Suad Joseph: Why I Now Support the Academic Boycott


suad3I hesitated for some time to sign on to the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  My respected and dear friends and colleagues who opposed the boycott expressed their concerns to me.  I could understand why their arguments were powerful for them and appreciated their deep dismay.  Those personal relationships gave me pause, even though the arguments were not entirely convincing.  It was personal.

My respected and dear friends and colleagues who supported the boycott expressed their concerns to me.  Their arguments were powerful.  Those personal relationships left me troubled and the evidence accumulated and sedimented.  It was personal.

My last trip to Israel/Palestine a few years ago, opened another lens on personal relationships.  Many of my Israeli friends, in Israeli institutions, stood for the boycott as well.  They explained that they could come and go as they wished, attend conferences, participate in academic events, apply for and win jobs/awards/grants. Their careers and mobilities were  minimally affected by the boycott.  It was not personal.

Crossing the barriers into Ramallah, Palestine was a world-change. The effects of occupation were everywhere.  Destruction, development held hostage, mobility crippled, lives upended and denied.  While I was there, a colleague’s house was searched and torn through by the Israeli police.  The bright spots were the universities, where scholars worked hard on research and teaching and young Palestinians committed to learning fought through the interminable barriers to attend classes.  They could not come and go as they wished, even in their own country; visas to other countries frequently denied; constant constraints on opportunities for jobs/awards/grants; lives, careers, families destroyed.  It was personal.

The academic boycott addresses Israeli institutions, not individuals.  It is not personal.  The cutting short of the unbelievable promise of a people by the occupation of Palestine is personal.

Suad Joseph

Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies

UC Davis

May 2016