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Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Is an academic boycott effective?

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present this final essay in a series dedicated to the issue of the boycott.  Previous essays by Talal Asad, Mick Taussig, J. Lorand Matory, Rosemary Sayigh, and Brian Boyd reflected on the decision to boycott such institutions. This piece considers whether such decisions will have the desired effect.  The evidence thus far says: yes.

 

Is an academic boycott effective? Ask Israeli leaders

I. ben Alek

I. ben Alek is a pseudonym for an anthropologist and long-time student of Israeli politics

“Israel has been blessed with a lot of talent that manufactures many excellent products. In order to export, you need good products, but you also need good relations. So why make peace? Because, if Israel’s image gets worse, it will begin to suffer boycotts.”

 —Then President of Israel Shimon Peres, quoted in the Belfast Telegraph, May 18th, 2012.

How can an academic boycott of Israeli institutions be effective? While debating the issue at the 2014 Annual Meetings of the American Anthropological Association, several colleagues insisted it could not be effective. This was a central criticism they had of the Statement of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions. After all, critics said, a potential AAA boycott resolution would only be boycotting some hundred or less anthropologists that work or study at Israeli institutions of higher education. Further, they argued, many of these scholars are on the left side of the Israeli political spectrum, and are finding little room to maneuver at a time when Israeli leaders are fanning the militarization of public opinion. Isn’t it counterproductive to undermine their position, as well as that of other dissident scholars, living and working there? A statement against boycott of Israeli academic institutions signed by some four hundred anthropologists claims also that such a boycott would “collectively punish” academics for the decisions of their government, and further that “A boycott of anthropologists and academic institutions plays into the hands of those supporting the current political stalemate.”
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Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Brian Boyd

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present the latest in a series of essays reflecting on the decision to support the boycott until Israeli higher education ends its complicity in the violation of Palestinian rights (including academic rights).

This piece by Israel-Palestine archaeologist Brian Boyd joins earlier statements on Savage Minds by Talal Asad, Mick Taussig, J. Lorand Matory, and Rosemary Sayigh.

Archaeology and the BDS/boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: some personal fragmentary reflections

Brian Boyd
Columbia University

Reflecting on why I support the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions, I found myself looking back through fieldwork diaries I made while I was an undergraduate student in the late 1980s. The first set dates from early July to late September 1988, the second from the same period in 1989: the early years of the First Intifada. My fieldwork was as a volunteer on a French-Israeli archaeology project in western Galilee. In 1988, the team consisted of a French director, a Palestinian assistant, and around 20 students, almost all European and one or two Israelis. In 1989, the situation was similar, with the addition of one Palestinian student. The project was mainly funded by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs/CNRS and the excavation license granted by, as with all archaeological projects in Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority. All archaeological licenses granted to a non-Israeli project director must bear the name of an Israeli co-director, despite that person not being an active daily member of the project team.

During those six months, the archaeological team lodged in the old youth hostel in the Arab area of the northern Mediterranean coastal town that Arabs call ‘Akka and Israeli Jews call ‘Akko. A Christian Arab family ran the hostel, and the town itself was part-Arab (the Old City), part-Israeli (the New City). At that time, I knew little about the Israel/Palestine situation beyond UK media reports, but clearly the recently announced Intifada (late 1987) was on everyone’s minds, especially in a town with Akka’s/Akko’s demographic. I befriended a local Arab café owner, who said he worked for “the labor party”. One evening, a few of us diggers visited his café to find it full of tourists of different nationalities – Japanese, American, British, French. The owner had gathered them together from a number of tour parties and had given them cold-water melon on this hot day. After talking with us all about the Intifada situation, he orchestrated an international chorus around his tables – “We want peace! We want peace!”, over and over. This was, I guess, my first “political” encounter with an Arab person, and one which has stayed in my mind because of the contrast I was seeing between (a) this spontaneous Arab-led international “happening”, particularly hearing the call for peace, and (b) the fairly heavy Israeli police and military presence that I had seen everywhere since my arrival in the country only a few days before. Continue reading

Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Rosemary Sayigh

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present Part 2 of our series of essays. This piece by Beirut-based anthropologist Rosemary Sayigh joins earlier statements by Steven Caton, Talal Asad, Mick Taussig, and J. Lorand Matory in support of the boycott until Israeli higher education ends its complicity in the violation of Palestinian rights as stipulated under international law.

Why I Signed
Rosemary Sayigh
Visiting Professor at CAMES, American University of Beirut
Beirut, Lebanon

I have long supported the BDS campaign because I believe in its principles and aims. I do so in three capacities: i) as a citizen of the country that promised Palestine to representatives of the Zionist movement as a national home for Jews; and ii) as a resident in Lebanon, living close to Palestinian refugees, and witness of the ‘ongoing Nakba’; iii) as an anthropologist.

As a British citizen I feel obliged to work against the morally wrong and politically shortsighted decision taken by the British government when it issued the Balfour Declaration. By pledging itself itself to facilitate” “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, Britain initiated the displacement of Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants, a process it continued after gaining the mandate over Palestine.  Betraying its promise of national independence to Arabs who helped the Allies to defeat the Turks in World War 1, Britain also backed out of the promise made in the Balfour Declaration to do nothing  “which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Though the Declaration’s definition of Arab Palestinians as “non-Jewish communities” was a first step towards their displacement, yet the statement contains a promise of protection that was betrayed throughout the Mandate, and particularly by the way it was terminated. By supporting the BDS campaign I hope to bring nearer the time when a broad segment of the British people will acknowledge a historic mistake and need to make amends.

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Writing Good Anthropology in a Time of Crisis: Lessons from the Nepal Earthquake

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by guest author Heather Hindman. Heather is Associate Professor of Asian Studies and Anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her book Mediating the Global: Expatrias Forms and Consequences in Kathmandu (Stanford University Press, 2013) explores the employment practices and daily lives of elite aid workers and diplomats over the last several decades of changes in the development industry, with a critical analysis of human resources management and cross-cultural communication. She is also co-editor of Inside the Everyday Lives of Development Workers (Kumarian Press, 2011). Her recent publications explore Nepals elite migration practices, the rise of voluntourism and the shifting interests of aid donors in Nepal. Currently, she is researching youth activism and labor, particularly among elites with overseas experience.]

How do scholars balance the need to write quickly and the need to write well? Pressures to “publish or perish” and the rise of “visibility indices” have led many of us to write in ways that will be recognized by our institutions, rather than in the other ways we also think and reflect. Some academics now are calling for a turn to slow scholarship, but this may be a luxury only the elite can afford. In a time of crisis, writing slowly does not work; instead, we need to write swiftly. Recently, I and many people who have conducted research in Nepal found ourselves under pressure to write quickly while still maintaining our academic integrity.

Organizing relief AYON Bijaya
AYON/Association of Youth Organizations Nepal organizing earthquake relief. Photo by Bijaya Raj Poudel.

 

The April 25th earthquake in Nepal proved devastating for the country and spurred many in the anthropological world to action and comment. In the days after the quake, and propelled forward by the major May 12th aftershock, academics in the US, Europe and Asia found themselves overwhelmed by requests for interviews and op-eds, and many of us were eager to do something. I felt paralyzed and incompetent, sitting in Austin, Texas, trying to finish the semester, working closely with local student groups and NRN (Non-Resident Nepali) organizations and operating at a high level of distraction. Social media was afire with check-ins of who had survived, where the greatest damage had occurred and what resources were needed to keep people alive on a day-to-day basis. I found myself pulled into the social media world and addicted to email and messaging as I had never been before. Many of us sought to raise funds and awareness in our own communities, to establish contact with those we care about in Nepal, and to write brief articles as we felt able for media venues. After the initial flurry of media contacts, several of those who had written about the disaster were contacted by Anthropology News to write an article for their online forum. We hoped to get someone familiar with facts on the ground, yet many anthropologists who were in Nepal were dealing with everyday needs of seeking shelter, looking out for loved ones and trying to provide basic relief as they were able. AN Managing Editor Amy Goldenberg posted a brief piece that collected links to essays written by North American-based anthropologists for other venues, and there were promises from others to write more substantive articles when more research and reflection was possible. Then, Anthropology News—an official publication of the American Anthropological Association—found a respondent in anthropologist David Beine, Professor of World Missions and Evangelism at Moody Bible Institute. Continue reading

Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions: Mick Taussig and J. Lorand Matory

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.

We are pleased to present the following two reflections by Mick Taussig and J. Lorand Matory as part of a two-week guest blog series entitled Anthropology and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions. These reflections on why anthropologists should support the boycott join similar statements by Steven Caton and Talal Asad.

 

Why I Urge Support for BDS
Mick Taussig
Class of 1933 Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

The issue seems not so much why support; but how could you not?

The situation in the US has gotten to the point where the slightest criticism of the Israeli state’s ugly excesses is taken as heresy and this applies with stinging force to university life. Trustees of US universities are on record now as firing or quietly threatening hires of professors.

How dare they! And we are punished for asking for divestment and boycotts!

Untenured and even some tenured professors are afraid to sign petitions or get involved in pro-Palestinian activities, student councils are charged, predictably, as “anti-semitic” if they challenge the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and Students for Justice in Palestine groups are targeted and banned by college presidents as causing “discomfort” to Jewish students. That is why it is so important that academic associations weigh in loud and clear as counter-voices to create, at the least, a level playing field.

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You can help stop drastic cuts to NSF funding for anthropology

Paid-up AAA members got an unusual email in their inboxes the other day from Monica Heller, the president of the American Anthropological Association. It’s unusual to get AAA direct mailing, and those of us who do often are halfway to hitting the delete button before we even get around to reading the subject line. This is one email, however, that we should all take seriously: Next week the House of Representatives will be debating the ‘COMPETES’ Act (H.R. 1806), which will, in essence, cut NSF funding of anthropology in half. This is one to worry about, folks.

I’ve argued in the past that the NSF already radically underfunds the social sciences. This new bill cuts the budget of the SBES (social, behavioral, and economic sciences) 45%, and targets a third of funding for one units (the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics) while leaving the other units to fight for the scraps.

Luckily, it is easy to tell your representatives what a lousy idea you think this is — head over to Vox Pop and follow their simple and easy process to send an email to your representative letting them know that you think anthropology and the social sciences deserve better.

Not all anthropologists practice a version of our discipline that is scientific — that’s why we also apply for funding from agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities. But for many of us, anthropology is a STEM discipline: an evidence-based research science interested in generating generalizable models of cultural and social process. It may not always look this way to non-anthropologists, mostly because hypothesis formation in inductive, qualitative field research looks a lot different from the version of the scientific method you are taught in high school. But that’s ok — numerous studies of bench science have shown that lab work doesn’t look very much like high school version of the scientific method either.

Consider, for instance, the winner of the 2015 Bateson Award,  Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think. The Bateson award is given out by the Society for Cultural Anthropology, the section of the AAA most likely to be named as anti-science by people who consider themselves pro-science. Kohn’s book is widely viewed as a part of the theoretical turn towards ‘ontology’, which is in turn seen as being the most anti-scientific approach imaginable. In fact, Kohn is quite frank in emphasizing his debt to Terrence Deacon, a biological anthropologist who does interdisciplinary work in neurobiology and human evolution. As counterintuitive as it may seem to  some, books like How Forests Think are tied to a scientific project which the NSF currently supports — but might not for much longer.

So take the time to click through this link and help support federal funding for anthropology. Thanks.

This Earth Day, read about the anthropocene at Open Anthropology

As our guest blogger John Hartigan has show, 2014 was the year of the Anthropocene for anthropology. Multispecies? So 2010. Ontology? So 2013. This Earth Day is a great time to start thinking about the anthropocene — and to make sure that concern and attention to climate change is more than just a fad for anthropology. A great place to start is Open Anthropology’s current issue on the Anthropocene.

in the past Savage Minds has not been kind (at all) to Open Anthropology. This is the AAA’s faux-open access journal that present themed ‘best-of’ issues that are temporarily open and then go back behind a paywall. Over time the curation of these issues has gotten better, but serious problems still remain with the ‘journal’ — there are no permalinked URLs for the current (open) content, and of course that majority of the content on the site is actually behind a paywall — a bitter irony for a supposedly open access project.

This new issue on the Anthropocene is by Open Anthropology’s new editors Jason Antrosio and Sally Han. Jason has spent years earning cred with anthropology noosphere by producing great blog posts at Living Anthropologically and other blogs. As a result, I’m tempted to give Open Anthropology an easier time just because of my respect for Jason. But I’m not going to, because frankly the site still has a tremendous amount of problems. Hopefully, he and Sally will work on improving it as time goes on.

But enough kvetching — the Anthropocene issue that is currently up is quite good, with an excellent mix of four field approaches ranging from Franz Boas to Jim Roscoe. Go take a look — in fact, you may want to download all of the articles right now. This Earth Day, Open Anthropology is making valuable resources about the Anthropocene available to all. Next Earth Day, they’ll be locked up tight behind a paywall.

Anthropology’s Long Tail, or AAA 2.0

Does anthropology have a long tail? Maybe it does, but the head really is superior. Isn’t that the idea behind science anyways? The best ideas are the vetted ideas and the rejected ideas are put to rest for a reason. Or maybe its not there at all. But then again…

First a refresher is in order. “The Long Tail,” refers to the now classic article (2004!!) by Wired magazine editor, Chris Anderson. It gets its name from a particular kind of curve where one variable functions as the power of another. In Anderson’s classic example such curves are used to describe the business model of Amazon which trumped its competitors by selling “less of more.” Whereas bookstores had traditionally made their big bucks catering to customers in the green area of the graph, where more people were interested in fewer titles, Amazon is able to cater to the so-called Long Tail, the yellow area where products are more diverse and demand is low. Why does this matter? The yellow area is actually larger than the green area. Hence, cha-ching –> $$$

Long tail
‘Picture by Hay Kranen / PD’
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Friction and the Newsing of Anthropology

AAA Executive Director, Ed Liebow, recently posted an Anthropology News editorial on the controversy which flaired up after they posted Peter Wood’s Anthropology News piece “Ferguson and the Decline in Anthropology.” In his editorial Liebow asks why the discussion about this piece has occured on Social Media and Blogs, not in the comments on Anthropology News itself:

Alex Golub presented a thoughtful counter-argument to Wood’s post on Savage Minds, pointing out why Wood is fundamentally misguided. I think he appropriately recognized a teachable moment, and effectively countered Wood’s assertion about the absence of evidence concerning structural racism. What I want to know is why Twitter? Why Savage Minds? Why not comment in Anthropology News?

While I can’t speak for Alex, I’d like to try to answer this question. Continue reading

From #EbolaBeGone to #BlackLivesMatter: Anthropology, misrecognition, and the racial politics of crisis

[Savage Minds is pleased to publish this essay by Thurka Sangaramoorthy and Adia Benton. Thurka Sangaramoorthy is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Maryland. She is the author of Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention (Rutgers University, 2014). Her work on race, health, and inequality in the US has appeared in Medical Anthropology and Human Organization. Adia Benton is an assistant professor of anthropology at Brown University. She is the author of HIV Exceptionalism: Development through Disease in Sierra Leone (University of Minnesota, 2015). Her writing on the West African Ebola outbreak has appeared in Dissent, The New Inquiry and Cultural Anthropology’s Hot Spots series.]

Almost five months into the epidemic, on August 8, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa a “public health emergency of international concern.” Military and police responses — both international and national — played a crucial role in responses to the epidemic. A few weeks later, on August 20th, the Liberian military quarantined residents of West Point in the capital city of Monrovia without advance warning, essentially cutting them off from food and supplies and causing thousands of residents to clash with troops and riot police. Images surfaced of troops firing live rounds and tear gas and viciously beating back residents who challenged the lockdown. Military-enforced quarantines around entire districts of Sierra Leone and the shift of power from the ministry of health to the ministry of defense were key features of its Ebola response.

Across the Atlantic, on August 9, 2014, 18-year old unarmed Michael Brown was shot to death by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Peaceful protests and civil disorder ensued in the following weeks, prompting the governor to declare a “state of emergency” and call on local police and the National Guard to control protests and maintain curfews. Greater public attention was placed on the increasing militarization of local police forces as the grand jury, which was convened to hear evidence of the circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown, reached a decision not to indict Officer Wilson. Continue reading

Reflections on the AAA Die-in as a Symbolic Space of Social Death

[Savage Minds is honored to publish this essay by Faye V. Harrison who is currently Professor of African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and President of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences. She is the author of numerous articles and books, including the landmark volumes Decolonizing Anthropology: Moving Further Toward an Anthropology for Liberation (American Anthropological Association, 1994) and Outsider Within: Reworking Anthropology in the Global Age (University of Illinois Press, 2008).] Continue reading

#BlackLivesMatter and #AAA2014: Die-In, Section Assembly Motion, and the ABA Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices

On Monday, December 8, 2014, the Association of Black Anthropologists issued a Statement Against Police Violence and Anti-Black Practices. The Statement followed from recent events in the USA discussed and acted upon at last week’s annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Washington, DC (#AAA2014): a die-in held on Friday, December 5 at 12:28 pm in the main lobby of the conference hotel, and later that same day, a section assembly motion on Michael Brown and Eric Garner, racialized repression and state violence was presented and approved by the AAA membership at the AAA business meeting. The die-in was planned and motion drafted Thursday by a group of anthropologists at special sessions on Ferguson, racism, and violence; this organizing work continues at the #BlackLivesMatterAAA website. Both the Statement and the Motion are published in full below.  Continue reading

Ethics, Visual Media and the Digital

As c.10,000 anthropologists descend upon Washington, D.C. this week for the annual American Anthropological Association conference, my colleague Jonathan Marion (University of Arkansas) and I, alongside an international cadre of researchers, have joined a long-standing conversation about the relationship between digital cultures, visual media and ethics that will fully manifest on Saturday, but that exists online in multiple forms too (more below). That conversation is a complicated one, known to induce frustration, confusion, feelings of helplessness, despondency and, at times, defiance among those who engage in it. By this I refer to the business of negotiating (1) the ethical implications of our own research programmes, (2) the experience of formal ethical review, and (3) ethical issues borne out of the everyday actions of our communities of study. Such ‘business’ is seemingly made even more complicated when digital and visual media are brought into the fold.

Indeed, more than ten years ago Gross, Katz and Ruby published Image Ethics in the Digital Age, a pioneering volume whose topical concerns – privacy, authenticity, control, access and exposure – are arguably more conspicuous now than in 2003. Today, their complexities appear to be extending as digital interactions themselves extend, and the consequence is an inevitably fraught landscape of practice with debatable outcomes.

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Anthropologists Respond to Frequently Asked Questions About a AAA BDS Resolution

We would like to thank the editors of Savage Minds for inviting us to kick off this important conversation on a potential AAA resolution in support of BDS. Over the past four posts, we have tried to highlight some of the key reasons for why anthropologists in particular should honor the call to boycott that was originally issued by a united Palestinian civil society in 2005. From our analysis of the role archeology plays in the dispossession of Palestinians to our overview of historical boycotts within the AAA and discussion of academic freedom, we made the case that BDS is the only sensible, effective, and appropriate response to the current situation.

That being said, the conversation on BDS is far too important to be fully covered in four short blog posts. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to read carefully and respond respectfully, either in the comments or privately, to seek out further clarification on these important issues.

In this last post, we will attempt to answer some of the most common questions we have received. If you have a question that is not answered below, please leave a comment and let’s continue to have this serious conversation about how best to respond to ongoing Israeli mass violations of human rights. Continue reading

Embracing Our Better Angels: Endorsing BDS and the History of the AAA

In our previous posts, we made the argument that the American Anthropological Association (AAA) ought to endorse the united Palestinian call to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and systematic legal discrimination. Over the past few weeks, we have unfortunately received more horrifying reminders of why this sort of external pressure needs to be brought to bear and urgently. The situation requires the sort of exigent and effective external pressure that BDS can provide, and so the AAA ought to do what it can. Full stop.

That said, as a great many anthropological writings remind us, we should still look to our past as an organization – both our successes and our failures – to guide our response to the present situation. In the last of our regular posts, then, we will argue that endorsing the united Palestinian call for BDS represents a continuation of the best principles and traditions of the AAA. Continue reading