THE CALL TO BOYCOTT, 2023
Facebook: Anthropologists for Justice in Palestine
Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions (Anthroboycott) are asking the full AAA membership to reconsider an academic boycott and answer existing calls by AAA members and scholars specializing on the region, many of whom have long studied U.S. support for Israel’s colonial practices and violent suppression of the Palestinian people. We do so in 2023, the 75th anniversary of the Nakba – the catastrophic events of 1948 that led to the mass expulsion and displacement of Palestinians from their homes. This will be five years after the Israeli government enshrined in 2018 the principle of Jewish supremacy in a law stating unequivocally that “the right to exercise national self-determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.”
Anthroboycott joins a majority of AAA section executive boards that endorsed the 2021 Middle East Section (MES) Statement on Palestine,* which called on our colleagues in their classrooms, universities, and beyond to:
Reject the “two-sides” narrative that erases power hierarchies.
Recognize the framework of apartheid as applicable to describe Israel’s systematic repression of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and within Israel’s 1948 boundaries.
Recognize that Israel’s violent repression often constitutes crimes against humanity.
Reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism which has been used by Israel’s supporters to suppress legitimate criticism of Israel. (An alternative is presented by the Independent Jewish Voice of Canada that defines antisemitism AND does not suppress criticism of Israel: https://www.ijvcanada.org/jerusalem-declaration/)
An Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions: The Basics
What is BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions)?
A Palestinian-led nonviolent movement aimed at pressuring the state of Israel to cease violating the rights of Palestinians and to comply with international law. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations launched the BDS global campaign in 2005 as a way to hold the Israeli government accountable for ongoing human rights violations. Answering the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions of Israeli institutions complicit in these human rights violations allows people of conscience the world over to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice, equality, and freedom.
Is there really an international consensus about Israel operating an apartheid regime?
As the 2021 MES Statement on Palestine points out, this follows a growing consensus among human rights organizations about the Israeli state operating an apartheid regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, including the internationally recognized state of Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. On April 27, 2021, Human Rights Watch issued a landmark report, characterizing the Israeli state’s systemic discrimination and violence as inflicting “deprivations… so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.” A similar conclusion was reached by the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem in January 2021. Palestinian activists have long made this argument. It reflects how foregone the reality of the Israeli Apartheid system is that mainstream international human rights organizations now find themselves forced to acknowledge the reality of the situation on the ground, despite tremendous political pressure from the state of Israel and its supporters.
What would an AAA sponsored boycott look like?
As an academic organization, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) is being asked to answer a specific call for solidarity from Palestinian scholars and students experiencing violations of their right to education and other human rights. A narrow focus on academic Israeli institutions, but not individuals, will ensure that an academic boycott is upheld without undermining the free exchange of ideas and scholarship. Should AAA members pass a resolution in support of academic boycott, this would require the AAA as an organization to suspend official ties with Israeli academic institutions – but NOT individual Israeli scholars and students. For example, this would involve the AAA not running ads or promotions for academic programs at Israeli institutions, such as Haifa University, which has been criticized for its collaborations with the Israeli military and involvement in human rights violations against Palestinians.
What is the history of this campaign at the AAA?
In October 2014, nearly 1200 anthropologists signed “Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions” to support the global campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. There have been two prior campaigns – in 2015 and 2021 – to consider the academic boycott of Israeli institutions within the AAA community. On November 20, 2015, a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions was endorsed by a vote of 1040-136 at the American Anthropological Association business meeting. It was subsequently forwarded to the full membership for an electronic ballot and narrowly missed adoption by a razor-thin margin of 39 votes (2,423 against and 2,384 for). Following Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in May 2021, anthropologists of the Middle East voted overwhelmingly to support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In a special referendum held June 2-11 by the Middle East Section (MES) of the American Anthropological Association, a boycott resolution passed 157 to 11, with 71% of the membership participating.
Have other academic associations endorsed academic boycotts of Israeli institutions?
Several academic associations have passed boycott resolutions, including: The Middle East Studies Association; the British Society for Middle East Studies; the Middle East section of the AAA; American Studies Association; the Association for Asian American Studies; the National Women’s Studies Association; the Arab American Studies Association; the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association; the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies.
These boycott resolutions have been met with fierce opposition from the Israeli government, which has ramped up efforts to penalize residents and citizens of Israel who publicly support the BDS movement, with potentially serious ramifications for membership organizations like Insaniyyat, The Society for Palestinian Anthropologists. (Learn more about the 2022 Israeli Supreme Court Decision.)
Why should AAA members reconsider an academic boycott now?
We call on our colleagues across the discipline to reconsider academic boycott now for several reasons.
Israeli violations of Palestinian education and other human rights through occupation and discrimination continued with impunity since the 2016 vote. For example, in March 2022 the Israeli government announced its new “Procedure for Entry and Residency of Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Region,” which undercuts the autonomy of Palestinian universities and restricts Palestinian access to circuits of intellectual and academic exchange. This policy empowers the Israeli military to determine which international faculty, academic researchers, and students may be present at Palestinian universities. It also severely restricts visa conditions for overseas academics and students. Preventing education institutions from freely recruiting foreign faculty and students is a blatant violation of academic freedom principles. In addition to the new restrictions on entry and residency for foreigners in Palestinian universities, the Israeli government has ramped up efforts to penalize residents and citizens of Israel who publicly support the BDS movement, with potentially serious ramifications for membership organizations like Insaniyyat, The Society for Palestinian Anthropologists. (For further analysis, see the call to action by Insaniyyat, the Society of Palestinian Anthropologists, and objections to the restrictions by the Israeli human rights organization, HaMoked.)
This impunity is now deemed untenable by the international community. This year (2022) saw the first report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2021. The commission concluded that the lack of implementation of previous recommendations made by the international community coupled with a sense of impunity is clear evidence that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation, and the persistent discrimination against Palestinians that lies at the heart of the systematic recurrence of violations.
The Trump administration's actions have taken US complicity in Israeli human rights violations to new heights. The Trump administration has been the worst in US history for Palestinians, as evidenced by actions such as the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington, withholding of funding to UNRWA and Palestinian hospitals, recognition of Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, and formulation of West Bank settlements as "not inconsistent with international law." (For a detailed account of the Trump administration shift in US policy, see the analysis in the Journal of Palestine Studies.) The Trump administration also signed an executive order misleadingly promoted as a way to combat anti-Semitism on university campuses, but in reality targeted students and faculty who work on, speak on behalf of, or are from Palestine by expanding the definition of anti-Semitism to include protests against Israeli state practices and stigmatizing and punishing anyone who criticizes Israeli state violence or advocates for Palestinian rights. The Trump administration's disregard for Palestinian's academic freedom, human rights and access to education highlights the urgent need for action by academic associations such as AAA to use their influence and resources to support the academic freedom of Palestinian and other scholars who are affected by these violations.
The Palestine exception to free speech has further intensified. Endangering the academic and intellectual freedom of those who speak out for Palestinian rights across the United States and Europe. (For accounts of how this is happening in the United States, see the report by Palestine Legal.)
FOUR REASONS TO SUPPORT THE BOYCOTT
To stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for academic freedom and human rights. The narrowly defined academic boycott does not undermine – on the contrary, it strengthens – principles of academic freedom and critical debate. The academic boycott targets institutions, not individuals and not ideas. Academics are not boycotted based on their identity, or on their beliefs about Israel or about any other topic. Rather, the academic boycott focuses on ties to and funding from institutions that are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. It is the Israeli state and its universities that violate academic freedom through military assaults on Palestinian institutions of higher learning, discrimination against Palestinian students in both university systems, and censorship on Israeli campuses. The Israeli government is attempting to limit the academic freedom of Palestinians and Israelis who openly criticize its policies. Continuing to collaborate with Israeli institutions, which systematically discriminate against Palestinians, is what undermines academic freedom. Israeli academic institutions are directly complicit in the Israeli state’s regime of oppression against Palestinians.
To oppose the misuse of our discipline. Archaeology is increasingly being weaponized to further the occupation and systematic violation of Palestinians’ rights. Excavations are often designed to displace indigenous Palestinian residents and expand Jewish-only settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Moreover, Israeli archaeological digs have destroyed important artifacts and hid key finds when they do not accord with their narrow ideological agenda.
Because Palestinians have asked us to do so. The suffering and oppression experienced by Palestinians historically and today is profound. It is without question serious enough to deserve our attention. It doesn't need to be weighed on a scale against other suffering to decide whether it's worth caring about. The 2005 call for BDS is endorsed by all major Palestinian academic unions as well as political parties, trade union federations, refugee rights associations, farmers’ organizations, NGO networks, women’s unions, youth movements and others. Over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations have asked us to aid them in their struggle against occupation and systematic legal discrimination. This boycott is a non-violent form of pressure to act for meaningful change that could lead to a just peace. The BDS call has widespread support among Palestinian trade unions and other organizations working to better the lives of their people, including whose livelihoods would be impacted by sanctions.
To continue a disciplinary tradition of support for anticolonial and human rights struggles. The AAA has taken strong stances on apartheid in South Africa, Namibia, and Burundi, on violence against indigenous and minority populations in Chile, Brazil, and Bulgaria, and on many other violations of international law. The AAA has also participated in several boycotts such as the Fulbright-Chile program and the Hilton hotel chain. As with these other instances of anthropological support for rights struggles, this boycott represents a concrete and consequential condemnation of settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and racial capitalism that connect the United States and Israel. The United States has historically given more aid to Israel than to any other country (currently topped only by aid to Ukraine), and doesn't hold Israel to the standards it has established under US law. At the United Nations, the US consistently shields Israel from accountability for its human rights violations. The BDS movement is working to end this exceptionalism, and calls for Israel to be held to account according to the standards of international law.
THREE PERSISTENT MYTHS ABOUT BOYCOTT
Myth: The boycott is unfairly broad and targets all Israeli scholars.
Fact: Our boycott only applies to academic institutions. It does not apply to individual scholars or students, nor is it directed at Jews or Israelis. The boycott does not deny Israeli scholars the right to attend conferences such as the annual AAA meeting, come to US universities, or publish their work. It does call for the boycott of institutionally supported events (such as conferences held at Israeli universities). Indeed, one of its goals is to encourage dialogue about human and academic rights in Israel/Palestine. Boycott is a form of speech, a dialogic act that encourages conversation, connections, dialogue, and exchange based on a set of shared principles of justice, based on an acknowledgement and recognition of the rights and the agency of the oppressed in any such conversation
Myth: Academic boycott violates free speech and the free exchange of ideas.
Fact: The academic boycott targets institutions, not individuals and not ideas. Academics are not boycotted based on their identity, or on their beliefs about Israel or about any other topic. Rather, the academic boycott focuses on ties to and funding from institutions that are complicit in the oppression of Palestinians. Israeli universities play a key role in designing, implementing and whitewashing Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. It is the Israeli government that is actively identifying and penalizing academic critics in both Israel and Palestine.
Myth: The boycott is hypocritical since it singles out Israel while the U.S. and other countries also violate human rights.
Fact: This boycott is a way of expressing solidarity with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and 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 boycott is also a way of expressing opposition to the U.S. government’s political, military, and financial support for Israel’s actions.
Where can I learn more?
Website for the Palestinian BDS movement: https://bdsmovement.net/
Academic and cultural boycott: https://bdsmovement.net/pacbi
To learn about how various companies are involved in the Israeli occupation economy, or look up a particular company's involvement: https://whoprofits.org/
*The following AAA sections and affiliated groups endorsed MES's 2021 Palestine statement: Association of Black Anthropologists Executive Board; Association of Latina/o & Latinx Anthropologists Executive Board; Society for Cultural Anthropology Executive Board; Association for Political and Legal Anthropology Executive Board; Association for Feminist Anthropology Executive Board; Society for the Anthropology of North America Executive Board; Anthropology and the Environment Executive Board; Society for Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology Executive Board; The Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology Executive Board; American Ethnological Society Executive Board; Society for the Anthropology of Europe Executive Board; Society for Medical Anthropology Executive Board; Society for the Anthropology of Religion Executive Board; Association for Africanist Anthropology Executive Board; Association for Queer Anthropology Executive Board; Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges Executive Board; Anthropologist Action Network for Immigrants and Refugees Steering Committee; Editorial Collective of American Anthropologist; Editorial Collective of Footnotes.