Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Anthropologists Reflect on the Struggle for Boycott and a Half-Century of Israeli Occupation

June 2017 marks fifty years since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a watershed event that consolidated and extended the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. After a half century of deepening colonization and apartheid, the “two state solution” that has long been proposed as a way to resolve the conflict appears more elusive than ever.

June 2017 also marks the one-year anniversary of the narrow defeat of the resolution in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The vote was the culmination of years of vigorous debate among anthropologists about the best way for our discipline and professional association to support justice in Palestine and express solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents a series of reflections by our colleagues to commemorate this solemn occasion:

J. Kēhaulani Kauanui explains why “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory must be understood as part of the process of settler colonialism

Rhoda Kanaaneh‘s “Insecure Exchanges” traces links between struggles for racial justice in Palestine and the US

Les Field on “Why Jewish Anthropologists Should Support the Boycott

Glenn Bowman shares “Reflections on 34 Years of Field Research in the Israeli Occupied Territories

Ahmed Kanna emphasizes the importance of linking #Anthroboycott to struggles against capitalism

Nikolas Kosmatopoulos discusses opportunities for solidarity with Palestine beyond the boycott, especially at sea

Dan Segal reflects on last year’s AAA boycott vote in “How We Came So Close, and Why Victory is in Sight

Roberto J. González takes the long view in “The Patience of Activism


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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”). Continue reading

AAA Boycott Vote Results Expected June 7

Voting on the American Anthropological Association’s proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions has closed. Results are expected June 7.

Thanks to all those who voted and who supported the campaign!

Roberto González: #Anthroboycott Vote Should Not Be Suppressed

[this essay originally appeared on the blog of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors]

Guest blogger Roberto J. González is an alumnus of UC Berkeley. He is chair of San José State University’s anthropology department and author of several books including Militarizing Culture: Essays on the Warfare State (2010) and Zapotec Science: Farming and Food in the Northern Sierra of Oaxaca (2001). His position on academic boycotts differs from that of the AAUP, which can be found here.

gonzalezLast month, University of California President Janet Napolitano sent a bewildering letter to the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the world’s largest professional association of anthropologists.

The document, co-signed by the chancellors of all 10 UC campuses, expresses concern about a proposed AAA resolution supporting an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It urges “Association members to consider the boycott’s potentially harmful impacts and oppose this resolution.”

Napolitano’s letter betrays an Orwellian disregard for what it claims to protect: academic freedom. Continue reading

An Open Letter to American Anthropologist

[this letter originally appeared as part of an exchange in Anthropology News]

Nadia Abu El-Haj
Susan Slyomovics

The recent issue of the American Anthropologist included a section presenting nine views on anthropology in Israel. The persons asked to respond to three questions about Israeli anthropology included “all living past heads of the Israel [sic] Anthropological Association,” a group whom Virginia Dominguez herself characterizes as Jewish, nearly all Ashkenazi, nearly all men, and nearly all faculty in leading research universities. Despite acknowledging the extreme narrowness of this demographic distribution, Dominguez, the editor of the special subsection, concludes that she “thought (and still firmly believe[s]) that the range of views and accounts in such a grouping [past heads of the IAA] had the best chance of capturing the diversity of views and understandings in the practice of anthropology in Israel (as well as some constancies and commonalities).”

There is absolutely nothing representative about this collection of views, however. In privileging the insights of past presidents of the IAA, the journal skewed the “sample”—such as it is—in significant ways. It tilted those authorized to assess Israeli anthropology towards an older generation of Israeli anthropologists who wield power and influence not just within the discipline, but also in Israeli society writ large.   Seven out of nine of them invoked that authority in a politically opportunistic way: Rather than just answer questions about the discipline in Israel, they voiced their opposition to a boycott of Israeli academic institutions currently being voted on by members of the AAA. Continue reading

Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians: A Case for Boycotting Israeli Academic Institutions

[this essay originally appeared on Savage Minds]

Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians: A Case for Boycotting Israeli Academic Institutions

Thea Abu El-Haj & Fida Adely

During the 50 day Israeli War on Gaza in the summer of 2014, the Israeli military killed 1462 Palestinian civilians, 495 of whom were children. Israeli forces destroyed or severely damaged the homes of over 100,000 Gazans and over 200 schools.


The Jabalia Elementary Girls School serving as a shelter for Palestinians in Gaza was hit by shells on 30 July 2014. Photo: UNRWA Archives / Shareef Sarhan

Among the most egregious events of this 50 day siege were the bombings of three UN schools that were sheltering internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to Human Rights Watch, 45 Gazans, including 17 children, were killed in these attacks on schools. Those killed had believed that UN facilities—particularly schools—would offer protection from rampant shelling. Continue reading

“An Anthropology Committed to Critical, Ethical Engagement With the World”: Graduate Students Speak Up For the Boycott

[this essay originally appeared on Somatosphere]

As graduate students and new members of the American Association of Anthropologists, we approach the academic boycott resolution vote with hope. We write today in response to “When It’s Time to Vote, Don’t Boycott—Cut the Purse-strings”, which outlines an argument against the resolution and calls instead for “targeted, collective action”. The academic boycott is exactly this: a targeted, collective action, and one that students across the country have chosen to support. In the past few months, graduate student unions at NYU, the University of California, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, have voted to boycott and divest from Israeli occupation industries and Israeli academic institutions. At NYU, over half of voting graduate students also pledged to personally uphold an academic boycott. We voted for the AAA boycott resolution because it is a collective action that respects the autonomy and judgment of Palestinian civil society, who have determined for themselves, over the last 50 years, how to best engage those who wish to stand in solidarity with their struggle against the occupation. Continue reading

Naomi Schiller and Nina Glick-Schiller: Why We Voted To Support the Boycott

[this essay originally appeared on the website of PoLAR: The Political & Legal Anthropology Review]

Two generations of anthropologists, Naomi Schiller and Nina Glick Schiller, have written a statement supporting the boycott in response to Political and Legal Anthropology Review’s fourth emergent conversation about the AAA ballot. APLA and PoLAR do not officially support or oppose the measure. 

People around the world are appalled by the ever-shrinking life opportunities for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, including the prison-camp type limitations on education, healthcare, mobility, and opportunity.13103359_1734057706870696_8096789545168256388_n

The AAA boycott gives us, as anthropologists, an opportunity to take action against one arm of the Israeli state. While it is true that states have many faces and a range of institutional structures, Israeli universities—as one face of the Israeli state—have contributed institutionally to the dehumanization of both Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians struggling to survive in the remaining bits of Palestinian territory. This boycott is not a boycott of individual anthropologists, but of institutions. Academic boycott is an instrument to highlight the complicity of Israeli universities as institutions that control hiring and firing, grant or deny resources to students and faculty, and provide multiple platforms for legitimating Israeli policies of annihilation, including ongoing seizure of Palestinian land and the destruction of Palestinian homes. Continue reading

Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions

[this essay originally appeared on Counterpunch]

by Roberto J. González and David Price

The membership of the world’s largest professional association of anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), is now in the midst of an election that will determine whether or not the Association will apply boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to Israeli academic institutions.

This is the most challenging political issue facing American anthropologists since the Vietnam War, with both supporters and opponents passionately expressing their views in the media, at professional conferences, and in public forums. Strong language and accusations have characterized the debates surrounding the proposed academic boycott. There are good people on both sides. Continue reading

Derailing Democracy?: The Anti-Boycott Playbook Explained

As members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) cast their ballots on a proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions, outside organizations are desperately mobilizing to pressure the Association and derail the initiative.

In the interests of educating all members of the Association – whatever their position on the boycott – we are sharing information about these attempts to interfere in the AAA’s democratic processes. We believe sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that an informed membership can better stand together against such pressures. Continue reading