South African universities are signatory to the boycott of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). PACBI has advocated, since 2004, for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions. The boycott makes explicit, at the outset, that the focus is on institutions, not individuals, and it upholds the universal right to academic freedom. The institutional boycott called for by Palestinian civil society does not conflict with such freedom, and instead, allows us to host Israeli speakers in their individual capacity, provided that their institutional affiliations are not included in any advertisement or introduction. See http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1108
Q: A major concern that US anthropologists have is that BDS would prevent Israeli and US scholars from working together. Have you had any experiences working or interacting with Israeli scholars while at Wits?
A: The University of the Witwatersrand has signed on in support of the Palestinian civil society’s call to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel by supporting the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). In 2015, I had an Israeli visitor, and she gave a presentation in her private capacity – that is, we neither advertised her talk nor introduced her as a member of faculty of an Israeli university. Her talk was critical of the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians, in particular people living in Gaza. She drew attention to the systematic discrimination of Palestinians, their deprivation of basic rights as guaranteed by international law, their limited access to water and sanitation, housing, education and health care, and their lack of personal security. She was strongly appreciative of the boycott, arguing that it supported her and her colleagues to fight internally against the oppression of Palestinians.
Q: Why do you think that your institution in South Africa decided to join BDS?
A: The people of South Africa suffered over a century of racist oppression, including 46 years of institutionalized violence under Apartheid (1948 to 1994). The costs to society, the economy and polity, and to individuals, continues today, reminding all who live and work in South Africa of the accumulated damage of structural violence and its literalization. South African faculty and students played a lead role in the sustained advocacy to remove the Nationalist government, dismantle Apartheid, and begin the slow task of transformation: we continue in this work today. Apartheid’s end was tied to the effectiveness of the international boycotts of South Africa, which from the beginning of boycott action in 1959 worked to counter the regime and its structures in South Africa and to support those within the country who opposed it. Academics and students from the University of the Witwatersrand drew in the support of people from outside of the country through the years of Apartheid, and are deeply committed to fitting similar injustices. Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is a painful analogy of Apartheid.
Q: Why do you think anthropologists should take a stand on this issue?
A: Anthropologists have a moral and ethical responsibility to take a stand against systematic violence and abuse wherever it occurs. The American Anthropological Association Committee for Human Rights works to further this through tasks groups on ethnic cleansing and on the human rights of women, and through the proposed Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights. The treatment of Palestinians by Israel is a clear example of the abuse of human rights through state institutions and state-sanctioned violence.
Lenore Manderson is Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology in the School of Public Health, The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. She also holds appointment as Visiting Distinguished Professor, Institute at Brown for Environment and Society and Visiting Professor of Anthropology, Brown University, Providence, RI, USA.