We anthropologists, like others committed to human rights and justice, feel we must contribute to bring change to the Middle East. In the unequal conflict between Israel and Palestinians, primary responsibility for redressing injustices and relieving Palestinian suffering and for seeking and initiating a just and dignified solution rests on the shoulders of the more powerful party.
Boycotting Israeli universities, however, is the wrong choice of action. Rather than enhance peace and justice, it may exacerbate hostilities. Here are 5 reasons why:
- Calls to boycott Israeli universities cavalierly conflate them with the state, the Occupation, and injustice generally. But Israeli universities are no more complicit with the Occupation than US universities are with the invasion of Iraq or Chinese universities with blocking Facebook. In fact, some of the clearest voices criticizing Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians emanate from Israeli academics.
- A boycott by academics abroad of Israeli universities will not inspire change in Israeli policies. Rather, it will augment a sense among Israelis that ‘the world is all against us,’ deepen intransigent impulses, isolate internal critics and stymie initiatives for peace.
- The conditions that all pro-boycott statements set for ever lifting a boycott – including the proposal AAA members will be voting on in Denver on November 20th – are vague. Leaving those boycotted with no hope for it ever to end, such boycott loses all brinkmanship potential, yielding only acrimony and conflict.
- Ostensibly defending Palestinian academic freedom, an academic boycott of Israel is a blunt instrument of retaliation, a punishment to Israeli moderates. It will damage academic freedom and will curtail the ability of social scientists and humanists of all political and disciplinary persuasions, including anthropologists, to teach and carry out research in Israel/Palestine.
- Once a boycott is in place, distinctions between individuals and institutions become hollow. We may be more or less proud of our institutional affiliation at times, but it is part of our identity. Delegitimizing the institution an academic is affiliated with is a personal affront. And protocols that list activities an academic might be ‘allowed’ to participate in are shameful attempts at creating exceptions that prove a repugnant rule.
We anthropologist can do a lot to enhance dialogue and reconciliation in Israel/Palestine.
Actions we could embark on now:
The AAA’s Task Force on Israel Palestine (TFIP) submitted its findings to the Executive Committee in October 2015. Its full report can be found on AAA’s website.
The TFIP report suggests a number of avenues for actions as alternatives to a boycott, including:
- Voice clear criticism of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, including the continued Occupation of Palestinian lands;
- Call on the US government to put pressure on Israel to advance Palestinian rights;
- Call on Israel to enhance the freedom of speech and movement for Palestinians, and to stop persecutory policies toward Palestinian universities;
- Support AAA members’ effort to teach anthropology and conduct anthropological research in the region;
- Provide Palestinian libraries free access to anthropological journals;
- Offer funds for visiting professors at Palestinian universities and to Palestinian anthropologists wishing to teach at home and elsewhere;
Note: A resolution proposed by ADIP, to be discussed and voted on at the AAA’s Business Meeting in Denver Nov. 20th , makes similar suggestions. It also advocates that the AAA should create an ear-marked fund, valued at 1% of its annual expenditure, to promote and enhance scholarly endeavors in conflict areas, with an initial emphasis on Palestine and Israel.
Come to the AAA Business Meeting on Friday November 20th 2015 6:15PM at the Colorado Convention Center.
Vote Yes on proposed Resolution number 1: End the Occupation; Resist the call for Academic Boycott; Support Dialogue