Actions Speak Louder: A Response to the IAA’s Anti-Boycott Resolution

On 11 June, the Israeli Anthropological Association (IAA) passed a resolution that called for an end to the occupation and simultaneously expressed opposition to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is deeply troubled by the IAA’s decision to pair this long-overdue criticism of the occupation with a formal rejection of Palestinian civil society’s call for an academic boycott.

The IAA resolution appears to be an attempt to derail the ongoing and very productive discussions within the American Anthropological Association (AAA) regarding the Palestinian call for an academic boycott. The AAA will discuss the boycott at this year’s annual meeting, and we urge our AAA colleagues not to be lulled into inaction by the IAA’s recent resolution.

The IAA cannot claim to recognize the basic rights of the Palestinian people and at the same time seek to undermine the most prominent, the most effective, and the only grassroots Palestinian-led movement seeking to achieve those rights. The movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel was launched in 2005 and is endorsed by the vast majority of Palestinian civil society organizations, including all Palestinian universities. It has proven time and again to be the most effective nonviolent means of pressuring Israeli institutions to recognize the basic rights of Palestinians.

The IAA’s statement itself bears witness to the effectiveness of boycott efforts. Its tepid criticism of the Israeli occupation comes only after significant pressure from the BDS movement was brought to bear on the organization. The IAA’s rejection of the very strategy that finally spurred it to act betrays a startling lack of self-awareness.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is especially concerned by the IAA’s continued failure to recognize the direct complicity and involvement of Israeli academic institutions in maintaining the very human rights violations it claims to oppose. Israeli universities sit on occupied lands; they collaborate with the Israeli army to develop ever more effective and devastating technologies of occupation; they pass personal information about students to the Shin Bet, a secret police with a history of torture and blackmail; they have denied tenure and revoked degrees to those who express dissenting views; and they repress non-violent protests, lectures, and film screenings that challenge Israeli domination of Palestine. Furthermore, the Israeli occupation has specifically targeted Palestinian universities through direct military action and by imposing draconian restrictions on movement and imports that greatly encumber research and teaching in the West Bank and Gaza. In sum, Israel maintains two separate and unequal systems of higher education in the territories it governs.

We stand in solidarity with some 30 Israeli anthropologists who have signed a letter criticizing the IAA resolution for its blatant attempt “at defusing what is currently one of the most effective non-violent tools of struggle that Palestinians have developed.” This counter-letter argues that maintaining business as usual in the face of Israel’s continued apartheid regime is unacceptable.

We call upon the IAA and all Israeli universities to implement tangible actions to address ongoing forms of social and educational discrimination. One clear place to begin would be to stand in support of their Palestinian colleagues’ call for an academic boycott. Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions looks forward to the day when our Israeli colleagues will join us in the work of upholding basic human rights. Until that day comes, however, we urge the American Anthropological Association to continue bringing effective pressure to bear on the Israeli state and its institutions of higher education by endorsing Palestinian civil society’s call for an academic boycott.