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/)
*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.
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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 administrationwas 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 Biden administration, like previous US administrations, has upheld the longstanding U.S. policy of unconditionally supporting the Israeli state and enabling its continued violation of international law with impunity. The 3.8 billion dollars of funding for the Israeli military continues, making Israel the leading recipient of U.S. military aid and the only state not required to detail how this aid is used. As a candidate Biden claimed to disagree with Donald Trump, who relocated the US embassy to Jerusalem. Since taking office, however, and despite the overwhelming international recognition that Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem is illegal, Biden has not reversed that decision. Nor has his administration offered support for the only congressional bill aiming to support Palestinian rights, the McCollum bill, which would preclude using US funding to place Palestinian children in military detention, where many are subjected to torture. The administration has also signaled its support for the IHRA definition of anti-semitism, which threatens free speech and academic freedom by identifying criticisms of Israel as antisemitic. Given these longstanding and uninterrupted forms of injustice, joining the BDS movement is an important way for academics based in the United States to take responsibility for the U.S. government’s facilitation of Israeli occupation and apartheid.
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.)
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Ten Reasons to Support the Boycott
Because anthropology has an historical responsibility to take a stand against colonialism in all its forms. Many anthropologists today understand our discipline’s complicity with and participation in colonial violence and settler colonialism, including in the United States, and often express a commitment to “decolonize” anthropology. Decolonization requires attention to Indigenous sovereignty and land dispossession around the world. A vote for boycott is a vote in solidarity with Palestinians facing colonial dispossession and a vote consistent with an ethical anti-colonial stance.
Because our Palestinian colleagues have asked us to. The movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is 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. Our colleagues at Palestinian universities have recently reiterated the urgency of the academic boycott, as has the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees. Answering the Palestinian call for the boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in these human rights violations allows people of conscience everywhere to play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice, equality, and freedom.
Because the Association is committed to human rights, as affirmed by the 1999 and 2020 Declarations on Anthropology and Human Rights. The AAA has a long history of taking stands in support of human rights and in solidarity with oppressed peoples, including by honoring calls for boycotts. The boycott would increase international pressure on Israel to end its systematic human rights abuses. Responding to the Palestinian civil society call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is in accord with anthropology’s best traditions and collective commitment to justice.
Because Israel is escalating the attack on Palestinian academic freedoms. Palestinian universities have been increasingly isolated by Israeli policies limiting their international collaboration, undercutting their autonomy and restricting Palestinian access to circuits of intellectual and academic exchange. The AAA Task Force on Israel/Palestine noted in 2015 that Israel has long impeded the work of scholars at Palestinian universities. These attacks have only intensified in the years since. As of 2022, Israel has imposed severe new restrictions on foreign scholars and students who want to conduct research, teach, or learn at Palestinian Universities. Palestinian students continue to routinely face Israeli military interrogations, torture, and administrative detention. As of the 2022-2023 academic year, there are at least 70 Palestinian university students held in Israeli military prisons as political prisoners for their student activism. The boycott protests these crushing restrictions and violations of Palestinian rights that have been widely denounced by international human rights organizations and even the United States government.
Because Israeli universities are institutionally and deeply complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights, including their academic freedoms. Israeli universities operate in the service of the Israeli state, including its security state and military-industrial complex. Some, like Ariel University and parts of Hebrew University Mt. Scopus in East Jerusalem, are built directly on Palestinian land under military occupation, as recognized by international law. Tel-Aviv University, Ben Gurion University, and the Israel Institute of Technology develop the technological capacities and military doctrines that are used in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in Israeli military offensives for which Israel has been denounced by the UN as committing war crimes. Among the targets of these doctrines and technologies are Palestinian universities, which are subject to closures, raids, and bombardments by the Israeli military, and the abduction and torture of students and faculty. At Israeli universities themselves, Palestinian students have faced escalating suppression, interrogations, and violent arrests by campus security as well as by Israeli security forces. Israeli universities are directly complicit in and willingly support violations of Palestinian rights and academic freedoms, both on their own campuses and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Because speaking out as an institution would make the Association a powerful voice for change and academic freedom for all. As the largest organization of U.S.-based anthropologists, the AAA has long served as a voice for social justice. The boycott leverages the collective weight of the AAA to put pressure on Israel to end its abuses against Palestinians. It is an institutional response that likewise applies only to academic institutions, making it more narrowly tailored than the blanket academic boycott against apartheid South Africa. The boycott’s commitment to academic freedom is absolute and applies to all: Israeli scholars will remain welcome to attend AAA meetings and publish in AAA journals, and any individual AAA member can still choose to collaborate with Israeli colleagues or even Israeli institutions. Boycotts are an effective pressure tactic for redressing injustice. In the past, the AAA has boycotted the Fulbright-Chile program, and the U.S. states of Arizona, Georgia, and Illinois for their rights violations. This resolution to boycott Israeli institutions continues the Association’s proud history of heeding calls for boycott from disenfranchised groups. As recently argued by AAA members and leading scholars, endorsing the boycott is critical to building solidarity across movements for justice, including for decolonization, demilitarization, and abolition.
Because the Association is based in the United States, the primary enabler of Israel’s abuses. Israel is the leading recipient of U.S. military aid and the only state not required to detail how this military aid is being used. It is also shielded from accountability for its violations of international law by the U.S. government. The AAA has a long record of speaking critically to the U.S. government, including its opposition to the Human Terrain System, torture, and wars on Vietnam, Grenada, and Iraq. The boycott is an act of protest against Washington’s unconditional and unlimited military and diplomatic support to Israel. By becoming the largest-ever academic association to endorse the boycott, the AAA would invigorate critical public discussion of U.S. policy.
Because Israel’s misuse of scholarship for colonial expansion is at odds with the Association’s commitment to research ethics. One glaring example is Israeli archaeology, which has systematically provided pretexts for the seizure of land and expulsion of Palestinians, as documented by the AAA Task Force on Israel/Palestine. Israeli archeology is directly complicit in Israeli violation of international law. Defying the 1954 Hague Convention, Israeli universities’ archeology departments continue to collaborate with the Israeli Antiquities Authority and settler organizations to conduct digs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and to participate in the theft of Palestinian artifacts. The Israeli government, in turn, uses these archaeological digs to expand illegal settlements and intensify military control over Palestinians. The academic discipline and practice of archaeology is effectively under Israeli state (and, in the occupied West Bank, military) control and subordinated to a project of colonial settlement.
Because the Association has thoroughly, thoughtfully, and democratically deliberated the question. This resolution emerges from a decade of panels and other scholarly discussions within the Association. The AAA Task Force on Israel/Palestine’s 140-page report noted that “censure” of Israel would be “an insufficient course of action” on its own. A similar resolution was endorsed by a vote of 1,040-136 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 boycott has been rigorously debated by wide swathes of the Association’s membership. The time for action is now.
Because the situation in Palestine has only become more urgent since the last vote. Israeli violations of Palestinian’s inalienable rights have continued with impunity since the 2016 vote. Echoing the findings of Palestinian human rights organizations, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Israel’s leading human rights group B’Tselem have all recently concluded that Israel is guilty of the crimes of apartheid. Israel’s longstanding impunity is now deemed untenable by the international community. A UN human rights probe concluded in 2022 that Israel has no intention of ending the occupation or its systemic discrimination against Palestinians. It is urgent that we join international civil society in taking a stand for Palestinian rights. It’s the least we can do.
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Correcting AAA Misinformation
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