Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Anthropologists and other scholars whose research is focused on Palestine and the broader Middle East overwhelmingly support the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

In June 2021, 93.5% of members of the Middle East Section of the AAA voted in favor of a resolution boycotting Israeli academic institutions. These anthropologists of the Middle East were joined by their area studies colleagues across disciplines in March 2022, when 82% of voting members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) ratified a resolution endorsing the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions of Israel, including an academic boycott. Similar to the resolution on which AAA members will vote on June 15, the MESA resolution “calls for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions for their complicity in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law through their provision of direct assistance to the military and intelligence establishments.” 

The vast majority of Middle East experts in these major professional associations endorse the Palestinian call for an academic boycott because they understand that it is the best tool we as scholars have at this time to fight the gross injustices our Palestinian colleagues face. They understand boycott as a way to stand in solidarity with Palestinian scholars whose academic freedom is regularly violated by the Israeli state. Voting for boycott is a way to hold the Israeli state accountable for its ongoing violations of human rights.

Our colleagues in Middle East Studies, including anthropologists of the region, understand that a vote to boycott is a vote for justice and a stance against ongoing

settler-colonialism, apartheid, and systemic racism.

Anthropologists and the AAA share these social justice values. It is time for us to affirm these commitments and endorse the boycott as well.

Look for a ballot from the AAA in your inbox on June 15 and vote “yes.”

*     *      *     *     *

The Palestinian civil society’s call to boycott Israeli universities is an appeal to hold these institutions accountable. Israeli universities are complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinians’ inalienable rights. Principled Israelis have joined the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israeli academics, such as historian Ilan Pappe and political scientist Neve Gordon, have shown why the academic boycott is both effective and warranted. In a letter backing the current AAA resolution, Israeli scholars wrote: “we recognize our obligation to stand with Palestinians as they call for international intervention until Israel recognizes their rights and complies with international law.”

These scholars know first hand that on Israeli campuses, academic freedom is under siege. University administrations repress faculty research and student expression critical of Israeli settler-colonialism and apartheid. Palestinian students have faced escalating suppression, interrogations, and violent arrests by campus security as well as by Israeli security forces. 

Palestinian universities have been increasingly isolated by Israeli policies limiting their international collaboration and exchanges. Palestinian students face Israeli military interrogations, torture, and administrative detention. As of the 2022-2023 academic year, there are at least 70 Palestinian university students who are

political prisoners in Israeli military prisons. Israeli academia actively sustains this oppression. Israeli universities maintain the occupation of Palestinian territory by offering tailored academic degree programs to train Israeli soldiers, and the Israeli police and secret police, forces whose daily work violates Palestinian human rights and international law. The academic boycott of Israeli universities seeks to address these injustices.

Join Palestinians and their Israeli supporters to guarantee academic freedom for all. Vote YES on June 15.

To hear directly from Palestinian scholars discussing what our vote would mean for them, tune into our webinar on May 31, at 11:00 AM-12:00

PM EST (8:00-9:00 AM PST) at 

*     *      *     *     *

May 15 marks the 75th anniversary of the Nakba, when close to a million Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and lands, and 530 villages were destroyed. What began in 1948 is far from over. Israeli policies of siege, land confiscations, settlement building, mass eviction, demolition of schools and homes have only accelerated in recent years, forming part of a carefully implemented state project of de-Arabization and apartheid. The forced relocation of Palestinian Bedouins from the Negev, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and the seasonal bombardment of Gaza are but three fronts in what Palestinians call their “ongoing Nakba.”

Cultural destruction and settler colonialism on this scale should have a claim on the moral imagination of anthropologists. The first AAA boycott resolution in 2016 fell short of passing by a hair’s breadth. During the seven years since, the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli settler-colonial rule has only become more urgent.

Last year was the deadliest for West Bank Palestinians in nearly two decades, with 146 killed, more than half under the age of 25. The recent death of a hunger striker has brought into focus the plight of Palestinians held in administrative detention without charge and trial, including growing numbers of children, some as young as twelve. The hard limits of Palestinian freedom of expression were revealed when Israeli forces gunned down veteran Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, in May 2022, and raided the offices of six Palestinian NGOs a few months later. One of these NGOs, Bisan, is a research center led by a scholar at Birzeit University. As academics and members of the international community, we must heed the Palestinian call to pressure the Israeli state to end over 75 years of Palestinian dispossession.

Be on the right side of history, and stand with Palestinian human rights by voting “yes” on June 15th.


*     *      *     *     *

Supporting academic freedom is ever more urgent, as conditions of academic life deteriorate globally. A vote for the academic boycott of Israeli institutions is a vote in support of academic freedom for all. Supporting academic freedom doesn’t mean much if we don’t support it for every academic—including our Palestinian colleagues.

And Palestinian colleagues face extreme restrictions on their academic freedom every single day, with the complicity of Israeli universities. 

As the Federation of Unions of Palestinian University Professors and Employees confirmed in a letter to the AAA on 4 May 2023: “Israeli universities work in the service of the Israeli government for the development of the policies, technology, doctrines, and justifications for Israel’s rampant and ongoing colonial oppression of Palestinians.” Palestinian universities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are subject to closures and raids by the Israeli military, and the abduction and torture of students and faculty is a regular occurrence. 

In 2022, the Israeli military government instituted a new policy to further isolate and control Palestinian universities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, by determining which students, researchers, and faculty will be permitted to join Palestinian institutions. This new policy has been condemned by Human Rights Watch as a violation of international law, as well as by several academic associations. The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom condemned it “as an attack on the Palestinians’ right to education.” In their call for colleagues to oppose this policy, members of Insaniyyat, the Society of Palestinian Anthropologists, explain that “the regulations will exacerbate the already besieged status of Palestinian higher education, further legitimize its de facto international isolation, while divesting it of the ability to exercise basic decisions that are a fundamental condition for academic freedom.”

By voting to endorse the boycott, anthropologists are standing up for Palestinian academic freedom. Voting for boycott is defending the right to academic freedom for all.

Look for a ballot from the AAA in your inbox on June 15 and vote “yes.”

*     *      *     *     *

There are times when academic boycotts are necessary. This is one of those times.

Our Palestinian colleagues, who have called on us to stand in solidarity with them by supporting this academic boycott, regularly contend with Israeli military raids on their campuses, systematic impediments to their ability to travel (including to international conferences), and severe restrictions on bringing visiting faculty. These policies are consistent with a system of apartheid.

Mainstream human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations, have found Israel to be committing apartheid, a crime against humanity. 

Many academic associations and universities in the United States took part in the international boycott against universities in apartheid South Africa. Then, as now, an academic boycott of institutions is a vital and effective tool for social change. This is a boycott of academic institutions, not of individuals. It aims to create conditions in which true academic freedom is enjoyed by all scholars in Palestine/Israel equally, regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity.

We have resources to help you think through these issues. Thea Abu El-Haj and Fida Adely’s “Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians” and Dina Omar’s “We Are All Uncomfortable” are good starting points. We have also collected a range of materials to help AAA members understand how such a resolution would affect our association and our relationships with colleagues and institutions in Israel.

Look for a ballot from the AAA in your inbox on June 15 and vote “yes.” 

*     *      *     *     *

A Message to Anthropologists from our Palestinian Colleagues

In a couple of months (June 15-July 14), you will be voting on whether the American Anthropological Association should adopt a boycott resolution in support of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. 

We Must Vote for the Resolution

Voting in favor of boycott means you have listened to Palestinian civil society, including Palestinian academics, who have called for the boycott of institutions complicit in Israeli apartheid and violations of international law. In his moving essay, Palestinian anthropologist Rami Salameh explains why a vote for boycott is a “message of hope” and a lifeline for “a promise of justice.” Voting in favor of the boycott means you have heeded what Rami and his colleagues are requesting: a show of solidarity and a refusal of systemic Israeli violence and oppression.

Learn More and Act

Our Palestinian colleagues’ call for BDS is one reason to vote in favor of the AAA’s academic boycott of Israeli institutions. If you’d like to read more about why this boycott is necessary, effective, and important, please visit our website: Read what your colleagues who are knowledgeable about the situation have to say. 

The time for action is now! 

Look for a ballot from the AAA in your inbox on June 15 and vote “yes.” 

*     *      *     *     *

Vote Scheduled for June 15-July 14

Responding to the petition members submitted on March 3, the American Anthropological Association has scheduled a vote on the boycott of Israeli academic institutions from June 15-July 14

Make sure your AAA membership is active and watch your email for information about how to vote.

*     *      *     *     *

Renewing the Call to Boycott 

On March 3, 2023, 206 members of the American Anthropological Association submitted a petition to the Executive Board requesting a full-membership vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. We expect that information about how the vote will be conducted will be forthcoming from the AAA executive board soon. We will keep you updated. In the meantime, please make sure your AAA membership is active.

As anthropologists who care about academic freedom and social justice, we must speak out in support of our Palestinian colleagues and oppose the systematic effort to make Palestine an exception to free speech.

A similar resolution was endorsed by a vote of 1040-136 at the AAA business meeting in Denver on November 20, 2015, and narrowly missed adoption in the subsequent full membership vote by a margin of only 39 votes (2,384 in favor and 2,423 opposed; 49.6% - 50.4%). The strong participation in that vote indicates that the matter is one of grave concern to AAA members.

Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations have called for the boycott of institutions complicit in Israeli apartheid and violations of international law. Since the last vote, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as Israeli human rights organizations, have found Israel to be committing apartheid, a crime against humanity. Several academic associations, including the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the British Society for Middle East Studies (BRISMES), have passed boycott resolutions. Within the AAA, the Middle East Section passed a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions in 2021, and a Middle East Section Statement on Palestine was endorsed by twenty additional section boards and AAA subcommittees.

The need for this vote in support of Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions has only gained in urgency since the last boycott vote. The situation in Palestine has deteriorated, deepening the repression of Palestinians through ongoing and intensifying threats to their rights at every level, including the right to an education and to academic freedom. The recent Israeli elections, which installed the most extreme right-wing coalition government to date, suggest that additional restrictions on Palestinians’ academic and broader freedoms are imminent. In the first month of 2023 alone, Israeli military campaigns have killed 35 Palestinians and injured over 500, while settler attacks on Palestinians and their property have significantly increased, emboldened by the new government. 

The time for action is now.