By, Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D. Rutgers University-Camden, NJ
This article was originally posted on the AAA website
It is unfathomable and beyond comprehension that as the world’s attention turns to the devastating terror attacks in Paris with ISIS’s name seemingly behind the horrendous murders, the American Anthropological Association has decided to solely condemn Israel among all the nations in the world. There is no parallel effort to condemn any of the world’s terrorist groups committing atrocities daily or to sanction any of the nations that harbor them or any of the countries engaged in unspeakable abuses of their own people. What the AAA report on Israeli/Palestinian relations has implicitly concluded is that Israel is more evil than any other nation and presumably the only country to warrant an international boycott.
The AAA report on discriminatory conditions for Palestinians and the injustice of Israel’s settlements in occupied territories has led to an extraordinary leap of logic that an academic boycott of Israeli institutions is justifiable. By this logic, those who are doing research in China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and in any other country with an oppressive regime should be advocating an academic boycott of those countries. The question is not whether anthropologists have legitimate political criticism of Israel, but whether by singling out one nation for condemnation and an academic boycott and not holding other countries accountable for their repressive policies, anthropologists are, in the words of Daniel Orenstein, “ostracizing and painting blood red” Israel and Israel alone.
I am boycotting the annual meetings this year, because the AAA is acting irresponsibly in creating a movement to single out Israel among all the countries in the world and to indict its universities as complicit and accountable for the Israeli government’s activities. In my field work in the United States, I have seen American children in the inner city sick from lead poisoning and living in neighborhoods unsafe to play in playgrounds with drug needles and with some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Should we boycott American universities that fly the American flag and in so doing perpetuate conditions of radical inequality in this country? The hypocrisy of the AAA in its hate and condemnation of Israel is clearly evident.
The report of the AAA has already created damage. It has led anthropologists to reach harmful, anti-Semitic, and damaging conclusions on the basis of a biased report. Look at some of the comments on the AAA website. One anthropologist writes on the association’s blog, “I knew the settlers were awful, but the behavior towards Palestinians does, in fact, echo Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.” Anyone actually familiar with what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s would find this comparison bizarre and reprehensible. Furthermore, as the report itself points out, if a boycott goes into effect, there is no mechanism or standard in place by which to end it, and thus punitive measures against Israel could be indefinite.
If the AAA supports an academic boycott of Israeli universities, those anthropology professors in Israel who have been at the forefront of criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and advocating for a two-state solution, will undoubtedly be more isolated in the world community than ever before. If the AAA moves forward with an academic boycott of Israel, it will at the very least look daffy and have advocates for mutual respect shaking their heads at anthropologists’ single-minded bias against Israel at the very moment that terrorism poses a deadly threat to all of us. At the worst, the AAA actions will be a breach of academic freedom, put into question the legitimacy of Israeli academics, effectively stifle debate on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and lend support to forces of anti-Semitism as it backs a destructive boycott that has no prospect in place for its end.