A Case for Action: 

The AAA Task Force Report on Engagement with Israel/Palestine

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions welcomes the report issued this week by the Task Force on American Anthropological Association (AAA) Engagement on Israel/Palestine. We endorse the Task Force’s unanimous conclusion that “there is a strong case for the Association to take action” on the situation in Israel/Palestine.

The AAA Task Force was established by the Association’s Executive Board and charged with developing recommendations for addressing the issues raised by the situation in Israel/Palestine. The Task Force, which was composed of distinguished scholars from major subfields across the discipline, conducted some 120 interviews over the past year. Three members undertook a fact-finding trip to Israel/Palestine in May.

The 130-page Task Force report provides a detailed, nuanced, and utterly devastating account of the human rights situation in Palestine. It skillfully employs a variety of sources and methods, including ethnographic observations of the everyday abuses and indignities experienced by Palestinians. Drawing on a rich tradition of anthropological scholarship on colonialism, the Task Force analyzed “the Israeli system of settler colonialism … as a single unified system stretching from Tel Aviv to Gaza and Ramallah, with different modulations for different spaces and different Arab communities.” These findings are consistent with much of the work produced by anthropologists of Israel/Palestine in recent decades.

Driven by a particular interest in issues of academic freedom, the Task Force report describes in great detail how Israeli policies have systematically led to the “wholesale strangulation” of Palestinian universities. The report also discusses discrimination and the repression of dissent within Israeli academic institutions, including an effective ban at Ben-Gurion University on advocating academic boycotts.

Moreover, the AAA Task Force report usefully highlights the special responsibility of the United States in enabling Israel’s abuses as well as the two countries’ shared histories of settler colonialism.

Perhaps most important, the Task Force concludes that the time has come for the AAA to take action in light of the association’s principles, including its commitment to human rights and its critical awareness of U.S. complicity in abuses abroad. Importantly, the Task Force notes that a statement censuring Israel by itself would be an “insufficient course of action” given the gravity of the situation in Palestine. Although the Task Force does not take a position on the boycott of Israeli academic institutions, we believe its recommendations support our position that the most effective course of action available to the AAA is to honor the Palestinian civil society call for such a boycott.

We share the Task Force’s recommendation that any boycott adopted by the AAA should apply only to Israeli academic institutions, not individual Israeli scholars. Under the boycott, Israeli scholars would still be welcome to attend AAA conferences and publish in AAA journals (whether funded by their own institutions or not). Moreover, we call for the AAA to adopt the boycott as an association, leaving individual anthropologists free to determine whether and how to apply the boycott in their own professional practice.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions appreciates the diligence with which the Task Force discharged its mandate. Although we diverge from the report on some issues, we strongly endorse the principles for action that it lays out. We believe the report provides a strong basis for building a consensus in the Association in favor of implementing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions at the AAA Annual Meeting in Denver this November.

The Task Force report is indispensable – if sobering – reading for anthropologists, concerned scholars, and all those committed to justice in Israel/Palestine.

The full text of the Task Force Report is available here.

See also “Highlights from the AAA Israel-Palestine Task Force’s Final Report” at SavageMinds.org.