to Unicamp staff and students, those who are of Palestinian descent, representatives of professors, technical-administrative staff and undergraduate and postgraduate students agreed that it should be cancelled.

In a letter sent to the dean of UNICAMP, they noted that the Israeli universities help Israel’s policies and try to justify its occupation and apartheid policies. The universities also, said the signatories, maintain a close and unique relationship with the Israeli military. “If Unicamp goes ahead with the festival,” they said, “it will legitimise apartheid and accept that this and other crimes against humanity are acceptable in any part of the world.”

In a new victory for the Palestinian cause in Brazil, the solidarity activists sent a message that they will continue the struggle for Palestinian rights until Israel’s brutal military occupation is finally brought to an end.