Tag Archives: #anthroboycott

Why Anthropologists Failed to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

By: Lara Deeb and Jessica Winegar

In 2016 the movement to boycott Israeli academic institutions for their involvement in the illegal occupation of Palestine both gathered significant steam and faced a huge roadblock. In the United States, the country that largely underwrites and funds the Israeli occupation, the call to boycott initiated in 2004 by Palestinian civil rights organizations movement has had some impressive successes, with eight associations endorsing it thus far, notably in academic fields that challenge Eurocentrism.[1] The movement continued to grow last year as scholars across disciplines learned more about the Israeli occupation and its consequences. Several larger academic organizations discussed or voted on the boycott call, including the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA). As criticisms of the Israeli state and Zionist ideology spread, backlash intensified.

We are part of the diverse group of anthropologists of different backgrounds, including Israelis and Palestinians, who have organized a movement to convince the AAA membership to adopt the boycott. For several years, we have worked to educate our colleagues about both Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and the boycott as an effective tactic by which to support those rights. We’ve done this through panels, roundtables, dozens of op-eds, videos, webinars, teach-ins, email outreach, and canvassing on the floors of various anthropology conferences. As the MLA begins its discussions of the boycott, we offer this retrospective on the AAA vote last spring. Continue reading

What we learned from #anthroboycott

Please join me in reading responsively

We learned that Boycott supporters felt silenced and intimidated by the anti-Boycott sentiment in their departments while on the other hand anti-Boycott supporters felt silenced and intimidated by the Boycott sentiment in their departments.

We learned that the AAA could deal judiciously with a difficult topic or
We learned that the AAA’s curation of Israel’s “World Anthropology” was biased

we learned that everyone cared because turn out was at an all time high or
We learned that no one cared because only half the association votes
(but then again fifty percent is an F
even with grade inflation.)

We learned the other side couldn’t see how far right it was unless
The other side couldn’t see how far left it was.

The boycott was against anthropology’s commitment to relativism, tolerance, and dialogue and
The boycott was part of anthropology’s commitment to social justice.

We learned that the only reason the other side won is that they bought cookies to the business meeting
or
they purchased extra memberships just to vote.

We learned we couldn’t talk because politics is when the time for talking is past and
We learned should have talked more because talking is what politics is.

We learned that Israel is different than some have been told although
We learned the country is gravely misunderstood by others

We learned that we have the same values, just differently ranked or
have the same values, but believe different things are true
or
have different values, and differently rank what we think is true
but we don’t
have the same values and believe the same things
since
that is not the proper role of scholarly associations
unless
this is the most important thing a scholarly association can do.

We learned that never again
means
‘never again’
or might mean
‘never again’
Because Jewish rights are human rights
and human rights are Palestinian rights
which are human rights which
is why never again means
what it does
unless

#anthroboycott matters because we learned
we learned #anthroboycott matters because

Because we learned #anthroboycott matters

Matters learned because we #anthroboycott

we #anthroboycott because learned

learned because we #anthroboycott

we because #anthroboycott

learned matters

because

we

AAA Boycott Vote Postmortem

By now you have probably heard that the boycott vote failed by an incredibly narrow margin:

In the end an astounding 51% of its 10,000 members participated. The resolution failed by exactly 39 votes: 2,423-2,384 (50.4%-49.6%)—a statistical dead heat.

David Palumbo-Liu, Steven Salaita, Charlotte Silver, and Elizabeth Redden have all written excellent postmortems about the vote. Having read all four, it strikes me that there are three important points to be made: The first is that the AAA is still moving ahead with a statement of censure of the Israeli government and other actions. The second is the role played by outside groups that sought to influence the vote. And the third is the status of the BDS movement after the vote. Read on for my take on each of these three points… Continue reading

Are Palestinian Scholars Our Colleagues? Boycott and the Material Limits of Friendship

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions publishes this powerful reflection by Alireza Doostdar on how opposition to the boycott rests on an unquestioned assumption that Israeli academics are our colleagues while Palestinian academics are not. This assumption is bolstered by the structures of inequality that the boycott itself is meant to address.

Accept Palestinian scholars as our colleagues and vote today. Answer their call to us to support boycott. Instructions to support the boycott vote are here.

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Are Palestinian Scholars Our Colleagues? Boycott and the Material Limits of Friendship

Alireza Doostdar

The debate over the AAA motion to boycott Israeli academic institutions has centered on questions of justice and academic freedom. Proponents of boycott argue that the exhaustively-documented injustices that Israel metes out on the Palestinian people, which includes systematic denial of their academic freedom, warrants a boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in the state’s crimes. Opponents argue that even though Israel may be oppressing the Palestinians, this should not be cause for curtailing the academic freedom of Israelis, which they see as amounting to unjust collective punishment.

Implicit in these arguments are a set of unexamined attitudes toward collegiality and reciprocity. Briefly, I want to argue that the decision whether or not to support boycott turns on whether one is able to imagine Palestinian scholars as colleagues and friends. This imagination is a product not just of our individual cognitive capacities, but of specific material conditions.

At a very basic level, the motion to boycott Israeli institutions is an explicit response to a call by Palestinian civil society (including academics) to exert nonviolent pressure on the Israeli regime to end the occupation. Whether or not we consider Palestinians to be our colleagues has a direct bearing on whether we think we should respond to this call, and indeed, whether we have the capacity to hear the call at all. Continue reading

Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians: A Case for Boycotting Israeli Academic Institutions

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents anthropologists of education Thea Abu El-Haj and Fida Adely. The authors discuss the extreme violations of Palestinian youths’ right to education and why the boycott is an important and necessary tool for educational justice.

Voting is open at the AAA until May 31. To vote “yes” to have the AAA adopt the institutional boycott, follow these instructions.

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Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians: A Case for Boycotting Israeli Academic Institutions

Thea Abu El-Haj & Fida Adely

During the 50 day Israeli War on Gaza in the summer of 2014, the Israeli military killed 1462 Palestinian civilians, 495 of whom were children. Israeli forces destroyed or severely damaged the homes of over 100,000 Gazans and over 200 schools. Among the most egregious events of this 50 day siege were the bombings of three UN schools that were sheltering internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to Human Rights Watch, 45 Gazans, including 17 children, were killed in these attacks on schools. Those killed had believed that UN facilities—particularly schools—would offer protection from rampant shelling.

The Israeli bombing of UN schools became a focus of much international condemnation—a flagrant violation of human rights. Moreover, Gazans continue to feel the effects of the destruction of so many schools because the nearly 10-year Israeli blockade of Gaza has greatly hampered reconstruction, leaving the region in shambles.

Behind the high visibility of the destruction of UN schools hides the much wider, systematic, and routine violation of the rights of Palestinian children and youth to education. Whether within Israel proper, in the West Bank, or Gaza, the rights of Palestinian children and youth to an equitable education are tremendously restricted and their ability to develop and grow in safety and security is systematically violated. Frequent school closings across the Occupied Territories mean that Palestinian children and youth often do not have a right to any type of education at all.

urlShelled school in Gaza. Source: Human Rights Watch

As anthropologists of education and educators committed to social justice, we want to call attention to the routine and systematic violations of Palestinians’ right to education—violations that are imbricated with, not accidental to, Israel’s unjust and oppressive treatment of Palestinians. These violations of the right to education are one of the key reasons we support the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and we urge our colleagues to vote in favor of the AAA resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Continue reading

Why I’m Voting for the Boycott Part 3: It’s in the Resolution

This is the third post in a three-post series of personal reflections on the AAA boycott vote. The first post discussed my own childhood Zionist education, while the second post addressed the false claim that the boycott unfairly singles out Israel.

Last November anthropologists attending the AAA business meeting in Denver voted by an astounding 1040-136 to endorse the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, but this was just a resolution to put the boycott to a vote, not an actual endorsement of that boycott by the entire AAA membership. The actual voting is now taking place by electronic ballot. It started on April 15th and lasts until May 31. For this reason it is crucial that all AAA members, whether or not they support the boycott, vote to make their voices heard in this historic decision. Because each update to the AAA website seems to make it even more difficult to navigate, please read this useful guide on how to vote.

It’s in the Resolution

What do we mean by an academic boycott anyway?

What if I told you that the answer can be found in the the boycott resolution?

what if I told you? 

First and foremost, it can’t be emphasized enough that the boycott only applies to institutions, not to individuals. Continue reading

A Moment of Truth: On the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents this timely and poignant essay by Mick Taussig, calling us to a moment of truth in the discipline. Addressing concerns about academic freedom in the larger context of the brute terror that the Israeli state inflicts daily upon Palestinians, he asks how History will judge our collective voice on the matter.

Voting is open at the AAA. Don’t be on the wrong side of History.

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A Moment of Truth: On the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Mick Taussig, Class of 1933 Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University

Yesterday an ex-student forwarded me an apparently widely diffused email against the boycott from my friend Michael Fisher. Echoing an argument central to the debate, Michael thinks the boycott is likely to have a deleterious effect on Israeli anthropologists critical of the Israeli state and that it goes against the principle of academic freedom. These are tough issues which everyone I know supporting the boycott takes very seriously.

I myself don’t see why the boycott as defined should hinder critical work by Israeli anthropologists and some have come out in favor of the boycott anyway. I wish to support them as much as I can. Continue reading

Why I have voted in support of BDS: Ghassan Hage

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present Ghassan Hage‘s eloquent essay on the urgency of voting for boycott in a desperate situation of settler colonial violence — where calls for more critique of the Israeli occupation and dialogue are simply not enough, and where the Israeli academy’s existence is dependent on that colonial violence. As he puts it, “It is possible to tell oneself: ‘I am not going to do anything since no action meets my unbelievably pure criteria of what needs to be done’. I don’t think it is coincidental that such an attitude ends up working to support the status quo. For those of us who do feel the urgency of dealing with Palestinian question this is not enough and we hope that most of my colleagues share our sense of urgency.

Voting is open until May 31. Follow these instructions to vote for #anthroboycott.

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Why I have voted in support of BDS

From the 15th of April and until the end of May members of the American Anthropological Association will be voting on whether to endorse the proposal to boycott Israeli academic institutions as part of offering to support the Palestnians’ call for a Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestments (BDS) movement against the state of Israel. I have voted in support of the resolution. As the vote has been an occasion whereby AAA has initiated and encouraged a more public discussion of the pros and cons of the BDS movement, I wish to share my understanding of the nature of the opposition between those who are for and against BDS and why I personally, as a AAA member, support it.

To be sure, almost all of the anthropologists who are against the Boycott begin by stating their opposition to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories or the treatment of Palestinians inside the state of Israel. So the debate is not, nor one expects it to be, a simple debate between ‘critics and supporters of the state of Israel’. Yet, the difference between the two camps is quite pronounced and it begins to emerge in the very way those opposed to BDS declare their objection and opposition to the Occupation. In their very starting point there is a regressive attempt at shifting the grounds of the debate away from where the supporters of BDS have located it. Continue reading

Why I’m Voting for the Boycott Part 2: SQUIRREL!

*This is the second of a series of posts I am writing on the topic of the AAA boycott vote. You can read the previous post here. And now the third post is up as well.**

Last November anthropologists attending the AAA business meeting in Denver voted by an astounding 1040-136 to endorse the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, but this was just a resolution to put the boycott to a vote, not an actual endorsement of that boycott by the entire AAA membership. The actual voting is now taking place by electronic ballot. It started on April 15th and lasts until May 31. For this reason it is crucial that all AAA members, whether or not they support the boycott, vote to make their voices heard in this historic decision. Because each update to the AAA website seems to make it even more difficult to navigate, please read this useful guide on how to vote.

Squirrel!

A running joke in the 2009 movie Up is that the otherwise intelligent talking dog gets distracted by squirrels, forgetting everything it was saying whenever it sees one. Continue reading

Why I’m Voting for the Boycott Part 1: David vs. Goliath

UPDATE: The second post in this series is now up. And now the third post as well.

Last November anthropologists attending the AAA business meeting in Denver voted by an astounding 1040-136 to endorse the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, but this was just a resolution to put the boycott to a vote, not an actual endorsement of that boycott by the entire AAA membership. The actual voting takes place by electronic ballot starting today, April 15th, and lasts until May 31. For this reason it is crucial that all AAA members, whether or not they support the boycott, vote to make their voices heard in this historic decision.

While we have been posting extensively about the boycott here on Savage Minds, so far none of the full-time contributors have expressed their personal opinions on the matter. Over the next few weeks I hope to do just that, starting with a post about my own experience growing up as a Reform Jew in New York City. I have at least two more posts planned as well, including one on boycotts as a political strategy and another in which I try to round-up and summarize some of the writing which I have found most persuasive on the topic.

What follows is a very personal statement and intentionally avoids most of the issues that have already been discussed elsewhere. For those wanting more information I recommend looking through our own archives on the subject, or exploring the blog maintained by Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, as well as the anti-boycott blog. But, above all, I recommend you read this post on “Myths and Facts About the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions,” Dialogue vs. BDS, and the Report on Israel/Palestine (PDF) prepared by the AAA task force.

David vs. Goliath

I was raised as a Reform Jew in New York City in the eighties and the Judaism we were taught at Hebrew School was little more than Zionist propaganda. As Lisa Goldman recently put it,

for Jewish-Americans, more so than ever for Jews in Israel, Zionism is a crucial element of their identity. The most important element is neither God nor religion but the Holocaust, with its heavy legacy of trans-generational trauma. The lesson of the genocide, many believe, is that Jews need a safe haven. A state of one’s own.

During my weekly Hebrew school classes, as well as related weekend activities and camps, we almost never discussed Jewish religion, ethics, or philosophy.1 Instead, we were taught to think of ourselves as victims of historical persecution stretching back to the dawn of time. We were taught the importance of maintaining our ethnic identity in the face of this persecution.

David and Goliath
“David and Goliath” by Erik Bragalyan

Even as young children, we were encouraged to think of ourselves as little David’s standing up to Goliath. The holidays we celebrated were similarly built around such David and Goliath narratives: Purim celebrates the story of Esther who triumphed over the evil Mordecai Haman,2 and Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of the Maccabees over the forces of Antiochus.

Only as we got older did we learn of stories in which the Jews failed to triumph against overwhelming odds: the Spanish Inquisition, Eastern European pogroms, and, of course, the Holocaust. Yet even when learning about war and genocide, there was always the promise of a new David emerging that might once and for all put an end to such historical defeats: muscular Jewish nationalism. The Warsaw Uprising may not have succeeded, but the Six Day War and the raid on Entebbe were another story. Israel’s success meant that Jewish children could sleep peacefully at night. It also meant that Isreal was all that was standing between us and the abyss.

I never went on any of the trips to Israel organized by the school, but we watched films about the wonders of life on the kibbutz. (We were, of course, carefully warned away from socialism with stories about the horrors of collective family life.) I also helped raise money to plant trees in Israel. We were told that the Arabs had not cared for the land properly, turning it into a desert; the implication being that they did not deserve the land because they had been poor caretakers. Such stories of neglect by indigenous inhabitants will be familiar to scholars of all forms of settler colonialism. (I have since heard ethnic Chinese say much the same thing about indigenous Taiwanese.) At the time, however, it evoked a powerful image of Palestine as a desert which was only able to bloom once the rightful owners had returned.

When I was twelve they took us on a weekend retreat where we watched the movie Ticket to Heaven about a man who gets “brainwashed” by a cult and has to be “deprogrammed” by his parents. But unlike that film, unlearning Zionism was not a simple process involving being locked in a room with a professional “deprogrammer.” It took years of reading, questioning, and talking to people who actually knew something about life under the occupation. Thanks to patient friends in college and graduate school, I began to question the simple narrative by which the Holocaust served to legitimize colonialism. I learned about the Nakba by which “led to the expulsion and displacement of the Palestinian Arab population.” I learned how life in Gaza was like living in a giant prison. I began to question the logic of the two state solution. I learned about the rise of right wing extremism in Israeli politics. And slowly, bit by bit, the stories I had learned as a child began to unravel a the seams, creating space for a much more complex story to take its place.

Even as I began to question my Zionism, however, certain habits and reflexes of thought still remained. I would find myself instinctively grasping at straws to support claims I had already come to realize were unsupportable. Recently I encountered similar reflexes while teaching here in Taiwan. We are starting to get exchange students from China and during one lecture, after I said something mildly critical of China, one of these students spoke up to challenge what I said. I was actually quite happy about this because Taiwanese students are usually so passive in class that actually getting challenged by a student felt refreshing. But after the lecture the student came up to me and introduced herself. She said that she actually agrees with what I had said about China and that she’d come to Taiwan precisely to get exposed to more critical views, but that defending China’s honor had become a reflex for her so she’d spoken up without thinking. Nationalism works upon is in very deep ways which talk of “imagined communities” often fails to grasp.

Zionist reflexes are not unique to Jewish kids from NY. They seem to exist at a more general level in European and American public discourse as well. I see non-Jewish politicians, media personalities, and even academics reflexively defending Israel, portraying anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism, unquestioningly accepting the necessity of a two-state solution, and refusing to engage in any way with Palestinian political aspirations. It is as if the slightest break in our collective resolve would open the door to the ultimate evil. “Never again” means you are either “with us or against us” and the failure to be “with us” is too horrible to contemplate.

At a very basic level I supported the boycott resolution because I felt that it would open up a public space that would allow for questioning of these deeply ingrained assumptions. I don’t expect those people on Facebook who write “Disgusting” every time I post about the boycott to change their minds, but my public support of the boycott, and of the BDS movement more generally, has already sparked dozens of conversations with people who are genuinely curious and open-minded. In this sense the boycott resolution and the resulting discussion have already done a lot of the work I hoped they would, but I still think AAA members should vote for the boycott. In my next post I will try to explain one reason why I think an actual boycott, and not just this discussion about the boycott resolution, is still important.


  1. My brother went to a different Reform Hebrew school and had a very different experience, one that did indeed involve interesting discussions of ethics and philosophy. 
  2. Thanks to reader “yogi” for the correction. I obviously wasn’t paying enough attention in Hebrew school! (Or just have a lousy memory…) 

Smeared Disguises: A Reply to Hirschkind

(Savage Minds is pleased to present this occasional post by Gregory Starrett, professor of anthropology at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This piece is a response to Charles Hirschkind’s Savage Minds piece A Smear in Disguise: Comments on StarrettHirschkind was himself replying to Starrett’s essay in anthropology news, The Symbolic Violence of Choice -Rx)

I am grateful to Charles Hirschkind, whose intelligence and thoughtfulness I’ve always appreciated, for his sharp observations on my essay in Anthropology News. I argued there that voting on whether or not to have the American Anthropological Association officially approve the boycott of Israeli academic institutions was a form of symbolic violence, an occasion for the precipitation of identities through multiple calls to order. I apologize for the number of times Charles had to read the essay in order to find hidden messages which were never actually there.  So I will try to articulate its point more clearly below. His own exercise in eisegesis helps immensely with that task, because it works by attributing to me a set of political positions I do not hold, thereby pointedly illustrating the process I described. Continue reading

A Smear in Disguise: Comments on Starrett

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions is pleased to present  Charles Hirschkind‘s powerful rebuttal to Gregory Starrett’s recent essay in Anthropology News that discredits the call to boycott.

Voting on the resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions is open to all AAA members from April 15 – May 30. You can watch an informative webinar covering the basics of the boycott at this link — featuring anthropologists Ilana Feldman, Lisa Rofel, and Nadia Abu El-Haj. You can also read the AAA’s Israel-Palestine Task Force report here.

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A Smear in Disguise: Comments on Starrett

Charles Hirschkind

In “The Symbolic Violence of Choice” (Anthropology News, March 2, 2016), Gregory Starrett denounces the Resolution to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions currently being considered by AAA members on numerous grounds. Despite a thin and misleading veneer of impartiality, the essay is unequivocal both in its condemnation of the proposed resolution and its disparaging assessment of those who support it. Having read the piece a number of times now, I find it profoundly confused, a set of rhetorical feints disguised as an analysis. But given the timing of its publication, just before AAA members must decide on the boycott initiative, I feel that a serious response is necessary. Continue reading

Dialogue as Diversion

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions presents this incisive critique of the dialogue approach to ending the Israeli state’s occupation. Fida Adely and Amahl Bishara reveal how calls for dialogue mask a grossly asymmetric power relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

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 Know. VOTE YES on Resolution 2.

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Dialogue as Diversion

Fida Adely & Amahl Bishara

What types of engagement are needed to end decades of occupation and repression of Palestinian human rights? Some call for more dialogue and argue that if only those interested in peace on “both sides” talked to each other more, this conflict would end. However, dialogue by itself will never end occupation. Across academic, cultural, and political fields, calls for dialogue obscure the tremendous asymmetries between Israel and Palestinians. In this way many dialogue initiatives disguise the real issues of settler-colonialism, oppression, and occupation, and act as a kind of marketing tool rebranding the reality of separation and apartheid as a fantasy of “coexistence.” Continue reading