Reading the TFIP Report: Criticizing Israel, the Problematics of an Academic Boycott and Constructive Alternatives

By: Yehuda Goodman, Teaching Anthropology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The TFIP report can be read and evaluated in different ways. I, for one, found the report helpful as it outlines a thorough criticism of the Israeli government policies and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, and its horrible practices and consequences. However, on the practical questions that are of deep concern for many AAA members – “what should be done?”, and “what about boycotting Israeli academic institutions?” – the TFIP report is less clear.  I’d like to highlight how this report – through the many voices it summarizes and cites – provides many crucial reasons why a boycott of Israeli academic institutions wouldn’t be the right way to go, morally and politically, and what are some better alternatives.

To begin with, the TF reminds readers that academic boycotts stand in sharp contrast with academic freedom and the  basic principles that anthropology is based upon – namely disseminating academic knowledge and the free exchange of ideas. Furthermore, the report quotes many testimonies demonstrating how the boycott is in practice and not only in principle a blunt (in my opinion, violent) act. Ample evidence portrays the climate of fear the debate around the boycott has established within anthropology departments and within the AAA – and how the boycotters as well as the anti-boycotters intimidate their Others, those who do not agree with them. The TF report spells out how the boycott would harm and is already harming individuals, how it will not target just institutions, and how it would be quite impossible for the AAA to determine when the boycott demands would be fulfilled and the boycott lifted. The report also brings up those voices that explain why punishing Israeli academics and Israeli anthropologists in  particular is problematic, how Israeli anthropologists are not complicit with the occupation and with Israeli government policies, and in fact how they are among the major critics of their government and are being attacked by the Israeli political right. More generally, by opening up an important space for thinking through the situation in Israel/Palestine and what the AAA should and should not do about it, the report contributes to a fruitful debate about the meaning and practices of political and moral anthropologies.

When looking to some guidance – although the report should not be read as an authoritarian text – the report outlines some constructive alternatives to a boycott that should be worked out on a number of tracks – political, academic and financial – and would help Palestinian academics, anthropologists in particular, and would participate in building up peace and justice in the region. Among such steps I found compelling are: Issuing a statement criticizing Israeli government policies and practices and encouraging the US government to pursue effective ways to change them; More specifically, even before real justice is achieved, call upon Israel to enhance freedom of speech and expression, movement and communication for Palestinian Israelis within Israel and for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and stop Israel’s prosecution and violent invasion of Palestinian universities and interference in their academic life; Developing archives, teaching resources and research opportunities in the region for AAA members, including a wide educational project like RACE; Provide Palestinian university libraries access to anthropological journals and sources at no cost and offering funds to Palestinians academics and for teaching at Palestinian universities. I, and many other anthropologists believe the majority of the AAA community can stand behind these measures and give voice to a clear moral and responsible stand in the on-going struggle over the human and national rights of the Palestinians, hopefully ending of the Occupation, and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

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