Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS

Savage Minds welcomes guest blogger Isaiah Silver, a pseudonym for two AAA members and Ph.D. candidates in anthropology.

In the 30 April edition of Anthropology News, the leadership of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) invited its members to “help the association decide on appropriate courses of action,” amid ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. The call came after continuing requests that the AAA join the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, that seeks to pressure Israel to end its discriminatory policies.

In that spirit, we would like to use this space in order to in kick off the conversation. Over the next month we will argue that BDS is a sensible response to ongoing Israeli violations of human rights; that endorsing an academic boycott is a moral obligation for scholars in general and anthropologists in particular; and that a BDS resolution would be consistent with past and current AAA statements and policies.

Before we begin, a word of caution and a plea for civility. Nothing seems to inspire more heated debate than the Palestine/Israel conflict. We welcome such debate and will take the time to respond to as many comments as possible. We will even dedicate our last post as guest bloggers to answering your questions. However, all too often these conversations quickly degrade into ad hominem and outright racist attacks. We therefore ask you to take a moment to review the Savage Minds comments policy.

With that in mind, let’s begin this discussion by reviewing what BDS is and why it has gained so much attention in recent years.

What Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Involves

In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, four-million Palestinians live under an illegal military occupation. The Israeli system of occupation affects nearly all aspects of daily life in Palestine, from the ability to move between cities to the ability to get clean drinking water, and from the right to live securely in one’s home to the ability to earn a decent living. Israel maintains hundreds of military checkpoints and roadblocks around the West Bank which, along with the  siege on Gaza, stifles the Palestinian economy.1 These measures also divide families, as the more than five million refugees who were expelled from their homes in 1948 and 1967 are denied a right to return. And since 2000, some 8,000 Palestinian children have been detained and prosecuted by the military courts, where they lack the basic rights of due process. Meanwhile, the 1.2 million Palestinians who are also citizens of Israel face not only widespread racism, but also have to contend with more than 50 different laws that discriminate against Palestinians in all areas of life.

The U.N. has repeatedly censured Israel’s belligerent military occupation and violation of international human rights. Despite this, Israeli policies continue unabated. Since the 1992 Oslo accords were signed, Israel has doubled its settler population, building oveDisappearing Palestiner 50,000 new homes in the West Bank. At the same time, the Israeli state destroyed some 15,000 Palestinian homes. Today, over 500,000 Israelis live on illegally occupied Palestinian lands while the Israeli government exerts direct control over 78% of historic Palestine.2 This situation is in no small part due to the continued unflinching support of the United States government, which provides more military aid to Israel than it does to any other country in the world.

Faced with the ongoing failure of the international community to bring about real change, in 2005, Palestinian civil society organizations called for a boycott of Israeli institutions, divestment from companies complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights, and sanctions against Israel until it ends discriminatory policies towards Palestinians. To date, the call has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian trade unions, political parties, and NGOs from across the political spectrum. These organizations are united around three common goals:

  • Ending the military occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war.
  • Recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian Citizens of Israel and providing them with full legal equality under the law.
  • Recognizing the rights of Palestinian refugees, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

The Palestinian call for boycott is inspired by the non-violent struggle of millions of South Africans against apartheid. As in the South African case, a boycott allows individuals to express moral and political condemnation, especially in the absence of effective government censure. As such, it is an instrument that groups make recourse to when no other means of action are available.

The BDS movement has inspired a diverse-range of campaigns from international solidarity activists, including divestment from companies implicated in the occupation, cultural boycotts of Israeli artists on state-sponsored tours, and refusing to partner with those institutions that directly benefit from the occupation.

The question for us as an academic organization is: how will we respond to this call for solidarity?

The Role of Academic Associations in BDS

While the broader call for BDS encompasses a diverse array of potential allies and targets, an academic boycott represents a more narrowly defined course of actions. Fortunately, in potentially formulating its own response to Palestinian civil society’s call, the AAA can build on the hard work already undertaken by other academic associations.3

The American Studies Association’s (ASA) pathbreaking 2013 boycott resolution – endorsed by a 2-1 margin in an unprecedented vote of the group’s full membership – provides a relevant example of how a similar AAA policy could be framed. It states that the ASA will no longer host representatives of the Israeli government, enter into partnership with Israeli academic institutions, or accept any funds from Israeli sources. (We will get more specific about the reasons for targeting Israeli academic institutions in our next post).

Importantly, the ASA resolution, like the broader BDS movement, does not target scholars on the basis of their nationality. Nor does it affect the behavior of individual members within the AAA. To give a parallel example: like the AAA, the ASA boycotts the Hyatt Hotel chain due to its poor labor practices. But neither organization can prevent you from staying at a Hyatt. Individuals and institutions who choose not to abide by the boycott are not punished in any way. A boycott is a simple and potent way to express our collective disapproval with the hotel chain’s violation of basic labor rights.

Coming from an association of academics, the ASA’s resolution has been especially effective at highlighting violations of Palestinians’ rights to education and academic freedom. Equally importantly, the resolution opens a space for discussing difficult but important topics such as ethnic cleansing, systematic racism, and U.S. support for Israel.

The Impact of BDS and Academic Boycotts

Academic boycotts have been a powerful tool in advocating for the fundamental human rights of Palestinians. We have some evidence that these boycotts, divestments, and sanctions are beginning to have a direct economic effect on Israeli businesses and international corporations that directly profit from the continued violence directed aganst Palestinians.

More importantly, the success of BDS tactics, including the endorsements by academic associations in the United States and Europe, have fundamentally altered the terms of debate in both Palestine/Israel and abroad. Israel has begun to consider the impact of BDS on its policies, recognizing that, increasingly, its violations of Palestinian human rights comes at a price. In the United States, BDS tactics have raised the profile of Israeli violations, bringing them to the attention of millions of Americans for the first time. Even Secretary of State John Kerry has noted the efficacy of BDS, warning the close U.S. ally that, because of the success of these campaigns, “Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary.” The movement is a clear instance of the power of ordinary citizens to affect positive change, even when our governments are resistant to it.

Over the next couple of posts, we will argue that we have a moral responsibility as academics to endorse the Palestinian call for boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and that it is especially important for us as anthropologists to do so. Until then, consider this: When the history of this period of the AAA is written, will we be proud of the way we championed human rights or worried that we stood idly by?

  1. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs under the occupied Palestinian territory maintains an updated list of checkpoints, roadblocks, and barriers in the West Bank on their website
  2. Visualizing Palestine has synthesized the changes in the population of West Bank settlements and destroyed Palestinian homes in this helpful graphic
  3. The most relevant resolutions for the AAA include those passed by the  American Studies Association ,the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, and the Association for Asian American Studies
Isaiah Silver

Isaiah Silver is a pseudonym for two AAA members and Ph.D. candidates in anthropology in Chicago. Both writers have lived and worked in Palestine and Israel on and off for over a decade.

46 thoughts on “Anthropologists Should Embrace BDS

  1. there is only one legitimate argument against BDS and that is that it unfairly singles out Israel for abuses that other countries are equally if not more guilty of committing. this is absolutely true, but it misses a very important point: unlike, say, kashmiris or tibetans or egyptians living under oppressive governments or even occupations, palestinians civil society has determined by an overwhelming margin that BDS is an important way to resist through non-violent means a brutal and illegal occupation that has had systematic and long term deleterious effects on Palestinian education. the evidence for this is absolutely incontrovertible. there is no way to explain away, justify, or deny how systematic, institutionalized and utterly immoral all the israeli practices that deny palestinians internationally recognized rights to education, or the fact that israeli academic institutions are very complicit in the machinery of occupation. Personally, i practice BDS against most governments and government educational institutions that participate in oppressive practices–i will not take money from the Chinese or Indian governments, for example, nor would i take money from the moroccans given the occupation of western sahara (never mind oppression of moroccans). nor will i ever take money from the US military/security/intelligence establishments. but there is a difference and that is that palestinians have specifically asked us to support them through BDS. For those who don’t want to or feel this is somehow unethical, i would urge you to do your research and learn about the violations and even, if possible, visit the Occupied Territories and see for your own eyes what the occupation has wrought. Then make an informed decision.

  2. Great beginning. One comment for accuracy’s sake, the third demand of BDS is to “respect, protect and promote” the right of return.

  3. Thanks for pointing this out. We chose to summarize the demands, rather than quote them verbatim. But for those interested, the exact phrasing, as stated on the BDS movement’s website, is that boycotts, divestments, and sanctions should continue until Israeli policy begins:

    3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

    Apologies for any confusion. Hope the web link helps if anyone is interested in looking more closely at the language used in the 2005 call.

  4. @Mark – “nor will i ever take money from the US military/security/intelligence establishments.” What about an NSF grant?

  5. If the authors are honest, they should also make clear that BDS is not about “occupation” but rather a movement motivated by obsessive hate of Jews, Zionism, and the Israeli state.
    While I completely understand the vulnerability of early-career academics, isn’t it difficult to have a “conversation” around such a polarizing issue with so little transparency?

  6. We have already listed the most basic reasons for endorsing the Palestinian call for BDS and you will notice that “obsessive hate” is not listed amongst them. We will take the time to address these sorts of spurious charges of anti-Semitism in our final post, where we will answer reader questions. For now, we would just like to point out that the ASA boycott’s preamble clearly states that its academic boycott stems from a position of anti-racism.

    Whereas the American Studies Association is committed to the pursuit of social justice, to the struggle against all forms of racism, including anti-semitism, discrimination, and xenophobia, and to solidarity with aggrieved peoples in the United States and in the world;

    As we will discuss in a future post, we hope that the AAA’s past and present commitment to social justice and anti-racism will lead it in a similar direction.

    For a longer rebuttal of the spurious charge that BDS is motivated by anti-Semitism, see: Steven Salaita’s “Stop the Nonsense: Nobody is Proposing a Boycott of ‘the Jews.'”
    For one of the many condemnations of anti-Semitism from some of the leaders of the BDS movement, see the report “Granting No Quarter

  7. As anthropologists, I think its important that our deliberations about this issue involve good social science, including accounts of motivation. Ezra do you have any actual evidence for the motives you assign to the authors? Because if not, then… yeah. I think on a social science blog we are hoping for more than that.

    Also, the emotional motivations for an argument don’t necessarily invalidate the logic and evidence behind an argument. I may be driven by strong emotional commitments when I oppose creationism, for instance, but that doesn’t invalidate the many reasons creationist arguments are invalid — in fact it does not even address them.

    There are many arguments against BDS, but speculation about the emotional motivations of those who advocate for it are not among them.

  8. A small but important point: the Association for Asian American Studies was actually the first US academic organization to vote to support BDS. It did so a full seven months before ASA did, and got severely criticized in the press for doing so. At the ASA convention in Washington, DC, Angela Davis specifically gave credit to AAAS and said the ASA needed to “catch up” with the AAAS in this regard. Native American and Indigenous Studies Assoc also has endorsed BDS.

  9. Thank you for this very important point. We didn’t mean to take away any of the credit due to the AAAS, and their resolution should certainly be studied by us anthropologists as well.

  10. Also, as you write, it could be good to be in touch with PACBI (Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) for advice, especially on how the boycott of institutions might work. There are some blurry lines that PACBI has ironed out in order to ensure individuals are not the target of academic boycott, and if you have questions about this I’m sure they would be willing to answer them. Being in touch also ensures the Palestinians are involved in hashing out the arguments that concern them. Again, great start and good luck.

  11. Thank you to the authors for starting this conversation; it is much needed. While I agree with Rex that as social scientists we need to keep speculation regarding emotion out of this conversation, at the same time, I do understand Ezra’s concerns. At this point what I am seeing here, as well as in the original article in Anthropology News, is a one-sided conversation. Both pieces have been written as if it is a foregone conclusion that the Israeli state and its supporters are at fault and the Palestinians are innocent victims with an indisputable right to the land in question. In order to advance the conversation and provide a more nuanced analysis of the topic at hand, I think it would be useful for the original authors to think about the following.

    The authors do not explore in any meaningful way the broader issues and consequences surrounding the “occupation;’ namely why was the land known as the “occupied territories” occupied in the first place? It is understandable that to many, the goals of BDS (ending military occupation, equality under the law, and right of return) are worthwhile. But, Omar Bargouti, one of the founders of BDS, has advocated a one state solution, which means, “a unitary state, where, by definition, Jews will be a minority.” So Israel withdraws its troops from the “occupied territories,” the Jewish state is dismantled, and a new Palestinian state takes its place. But then what? Would that lead to a true and lasting peace in the region? Would Hamas, whose 1988 charter states (Article 6) that the organization “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine,” cease hostilities against its minority Jewish citizens? What would be the repercussions of destroying the worlds only Jewish state? What are the potential political consequences of taking down the only stable democratic state in the middle east? Most importantly,what form would human rights take in a newly created Palestine, likely led by Hamas and Fatah? How would a Palestinian government treat its LGBT citizens? What about women? Would Jews be welcome to live and practice their faith in the newly formed state? These are all things that need to be considered in depth to move the conversation forward.

    Additionally, the authors play the emotion card by bringing “children” into the equation, which is not a useful tactic. Are we talking about 5 year olds or 17 year olds, because there is a big difference. The “children” cited in the referenced article are between the ages of 12-17. Keep in mind that the referenced article was published on the website of an independent Palestinian NGO (affiliated with a larger international organization). The DCI Palestine Section is based in Ramallah, sets its own agenda and like many NGO’s adjusts its strategies to the particular context in which it is operating. The article states that the “children” were arrested for throwing stones, but Israeli NGOs report that the “stones” are in many cases large chunks of concrete, some thrown through the windscreens of moving vehicles and as such can cause serious injury and death. All of this just to point out that there are multiple ways of interpreting data and for every article published by a Palestinian NGO, there is another, conflicting article published by an Israeli NGO.

    Lastly, I would like to have the authors discuss the reasons for remaining anonymous. In a conversation such as this, I agree with Ezra that transparency is key. What stake do the authors have in this debate? Are they Palestinian? Are they Israeli? Are they American? Is there an agenda that is not being expressed openly? If, as Ezra suggests, these PhD candidates are concerned with their future careers, then why enter the conversation at all? It seems rather disingenuous and cowardly to write about such a divisive topic from behind the safety and anonymity of a pseudonym.

  12. I don’t really get why BDS in considered to be non-violent. In the classical sense, yes, there is no blunt and direct physical violence involved. Yet, I do think that banning a whole nation of diverse people, and especially the academic community of this nation, is a violent act. It erases complexities, diversity, and so on, as you all know. I do not know what my stand on this is. I’m an Israeli MA student of Sociology, surrounded by the most active left-winged activists here, in the academia and outside of it (my opinions being the same as theirs most of the time…). But I have not made up my mind and I feel ashamed to say this. I do think it is violent to boycott Israel’s academic community (as in all the other times this has been done in different places). I also think this should be an issue for debate – why it’s labeled “non-violence.” Yeah, maybe violence needs to be involved in ending the occupation, but let’s not make this clear-cut distinction about which category BDS falls into.

  13. As the article mentions, the BDS movement has three goals:

    Ending the military occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war.
    Recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian Citizens of Israel and providing them with full legal equality under the law.
    Recognizing the rights of Palestinian refugees, as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

    The first two goals are pretty transparent and easy to get behind. But does everyone voting for the resolution understand what the third goal even means? What does UN Resolution 194 say?

  14. @Robert: Thank you for your comment. You raise a number of important issues to consider, most of which require far more space than a blog post permits to fully answer. For instance, we do not have the space to go into the full history of the post-67 occupation. There are, by now, numerous excellent articles and books on the history of 67, its consequences, and the illegality of the resulting occupation. For those interested, we would be happy to supply more references.

    To get to some of your other questions. First, BDS does not take any position on what the ultimate political outcome of the Palestine/Israel conflict ought to be, only that the three principles named in the post be respected. Most of the 170 Palestinian organizations that have endorsed the call support a two-state solution. Others, as you point out, support a one-state solution. International supporters endorse everything from a zero-state solution to a confederated state to agnosticism on the ultimate state form.

    What unites these diverse political groups is the belief that respecting the basic human rights of all people who live in the land is a precondition to any final outcome. As Omar Barghouti puts it in his book, BDS: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights:

    While individual BDS activists and advocates may support diverse political solutions, the BDS movement as such does not adopt any specific formula and steers away from the one-state-versus-two-states debate, focusing instead on universal rights and international law, which constitute the solid foundation of the Palestinian consensus around the campaign.

    The AAA resolution should follow the lead of the BDS movement in endorsing a rights-based approach.

    Furthermore, we believe anthropologists should be especially wary of arguments in support of the occupation that rely on an underlying logic of “Israel is civilized, Palestinians are barbaric.” Such a logic is evident in the claim that ending Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights would inevitably lead to Palestinian violations of the rights of Jewish citizens. In fact, apologists of the occupations have repeatedly told us that Palestinian self-determination and human rights are somehow mutually exclusive. But to quote Jasbir Puar, such arguments not only “dilute solidarity with the Palestinian cause by reiterating the terms upon which Israel justifies its violence,” it also problematically reproduces the notion that, “Palestinians are too backwards, uncivilised, and unmodern to have their own state, much less treat homosexuals properly.”

    We have seen this talking point before. In 1986, William Saffire argued that the end of apartheid in South Africa would lead to “the same kind of black rule that exists elsewhere in Africa, and most white South Africans would rather remain the oppressors than become the oppressed.” He was wrong then and the implication that an end to the Israeli occupation necessarily entails the oppression of Jewish citizens is wrong now. We urge the AAA reject such a colonial approach and take action to protect the human rights of all people who call Palestine/Israel home.

    In sum: the academic boycott, like the BDS movement more broadly, emerges out of a strong commitment to ending all forms of racism and a commitment to human rights for all who live in the land. Endorsing the academic boycott would be an effective endorsement of this non-violent, rights-based approach.

    Finally, a note on pseudonyms: We have chosen to remain anonymous because we want these blog posts to be judged on their own merit, rather than on who the authors are. Many academics have taken pseudonyms for any number of reasons and calling this decision “cowardly” is both uninformed and unsubstantiated. When we began to discuss the possibility of writing something on an academic boycott, we were repeatedly advised by our friends, colleagues, and advisors to remain anonymous. We have taken their advice. We have no secret agenda, other than that advocating that the AAA live up to its rich tradition of speaking out and taking action in defense of human rights (we will cover this in more detail in a future post). And anyway, we trust that our fellow anthropologists are smart enough to hold a mature and sophisticated debate on this important issue. That said, to satisfy your morbid curiosity: Isaiah Silver is a collaboration between one Israeli-Jewish expat and one conservative Jewish-American.

  15. @Ben: UN 194 calls for a resolution of the refugee crisis provoked by the expulsion of nearly 1 million Palestinians from their homes during the 1948 war, in accordance with international law. For more on Palestinian refugees, we recommend purusing the website of BADIL.

    Following the lead of other scholarly associations, we believe that a AAA resolution ought to be tailored to the nature of a disciplinary organization, specifically highlighting violations of academic freedom and the abuse of anthropological knowledge in service of occupation. We say this, in part, after having studied the effective types of resolutions passed by other academic organizations. But we do not claim to be the gatekeepers of resolution-writing and welcome this conversation over what the exact wording of the AAA’s resolution ought to be. In any case, we’ll get into some of these details a bit more in future posts.

  16. @Michelle: Boycotts have a long and established history as a non-violent tool. As we stated in the original post, BDS does not target individual scholars. Unless you are also a representative of the Israeli state, you, Michelle, would not be banned from participating in future AAA conferences. The AAA, however, would refuse to enter into any formal partnership with your institution, given its complicity in ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights. We will cover the reasons for targeting Israeli academic institutions more in the next post.

  17. @Isaiah: I appreciate the pointers to BADIL, and I hope that the readers of this blog will take the opportunity to educate themselves about the plight of Palestinian refugees and their descendents. Nevertheless, I believe it would be useful to have some more clarify about what sort of resolution of the refugee problem is envisioned here, since the terms of the resolution do suggest that Israeli anthropologists will be banned from various academic activities even if every single Israeli soldier will pull out of the West Bank, so long as the 194 resolution isn’t implemented.

  18. @Ben: First, apologies for the slow moderation. We had not been aware that comment was approved until now.

    As for your questions: we feel they are indeed important ones, albeit largely outside of the scope of BDS. As we mentioned in an earlier comment, the BDS movement does not endorse specific political positions. UN 194 is enshrined in international law. The Israeli state formally committed itself to implementing the resolution as a condition for admission into the United Nations (see the preamble of UN Res 273). As a rights-based movement, BDS includes support for the rights of Palestinian refugees enshrined in law. Asking this diverse grassroots coalition to produce specific policy proposals though misses the point. Furthermore, we believe that the role of the AAA, as an American scholarly association, is to put pressure on Israel, not to dictate a policy solution from the outside (that will need to be figure out after the occupation ends, by Palestinian and Jewish citizens who reside in the region).

    Finally, a small correction. You wrote that “Israeli anthropologists will be banned from various academic activities” under an academic boycott. That is inaccurate. Academic boycotts, like the broader BDS movement, does not target individuals. Israeli anthropologists would still be welcome to participate at the AAA annual meeting and other academic activities, so long as they are not also representatives of the Israeli state (i.e. a spokesperson for a government agency) or institution (i.e. the President of a University). As we will cover in the next post, an academic boycott targets institutions like Israeli universities that are complicit in the denial of Palestinians’ basic human rights.

  19. As Isaiah and Ben mention above, a comment appeared here and was then removed. Just to clarify what happened: when a comment is submitted to our blog, it passes through a standard spam filter. that filter approves it, holds it for manual moderation, or deletes it. We do not normally hold every comment for mandatory approval (although we do do this in certain cases when comments get out of hand).

    The comment in question was approved by our spam filter. Angela, our comment moderating intern at SM and I then emailed back and forth about whether it should be removed or not. At the end of the day despite its strong language we couldn’t see any specific way that it violated our comment policy, so we let it stay. The guest blogger then exercised their discretion and removed it (as near as I can tell).

    I’m totally fine with Isaiah’s decision since it was a borderline comment and the decision to moderate it could have gone either way. I just wanted to be transparent since in the past people have wanted to know how specifically we handle comment moderation.

    Just FYI.

    Since I have your attention, I also wanted to mention that our comment policy asks that readers keep their comments to 500 words or less, just for brevity’s sake and because it helps the conversation flow relatively naturally. I don’t strictly enforce this many times, but if they feel like it contributors to this comment thread might want to try compressing their comments down a bit, just in the name of economy. Or not. I personally enjoy trying to squeeze a thought into 500 words, but I recognize that that’s just me.

    Cheers and thanks for the very cordial discussion on this post. I’m glad to see things have not melted down.

  20. Let’s not forget please that the position of doing research in the US and boycotting Israel is also a strong manifestation of power relations. Disembedding Israel’s policies in the West Bank from Western political agendas, and more specifically from US foreign policy, is a nice way to keep US scholars ‘clean’. The big difference between Israel and South Africa doesn’t lie in the level of the discrimination of minorities, but rather in the fact that Israel is operated by international players, and will continue to be so as long as it is isolated by initiatives as this one. In the end of the day the BDS can be morally just, only if it is combined with an intelligent and active opposition against the US foreign agendas. Would any US American scholars even conceive of the possibility of being boycotted? It is so far fetched because in light of a world order and a hegemony in the academy that posts like this ignore. Aren’t anthropologist known for emphasizing the deep structural forces? Unless this is done, any academic BDS will fail to address the full picture, fail the change the system that fuels the occupation, and above all would do nothing to improve the living condition of Palestinians in Israel and the OT.

  21. Thanks for the clarifications, Isaiah. If Israel has already accepted UN Resolution 194, I’m still not sure I understand why that demand is even part of the terms of the boycott. Put another way, it’s still not clear to me under what circumstances the boycott will be lifted (again, assuming that the occupation of the West Bank ended and all laws that discriminate against Israeli Palestinians were repealed).

    Regarding which academic activities fall under the scope of the boycott, your position appears very reasonable (and refreshingly explicit) to me. But as you’re surely aware it is just one of several interpretations of the academic and cultural boycott. Another very common interpretation is that everyone who’s funded by Israeli state agencies is considered to be a representative of the state. Judith Butler, for example, said at some point in the discussions of the ASA boycott that Israeli academics should not be able to attend conferences if their travel to the conference was funded by the Israeli government. It would probably be a good idea to incorporate these clarifications into the eventual resolution.

  22. @Ben: The problem is that while Israel has accepted UN 194 as legally binding, it refuses to implement it, effectively denying the rights of over 5 million refugees. Hence, the third demand of BDS: that the human rights of Palestinian refugees be respected.

    As you point out, there are small differences between the different academic boycotts. Personally, we think that the final text of the ASA boycott resolution should serve as a model for the AAA, which is why we have referenced it several times. But our goal here is not to dictate the exact language of a future AAA resolution. Our goal is much more humble: to argue that an academic boycott resolution is appropriate, just, and sensible action for the AAA to undertake. The hard work of writing, editing, and circulating such a resolution for comments comes later.

  23. 500 words is not enough to present the completely different narrative I would like to present; so I’ll mention just a few points. I’ll begin with the image titled “Disappearing Palestine”. This is a misrepresentation on a few counts. The first map is titled Palestine 1946, this gives a mistaken impression that a Palestinian state once existed and Israel has taken it over. Such a state in fact never existed. In the third map in the row, “Between 1948-1967” the area that is titled “Palestine”, was in fact ruled by Jordan and Egypt. This was not a Palestinian state and what is more important, no demands were made during these years to free these areas occupied by Egypt and Jordan and to turn them into a Palestinian state. At that time the efforts of Palestinian organizations and states were directed only at “freeing” the rest of Palestine from Jewish presence. All this leads one to consider that what is at stake is not creating a Palestinian state but doing away with the Jewish one.
    I contest the authors claim that fundamental rights of Israeli Palestinians within the green line are being denied. There may be some covert discrimination (as might be expected in a state of ongoing enmity), and they are denied national rights, but not human rights. Compare this with the de-facto reality – that no Jews can live in Palestinian controlled territories, and any self-identifying Jew who ventures in to their territories for any purpose other than supporting the Palestinian cause puts his life at risk (this is the case in fact in most Arab states).
    Finally, and most importantly, I am convinced that I speak for the (small) majority of Israelis when I posit that although occupation is a bad thing (and it is a bad thing), it is basically the Palestinians fault. The Israelis who stood behind the Oslo process were prepared to grant Palestinians independence in a gradual process. They didn’t agree then, or at later peace talks during Ehud Barack’s regime, because they are not willing to give up their demand for the repatriation of the refugees. The writers might consider this a just demand, but it would in fact mean the end of a Jewish state. To expect Israeli Jews to live as a minority seems especially detached from recent events taking place in various locations in the Arab world where no consideration is given to human rights of any sort. Furthermore, Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip and has been “rewarded” with countless missiles. The Israeli siege of Gaza began only in response to these missiles. By the way, that the siege could not work without the Egyptians, who share a border with the Gaza strip, taking a part in it, so maybe they should be banned as well.

  24. @Isaiah: Of course, but what constitutes a satisfactory implementation of UN Resolution 194 that would lead to the end of the boycott? I know very little about the debate around this resolution, but my impression is that there are diverging legal opinions about the number of people that fall under the scope of that resolution three and four generations after the Naqba, the rights it guarantees to those who do, and so on. My guess is that many of the members of the AAA are even less versed in this debate, so I believe it would be useful to spell out in more detail what it is exactly that Israel is expected to do.

  25. @Isaiah: In your reply to my concerns, you write that “BDS does not take any position on what the ultimate political outcome of the Palestine/Israel conflict ought to be, only that the three principles named in the post be respected.” Fine. But what does that mean exactly? It seems morally and ethically irresponsible to get behind a movement that, if it comes to fruition as the organizers have envisioned it, could potentially destabilize the entire region. Are we just going to wring out hands and say that we weren’t concerned with the outcome, only the enforcement of principles? There seems to be no “end game” here. The movement, at least as you have framed it, is so focused on the enforcement of the ‘three principles,’ that there is no consideration given to the consequences. Have you played the various scenarios forward and though about the outcomes?

  26. @Robert: Despite the first name, we are not prophets and do not claim to know the future. But the present situation on the ground in Palestine/Israel is unjust and unsustainable. We therefore believe that the AAA has a duty to speak out on these issues and contribute to building a better future.

  27. @Ben: We will cover this more in the final Q&A post, but asking the BDS movement to produce specific policy proposals, as you have done, misses the point. BDS and academic boycotts endorse the very broad human rights principles that must underlie a just end to the conflict. These include respecting the rights of the more than 5 million Palestinian refugees (that number comes from UNRWA and is the number of refugees as defined by international law). The details you are asking for are very important, but they are beyond the scope of BDS. After all, a boycott is about withdrawing support from oppressive institutions, not prescribing final outcomes.

  28. “3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.”

    While this particular, duly circumcised, Jew has little sympathy for the state of Israel, at least in its present form, the notion that Palestinian refugees would be permitted to return to their former homes and properties strikes me as more than a little bit meshugah. What if a similar resolution were to permit descendents of American Indians to take possession of the lands they once occupied? Or permit descendants of the Nervii, displaced from their ancestral lands by Julius Caesar’s legions, to repossess the lands they once occupied? (Thanks to the current state of DNA research, at least some such individuals could possibly be identified.)

    While the Palestinians in question do seem to have been dispossessed illegally, the past is the past, and attempts to write the wrongs of the past in such a heavy handed fashion strike me as, to say the least, counterproductive.

    Which brings me to a question I’ve long puzzled over: has either side considered the alternative of compensating those dispossessed Palestinians for the property they lost? If that problem is ever going to be resolved that strikes me as the sensible way to handle it.

  29. @dcgee, there has been talk about monetary compensation for refugees descendants. This would be a good place to interject that around the same amount of Jews were expelled from Arab countries and forced to leave all their property behind at around the same time. These Jewish refugees from Arab countries lived in complete squalor for many years. If there is to be compensation it would have to go both ways. Arab countries compensating Jewish refugees and their descendants and Israel compensating Palestinian refugees and their descendants. Since the numbers are more or less the same it would even out in the end.

  30. I won’t argue such details with you David, because the principal point is whether or not compensation would be acceptable as a reasonable alternative for the “right of return.” If it would be, then it looks like we have our solution and there should be no serious barrier to the two state solution. Unless of course the Palestinians insist on taking this literally — in which case there will never be a solution.

  31. Ok. Let’s also boycott Saudi, where a million Filipino OFW aren’t allowed to worship, risk losing their job if caught, forced to discard their bibles and rosaries on arriving at the airport, and of course, no church is allowed to be built.

    The only reason you want to boycott Israel is that they won’t hurt you, and of course, it’s the latest PC trend. Excuse my cynicism.
    If you really want to help them, why not insist Mrs Arafat give back some of the money her husband stole from them?

  32. @Miguel: This is the second time in this short comments thread we have been accused of having some ulterior motive. We will cover the reasons for what defenders of Israeli occupation call “singling out” Israel in our final Q&A post, though (spoiler alert) the first comment from Mark Levine already covers this in large part.

    When we decided to write a post advocating that the AAA endorse BDS we expected some people would disagree. But we thought the disagreements would be a bit more sophisticated than these sort of ad hominem attacks. If the best arguments for rejecting such a move is that we have been manipulated by (or are part of, as was implied by an earlier comment) a global BDS conspiracy, then we are confident that passing a BDS resolution at the AAAs will be easier than we had anticipated.

  33. I believe enforcing a boycott at the institutional level will create more problems for the AAA than the benefits that it is assumed to provide. The first issue is that however justified taking a stand against Israeli policies may be, it is impossible to enforce a boycott against a single state and its institutions without being inconsistent elsewhere. If the political/ethical stance justifying an institutional boycott in this instance were to be applied consistently, the AAA would have to seriously consider boycotts of institutions in many parts of the world from China to Russia to India to Egypt. It may be true that the initiative has been started by Palestinian civil society activists, but the AAA should not be placed in a situation where it has to adjudicate between which struggles deserve institutional support and which do not. This will be an issue regardless of who initiates such movements. The second issue is related to the first, and is the problem that boycotts are often (or rather risk being seen) as more statements about the identity and ethical stance of the boycotter than something that pragmatically contributes to alleviating the problem the boycott targets. This may not be a problem for the supporters of a boycott (after all, does not one want to be on the “right side of history”), but it is important to recognize that given the current difficulties facing the AAA (notably right-wing hostility to the discipline), a boycott will do more to reinforce uninformed prejudices than to change minds and policy. The latter can be done more effectively by what ethnographers can potentially do the best, providing nuanced and challenging accounts that encourage students (and hopefully a wider audience in the United states) to reconsider assumptions about Israel/Palestine and to empathize with the plight of local actors under occupation and the moral paradoxes of all the actors caught up in the structures of violence. To take an institutional stance, however, forces us to take a position that may feel morally clear, but arguably inhibits the ability for anthropologists associated with the AAA to undertake research. Political engagement is best undertaken on the terms of individual members and their interlocutors. An institutional stand limits the agency (and interpretive agency) individual members have over their individual work and politics. Given the already mentioned inconsistency of boycotts in the larger geopolitical arena, a boycott challenges the ability of individual members to stake out their own situated and credible political positions. This comes to the third issue that even if a majority of AAA members supported a boycott, that will still leave a minority who will be placed in an uncomfortable position of contemplating leaving the AAA. No matter how clear the issue may be the other members, it makes little sense to create further controversy for the organization, especially given the factional tempests of the last few years. There are ways to address the struggle of Palestinians as anthropologists, but a AAA institutional boycott will do more to damage the organization than make a meaningful contribution to a more equitable world.

  34. @consequences: You raise a number of important points to consider. Many of these will be covered in greater detail in future posts, including the final Q&A post. As we are working on those future posts, we can’t give you the longer response that it deserves. Briefly, however:

    Boycotts are a tactic. They are not appropriate for every situation around the world. As USACBI notes, boycotts are an effective tool when:

    a) The country or corporation aimed at must be vulnerable economically or culturally to sanctions or boycott as a result of its connections with, or dependence on, the nations whose publics boycott it.
    b) There must be a relatively open public sphere in the nation boycotted in order for their public to influence their leaders. Hence a boycott of a dictatorship is usually ineffectual, as sanctions were on Iraq, where people who had no influence on their government were the ones who suffered.
    c) The boycotted nation’s public must care about the opinion of those boycotting them. This is particularly the case with Israel, as it was with South Africa, since their populations largely wish to be counted among “civilized” or “democratic” western nations.
    d) The boycott must have clear goals that are realizable by the nation boycotted, like conforming to international law and humanitarian norms, ending an occupation or blockade, dismantling a racist or apartheid system, negotiating in good faith, etc.

    The AAA should not be in the business of going around the world ranking human rights abusers. That said, if say, if a united civil society movement of any other country comes to us in order to mobilize for a boycott of their universities, we hope that the AAA would seriously consider their request. Unless and until that happens we should respond to the requests for boycotts we receive by seriously evaluating whether they have merit, whether adopting this tactic is effective, and whether it makes sense for the AAA. In the case of boycotting Israel, the answer to all three is yes.

    We might also ask what applying your standards would mean for our boycott of the Hyatt hotel chain (or any other boycott). When the AAA was asked by Hyatt workers to boycott their hotel, we did not first launch a commission to investigate and rank every single hotel in America to determine if Hyatt was the worst employer or just a really bad one. Instead, we listened to the workers, thought about whether a boycott was a sensible tactic in this situation, and, when we determined that it was, agreed to comply with the workers’ requests.

    Importantly, the AAA took collective action against the Hyatt hotels for its labor abuses. We could, as you suggest we do for Palestine/Israel, have left it up to individual members to “engage,” “educate,” and “develop empathy” for Hyatt’s workers. But that would have been a terribly ineffective tactic that did not respond to what workers called upon us to do. Then as in now, “doing nothing” is not an option. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” We hope that the AAA will not remain silent on this critical issue.

    Nor do not understand why you think adopting an institutional stand against Israeli occupation would “limit the agency of individual anthropologists.” We know a good many anthropologists and very few are shy about their personal politics. As we said in the original post, our boycott against Hyatt hotels does not prevent you from staying at one on your vacation, in the event that you do not feel compelled to express solidarity with the chain’s workers.

    Finally, we believe that our discipline should do what it has always done: stand up for what it right, rather than what is politically convenient. That said, we should note that ASA membership actually grew following the boycott.

  35. Hello,
    You write that “…more than five million refugees who were expelled from their homes in 1948 and 1967 are denied a right to return.” While there are around five million descendants of refugees today, the number who were expelled in 1948 and 1967 is much smaller.
    Otherwise a well done piece, Thank you

  36. @Isaiah: I brought up your lack of engagement with “the occupation” in reference to the BDS demand of “ending the military occupation of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war.” I take issue with comments such as this simply being brushed off with a few links to biased materials that clearly favour your agenda.

    Part of the BDS narrative, as I understand it, reads as follows: During the Six Day War, Israel captured the West Bank from the Palestinians. Then despite UN pleas to return the land, built illegal Israeli settlements and the Palestinians in the West Bank now live under brutal military occupation. But an alternative narrative, the one which I happen to believe, tells a different story. My narrative begins with the question “Who did the Israeli’s capture the West Bank from?” The answer – not the Palestinians – because in 1967 there was no nation, Arab or otherwise, by the name of Palestine and in reality, there never has been. Israel took over the West Bank from Jordan in an act of self defense after Jordan joined a war started by Egypt and Syria, the aim of which was to destroy the state of Israel. Jordan had no legal claim over the West Bank at that time either – it simply seized what has been known for centuries as Judea and Samaria and changed the name to the West Bank. So, in my view (and I am certainly not alone in this) a nation of “Palestine” never existed and Jordan had no legal claim to Judea and Samaria in the first place. The point here is that, again, you are basing the argument for a boycott on “facts” but whose “facts” are they?

    Of course, the reality is that many Arabs do live under Israeli rule in Judea and Samaria and elsewhere, and conditions for many are not ideal. But for an organization such as the AAA to come to any kind of resolution, either for or against a boycott, it is crucial to present more than one history of the conflict; to do so otherwise would be irresponsible.

  37. @Robert: As a young senator from Illinois once said: You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts. In this case, the lie that Palestinians magically popped into being in 1967 comes from the long-since discredited work of Joan Peters). As Rashid Khalidi, Joel Migdal, and Baruch Kimmerling (and many others) have each demonstrated over and over in their research, there has been a coherent Palestinian identity for centuries. And as the links you wish to quickly dismiss mention, there are serious flaws in the way you describe the 1967 war as well.

    Denying the existence of the Palestinian people is simply not reality-based and has no more place within a sensible debate over how best to respond to ongoing Israeli violations of human rights than do anti-Semitic or Islamophobic comments. This is not “complicated” or a matter of “hearing both sides.” It is a matter of fact plain and simple. Anyway, do you think there is a mass conspiracy amongst millions of people to fool the world into believing that Palestinians are real?

    Moreover, even if your revisionist history were somehow true, it does not change the facts on the ground. Israel maintains laws that discriminate against 20% of its citizens and more than 50% of the people it rules over. There is no possible justification for that. And the AAA and all other people of good conscience ought to recognize that and do what we can to bring about a just end to this situation based upon human rights.

  38. I’m delighted this conversation is happening and support AAA endorsing Palestinian calls for BDS and PACBI.

    In response to Ben and other comments about UN Res. 94, I think it’s important to note that legal scholars repeatedly emphasize that the legal right of Palestinians to return to their homes is an individual one that can’t be given away (e.g., in negotiations by Abbas). By including the right of return as one of the conditions for ending the boycott, the BDS movement continues to underscore that the heart of the conflict is not the 1967 Occupation but the 1948 dispossession of Palestinians which continues. The most detailed plan I’ve seen demonstrating the material feasibility for repatriating refugees to Israel-Palestine is one by Dr. Salman Abu-Sitta ( It’s from about a decade ago but still seems applicable. His data showed then that about 77% of Israeli Jews live on 15% of the land and that 90% of refugees would be returning to empty sites ( However, I agree that it’s not AAA’s role to determine how this condition would be met.

  39. First: What would an AAA boycott of academic institutions entail exactly (The ASA resolution is vague). You list: (1) not hosting reps from the Israeli govt, (2) not partnering with Israeli academic institutions, and (3) not accepting funds from Israeli sources, but how many Isreali govt reps have visited the AAA lately? When has the AAA partnering with academic institutions? And how much money from “Israeli sources” has it received? (By “israeli sources” do you mean individuals, like membersheep fees from residents of Israel? Does that mean banning AAA membership to Israelis? Probaby not?). It just seems to me that this is more barking than biting…
    Second: Should the AAA consider a boycott of the US until the US leaves Guantanamo and pays reparations to Iraq and Afghanistan for the illegal invasion and occupation that left those countries in even more disarray that they had before? I agree with some commentators above, that picking and choosing human rights violators to boycott is tricky….

  40. I would heed Chomsky,0 and propose that an anthropological association inform a better proposal than BDS otherwise what is the point in learning about human contexts.

    And my own 2 anthropological cents .

    I guess my recommendation is the AAA commissioning a more informed version of BDS and sharing it with BDS campaigners so they can update themselves. One part of this would be highlighting and standing in solidarity with the efforts in Israel by Israelis to reform the Israeli State, the other would be doing anthropology.

    Finally I tentatively consider this to be a situation of civil war working for the benefit of capital – I will not be tumbled into action by the shock tactics at play, more haste less speed.

    Thank you for bringing this up, it is needed.

  41. @rebel: The exact nature of an academic boycott would depend upon the wording of a resolution and the administration of the AAA. The USACBI guidelines for a boycott can be accessed here. As the recent Anthropology News piece, points out, the impact of a BDS resolution is not merely economic, but also symbolic. And as anthropologists, we know the value of effective symbolic acts better than anyone else.

    We answer the accusation about “singling out” Israel in our fifth and final post. As we say there, the objection that we are “picking and choosing” is not really an objection to this boycott, so much as an objection to any boycott. You can see the fuller version of our response here:

    Also worth reiterating that your secondary question has also already been addressed in other forums, including by USACBI, whose entire FAQ we highly recommend:

    Who should we boycott? Answer: “ The country or corporation aimed at must be vulnerable economically or culturally to sanctions or boycott as a result of its connections with, or dependence on, the nations whose publics boycott it. A boycott of the EU, US or China would probably be politically futile because economically ineffectual, much as we might desire it in principle. A boycott of Caterpillar would be difficult for most private citizens to enact, given that we do not often purchase bulldozers.”

    That said, as we note in our Q&A post, adopting a BDS resolution neither compels nor forbids us from taking effective action on any other issue, if it is warranted. If you or anyone else would like to make an argument that we ought censure another entity – via boycott or any other means – we will gladly listen respectfully to the arguments for doing so. All we ask, is that we treat this issue the exact same way we have and would treat any other boycott proposal.

  42. @Abraham: We are skeptical that a group of U.S. anthropologists who are not engaged in the region could come up with a more informed position than a united Palestinian civil society who lives through this each and every day. Since you raise the issue of supporting individual Israelis (who come from a population, it is worth noting, that is not under occupation) who oppose their country’s occupation and systematic discrimination, we’d point out that there are also a number of Israeli organizations – such as Zochrot, Adalah, and Boycott from Within – who have already endorsed BDS. Our resolution would certainly help them out as well. But it’s also worth noting that this boycott isn’t actually about Israelis, it is rather about the population enduring a decades-long occupation. And denying their voices in this process is no more acceptable than anthropologists who would lecture their ethnographic informants about how best to live their lives.

  43. Thanks for those at the AAA who worked to engage the association with the question of the academic boycott of Israel. Thanks also for the graduate students who put forward this blog and are managing the commentary and discussion which requires a lot of work. Their choice of remaining anonymous is understandable, which related to a core issue of why boycotting Israel will allow more openness in the academia, can help explain why the boycott resolution is important, and hopefully in the future will make people feel safe to declare their identity when discussing such a topic.

    First, I do not think that we should be involved in the discussion of finding political solutions, but rather focus on whether it is warranted for the AAA to endorse an academic boycott resolution against Israel and why. (please read my next post)

  44. The main question that keeps being repeated again and again is whether a boycott resolution singles out Israel as compared to for example China, Russia, Saudi Arabia…and so on.
    Some have pointed out that the campaign for boycott is in response to a call by the Palestinian Civil Society.
    I think there are other reasons, and so important for Americans, but also other countries as well.
    I could go on and on about the racism embedded in the Israeli educational system against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. I could go on and on about the Israeli manipulation of education to pacify, and control its Palestinian citizens including who is allowed to study, who passes, and what grade one receives. There are several books on the this subject. The recent one by Ahmad Sa’di has a full chapter on the subject with references to Israeli internal records (government, and security branches).
    I could go on and on about the way Israel limits and has been destroying the educational system in areas colonized in 1967; not allowing students and faculty to move freely, not allowing easy academic exchange with international students and faculty who would like to study or teach at Palestinian academic institutions. A lot of this info is available at PACBI, USACBI websites among other sources.
    But I think there something that singles out Israel that we need not to forget in the discussion about the history and political solutions to the “problem.”
    There is no other country like Israel that requires from the U.S. so much investment (economic, military, diplomatic…). There is no other country that the U.S. vetoes resolutions against at the UN. There is not one similar topic that is so censored in the U.S academy like Israel and Zionism, which impacts graduate students, faculty hiring, and promotions. If one is part of the elite and or has an elite support than things will be easier, yet still that is on its own is very disturbing, and that is why I understand why the moderators decided to be anonymous.

    Rather than focus too much on how the boycott works, although one should know that is a boycott against collaborations with Israeli institutions not individuals, we need to focus on why the boycott is important. I think, while it is symbolic on the part of AAA or any other association, it can help in two ways:
    1. It can help put pressure on Israeli governments to limit their violence, and the Israeli governments are very sensible to international pressure and that is why the BDS is seen as a strategic threat to Israel, a county that is so dependent on “international” support. It is also related to the anxiety of illegitimacy that Israelis have about the settler colonial state created in 1948.
    2. It will help open a space in the academia that allows more open discussion on Israel and its settler colonial structure, and thus contribute to academic freedom rather than repression and censorship.

  45. A Poem from Gaza/Palestine:

    Running Orders – a Poem by Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

    “They call us now.
    Before they drop the bombs.
    The phone rings
    and someone who knows my first name
    calls and says in perfect Arabic
    “This is David.”
    And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
    still smashing around in my head
    I think “Do I know any Davids in Gaza?”
    They call us now to say
    You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
    Your house is next.
    They think of it as some kind of
    war time courtesy.
    It doesn’t matter that
    there is nowhere to run to.
    It means nothing that the borders are closed
    and your papers are worthless
    and mark you only for a life sentence
    in this prison by the sea
    and the alleyways are narrow
    and there are more human lives
    packed one against the other
    more than any other place on earth
    Just run.
    We aren’t trying to kill you.
    It doesn’t matter that
    you can’t call us back to tell us
    the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
    that there’s no one here
    except you and your children
    who were cheering for Argentina
    sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
    counting candles left in case the power goes out.
    It doesn’t matter that you have children.
    You live in the wrong place
    and now is your chance to run
    to nowhere.
    It doesn’t matter
    that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
    to find your wedding album
    or your son’s favorite blanket
    or your daughter’s almost completed college application
    or your shoes
    or to gather everyone in the house.
    It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
    It doesn’t matter who you are
    Prove you’re human.
    Prove you stand on two legs.

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