"The issue is extremely divisive for our community."
This issue brings us together in energetic conversation. Back in 2015, it brought out record numbers of anthropologists to the AAA Business Meeting, when an overwhelming majority of the 1400 attendees voted for boycott. The cause of justice and decolonization will continue to bring us together because it addresses concerns of younger generations–-the future of the AAA. Claims of divisiveness should not be weaponized to shut down action for justice, because that assumes that the current injustice in Palestine is the un-divisive norm.
"AAA’s prior experience involved extremely heated exchanges among a deeply divided membership, and harmful threats, including death threats, targeting AAA staff."
We must not be deterred by outside forces from taking a principled anti-colonial stand for justice and academic freedom. During the last campaign for BDS in 2015-16, the AAA executive board and staff received vitriol threats from Zionist opposition to the resolution from outside of the organization. The AAA board and staff must be protected, and such threats should be taken extremely seriously. But they only further highlight the importance of the vote and the power we have as an association to be a voice for change.
"We are likely to lose members. AAA lost more than 200 members who felt it was inappropriate for AAA to entertain the prospect of an academic boycott."
Overall and over time we will gain members and ensure the relevance of the AAA, even if we lose a minority of members in the short term. The movement for BDS is gaining traction both globally and in the U.S., with Americans increasingly favoring restricting U.S. military aid to Israel and a growing number of young Americans critical of the Israeli government.
The American Studies Association, which passed a BDS resolution in 2013, gained 700 new members in 2014. In the wake of the resolution, many found a new political and intellectual home at the association. The same could happen for younger anthropologists who would be drawn to the AAA if it aligned more with their values.
"We may be significantly restricted in the choice of cities where future Annual and Section Meetings can be located, decreasing the affordability of participation for members... This would include cities such as Atlanta, San Francisco, Detroit, and Phoenix."
The claim that state anti-BDS laws will preclude the AAA from holding meetings in certain states is baseless fear mongering. Multiple states have passed anti-BDS laws designed to chill speech critical of Israel; these measures have served as templates for legislation in the service of other right-wing causes, such as the fossil fuel and firearms industries. Most courts that have reviewed these laws have struck them down as unconstitutional, but their ultimate fate remains unclear given the current reactionary shift in the federal judiciary. Yet the “Points to Consider'' document nonetheless misrepresents these laws as far more sweeping than they actually are. These laws apply to public contracts in the common sense meaning of governments purchasing or procuring goods or services; they are not designed for situations where the government is itself selling goods or services to members of the public. This is obvious from a cursory examination of the relevant statutes* and is confirmed by templates for public facility rental contracts** in those states.
"We may lose sponsors, further reducing the affordability of meeting participation. We lost one corporate sponsor who had contributed $10,000/year for three years prior to the 2013 Business Meeting to help underwrite our annual meeting."
By this logic, we should always accept funding at the expense of maintaining ethical principles. We do not recall learning this in our anthropological training.
"Our fund-raising efforts may be adversely affected in other ways. We had multiple grant-making organizations reject our funding requests to support the development of the World on the Move traveling exhibition because they felt AAA was acting inappropriately for an educational and scholarly society."
We may also gain revenue, especially now that the needle has shifted on support for Palestinian rights more broadly. After passing a resolution for the academic boycott in December of 2013, the ASA reported in April 2014 that the association had “collected more membership revenue in the past three months than in any other three-month period over the past quarter century.” In the wake of the 2022 BDS vote, MESA maintained its overall institutional membership and there is no indication that its funding was affected. While AAA might lose some members and donors, it will likely be able to access new sources of revenue from new supporters, foundations, and donors after taking a principled stand for justice.
* California’s anti-BDS law refers specifically to the law’s intent “to ensure that taxpayer funds are not used to do business with or otherwise support” companies boycotting Israel. California Assembly Bill No. 2844 § 1(j) (emphasis added). Arizona’s anti-BDS law is part of a section of the state’s statutory code that specifically regulates the “handling of public funds.” 35 Arizona General Statutes § 2(9). Georgia’s anti-BDS law is located in the section of the official code “relating to general authority, duties, and procedure relative to state purchasing.” HB 383 (emphasis added). Michigan’s anti-BDS law is part of a law governing the state department of management and budget in its procurement contracting. See MCL 18.1261.
** In each of these states, templates for public contracts contain anti-BDS provisions while contracts for rental of public facilities do not. For California, compare Facility Rental Forms with Local Agreement for Child Development Services - California State Preschool Program (CSPP). For Arizona, compare Compare University of Arizona Facilities Use Agreement with University of Arizona - Standard Form Agreement Between Owner and Design Professional (Annual Request for Qualifications Edition) January 1, 2017 Edition. For Georgia, compare GPTC Conference Centers Facility Rental Agreement with Georgia College, RE: Letter to Contractors/Vendors Regarding Georgia College Contract Requirements, June 29, 2021. For Michigan, compare Facility Use Agreement with State of Michigan Standard Contract Terms.