The Anti-Boycott Resolution: Entrenching the Status Quo, Denying Justice

[this statement originally appeared on Savage Minds]

At this year’s American Anthropological Association (AAA) annual meeting, anthropologists will vote on two resolutions concerning Israel’s systematic violations of human rights.

Resolution 2 endorses the Palestinian call for boycott as an effective and nonviolent means to pursue their fundamental rights. By contrast, Resolution 1, submitted by the group, “Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel/Palestine” (ADIP), rejects the boycott in favor of “dialogue.”

Anti-boycott Resolution 1 must be seen for what it is: a thinly disguised vindication of an unjust status quo. Last year in Washington, D.C., the AAA’s membership voted overwhelmingly against a remarkably similar anti-boycott resolution. This year, boycott opponents are attempting to achieve the same goals – only this time they have added a mild reprimand of the occupation, boilerplate diplomatic talking points, and a vague charity program. Despite its perfunctory references to Palestinian human rights, Resolution 1 does not propose any concrete actions for pressuring Israel or its academic institutions into ending their discriminatory practices. Instead, it proposes “focusing research, debate, and teaching in and about the region,” as if the many anthropologists of Israel/Palestine who support an academic boycott have not been doing precisely this for decades. In restricting its criticism of Israeli policy to empty words, Resolution 1 disregards the unanimous conclusion of the AAA’s Task Force on Engagement with Israel/Palestine that censure alone would “be an insufficient course of action.”

Instead, Resolution 1 invokes “dialogue” as the only permitted form of dissent against a regime of separate and unequal systems of law and education. This approach perniciously sidesteps the radical inequality of the colonizer-colonized relationship. It creates a false parity between Israelis and Palestinians, and presents the “two sides” as if they were equally culpable. As anthropologists of the region have shown, this form of dialogue has for decades been a fig-leaf for continuing oppression, leading to deepening colonization in Palestine.

Even a cursory reading of Resolution 1 reveals that, by design, the so-called dialogue it proposes excludes Palestinians. Amongst the 17 signatories of this resolution, there is not a single Palestinian scholar. Nor, as of this writing, has a single Palestinian author been featured on the ADIP website. This dialogue also excludes most anthropologists of Israel/Palestine – practitioners of the very “anthropological engagement” that ADIP advocates – the vast majority of whom support the Palestinian call for substantive action through academic boycott.

In so doing, Resolution 1 proposes a remarkably paternalistic course of action. It asks us to overrule the voices of Palestinians on the ground. The academic boycott is part of a  broader grassroots movement for  Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supported by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, including the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors. ADIP claims to know better than the indigenous people of Palestine what course of action they should take in order to achieve their rights. So much so that they need not even talk to them, even while demanding a “dialogue” on how best to maintain the discriminatory status quo.

Resolution 1 also idealizes Israeli universities as precious islands of dissent against the state. But as the Task Force report makes clear, Israeli universities are deeply complicit in the assault on Palestinian human rights and academic freedom, through both their close collaborations with the Israeli state and their discriminatory campus policies. The anti-boycott resolution does nothing to challenge these basic infringements of Palestinian rights nor to address the underlying issue of institutional complicity in the occupation. Rather, it draws a strong line between the university and the state where one does not exist, and tries to absolve Israeli universities of their role in sustaining and furthering the occupation.

The one seemingly concrete measure proposed by the ADIP resolution is a fund for “Scholarly Endeavors in Conflict Areas.” This is not a call for action, but a suggestion to put out a collection box. Resolution 1’s proposed fund is an empty gesture, and a misleading one at that. The scheme would be implemented only in the unlikely event that the Association raises additional funds equivalent to 0.99% of the Association’s overall expenditure – $54,300 using the 2014 budget. Our Palestinian colleagues seek solidarity, not more empty promises of charity or handouts masquerading as  “engagement.”

At this year’s AAA, we will have a clear choice. Resolution 1 represents an endorsement of the deeply flawed status quo in Israel/Palestine. As members of a discipline with an unfortunate history of collaborating with colonial regimes, we anthropologists should be especially wary of the paternalistic attitudes betrayed by this proposal. Resolution 2 will uphold the AAA’s rich tradition of supporting human rights struggles at home and abroad. We hope the Association will choose wisely.