Myths and Facts About the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions [updated]

[updated April 25, 2016]

Myth #1: The boycott prevents Israeli and U.S. scholars from working together.

Fact: The boycott is not directed at individuals; it is directed at the institutions in which they work. It does not deny Israeli scholars the right to attend conferences (including the AAA meetings), speak at or visit U.S. universities, or publish their work in AAA publications. Nor will boycott prevent U.S. scholars from traveling to Israel. Individual AAA members will remain free to decide whether and how to implement the boycott on their own. The claim that the boycott resolution will prevent or discourage scholars from writing letters of recommendation for students or colleagues is false.

Myth #2: Dialogue is a better way to support Palestinian rights than a boycott.  

Fact: Boycott and dialogue are not incompatible; individuals will continue to dialogue even after this institutional boycott is implemented. But dialogue is not enough. Despite decades of dialogue and diplomacy,  Israel has continued to act with impunity and the occupation has grown only more entrenched and dangerous. Dialogue without justice is a perpetuation of the status quo, and flies in the face of the unanimous conclusion of the AAA Task Force on Israel-Palestine that it is time for the Association to take significant action.

Myth #3: The boycott undermines principles of academic freedom.

Fact: This boycott does not violate academic freedom. It aims to create conditions in which true academic freedom is enjoyed by all scholars in Palestine/Israel equally, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity. It is Palestinians whose academic freedom is being systematically violated by the Israeli state and universities through military assaults on Palestinian institutions of higher learning, discrimination against Palestinian students in both Israeli and Palestinian university systems, and censorship on Israeli campuses.

Myth #4: Anthropologists should not boycott universities because this is where critical debate is fostered.

Fact: Critical debate and academic freedom are heavily suppressed by Israeli state and academic institutions. Israeli universities have built branch campuses in the occupied territories, and all Israeli universities supported the 2014 attack on Gaza. Palestinian and Israeli scholars are punished (in different ways) for speaking out against Israeli practices of discrimination and abuse. Israeli universities consistently violate the rights of Palestinians, both citizens and those living under occupation. By challenging the discriminatory practices of Israeli universities, this boycott bolsters both Jewish and Palestinian critics of Israeli state and university policy. See also this letter by 22 Israeli anthropologists who support the boycott.

Myth #5: The boycott is hypocritical because it singles out Israel while the U.S. and other countries also violate human rights.

Fact: The AAA is not singling out Israel with this action. Historically, the AAA has taken numerous positions in support of rights campaigns, participated in boycotts, and issued statements about political matters regarding peoples around the world. Supporting this boycott does not automatically entail accepting or rejecting any other boycott or political action. In this case, we have a special responsibility to act, since the U.S. provides extraordinary political, military, and financial support for Israel’s actions.

Myth #6: The boycott is anti-Semitic.

Fact: Anti-Semitism is discrimination against a people based on their religion and/or heritage. This boycott is a political tactic aimed at the Israeli state and at Israeli institutions that are directly complicit in the systematic discrimination against and violence towards Palestinians. It is not directed at Jews or Judaism. Criticism of the state of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Israel does not speak for or represent all Jewish people, and no government is beyond criticism. The claim that the boycott is a “cover” for anti-Semitism is a tactic used to silence critics, smear boycott supporters, and deflect attention from criticism of institutions complicit with Israeli state violations of Palestinians’ human rights.

Myth #7: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a unique issue that is irrelevant to most anthropologists and therefore the AAA should take no position on the boycott.

Fact: The AAA’s “Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights” states that “Anthropology as a profession is committed to the promotion and protection of the right of people and peoples everywhere to the full realization of their humanity.” Taking a stand for Palestinian rights is especially relevant to anthropology because the Israeli state uses anthropological frameworks and methods — ethnographic and archaeological — to legitimize and consolidate the occupation. As a US-based academic association, the AAA has a responsibility to act because the United States enables the Israeli state’s systematic violations of Palestinians’ basic rights.  

Myth #8: The boycott seeks the destruction of Israel and/or supports a “one-state” solution.

Fact: The boycott opposes Israeli policies and actions, and is based on fundamental human rights principles. It aims to end discrimination against Palestinians, to end the occupation, and to support refugee rights. Boycott supporters hold multiple views about potential future political configurations and the boycott campaign does not take any specific position on these matters.

Myth #9: Academic boycott will not help Palestinians because boycotts are merely symbolic gestures.

Fact: Boycotts are effective. The boycott makes complicity with the status quo more burdensome for Israeli academic institutions. The boycott of Israeli institutions exerts pressure to motivate Israeli academics to demand policy change from their government. The extraordinary efforts to counteract the boycott are signs that it is effective. Israeli leaders and US officials are starting to recognize the pressure of boycotts. Boycotts have been effective in similar justice struggles, as in South Africa and the grape boycott led by Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers in the United States. Over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations have called for boycott and themselves assessed the costs and benefits of this action.

Myth #10: Endorsing the academic boycott will destroy the AAA.

Fact: There is no evidence that supporting the academic boycott will destroy the AAA. To date, at least six U.S.-based academic associations have endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli institutions, including the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association of Asian American Studies, and the Critical Ethnic Studies Association. After endorsing the boycott these organizations have seen stable or increased membership numbers and revenues.

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