100 Days of Silence: Why the Academic Boycott Is Still the Best Way for Anthropologists to Support Justice in Palestine

One hundred days ago, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) censured Israel for its systematic human rights abuses and violations of academic freedom. The lack of any discernible impact since then shows why a boycott of Israeli academic institutions remains the best way for the Association to concretely support justice in Palestine/Israel.

The Association censured Israel after failing to pass a boycott resolution by the narrowest of margins — 39 votes, or less than 1% of ballots cast. The statement of censure did not affect any policies, attract any media attention, or occasion any public discussion within Israel whatsoever. Letters of protest sent from the AAA to the Israeli and US governments failed to elicit substantive replies.

The indifference that greeted the statement of censure contrasts sharply with the enormous anxiety among Israeli elites generated by the mere prospect of an academic boycott, as reflected in high-profile media coverage of the vote and statements from senior government officials characterizing such campaigns as a “strategic threat.” Pro-Israel organizations devoted considerable resources to defeating the AAA boycott.

The record is now clearer than ever: for Israeli officials, boycotts are to be taken seriously, while mere statements of censure are not. Meanwhile, Israeli violations of human rights, attacks on academic freedom, and misuse of archaeology have continued unabated, underscoring the need for more effective action (see our Fact Sheet, “Israel’s Ongoing Violence Against Palestinian Academia”). Continue reading

Fact Sheet: Israel’s Ongoing Violence Against Palestinian Academia

Since the narrow defeat of the AAA Resolution 100 days ago, the Israeli state has intensified its flagrant violations of Palestinians’ basic human rights, including attacks on academic freedom. These routine violations include:

Continue reading

Ghassan Hage Declines Invitation to Address Israeli Anthropological Association

Letter by Ghassan Hage responding to an invitation to give the keynote at the Israeli Anthropological Association conference

2013-ghassan-hage-02Dear …

I have spent a bit of time writing this so it is a bit formal. That’s not the intention. It’s more that I want to be as clear as possible about my reasons.

I sincerely appreciate your invitation to give the keynote at the Israeli Anthropological Association conference. And I accept that it is an invitation made in good faith that emanates from your desire to open up the association to voices that are strongly critical of Israel as it has come to exist in the world today, and that as you say are not heard enough.

I am afraid I have to decline from accepting your invitation. I can’t say I am overjoyed to decline. As I mentioned to you before by temperament I am always inclined and disposed to dialogue, but I have thought hard about what my presence would achieve and I feel that the end result is negative not positive. But in thinking what is positive and what is negative I am thinking of how it impacts on the struggle of the Palestinian people to free themselves of colonialism, not the struggle of Israeli anthropologists to make their society more open minded and receptive. It is a mistake to equate the two even though they might occasionally overlap in terms of interest. Continue reading

The Struggle Continues: Campaign for Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions Undeterred by American Anthropological Association Vote

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions vowed to continue its campaign after a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions that was under consideration by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) narrowly missed adoption by a razor-thin margin of 39 votes, 2,423-2,384 (50.4%-49.6%).

Over a six-week period this spring, the AAA’s members were invited to vote by e-mail on the resolution, with turnout reaching an unprecedented 51%. Members at the AAA annual meeting in Denver approved the decision to hold the referendum – itself historic – by an 88% vote last November.

The resolution in question would have precluded the AAA from engaging in any formal association-level collaborations with universities or research centers in Israel. It would not have prevented Israeli scholars from participating in AAA activities or collaborating with AAA members.

Despite this setback, the decision to hold this vote in the first place marks a historic step forward in opening spaces for critical discussion of the U.S. role in enabling Israel’s widespread and systematic abuses against the Palestinian people. The past three years of debate about the boycott have brought  exponentially more discussion of Palestinian rights in the AAA than ever before in the Association’s history. This includes a ground-breaking report by a AAA Task Force recognizing the settler-colonial practices of the Israeli government. These represent important first steps towards opposing Israeli human rights violations. Separately, over 1,300 anthropologists have signed a petition pledging to uphold the boycott through their own personal practice.

An academic boycott is an appropriate and effective response to Israel’s longstanding and systematic violations of Palestinian rights, including the right to education, because:

  • The boycott is a way for the AAA as a U.S.-based association to protest the unprecedented amount of aid and unconditional political support Washington provides to Israel.
  • The boycott is a way for anthropologists, with their long disciplinary history studying colonialism, to speak out against Israel’s colonial practices in Palestine.
  • The boycott is a way for a professional body of scholars to show solidarity with their Palestinian colleagues, whose work and lives are impeded on a daily basis by Israeli policies.

In recent months, outside organizations poured enormous resources into derailing the boycott through intimidation and disinformation. These groups organized harassment campaigns targeting untenured and adjunct scholars who supported the boycott; lobbied university presidents across the country to intervene in the vote; paid AAA membership dues for boycott opponents; called for the firing of Israeli scholars accused of supporting the boycott; and, just as the AAA began voting, filed a frivolous lawsuit against the American Studies Association for its own endorsement of the boycott in 2013.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions will press on with its campaign to educate colleagues about Israel-Palestine and to mobilize anthropologists to take effective action in support of Palestinian rights through the boycott.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is a self-funded grassroots group working in support of Palestinian human rights, composed entirely of AAA members, including faculty, contingent labor, and graduate students.



AAA Boycott Vote Results Expected June 7

Voting on the American Anthropological Association’s proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions has closed. Results are expected June 7.

Thanks to all those who voted and who supported the campaign!

Ultranationalist Group Targets Dissident Israeli Anthropologists

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions condemns recent efforts to intimidate Israeli scholars who have spoken out against the occupation.

This week, the ultranationalist pressure group Im Tirtzu released a report targeting Israeli anthropologists it accuses of supporting the international boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Last month, 22 Israeli anthropologists anonymously signed a letter supporting the proposed boycott currently being voted on by the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Continue reading

Suad Joseph: Why I Now Support the Academic Boycott


suad3I hesitated for some time to sign on to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  My respected and dear friends and colleagues who opposed the boycott expressed their concerns to me.  I could understand why their arguments were powerful for them and appreciated their deep dismay.  Those personal relationships gave me pause, even though the arguments were not entirely convincing.  It was personal.

My respected and dear friends and colleagues who supported the boycott expressed their concerns to me.  Their arguments were powerful.  Those personal relationships left me troubled and the evidence accumulated and sedimented.  It was personal.

My last trip to Israel/Palestine a few years ago, opened another lens on personal relationships.  Many of my Israeli friends, in Israeli institutions, stood for the boycott as well.  They explained that they could come and go as they wished, attend conferences, participate in academic events, apply for and win jobs/awards/grants. Their careers and mobilities were  minimally affected by the boycott.  It was not personal. Continue reading

Roberto González: #Anthroboycott Vote Should Not Be Suppressed

[this essay originally appeared on the blog of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors]

Guest blogger Roberto J. González is an alumnus of UC Berkeley. He is chair of San José State University’s anthropology department and author of several books including Militarizing Culture: Essays on the Warfare State (2010) and Zapotec Science: Farming and Food in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca (2001). His position on academic boycotts differs from that of the AAUP, which can be found here.

gonzalezLast month, University of California President Janet Napolitano sent a bewildering letter to the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the world’s largest professional association of anthropologists.

The document, co-signed by the chancellors of all 10 UC campuses, expresses concern about a proposed AAA resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It urges “Association members to consider the boycott’s potentially harmful impacts and oppose this resolution.”

Napolitano’s letter betrays an Orwellian disregard for what it claims to protect: academic freedom. Continue reading

Middle East Studies Association Criticizes Israeli Travel Restrictions on Boycott Activist

On 16 May, the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association sent a letter to Israeli authorities criticizing an effective travel ban imposed by Israeli authorities on Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. This is only the latest instance of Israeli restrictions on freedom of expression, especially of critics of government policy.

A copy of the letter is below.


An Open Letter to American Anthropologist

[this letter originally appeared as part of an exchange in Anthropology News]

Nadia Abu El-Haj
Susan Slyomovics

The recent issue of the American Anthropologist included a section presenting nine views on anthropology in Israel. The persons asked to respond to three questions about Israeli anthropology included “all living past heads of the Israel [sic] Anthropological Association,” a group whom Virginia Dominguez herself characterizes as Jewish, nearly all Ashkenazi, nearly all men, and nearly all faculty in leading research universities. Despite acknowledging the extreme narrowness of this demographic distribution, Dominguez, the editor of the special subsection, concludes that she “thought (and still firmly believe[s]) that the range of views and accounts in such a grouping [past heads of the IAA] had the best chance of capturing the diversity of views and understandings in the practice of anthropology in Israel (as well as some constancies and commonalities).”

There is absolutely nothing representative about this collection of views, however. In privileging the insights of past presidents of the IAA, the journal skewed the “sample”—such as it is—in significant ways. It tilted those authorized to assess Israeli anthropology towards an older generation of Israeli anthropologists who wield power and influence not just within the discipline, but also in Israeli society writ large.   Seven out of nine of them invoked that authority in a politically opportunistic way: Rather than just answer questions about the discipline in Israel, they voiced their opposition to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions currently being voted on by members of the AAA. Continue reading