Pt. 2. Why Anthropologists Must Boycott: Israeli Attacks on Academic Freedom

This is the second post in a series advocating that the AAA endorse an academic boycott against Israel. For more general information on BDS, see our first post.

This past May, Palestinian students at Haifa University requested permission to hold a formal commemoration on campus for the more than 600 Palestinian villages destroyed in the course the Nakba (the mass expulsion of Palestinian residents that accompanied Israel’s founding). When administrators denied their request, students decided to gather informally without flags or banners. They were not in violation of any university policy.

But even this silent commemoration was too much for administrators. Haifa University organized a raucous dance party on the quad to disrupt the informal gathering. During the event, representatives of the student union taunted those present and police officers were sent in to intimidate and later disperse the Palestinian students.

This event is just the latest in a longer pattern of abuses to academic freedom.1 In recent years, every major Israeli university has engaged in some form of censorship on research and events perceived to be critical to the state — from suppressing commemorations of the Nakba to censoring human rights curricula and even banning scholarly texts on the occupation. At the same time, Israeli universities play a crucial role in maintaining the occupation and discriminating against minority groups.

Supporters of the Israeli occupation frequently criticize boycotts as a violation of academic freedom. But, in fact, the opposite is true. The policies of both the Israeli state and of its universities constitute an assault on the basic rights to education. These violations affect not only universities in the occupied Palestinian territories, but also those within the 1949 armistice lines, like Haifa University. In order to protect the educational rights of all of Palestine/Israel’s inhabitants, we should refuse to cooperate in a system which contributes to the occupation, discriminates against Palestinian students, and punishes political dissent.

Assaulting Palestinian Univeristies

The Israeli army treats Palestinian universities not as centers of knowledge production, but as one more target in a sixty-year long military occupation.

The latest example of this came just this past week, when the Israeli army launched raids on the campuses of Birzeit University, Al-Quds University, and the Arab-American University in Jenin, causing extensive damage to buildings and facilities in the process.

One of the Birzeit University offices raided by Israeli forces this week.
One of the Birzeit University offices raided by Israeli forces this week.

At the same time, the Israeli military also converted Palestine Ahliya University near Bethlehem into a temporary detention center.

These latest raids are by no means a recent development. From 1988-1992, Israel forced Birzeit to shutter its doors entirely. Shorter closures have affected virtually every Palestinian institution of higher learning.

Tear gas and damage to the Al Quds University Science building resulting from  an Israeli raid in 2013. Photo by Rima Najjar.
Damage to the Al Quds University Science building resulting from an Israeli raid in 2013. Photo by Rima Najjar.

Nor are they infrequent. The Israeli army fires rubber-coated bullets and gas canisters on campus so often, that one English lecturer we know at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem carries anti-tear gas remedies in her purse every time she goes to teach. While the effects of the gas can be managed, the constant disruptions to her lessons resulting from the raids are harder to cope with.

The effects of Israeli attacks on universities are even more palpable in the Gaza Strip. In 2009, Israel bombed the campus of the Islamic University, destroying computer labs, scientific laboratories and the campus library.2 Meanwhile, the seige on Gaza has made it difficult to acquire even the most basic educational materials, such as paper and books. And, thanks to harsh Israeli restrictions on movement, young Gazans face great difficulties in accessing higher education outside of the strip: Israel bars Gazan students from attending universities in the West Bank and has repeatedly prevented them from participating in the Fulbright program or attending American universities.

Beyond disrupting student learning, these restrictions on university life make it extremely challenging for foreign academics to form productive research partnerships with their Palestinian colleagues. In addition to dealing with the uncertainty and restrictions on movement that life under military occupation entails, arbitrary visa regulations for foreign researchers and draconian import rules interfere with the ability of Palestinian universities to be centers of research.

Despite these serious violations of academic freedom, Israeli academic institutions have been conspicuously silent on these issues.3 Given the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in the occupation, their silence should surprise no one.

Not innocent bystanders: Israeli Universities and the Occupation

Israeli universities are not innocent bystanders in the occupation of Palestinian territories. They actively participate in it.

Some university campuses are built directly on occupied lands. The recently upgraded Ariel University is built entirely on an illegal settlement. Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded within the 1949 armistice line, has recently expanded its campus beyond the Green Line. And Herzog College, a smaller academic institution, is located in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc.

Moreover, virtually all Israeli universities collaborate with the Israeli army to develop the weapons soldiers use in maintaining the occupation. For instance, both the Technion and Weizmann Institutes have built academic programs in coordination with Israeli weapons manufacturers, including Elbit and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. Amongst the more notorious results of these close partnerships is the Caterpillar D9 remote-control bulldozer, responsible for destroying thousands of Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

Israeli universities have likewise played a crucial role in developing some of the most heinous military strategies used in the occupied Palestinian territories. Perhaps the best known example of this is the development of the Dahiya doctrine – a military strategy “involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure” – by Tel Aviv University’s Institute of National Security Studies. This military doctrine resulted in widespread civilian deaths and destruction of property in the 2009 Gaza War.

Increasingly, Israeli academic institutions are also mobilizing to justify Israeli violations of human rights to the world. During the 2009 Gaza war, the Herzilya’s Interdisciplinary Center in close coordination with Israel’s foreign ministry set up a “war room” in order to defend Israel’s military actions on the internet. Since the war’s conclusion, these programs have become more widespread. Today, students at Tel Aviv, Ariel, and Haifa Universities can receive  credits for taking courses in hasbara, learning slick social media strategies designed to justify the Israeli military occupation under the guise of “public diplomacy.”

Universities in Israel are thus not simply spaces for learning. They have become the centers where the ideas and weapons that Israel uses in its occupation are developed and disseminated.

Anti-Palestinian Discrimination on Israeli Campuses

Just as they participate in the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestinian territories, so too do universities further the state’s discrimination against its own minority populations. In fact, within the Green Line, Israeli campuses are on the front line of wide-ranging assault on the principle of equality.

Perhaps the most explicit example of university racism in recent years came about in 2009, when the Carmel Academic Center ended its program in accounting because the majority of incoming students would be non-Jewish. Caught on tape, the institute’s financial backer explained: “If it is a majority Arab, we can’t allow ourselves, because we can’t allow ourselves an institution that will be categorized as Arab.“

By and large, however, discrimination against Palestinian students operates through structural forms of legalized racism, rather than through such overt means. Israeli laws allow universities to provide preferential admissions and financial-aid support to reservists soldiers. But while conscription is mandatory for Jewish citizens, most Palestinian citizens are exempt from national service.4

As a result, discrimination against Palestinian students is institutionalized at every level of university life. Palestinian students are de facto excluded from many scholarships and face tougher entry requirements than their reservists classmates. Haifa university even conditions access to dormitory residence on a student’s fulfillment of army service.5

The results of widespread discrimination in Israel are evident in educational outcomes: Although over 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinian, the account for only 9.5% of BA students, 4.8% of MA students, and 3.2% of Ph.D.s. Only 1% of professors at Israeli universities are Palestinian.

Universities in Israel actively contribute not only to the occupation, but also to Israel’s system of legal racism. As the students at Haifa University learned, these discriminatory practices do not stop after admissions.

Silencing Dissent: Restrictions on Research and Expression on Israeli Campuses

Once on campus, Palestinian students and academics face an atmosphere of widespread hostility. The Haifa University Nakba Day protests were just the latest example. In the past, Israeli universities have canceled speakers, banned gatherings, and even arrested peaceful demonstrators against Israeli military operations. They have even canceled the screening of award-wining documentaries about the occupation on campus because they were “too political.”

Violent restrictions on education are by no means limited to hindering Palestinians’ student activities. Faculty at Israeli institutions also face increasing limits to their research agenda, especially in cases where their research is deemed too critical of the Israeli occupation. In 2012, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu prevented Rivka Feldhay from participating in a German academic institution because of her support for soldiers who refused to serve in the occupied Palestinian territories .

Similar political interference nearly shut down Ben Gurion University’s Department of Government and Politics, after prominent politicians expressed displeasure over the views of some of its professors. In the end, the department narrowly escaped closure, but only after it implemented changes to its curriculum and hired several “state friendly” researchers to mollify their critics.

While it can be hard to quantify this kind of censorship, the persistence of such stories indicates that this is more than a few isolated incidents: they are evidence of a persistent atmosphere of intimidation towards Palestinians and political dissidents on Israeli campuses.


While some individual scholars have bravely denounced the violent and discriminatory policies of the state, Israeli academic institutions remain complicit with both the belligerent military occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza as well as the discriminatory practices within the Green Line. We have been asked by a united Palestinian civil society to withdraw our support for such practices. Given the policies of Israeli  universities documented in this post, we believe that we must honor this request to endorse the academic boycott.

As a scholarly association, the AAA has an obligation to to support our colleagues, wherever they may be. Israeli military raids on Palestinian universities, discrimination against Palestinian students, and restrictions on academic research represent grave violations of academic freedom.

Meanwhile, Israeli universities do not merely remain silent in the face of these acts; they actively perpetuate them, both through their partnerships with the Israeli army and in their censorship of students and professors Until such time as the Israeli government respects the principles of human rights and academic freedom at universities in Palestine/Israel, the AAA ought to withdraw any form of support from this discriminatory system.

It is not only academic knowledge in the abstract that plays a role in maintaining the occupation. Our own discipline’s archaeological techniques are also being used by the Israeli state as a weapon of war. But we will get into that more in the next post.

  1. In this post, we cite some of the most egregious violations of academic freedom, almost all of which occurred in the past five years. In writing this post, the biggest problem we had was whittling down the numerous examples of Israeli restrictions on the right to education to fit a short blog post. (The first draft of this post – which still did not cover even a fraction of recent violations – was well over 3000 words!) For more extensive documentation of these abuses, we recommend starting with: “Academia Undermined: Israeli Restrictions on Foreign National Academics in Palestinian Higher Education Institutions“; Al Rased’s 2011-2012 annual report; the Alternative Information Center’s report on the Academic Boycott of Israel
  2. A subsequent UN fact finding mission confirmed that “These were civilian, educational buildings and the Mission did not find any information about their use as a military facility or their contribution to a military effort that might have made them a legitimate target in the eyes of the Israeli armed forces.” 
  3. To date, we know of no Israeli university or faculty senate that has passed a resolution condemning the frequent closures of and raids on Palestinian universities. With only a few notable exceptions, Israeli academics have likewise been largely silent on the issue: only 45% (n=407) of the 9000 Israeli professors who were asked to signed a 2009 petition in support of Palestinian academic freedom. One contributing factor to this silence is no doubt the atmosphere of intimidation and censorship on college campuses, which we cover below. 
  4. Discrimination on the basis of military service affects areas of life well beyond the university as well. For this reason, the U.S. State Department has criticized these discriminatory policies: “Citizens who do not perform military service enjoy fewer societal and economic benefits and are sometimes discriminated against in hiring practices.” 
  5. One particularly stark example of how these policies affect campus life occurred at Safed College, located in the majority-Palestinian Galilee region. In 2012, at the urging of the college president, the student union altered its bylaws to make army service a precondition to serving as it president.  As a result, the 60% of university students who are Palestinan are no longer eligible to run for the office. 
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.

20 thoughts on “Pt. 2. Why Anthropologists Must Boycott: Israeli Attacks on Academic Freedom

  1. what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
    Egypt also has a ban on Gaza imports, to stop the terrorists from disrupting their country. Boycott them.
    And boycott Saudi, where if you dare to convert to another religion (or to atheism) you end up dead (or often, if you dare to sleep with your boyfriend, you end up a victim of honor killing).

    How about boycotting Russia, who is now officially “homophobic” for not allowing gay equality to be taught in their schools.

    A closer example to your complaints that Israel won’t allow people touting the terrorist line to demonstrate in their universities would be allowing the KKK hold a teach in at US Universities on the war of Northern aggression. True, the KKK hates Jews, Catholics and blacks (an all opportunity hater) but hey, at least they don’t bomb Pizza parlors full of innocent students and Pinay OFW’s to protest that their great grandfather’s farm was taken by the evil carpetbaggers.

  2. @Miguel: The language that you are using to describe Palestinians is highly inappropriate.

    Are you implying that all Palestinians are terrorists, thereby justifying Israel’s discriminatory policies against 20% of its citizens and over 50% of the people it rules over? Or do you only think that just the anti-war protesters, people who would screen award-winning documentary films, and those who would silently commemorate the Nakba are terrorists? Not even the Israeli government or universities we named made that claim.

    As for the “singling out” argument, we already covered that in the last thread. Repeating it here – while defaming an entire people in the process – instead of responding to our comments is not a productive strategy for conversation, any more than implying that all Palestinians are terrorists.

  3. I would be interested to know the history of the participation of the AAA in this kind of political action. Has there been any involvement or endorsement of academic boycotts in any other case? While the Hyatt example has some relevant points, it hardly seems comparable to boycotting academic institutions.

    I am also curious as to why the two authors are writing these posts anonymously?

  4. @jmd: You’re in luck. We’re planning a post on precisely this issue. It will come immediately after the post on archaeology, so please stay tuned!

    As we said in the comments to the previous post, we were advised by friends, colleagues, and advisors to write this post anonymously and we decided to take them up on that advice. We hope these posts stand on their own merit and that they spark a productive discussion and debate amongst the AAA membership.

  5. I thought the Boycott Israel nonsense has died already!

    Two comments:

    Your refusal to identify in your names delegitimizes your argument and shows that you yourself are awareness of the weakness and biases of your argument, as well as the inherent discriminatory tone, and therefore wish to dissociate it from your name. If you were proud of what you had written you would have used your real names. (I am not using my real name because internet polemics are not my thing, I’m just writing a comment)
    The abuses you list – some are misrepresentations of the truth and some are unfortunately actual events that happened. What matters most, however, is the fact that they are not unique – neither in their presence nor in their severity. In fact, we might expect similar breaches of academic freedom in every country outside Western Europe and North America. The question that you must deal with is, then – why treat the Israelis differently (i.e. worse) than Chinese, Russians, Egyptians or Hungarians?
    Either way you turn around the arguments for selective boycott of the Jewish state you will reach one of two possibilities.
    You think that Israelis/Jews are inherently worse than other people (and therefore should be excluded and singled out regardless of their actual moral shortcomings) – or you believe that Israelis/Jews are inherently better than other people (and therefore should be held to much higher moral standards than all others).

    Either way is not acceptable for people who claim to reject racism and discrimination. The whole idea of selective boycott against Israel is discriminatory, bordering racism, and anyone who supports it should be ashamed of themselves. As the authors clearly are – which is why they do not reveal their names.

  6. Everything written above is correct and its shocking and appalling and painfully sad. It is also important that this information is exposed so thank you.

    However, as Anthropologists we should be the firsts to address complexities and contrasts in the field. Nothing is so simple. Apart from the fact that so many other universities in the world are somehow intertwined with governments who perform crimes and their ideologies (including the USA and UK), what about the strong affiliation of so many Israeli Academic institutes and scholars (especially in the social sciences faculties) with liberal/left wing/human rights/pro Palestinian agendas? The Academy is considered a leading space for those progressive ideas and a space where people engage in dialogue and discover alternative histories. Students are often enlightened and shift their high school and army fed political agendas during their academic years. It is also the birthplace of pioneering research about the conflict, the war and Palestinian & Israeli history. Some of the best work on Palestinian and Bedouin societies and culture come from anthropological departments in Israel, not to mention the research on Arab-Jews and their forgotten cultural link to Palestinians, which was developed by scholars like Ella Shohat and Yehuda Shenhav in Israel. Post-Zionism, Post nationalism, Post colonialism- these things don’t happen in congress, or in the media- they happen in those universities- and through them cross over to the public and to the international community… By boycotting spaces of critical thinking you are actually empowering the oppressive government which is threatened by intellectualism and strives on ignorance.

    Moreover, what about the thousands of Arab-Israeli/Palestinian students in those institutes? Would they benefit from their university being boycott? What about the Palestinians who work in those institutes as lecturers and scholars? How would their work and achievement be addressed if their workplace is rejected around the world? Isolating and demonizing all Israeli universities, reducing those incredible spaces of discovery to some one dimensional place that blindly follows state ideologies, will not only be very wrong but will further enclose and push those institutes into even worse nationalist agendas. I can understand financial sanctions and many other forms of protest but the boycott of Academy and social sciences anywhere is the boycott of growth, the boycott of the exchange of ideas and of the one place where great intellectual and spiritual changes take place.

    If a child misbehaves I will can take away his toys and maybe even his dinner but taking away his books will lead nowhere.

  7. @Miguel Yes, there are many problematic places. Fortunately, an academic boycott of Israel doesn’t mean you can’t have an academic boycott of Russia, or Saudi Arabia, does it?

    So, @kklm22 “why treat the Israelis differently (i.e. worse) than Chinese, Russians, Egyptians or Hungarians?” Because we as a nation (the AMERICAN Anthropological Association, let’s not forget what’s being represented here) already treats Israelis differently. Israel receives the largest portion of US aid of any nation ( and is repeatedly commended as a DEMOCRATIC ALLY. There is a deeply cutting dialogue of exceptionalism surrounding Israel. And it more than borders racism. It is racism.

    Israel is, from one certain angle, a colonial remnant of the West in the Arab World, tiered in an entrenched racial/ethnic hierarchy. (if they’re Jews can they ever really be White? You know, the way white Christian Americans are White? hint: this is both rhetorical and ironic). The favored ethnic category relative to geolocality combined with national Islamophobia make it something of a Damsel-In-Distress for the White Knight of America. The savior problem cuts both ways, but I’d argue that a boycott is not a savior tact.

    Here’s what an academic boycott ought to say: “Dear Israeli Academia, I am opposed to what the discourse we together produce is being used to justify. What do you say we stop for a little bit? Love, AAA”

    Because, @Elad, an academic boycott is not an intellectual boycott. Israel wouldn’t disappear. What would be brought to the forefront would be independent scholarship, without censors or state agenda. Where if not on this blog are people who appreciate independent scholarship?

  8. @kklm: We are glad that you notice your own hypocrisy in criticizing our use of pseudonyms while using one yourself. It saves us the trouble of having to elaborate for the third time that we cannot possibly imagine what our names would add to this debate. Either the arguments have merit or they don’t (we obviously feel they do). If you can’t debate the merit, however, you go for the ad hominem – right?

    If you are going to accuse us of “misrepresentations” then it is incumbent upon you to provide at least one example of where you think we have distorted the truth. We provided you with many, many well-documented cases of Israeli violations of educational and academic rights. The fact that you have not contested even one makes us suspect once again that you are more interested in wild ad hominem attacks than in the serious argumentation that an issue like this deserves.

    We have addressed the reason a boycott of Israel is warranted and sensible repeatedly and will do so yet again in the Q&A. That said, I do not know of any other country which leads regular military raids on universities, systematically discriminates against citizens based on ethnicity at every educational level, and refuses to allow its academics to pursue their research freely. That said, if there is such a country and the united civil society of that country asks the AAA to help them by boycotting we certainly hope that the AAA would give it the serious consideration that such a move deserves.

    Finally, as two anti-Zionist Jews, we take personal offense at your equation of Israel with all Jews. Questioning the appropriate policy response to Israel’s consistent and massive violations of human rights is not anti-Semitic. Suggesting that all Jews share a common politics is.

  9. @Elad: We are glad that you begin from a point of recognizing the reality of Israeli massive human rights violations and thank you for your thoughtful response. Before we address the specifics, we should say that some of these questions will be addressed in the final Q&A post as well.

    As you quite rightly point out, there are indeed a select few academics within the Israeli academy who are actively fighting the occupation. For that reason, the boycott does not target individual scholars; only institutions. This does not mean individuals will not be affected by a boycott. The AAA boycott of Hyatt Hotels might indeed harm some managers who are good people, just as the Montgomery bus boycott no doubt hurt some working-class white bus drivers who may not have supported Jim Crow laws.

    A boycott is a tool that is used as a last resort. Given the realities documented in this post, we believe there are no other effective means of combating Israel’s discriminatory policies. And the designers of the academic boycott deserve great credit for excluding individuals from the boycott. This is about targeting institutions that are complicit in Israel’s discriminatory practices.

    You accuse the academic boycott of limiting the ability of scholars to produce critical research about the occupation. In fact, as we document in the post, those scholars are already limited in their ability to produce critical scholarship. To give just a few more examples: Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kavorkian, one of the only Palestinian females tenured in any Israeli institution, has been prevented by the government from speaking at international conferences due to her support for BDS and the political nature of her research. The world-renowned historian Ilan Pappé was forced to leave Israel, after he was denied promotion at Haifa University for supporting BDS. The world-renowned philosopher Ariela Azoulay was denied tenure at Bar Ilan University because of her political views. The political scientist Neve Gordon has had his job at Ben Gurion University threatened for endorsing BDS. Less established scholars obviously face greater obstacles: Theordore Katz has his M.A. thesis, originally approved with highest honors by Haifa University, revoked after the media got wind of its contents: a massacre during the 1948 war. We could go on, but the point is clear. Israeli institutions are not “a leading space for those progressive ideas and a space where people engage in dialogue and discover alternative histories.” They are a space where dissent is increasingly punished and research subjected to political litmus tests. The existence of some truly brave and excellent scholars in the face of this intimidation – who we should continue to work with on an individual basis – does not change the accuracy of this description of Israeli institutions. One message that a boycott should send is that the AAA does not wish to subject its collaborative projects to a political litmus test.

    Perhaps it is for this reason that one of the scholars who you mention as a reason not to boycott – Ella Shohat, currently at NYU – has actually endorsed the call for BDS. (We could not find definitive information on the other academic you name, but Yehuda Shenhav’s collaboration with groups that support BDS indicates that, at the very least, he does not oppose the movement).

    A boycott is a serious move and we do not undertake this recommendation lightly. However, given the situation that we describe above – one in which the Israeli army regularly raids Palestinian universities, Israeli academic institutions participate in the occupation, discriminate against students, and do not allow free expression or free research without retaliations – we think that the boycott is a measured and warranted response. We do not think it is appropriate to collaborate with institutions where we can work with only certain people or people who hold certain ideas. Nor should we work in a place where only certain academic institutions are accessible for collaboration, because of a belligerent military occupation.

  10. To the authors – I am sorry if you felt that this was an ad hominem attack. How can it be an ad hominem attack when you use the veil of anonymity to conceal your identity? I don’t know who the “hominem” is so I can’t attack him/her… I am not interested in your ethnic or national belonging and don’t think that it is in any way relevant to the argument you’re trying to make. Citing the fact that you’re Jewish as some kind of defense only proves once again my point that the policies you are proposing are discriminatory and undemocratic. This is why you have to hide behind anonymity, using the “I’m Jewish myself” argument and so on.

    @Blick, you are obviously very conversant with all sorts of post-modernist and post-colonial jargon. Before soaring to such abstract heights, however, I would recommend familiarizing yourself better with some very basic historical facts.
    You write, “Israel is, from one certain angle, a colonial remnant of the West in the Arab World”

    And I suspect you would be hard pressed to justify yourself or even explain what this really means. Consider that:

    About 5% of the Jews in Israel originate in Western countries (Western Europe, US, Canada). 95% of Israeli Jews originate either from the Middle East or from Eastern Europe.
    The international legal basis for the establishment of Israel is exactly the same basis for the establishment of Iraq and Syria: the Sykes-Picot agreements (1916) and the San Remo conference (1920). Lebanon and Jordan were later carved out of Syria and Palestine, respectively. If Israel is “a colonial remnant” so is any other country in the region. This is what ISIS says too, by the way.

    I find it ridiculous that a member of the American AA, operating in a country that has military forces in over 100 countries around the world and which kills people daily with drone attacks and bombings (without the justification of self-defense which underlies most of Israel’s actions), would be so ridiculous as to call for a boycott on Israel for… aggression? colonialism? militarism?
    “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

  11. @Elad: PACBI’s guidelines for an academic boycott can be found here, though naturally it would be up to the AAA to determine the exact nature of our own academic boycott.

    Regarding colonialism, this short but informative post from Ann Stoler should be a part of the conversation.

  12. @kklm22 for the record, the line about the “log in your own eye” is from the gospels, so it might not resonate with a Jewish audience. I guess we know a little bit more about your religious affiliation now, though.

  13. Rex, I realize this is well after the fact, but hey: maybe someone will come back and read these comments later.

    I use the beam/mote line frequently, and I’m Jewish. There are a few reasons I could come up with by way of explanation. Could be that it’s due to growing up in Texas, among a large number of religious (and Gospel-quoting) folks. Could be that aphorisms and parables from the Gospels are widely popular (in multiple senses of that word) in art, literature, music, etc. Could be that the Pew Center’s research on religious knowledge among various groups of the U.S. population is relevant, here.

    Whatever the reason, I’d bet that I’m far from the only Jew (or atheist, or whatever — whether reading this or not) for whom the line’s familiar, and with whom the line resonates.

    So we don’t necessarily know anything more about kklm22’s religious affiliation, I think, and the assumption that we do strikes me as inadvisable, given the already fraught nature of the subject (not to mention the nature of this blog).

    Less tangentially, it’s also worth pointing out that kklm22’s comments evoke Chomsky’s essay (to which Elad linked, above).


    “The case for [the second goal of BDS; that is, ‘recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian Citizens of Israel and providing them with full legal equality under the law’] is more ambiguous. There are ‘prohibitions against discrimination’ in international law, as HRW observes. But pursuit of [this goal] at once opens the door to the standard ‘glass house’ reaction: for example, if we boycott Tel Aviv University because Israel violates human rights at home, then why not boycott Harvard because of far greater violations by the United States? Predictably, initiatives focusing on [the second goal] have been a near-uniform failure, and will continue to be unless educational efforts reach the point of laying much more groundwork in the public understanding for them, as was done in the case of South Africa.”

    I’d imagine Isaiah Silver’s response to the glass-house reaction would be that there’s no united civil society movement (in the US or elsewhere) that’s approached the AAA to mobilize a boycott of U.S. universities, and/or that such a boycott would be ineffective in light of the USACBI guidelines. Those would be reasonable if debatable counter-points, and I think they’d invite further conversation. In any case, I do think there’s more to be discussed here, not least as Chomsky’s essay raises questions about some of the authors’ initial assertions/assumptions about BDS. I’d suspect they have some interesting answers, and I hope they’ll include them in a future post, or in the Q-&-A.

  14. @Josh: Thank you for this thoughtful response.

    First of all, we invite all to participate in this conversation. Our problem with kklm22’s comments is his attempt to shut down debate by falsely equating Judaism with Israel and then spuriously accusing us of anti-Semitism for criticizing ongoing Israeli violations of human rights. We think that a boycott should be organized as a scholarly association of anthropologists and invite all anthropologists to participate in this debate. But the question of whether the AAA should endorse the boycott has nothing to do with the question of faith — unless you count faith in human rights and justice, of course!

    Our objection to Chomsky’s line about boycotting Harvard does not only stem from the lack of a united civil society asking us to boycott them, though you are right that this is a powerful consideration. We view his “glass houses” claim as a bit of a false analogy, actually. Chomsky seems to be under the misimpression that the target of this boycott is arbitrary, i.e. that a boycott against Israeli academic institutions is being called for because of state-policies that they have little to do with and therefore we may boycott another country’s academic institutions if it turns out we don’t like some facet of their public policy as well.

    As we write in the post, this understanding of the logic behind an academic boycott is simply not accurate: Israeli academic institutions actively participate in the occupation and enforce systematic legal discrimination against Palestinian students and faculty. As far as we know, Harvard does not have legal barriers to entry on the basis of a citizen’s ethnicity. People are generally not barred from scholarships, student government, or residence halls on the basis of their ethnicity. Nor are they given class credit in courses where students learn to defend the actions of the military on Facebook and Twitter to help flight the “diplomacy war.” And – despite a worrying increase in political interference on American campuses – Harvard does not (yet?) engage in the sorts of policing and censorship of student activities, professors’ research, and even classroom lessons that we document in this post.

    Nor do we see the US government regularly conducting military raids on, say,Tufts, or bombing MIT’s libraries and labs, or forcing Boston College to shut down for four years, as Israel has and is doing to Palestinian universities under its sovereignty. These are not equivalent situations. Like so much of the article, Chomsky’s analysis of the matter is uncharacteristically sloppy.

    To be clear: If an Israeli institution were to decide to cease discriminating against Palestinian students, allow political dissent on campus, and end coordination with the army, we may indeed have serious cause to reconsider a boycott against them. However, given the current legal and political systems in which Israeli universities are embedded, we see of no possibility for ending their complicity with Israel’s policies without the sort of external pressure that an academic boycott provides.

    As a side note, for those interested, we recommend consulting Tom Suarez’s article on Mondoweiss documenting some of the sloppiness of Chomsky’s article. It’s not a comprehensive response, but we feel like it’s a good start.

    There are a lot of important points in Suarzez’s response, but we feel the most important one is this: it is shocking how little Palestinians figure into Chomsky’s analysis. The only point of concern for him in this article is what the current Israeli Jewish public consensus is. The Jewish Israeli public has determined that it does not want to grant equal rights to all citizens regardless of ethnicity, and ergo, we shouldn’t press that. The Jewish Israeli public is not comfortable recognizing the fundamental rights of refugees, and ergo, we shouldn’t push them on this. Palestinian public opinion, let alone fundamental human rights, is at best marginalized throughout his analysis. To steal a quote from the Suarez’s piece: “Is this the same Noam Chomsky whose Manufacturing Consent and Fateful Triangle sit on my bookshelf?”

    We do not think that an approach that starts by exclusively asking only what the Jewish Israeli public wants – be it in Chomsky’s article or in the series of failed US-sponsored peace negotiations – is capable of leading to a just outcome. Instead, we believe that a more fundamental transformation is required, one that also heeds Palestinian voices and ensures their right to be part of this conversation. Following the call for BDS, we think that the best way to achieve this fundamental transformation is to emphasize that human rights principles that must underlie any political solution to the current conflict. That was the approach that worked in apartheid South Africa, it was the approach that worked in the Jim Crow south, and in other places around the world. By contradistinction, we cannot think of a single time that simply accepting the prevailing public opinion of the dominant group in a country that is engaged in massive human rights violations against has been a productive approach.

    If there is more from Chomsky’s article or from out posts that you would like to see addressed, please let us know and we will do our best.

  15. @Isaiah Silver: Thanks in return for your reply. My comment-writing time this morning is more limited than I’d like, and I respect the blog’s instructions to keep comments brief (or under 500 words, at least) – but I did want to get back to you.

    First, thanks for the link to Suarez’s rebuttal. I avoid Mondoweiss as a rule, but that was well worth reading. (The comments are, as usual, a hot mess.)

    Next, a caveat: I realize I might be off base in some of what I write below. It’s a multiplex risk for me to (a) even think about putting words on Chomsky’s keyboard; and (b) advance arguments behind which I’m not sure I’d throw my full weight, light as it is. But I think this could be worth doing, and so I’m going to try to do it.

    My takeaways from Chomsky’s essay were somewhat different than the ones that you and Suarez appear to have had. To my eye, the piece is primarily about the anticipated effectiveness, and thus advisability, of an academic boycott against Israel in light of the three goals its advocates often advance (and as presented in your first post of this series).

    If that’s correct, then highlighting the likelihood of the “standard glass house reaction” to the boycott’s second goal isn’t the equivalent of engaging in that standard glass-house reaction. Rather, it’s intended to suggest that an academic boycott predicated on the government of Israel “recognizing the fundamental rights of Palestinian Citizens of Israel and providing them with full legal equality under the law” is distinct, to some extent, from a boycott premised on the criticisms of Israeli universities contained in your third paragraph above (starting with, “As far as we know, Harvard”).

    This line of argument recognizes (or ought to) the ways in which many Israeli universities abet both the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians within Israel’s borders. It acknowledges the potential value of an academic boycott as a tool to ameliorate these very real and atrocious injustices. It advises BDS advocates, however, to be heedful of how they link broader Israeli abuses of human rights to the case against the Israeli academy. (A similar line of argument would apply to the way the third goal is brought into play).

    None of this necessarily inveighs against an academic boycott of Israel in the abstract; rather, it’s a call to consider carefully how such a boycott should be constructed.

    Finally: my points about the beam and the mote were specifically in response to Rex’s observations. While I share your objections to the way kklm22 has posed some comments here, if I was promoting an academic boycott of Israel to AAA, I’d do my best to avoid responding in kind. As unfortunately common as they are to exchanges on these issues, reciprocating accusations of anti-Semitism don’t do anything to advance the conversation.

    And it so badly needs to be advanced. Thanks much for moving it forward. And with that, I’m at 499 words.

  16. @Josh: We’ve never been good at sticking to word limits, much to the chagrin of advisors and journal editors alike.

    We think your reading of Chomsky may be a bit overly generous but, as we tell ourselves and our students, that is never a bad thing.

    Our point was not that Israeli universities do bad things and, unrelatedly, so does the Israeli government. Rather, our point is that the policies of Israeli universities are part and parcel of the Israeli occupation. In anthrospeak, the relationship here is one of synecdoche, not just affinity. To us, this seems to be one of the crucial points that Chomsky has missed.

    Likewise, our choice to highlight the complicity of universities stems from our own status as a scholarly society. If the AAA were an association of artists, it would make sense to talk about the cultural boycott. If we were an investment club, it would make sense to talk about responsible investments. But as an association of scholars and academics, we feel that the most relevant aspect of the general BDS call to talk about relates to our associations with universities and anthropological/archeological initiatives. That said, there are certainly details that the AAA would need to hammer out if it does engage in this boycott as well. But the exact nature of the boycott policy is a question that is beyond the scope of these posts, and is something we hope the membership can work out through engagements and conversations like the one happening here @ SavageMinds.

    As we wrote in the first post, it is remarkable just how effective BDS has already been. This too is something Chomsky overlooks. Even US officials are citing it as an important way of putting pressure on the Israeli government. The BDS movement has managed to alter the conversation in both the US and Palestine/Israel, and alter the political calculus. And in the wake of the failed Oslo years, and expanding settlement growth, it provides one of the only effective means for engaging in non-violent resistance against Israel’s belligerent occupation. So, while we feel there are a few other significant points Chomsky ignores (i.e. no “international consensus” exists, int’l jurisprudence is not neutral, to say nothing of the fact that it’s simply erroneous to accuse BDS of coming from only a few “intellectuals”), the bottom-line is that we’ve seen first-hand the way its already impacting the Jewish-Israel and the US public spheres and transforming the conversation. These are significant milestones, and not ones that should be overlooked.

    The Nation today published more responses to Chomsky’s article. We particularly recommend those of Nadia Ben-Youssef from Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and that of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.

    479 words. Not bad. 🙂

  17. IS: Not bad at all. But you’re in the catbird seat; Savage Minds’ comments policy (/comments-policy/) is to give post authors greater leeway in their follow-up comments. The suggested 500-word limit is for the folks sitting in the peanut gallery. Like me!

    It’s very possible that my reading of Chomsky is more than a bit overly generous; that’s where my caveat was pointing. From where I’m sitting, though, if anyone’s earned some generous reading on the subject, it’s Chomsky.

    I’d understood your point, and I absolutely agree that the Bad Things Israeli academic institutions do are not unrelated to the Bad Things the Israeli government and military do – not least because there are relatively few private institutions of higher learning in the country. That’s not the distinction, however, to which I was referring (in the fifth paragraph of yesterday morning’s comments).

    Your fourth paragraph, which distinguishes among types of boycotts, speaks to that distinction, and to what I see as the heart of our current exchange. The proposal, as you’ve presented it, is that AAA adopt a boycott of Israeli institutions of higher learning, specifically: an academic boycott, and not a broader, more general BDS policy. What I hope to learn more about through this discussion is what you (and others) envision as the intended outcomes of that boycott – particularly in the context of the three goals your first post outlined.

    You seem to suggest that these sorts of details could and should be discussed elsewhere and/or elsewhen, which I’d find disappointing. To paraphrase a line that might not resonate with a non-Jewish audience (that’s a wink, not a twitch, Rex): if not us, who; and if not now, when?

    You write above, “if an Israeli institution were to decide to cease discriminating against Palestinian students, allow political dissent on campus, and end coordination with the army, we may indeed have serious cause to reconsider a boycott against them.” That strikes me as a nice set of objectives for Israeli universities. It’s very much in line with the first and second goals you laid out in your first post, though it’s rather narrower in scope. It’s difficult for me to see how it resonates with the third goal, though, or what roles you see Israeli academic institutions playing in achieving that third goal.

    On a related note: you particularly recommend Nadia Ben-Youssef’s response to Chomsky. I found it interesting that of the five pieces published, hers is the only one not to take up Chomsky’s specific arguments about BDS. Rather, she focuses on how his essay “reinforces a false paradigm that deflects from the problematic nature of the single Israeli regime” via distinctions between territories within and outside of the Green Line. It’s not that I disagree with Ben-Youssef’s points; it’s that I’m not sure where you anticipate them taking our exchange. Her approach stands in contrast to Ran Greenstein’s, which strikes me as potentially more useful point of departure in raising questions of specifics.


  18. @Josh: Thanks for your respectful engagement. To be honest, we’re not entirely clear on the distinction you are drawing between an academic boycott and a more general BDS endorsement. Like we said, we think that the academic boycott is the most relevant part of the broader BDS call for the AAA to consider, since we are a scholarly association, but BDS never claimed to be a unitary movement. The idea behind the BDS call was always to be an umbrella for diverse groups that would take up different kinds of actions — sometimes divestment, sometimes product-boycotts, sometimes academic boycotts, etc — in accordance with the nature of the organization, government, or individual.

    None of these diverse, local campaigns are meant to be mutually exclusive of one another, and vice versa, no group is expected to undertake all of the possible actions encompassed under the call for BDS. Nor are these individual campaigns expected to equally address each of the three broader principles highlighted in the first post. Rather, each local campaign working within the “big tent” of the BDS movement tends to focus on just one aspect, usually the one that resonates most strongly with their particular group’s history or mission. As we’ve already seen, some groups (like Zochrot or Badil) are therefore going to focus their energies on fulfilling the legally-enshrined right of return, while others are probably going to advocate for policies that more directly target the illegal occupation of the West Bank and the siege on Gaza, while yet others (Adalah) might embrace specific actions meant to redress the violations of rights among Palestinian citizens of Israel. In our case, we feel the aspect of the movement that most closely aligns with our professional identity is the academic boycott, and therefore we’re advocating that the AAA withdraw our support from the institutions that are complicit with the Israeli occupation.

    In short, this post isn’t proposing an alternative to BDS; it is trying to elaborate on the BDS call as it relates to our position as an association of anthropologists, which is what all BDS-affiliated campaigns have done in practice. Working off this premise, we think that the ASA’s resolution could serve as a starting point for our own, as it is simple, well-written, and effective. But it is a starting point, not an end point. For instance, as we argued in the third post, we think that the AAA resolution ought to emphasize the misuses of archaeology in our resolution, as this directly relates to our professional identity as anthropologists.

    That said, our goal is to open this debate, not to close it, and if there are other ideas for how best to endorse the united Palestinian call for BDS or specific language that you or others think should or should not be included in such a resolution, we are all ears.

  19. I wish to withdraw from this debate while making two comments.

    First, I believe that this constant categorization of self and others is an intellectual poison that is eating up anthropology (and, with all due respect, some of the bloggers here) from within. In an intellectual/academic debate, the merit of arguments is decided by their logical consistency and empirical justification. Most of the responses to my post have been references to the authors’ ethnic/religious background or attempts to guess my own religious background, which I think is none of anyone’s business (maybe next time I’ll cite the Buddha). I believe this is not a legitimate way of rebutting arguments and have no wish to engage in it.

    Second, with all due respect, I have not seen any intellectually honest and internally coherent argument that justifies why American academy has the right – not to mention the obligation – to boycott any other academy on the basis of colonial practices or occupation. If Israel is to be punished for holding 2 or 3 million people under occupation – how many people is the US keeping under occupation? In how many countries does the US have military forces? How many educational institutions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen or Serbia have US forces bombed?

    Top US universities – like the ones I am sure the esteemed authors here belong to – are the laboratories and think-tanks and lobbies of global imperialism (whether justified by enlightened human rights or by raw national interest). Just pay a visit to Harvard’s Kennedy school or Columbia’s SIPA to see what I’m talking about. I am not saying whether this is good or bad. I definitely prefer US imperialism to Russian imperialism. All I am saying is that those who enjoy all the benefits of the American exploitation of the rest of the world – economic exploitation upheld by political and military oppression – are making a joke of themselves when they pick some small country surrounded by enemies and cry out that it must be boycotted for committing 1/1000000 of the aggression of the country whose resources they so generously enjoy. Thank you and all the best.

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