100 Days of Silence: Why the Academic Boycott Is Still the Best Way for Anthropologists to Support Justice in Palestine

One hundred days ago, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) censured Israel for its systematic human rights abuses and violations of academic freedom. The lack of any discernible impact since then shows why a boycott of Israeli academic institutions remains the best way for the Association to concretely support justice in Palestine/Israel.

The Association censured Israel after failing to pass a boycott resolution by the narrowest of margins — 39 votes, or less than 1% of ballots cast. The statement of censure did not affect any policies, attract any media attention, or occasion any public discussion within Israel whatsoever. Letters of protest sent from the AAA to the Israeli and US governments failed to elicit substantive replies.

The indifference that greeted the statement of censure contrasts sharply with the enormous anxiety among Israeli elites generated by the mere prospect of an academic boycott, as reflected in high-profile media coverage of the vote and statements from senior government officials characterizing such campaigns as a “strategic threat.” Pro-Israel organizations devoted considerable resources to defeating the AAA boycott.

The record is now clearer than ever: for Israeli officials, boycotts are to be taken seriously, while mere statements of censure are not. Meanwhile, Israeli violations of human rights, attacks on academic freedom, and misuse of archaeology have continued unabated, underscoring the need for more effective action (see our Fact Sheet, “Israel’s Ongoing Violence Against Palestinian Academia”).

Moreover, the Association’s letter of protest to the Israeli government does more harm than good. Addressed to Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, the letter politely conjures the Israeli government’s “respect for, and adherence to, the search for truth and to its commitment to the scholarly pursuit of open inquiry” and implores him to “consider changes in your ministry’s policies and practices” that harm Palestinian rights. Naftali Bennett is a right-wing politician who supports the annexation of much of the West Bank and has launched unprecedented attacks on the funding and curricula of Palestinian schools in Israel. Bennett is so extreme that even prominent opponents of the academic boycott have called upon the US government to freeze his assets and deny him a visa.

Appealing to the reasonableness of a state official who is openly committed to subjugating Palestinians only reinforces the idea that governments should not be subject to any kind of pressure beyond politely worded letters, even when they engage in violent attacks on indigenous populations.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions remains committed to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions as part of the broader Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign organized and led by Palestinian civil society. We are heartened by the continued actions of many colleagues within the discipline. The list of anthropologists who have signed our  statement endorsing the boycott continues to grow. This includes Ghassan Hage, who, in solidarity with the call from his Palestinian colleagues, declined an invitation from the Israeli Anthropological Association to deliver a keynote address at their annual conference. The number of academic bodies working to oppose the violation of Palestinian human rights is also on the rise.  Recognizing Israel’s ongoing abuses of our discipline’s methods, the World Archaeological Congress issued a strong rebuke of Israeli colonization and committed itself to a process of enacting effective policies in opposition to these violations.

At its best, anthropology should demonstrate a commitment to solidarity with indigenous peoples against colonial endeavors. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go in decolonizing our discipline. Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions will continue to educate and mobilize our colleagues in support of the boycott in the Association and beyond.