"But, what about…"

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

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has called for a boycott  that targets academic institutions only. The boycott does not apply to individual Israeli scholars

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 international conferences, publish in international academic journals, and the like. Israelis are not being called on to boycott their own institutions, an Israeli scholar with state funds can still be invited to a conference abroad. Rather, the boycott is directed at the Israeli universities themselves. For more information, see PACBI’s guidelines..

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

Academic boycotts are not new. An international boycott was enacted against universities in South Africa, in which many academic associations and universities in the United States took part. 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.”

There are courageous scholars in Israel who oppose their state’s actions and have joined the international movement for Palestinian rights. We wish to support these allies and the boycott does not preclude collaboration with them.

Israeli academic institutions have overwhelmingly summarily ignored the call from Palestinian civil society to sever ties with the Israeli security state or to meaningfully oppose Israeli settler colonialism, military occupation, and apartheid. 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 regarding Palestinian rights 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.”

There is a profound imbalance of power between Israelis and Palestinians. The state of Israel exercises supreme authority over all Palestinians, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, through a regime widely recognized as apartheid. Israel subjects Palestinians to occupation, exile, or second-class citizenship, violating their fundamental, inalienable rights..

Moreover, the United States government has for decades entrenched Israeli state violence by providing 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.

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 boycott involves individuals exercising their right not to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions or participate in their activities. This does not violate the academic freedom of individual academics.

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 produce critical research or 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 Israeli military campaigns, as many Israeli universities routinely do, they could make statements condemning such actions. They could stop cooperating and offering training to 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. Rather than working to combat the academic boycott, Israeli universities could instead reach out to Palestinian universities under Israeli occupation to ask how they might advocate for their academic freedoms, or meaningfully engage with the demands of Palestinian student activists on their own campuses protesting their systemic discrimination.

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 policies. Lack of accountability for Israel’s systematic discriminatory activity and policies is what has allowed Israeli apartheid to persist for over seven decades. 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.

 It is incumbent upon universities and their scholars to speak out against their government’s decisions and actions that violate the academic freedom and other rights of Palestinians living under its rule. Israeli universities overwhelmingly and actively support, and materially and practically sustains, the military occupation. This boycott is an attempt to put pressure on those institutions.