8 Reasons to vote “Yes” on the AAA resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions

[Originally appeared at AmericanAnthro.org]

Because the Association is committed to human rights, as affirmed by the 1999 Declaration on Anthropology and Human Rights. The AAA has a long history of taking stands in support of human rights and in solidarity with oppressed peoples. More than any other means available to the Association, the boycott would increase international pressure on Israel to end its systematic human rights abuses. Responding to the Palestinian civil society call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is in accord with anthropology’s best traditions and collective commitment to justice.

Because the Association supports academic freedom. The AAA Task Force on Israel/Palestine noted that Israel has long impeded the work of Palestinian and non-Palestinian scholars. Israeli forces routinely raid Palestinian universities, arrest students and teachers, and block the importation of books and academic materials. They have also detained, harassed, deported, and denied entry to anthropologists and other scholars. The boycott protests these crushing restrictions on teaching and research. Moreover, the boycott’s commitment to academic freedom is absolute and applies to all: Israeli scholars will remain welcome to attend AAA meetings and publish in AAA journals.

Because speaking out as an institution would make the Association a powerful voice for change. The boycott leverages the collective weight of the AAA to put pressure on Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians. It is an institutional response that likewise applies only to academic institutions, making it even more narrowly tailored than the blanket academic boycott against apartheid South Africa. By the same token, the boycott does not prevent any individual AAA member from collaborating with Israeli colleagues or even Israeli institutions.

Because the Association is based in the United States, the primary enabler of Israel’s abuses. As the largest organization of U.S.-based anthropologists, the AAA has a long record of speaking critically to the U.S. government, including its opposition to the Human Terrain System, torture, and wars on Vietnam, Grenada, and Iraq. The boycott is an act of protest against Washington’s unconditional and unlimited military and diplomatic support to Israel. By becoming the largest-ever academic association to endorse the boycott, the AAA would invigorate critical public discussion of U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine.

Because of the Association’s experience with boycotting for social justice. Boycotts are an effective pressure tactic for redressing injustice. In the past, the AAA has boycotted the Fulbright-Chile program, and the U.S. states of Arizona, Georgia, and Illinois for their rights violations. This resolution continues the Association’s proud history of heeding calls for boycott from disenfranchised groups.

Because the Association’s commitment to research ethics is at odds with Israel’s misuse of scholarship for colonial expansion. One glaring example is Israeli archaeology, which has systematically provided pretexts for the seizure of land and expulsion of Palestinians, as documented by the AAA Task Force on Israel/Palestine. The practice of archaeology in Israel/Palestine is effectively under Israeli state (and, in the West Bank, military) control and subordinated to a project of colonial settlement.

Because anthropologists of the Middle East strongly support the boycott. Anthropologists with scholarly knowledge of Israel/Palestine have been among the boycott’s most vociferous supporters and over 100 members of the AAA Middle East Section have signed a petition supporting the boycott. Their position, and that of many of their colleagues, is based upon ethnographic research and knowledge of decades of published scholarship about Israel/Palestine. In this sense, the boycott embodies the use of anthropological knowledge to help “solve human problems,” as envisioned by the AAA’s Statement of Purpose.

Because the Association has thoroughly, thoughtfully, and democratically deliberated the question. This resolution emerges from years of panels and other scholarly discussions within the Association. The AAA Task Force on Israel/Palestine’s 140-page report noted that “censure” of Israel would be “an insufficient course of action” on its own. The vast majority of voters (88%) at the Denver business meeting — the best-attended in AAA history — endorsed this resolution calling for the boycott. The Association has also overwhelmingly rejected not one, but two, anti-boycott resolutions proffering only a vague commitment to “dialogue.” The boycott has been rigorously debated by wide swathes of the Association’s membership; the time for action is now.