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Zionism, Anti-Blackness, and the Struggle for Palestine

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents Jemima Pierre’s powerful critique of anti-Black violence in Israel and its connections to the oppression of Palestinians. This essay is a very important anthropological contribution to the renewed U.S. Black-Palestinian solidarity sweeping the academy and beyond.

For more information on the upcoming boycott vote at the AAA, Friday November 20 at 6:15 pm, see: Voting at #AAA2015 — What You Need to KnowVOTE YES on Resolution #2.


Zionism, Anti-Blackness, and the Struggle for Palestine

Jemima Pierre12

The video begins mid-action. A Black man sprawls on the ground. He seems injured. He tries to move but his efforts are slow, labored, slight. There is blood beneath him, fresh and bright against the polished white floor. On the edge of the frame, people move frantically. The Black man is encircled. Someone holding a gun – he looks like a soldier – steps forward and kicks the Black man in the head. From the bottom right of the screen, an orange bench is thrown, smashing into the head of the Black man. Someone – another soldier? – waves the others back and lifts the bench from the Black man’s head. Another man carrying a book bag quickly walks towards the Black man and swiftly kicks him in the head. His body spins across the floor, leaving a large smear of red blood. The man with the book bag walks away, unhurried. The Black man tries to lift his arm. A large White man places the legs of a tall stool over him. The man appears to be shielding the man on the floor from further attack; he yells at the crowd, flailing his arms, waving people away as they try to advance on the Black man. He is actually trying to keep the Black man from escaping. A person from the growing mob gets in another kick at the almost lifeless Black man on the ground, and the stool is briefly knocked away. The large man quickly replaces the stool over the victim while frantically screaming at and waving away the enraged mob.

I can no longer watch. Continue reading

Israel BDS — Why I Signed…Reluctantly

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present this thoughtful reflection on the boycott by James Ferguson. The American Anthropological Association will be voting on a pro-boycott resolution (Resolution #2) at its annual business meeting at 6:15 pm on Friday, November 20. His essay joins others on this blog, by scholars such as Partha Chatterjee, Talal Asad, Rosemary Sayigh, and Bryan BoydWe urge all anthropologists to look at the facts of the boycott and VOTE YES on #2 if attending the meeting.


Israel BDS – Why I Signed…Reluctantly

James Ferguson

I did not come easily to the decision to sign the petition supporting an academic boycott of Israeli universities.  My experience has been that academic boycotts can easily do more harm than good.  They harbor the risk of creating divisions between scholars working on the outside (for whom grand denunciations come easily, and often without cost) and those on the inside (at least some of whom may be progressive intellectuals of courage and commitment, working under the most challenging of circumstances, who may resent rather than welcome attacks on the institutions that support them).  There are also, it must be said, risks of hypocrisy, when American scholars righteously denounce foreign universities while saying little about their own comparatively lavishly-funded institutions, which are of course dripping with their own forms of complicity with militarism and imperialism.

In a complex situation, however — one, moreover, of which I personally have only very imperfect and limited knowledge — I feel obliged to give great weight to the views of those more knowledgeable than myself.  This is, after all, the most basic sort of trust that we rely upon as a scholarly community.  And it seems clear to me that the members of our intellectual community whom I judge to have the most knowledge and the best understanding, both of the Israel/Palestine situation in general and of the political role played by Israeli academic institutions, are in strong support of the resolution.  This is not just a question of a list of names, but a set of convincing arguments that has been assembled by an impressive assembly of scholars, many of whom I know to be not only fine researchers, but fair-minded persons of honest character and good judgment.

We are right to pause and discuss over this complex issue, and not to blithely assume that a repugnance for Israel’s policies simply or automatically warrants a boycott of its academic institutions.  And, in truth, I would be happier if the boycott were more closely aimed at specific practices of specific institutions (certainly, this would be desirable if our goal is to help transform Israeli institutions and not just to declare our opposition to the regime in the abstract).  But my assessment, in the end, after reviewing the arguments on both sides (and, as I have noted, giving special weight to the judgments of the scholars of the region whose work I know and admire, within anthropology and beyond) is that the boycott will find its fundamental meaning not within the academy, but beyond it.  In this light, we might see anthropologists’ support for the BDS movement both as a kind of public declaration that we have taken notice of the illegal and immoral conduct of the Israeli state and the institutions that support it, and as a small gesture of solidarity with those who have suffered most from that conduct.  That is reason enough for me.

Myths and Facts About the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to extend its original series on this blog in light of a boycott vote at the November 2015 American Anthropological Association meetings. Endorsed by Jewish Voice for Peace and over 1000 anthropologists, a pro-boycott resolution will be up for vote at the AAA Business Meeting at 6:15 pm on Friday, November 20. It is Resolution #2 on the docket. This post debunks common myths about the boycott, and urges all attending anthropologists to VOTE YES on #2 at the meeting.


Myths and Facts about the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions


Myth #1: The boycott prevents Israeli and U.S. scholars from working together.

Fact: The boycott is not directed at individuals; it is directed at the institutions in which they work. It does not deny Israeli scholars the right to attend conferences (including the AAA meetings), speak at or visit U.S. universities, or publish their work in AAA publications. Nor will boycott prevent U.S. scholars from traveling to Israel. Individual AAA members will remain free to decide whether and how to implement the boycott on their own.


Myth #2: Dialogue is a better way to support Palestinian rights than a boycott.

Fact: Boycott and dialogue are not incompatible; individuals will continue to dialogue even after this institutional boycott is implemented. But dialogue is not enough. Despite decades of dialogue and diplomacy, Israel has continued to act with impunity and the occupation has grown only more entrenched and dangerous. The anti-boycott resolution, “Engaging Israel Palestine: End the Occupation, Oppose Academic Boycott, Support Dialogue” (Resolution #1) simply repackages the status quo of dialogue without justice, and flies in the face of the unanimous conclusion of the AAA Task Force on Israel-Palestine that it is time for the Association to take significant action. Continue reading

Highlights from the AAA Israel-Palestine Task Force’s Final Report

The Task Force on AAA Engagement on Israel-Palestine issued its final report today. It is a long and thorough report, so I won’t attempt to summarize the whole thing. (There is already an “executive summary” in the report itself.) But as someone who has followed the issue for a long time, both through the extensive coverage here on Savage Minds as well as on the blog of the Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, and who is therefore suffering from “BDS fatigue” from the repetitive nature of some of the discussions, I still found much that was new and interesting in this report. Even with regard to topics that I am already somewhat familiar with, the report provides examples from the daily lives of academics working in the region which bring these issues to life. Accordingly, what I have assembled below is a rather idiosyncratic selection of highlights from the report, based on what jumped out at me and got my attention, along with some comments and reflections of my own. I hope it will encourage more people to read the full report.1 Continue reading

The new AnthroSource is fantastic! Here’s why I won’t be using it.

I haven’t yet seen any official announcement from the AAA about the change,1 but if you now click on the “Login to use AnthroSource now” link from the top of the AAA website, you will get directed to this glorious webpage. Those who know me will be surprised to learn that I am not being the slightest bit ironic when I say the page is glorious. It truly is. Not only does it look great, but at long last searching through the back catalog of AAA journals is simple and easy. Even better, when you find something you can quickly access the content you are looking for without any hassles. If you are an AAA member you will have access to that content as part of your membership fee and won’t have to use your school’s VPN to get the content you want. Bravo to Wiley and AAA for pulling this off, it really should make AAA membership that much more attractive for everyone.

Having said that, I probably won’t be using this portal for my own research purposes. The first reason for this is that AnthroSource limits you to just two search options: you can search an individual journal, or you can through the entire catalog of all AAA journals. I almost never want to conduct either of these searches. The AAA archive is great, but I prefer to conduct narrower searches. For instance I might want to exclude archaeology journals, and journals focusing on Latin America and Europe, without confining myself to just one journal. Secondly, there are a number of Wiley anthropology journals not included in the AAA’s catalog that I would like to search along with the other cultural anthropology journals. These include: Anthropology Today, The Australian Journal of Anthropology, the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Oceania, and Social Anthropology. Third, AnthroSource doesn’t currently offer an advanced search interface. That means you can’t limit the date range for searches or restrict your keyword search to the abstract or title of articles, etc.

Fortunately, it is already possible to conduct such a search via Wiley’s Advanced Search Page. Continue reading

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