“Yes, but…”

This website is intended to enable and encourage individual anthropologists to join the boycott of Israeli institutions, as called for by Palestinian civil society. We oppose the state of Israel’s widespread, systematic, and long-standing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people, especially the right to education. Those of us with ties to the United States in particular feel compelled to act due to Washington’s unconditional military, financial, and political support for Israel’s acts.

Some colleagues may share the boycott’s concerns but still have reservations about joining. Below we address some of these reservations.

“Yes I oppose Israel’s actions but I don’t want to boycott individual Israeli scholars.”

This objection is unfounded. The boycott targets academic institutions only. The boycott does not apply to individuals. Nor is it directed at Jews or Israelis.

The boycott of Israeli academic institutions entails a “pledge not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences and other events at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.” Cooperation and exchange with individual scholars is encouraged, so long as it does not happen on the grounds of or through the auspices of an Israeli academic institution.

Under the boycott, individual Israeli scholars can still be invited to conferences outside Israel, publish in academic journals outside Israel, and the like. The guidelines are flexible: for example, because we do not call on Israelis to boycott their own institutions, an Israeli scholar with state funds can still be invited to a conference abroad. For more information, see the guidelines published by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

 “Yes I oppose Israel’s actions, but cannot in principle boycott academic institutions.”

This objection is not an argument against this boycott; it is a blanket position against all academic boycotts that would also preclude, for example, the academic boycott against apartheid South Africa. We hold that academic boycotts can be legitimate tools for social change and wish to convince colleagues that this is such an instance.

We are boycotting Israeli academic institutions because they are an extension of a state whose policies we wish to affect and because we take as a starting point for change our own professional location as anthropologists.

Israeli universities are very much part of the state, including its military-security complex. Israeli universities are directly complicit in and at times willingly support violations of Palestinian rights and academic freedom. Some, like Ariel University and parts of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, are built directly on occupied Palestinian lands. Tel Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, and the Technion develop the technological capacities and military doctrines that are used in the occupied Palestinian territories. The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzilya has set up programs where students gain course credit for defending the state’s wars and policies to an increasingly skeptical public. Among the targets of these doctrines and technologies are Palestinian universities.

Israeli academic institutions actively discriminate against their own Palestinian students. Israeli universities provide preferential admissions, scholarship, and even housing on the basis of military service. Because the vast majority of Palestinians do not perform military service, they experience de facto discrimination at all educational levels.

Israel enjoys close ties at the governmental and non-governmental levels with the United States and many countries in Europe, including academic ties. As anthropologists, we are in a position to disrupt those relationships as a means of signaling to Israel that its actions are not legitimate and that we refuse to carry on “business as usual” under these circumstances.

“Yes I oppose Israel’s actions, but a boycott would undermine attempts to change Israeli society from within because many Israeli scholars are critics of the state’s actions.”

This objection assumes that any boycott is invalid if it inconveniences or otherwise adversely affects anyone who is not directly responsible for the harms being protested. We assume that boycotts can still be legitimate if they are reasonable under the circumstances and wish to persuade colleagues that this is the case here.

There are courageous scholars in Israel who oppose their state’s actions. We wish to support these allies and as mentioned above, the boycott does not preclude collaboration with them.

At the same time, critics of the boycott often point to the existence of any dissent within Israeli universities as a blanket argument against all boycott efforts. Yet decades of “engagement” with Israeli academic institutions (often in the name of nurturing dissent) have not succeeded in producing any appreciable positive change from within. Israeli academia is not only part of the state but acts to defend it against outside critique. So far, the Israeli Anthropological Association’s most notable action in this regard has been to attack the American Anthropological Association merely for permitting panels that discuss the boycott. As an important dissenting letter by Israeli colleagues points out, “the IAA [Israeli Anthropological Association] has never, as a body, dissociated itself from the Israeli society-military complex.”

“Yes I oppose Israel’s actions, but this boycott is unbalanced since both sides have done wrong.”

This objection ignores the root lack of “balance” in Israel/Palestine: the state of Israel exercises supreme authority from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean and subjects Palestinians to occupation, exile, or second-class citizenship, not the other way around. Moreover, the United States government provides Israel with advanced weapons, unconditional diplomatic support, and billions of dollars of annual assistance, far more than it does to any other state. Indeed, Israel’s attacks on Palestinian universities are conducted with aircraft and bombs supplied by the United States.

A “balanced” boycott makes no sense in an unbalanced situation. Israeli universities enjoy the legitimacy of close ties with their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe. Palestinian universities must contend with siege, arrest raids, and aerial bombardment by Israeli forces with U.S. military and political assistance. The academic boycott is a protest against this state of affairs.

 “Yes I oppose Israel’s actions, but boycotts violate academic freedom.”

This objection is not an argument against this boycott; it is an argument against all academic boycotts.

This argument misconstrues how the boycott works. This boycott involves individuals exercising their right not to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions or participate in their activities. This does not violate anyone’s academic freedom.

Indeed, the boycott seeks to restore academic freedom, not to abridge it. Academic freedom is meaningless if it is enjoyed only by a privileged group. The occupation has made academic freedom and basic educational rights unavailable for students and faculty at Palestinian universities, and has curtailed the rights of Palestinians at Israeli universities. The Israeli government and academic institutions also routinely punish scholars – both Jews and Palestinians – who criticize the state’s policies.

“Yes, I oppose Israel’s actions, but why aren’t you boycotting the United States or other countries that do bad things?”

One of the biggest myths about boycotts is that they are only appropriate in uniquely egregious situations or that boycotts are not valid if they do not encompass every other comparable situation in the world.

This boycott is a specific tactical call expressed in solidarity with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel. Supporting this boycott does not automatically entail accepting or rejecting any other boycotts; we encourage everyone to assess each boycott on its own terms. The American Anthropological Association did not examine the record of every hotel or beverage provider in the world before signing on to the Hyatt or Coca-Cola boycotts. Cesar Chavez did not examine every agricultural product in supermarkets before asking us to boycott grapes. When we are called to adopt a particular boycott, we should mainly ask if it is warranted and likely to be effective.

“Yes I oppose Israel’s actions but it isn’t fair to demand that Israeli academic institutions act against their own government in order to avoid a boycott.”

This objection assumes that the main problem is how to help Israeli academic institutions, not how to end the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.

The question that animates this boycott is not, “What can the universities do to avoid being boycotted?” but rather, “How can we, as engaged academics, support just outcomes in this situation, and put pressure on this regime?” It is true that boycotts, like strikes, are imperfect forms of collective action because they sometimes impose costs on people who are not directly responsible for the harms at issue – but their intent and effect is to call attention to the fundamental responsibility of those in power. And under the current political configuration, such a boycott would impose legitimacy costs on Israel that are worthwhile as well as on universities for their specific forms of complicity.

Positive actions by Israeli institutions would remove them from the boycott list. They could make explicit statements supporting Palestinian rights in their entirety.  Rather than coming out in support of the Gaza war and other campaigns, as many Israeli universities did, they could make statements condemning such actions. They could stop cooperating with the Israeli military, stop granting privileges and scholarships to those who have served in the army, and stop employing army officials to teach military strategies.

[Update: Nearly a year after the launch of this boycott campaign, the Israeli Anthropological Association in June 2015 issued a resolution against the boycott that also called in general terms for an end to the occupation, equality for Palestinians in Israel, and for a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The resolution did not call for any concrete steps to end Israeli universities’ discriminatory policies or complicity with the occupation. Moreover, its criticism of the government was only issued under pressure from the boycott campaign. For more, see our statement on the IAA resolution as well as the statement of some 30 dissenting Israeli anthropologists.]

It is important to note that the demands of the boycott are purposefully broad because all complicity with the military occupation and discrimination against Palestinians needs to end.

“Yes I oppose Israel’s actions but the boycott’s demands are not feasible. The boycott will be ineffective, since Israeli universities and academics can’t oppose their government.”

No program for political change can predict whether or when it might achieve its goals. This boycott is an attempt to pressure the state of Israel to change its behavior. Lack of accountability for Israel’s systematic discriminatory activity and policies is what has allowed the occupation to persist for forty-seven years. This boycott is a demand for accountability. Taking a public stance in favor of this boycott is also a means for opening up conversation about the United States’ unwavering support of Israel’s occupation.

Of course, no individual Israeli citizen can single-handedly change the behavior of their government. But since Israel claims to be a democracy, it is incumbent upon universities and their scholars to speak out against their government’s decisions and actions that negatively affect academic freedom and other rights of Palestinians living under its rule. Much of the Israeli academy actively supports, and materially and practically nurtures, the military occupation. This boycott is an attempt to put pressure on those institutions.

To learn more about the boycott, see our Resources page