A Letter from an Israeli Student and Peace Activist

Dear Fellow anthropologists,

I am writing this letter after much hesitation, since I do not see myself as a spokesperson against the BDS movement, nor do I see myself as a representative of the Israeli State (although I am an Israeli citizen). Still, I decided to write this letter since I think that in such a complicated topic, those of you who go to vote at the AAA business meeting, Friday November 20th, should make an informed choice which takes into account what exactly the BDS movement calls for and all possible implications of endorsing BDS as a tactic of opposing Israeli policy. 

Essentially, what I am urging you to do is to consider whether endorsing BDS in its current form will actually contribute to its goals. I write this based on my personal experience as a political activist against the Israeli occupation. In Israel, I organized and spoke in numerous demonstrations against current Israeli policy, and co-founded activities directed specifically in addressing gendered aspects of living in a conflict zone. I should also mention that I am a strong supporter of boycotts against Israeli products made in the occupied territories. Based on this experience, I strongly believe that BDS in its current form will probably reach the opposite of its goals. Furthermore, as an anthropologist, I am deeply disturbed by the preference to exercise authority to limit academic freedom upon any other alternatives.

Concerning the possible results of endorsing an academic boycott, please consider the following: The Israeli academy is exactly the sector of Israeli society where pro-Palestinian and pro-peace activity is most flourishing. Boycotting Israeli academy can only bring to weakening its ability to voice an opposition to Israeli policy.  Those who are arguing against this by saying that the Israeli academy is complicit with Israeli army and enforcing the occupation, should keep in mind that the only direct link between Israeli academic institutions as a whole and the Israeli army is that they are both significantly funded by Israeli tax payers, which is a result of the fact that most of the academic institutions in Israel are public. Second, anyone who thinks that endorsing BDS will change Israeli policy does not understand how Israeli politics works. Currently, what this move is more likely to do is stir greater crowds to a more militant, right wing position (I rely on current polls on this subject, so this isn’t just my perspective).

Concerning my second point, I urge you to consider whether choosing to silence voices of Israeli academics through endorsing an academic boycott is an appropriate pathway for a discipline that is troubled by questions concerning anthropologists’ authoritative practices. Furthermore, choosing to silence one group of academics as a main punitive action seems to be in contradiction with the discipline’s ethos of conducting a multifaceted, vibrant, professional discourse. There are multiple other measures to politically engage with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without harming the core of our professional ethos; without disenfranchising a whole group from participation in the international professional scene. For those who argue in return that Palestinian scholars are in fact silenced in these days by the Israeli occupation I say- this is correct. But how does silencing another group of people solve this situation? Since when retaliation by the same token is the optimal means to fight that situation?

I therefore urge you to carefully consider your vote on BDS, and all of its possible implications. Also, if you care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and want to do something about it, please know that there are many other possibilities to be engaged and contribute to bringing an end to the Israeli occupation that do not involve such problematic measures.



Vote YES on Resolution 1

Real Justice Requires Dialogue! Reject Boycott, Work for Peace: Vote YES on Resolution #1

On FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 20 AT 6:00 PM in Colorado Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 2&3, the members of AAA will be asked to vote on two resolutions addressing the situation in Israel and Palestine.



WE NEED YOUR HELP. Every vote will count. We believe strongly that the future of Anthropology and the American Anthropological Association is at stake. This is not just a vote about a boycott.


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.

Dan Rabinowitz’s response to ‘An Open Letter to Dan Rabinowitz: Let’s Get our Facts Straight about BDS’ by Nadia Abu El-Haj.

By Dan Rabinowitz, Professor of Anthropology at Tel Aviv University. First published on Monoweiss.net November 14 2015

On November 9th 2015, Nadia Abu El-Haj posted an ‘open letter’ to me in response to an op-ed piece I published in Haaretz a few days earlier. Here is my brief response to her.

On Edward Said: I never claimed that had Said been alive he would have been opposed to BDS. I know that Noam Chomsky, who shared many of Edward’s views, recently spoke against BDS. But I cannot tell what Edward’s position would have been, so I did not. I did say that BDS slammed Said’s Diwan, the Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra project that remains an important part of his good legacy.

Dan Rabinowitz introducing Edward Said key note speech at IAA Nazareth March 1999 (2)

On anti-semitism: Abu El-Haj paraphrases me correctly when she invokes my observation that BDS is not being honest about the endgame it seeks. What I find bewildering is her claim that by indexing this I ‘raise the specter of anti-semitism‘. I never thought BDS to be anti-semitic, and am not inclined to change my mind if an odd anti-semite occasionally jumps on its band wagon. I do insist that BDS is duplicitous. My article attempts to shed some light on the political agenda which drives this doubletalk, spiraling BDS (and Anthroboycott behind it) into all kinds of contradictions and confusion.

On economic sanctions against Israeli companies: I never claimed they do not happen. I argued that BDS’s leadership, which focuses almost exclusively on academic boycott, does very little to promote them. My article suggests an explanation for this bizarre strategic choice.

On Israeli universities: I never claimed that ‘Israeli universities are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise’ as Abu El-Haj misquotes me. I did say that Israeli universities are ‘inhabited by individuals who, like Said in his time, are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise’. When it comes to the distinction between individuals and institutions, Abu El-Haj, like most protagonists of academic boycott, seems to become confused.

On BDS’s endgame: Abu El-Haj returns to this in her last paragraph, promising to refute my assertion about BDS’s real intentions and ‘get our facts straight’. I read that paragraph, then read it once again. I am thankful for the illustration it provides of my main argument in Haaretz. QED.

On Syntax: Letters can be significant and moving because they use the second person, directly addressing their recipients. Nadia Abu El-Haj’ and I have had our conversations and collaborations in the past. We know each other personally. I notice now however that even as she writes a text she calls ‘a letter’ to me, she cannot bring herself to address me in the customary second person. Being an individual and not an institution, I wonder: do protocol-abiding boycotters need approval from a yet to be perfected clause in a future sub-section of one of PACBI handbook’s convoluted chapters before they can engage in direct public dialogue with someone like me?

On boycott and personal relations: Anthroboycott insists that it targets institutions, not individuals. I and other Israeli anthropologists obviously have personal acquaintances amongst anthroboycottists. When the campaign to boycott us began we expected those of them who identify themselves publicly as supportive of a boycott to reach out, at least on personal communication channels, and put our minds at ease. We are still waiting. Is distinguishing the personal from the institutional and the political proving to be impossible so early in the day? Where will we all be AFTER our colleagues have passed a boycott resolution against ‘our institutions’?

Prof. Dan Rabinowitz teaches Anthropology at Tel-Aviv University. He is Co-founder of Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine, a former President of the Israeli Anthropological Association and of Greenpeace Mediterranean and current Chairman of the Association for Environmental Justice in Israel. He has books on Israel/Palestine published by Cambridge, UC Berkeley and Ashgate, and articles in American Ethnologist, JRAI, Critical Inquiry, IJMES, JAR, Ethnic and Racial Studies and more.

A Boycott Story: An Old Practice, but Only One Possible Path

By, Harvey E. Goldberg, The Hebrew University

In the summer of 1981, in London, I participated in a conference on North African society. My work has had Jewish life in Libya as a major focus. Never having been able to visit Libya, I hoped the occasion might be an opportunity to meet colleagues from there. Before the first session, I spoke with some students from Libya. They were surprised at my presence, and expressed curiosity in a friendly tone.

Among the participants from different countries, one other Israeli attended: a student finishing her doctorate. Her research was on the political history of Tripolitania. My studies dealt mostly with daily life within the Jewish community. She was scheduled to speak first.

When my Israeli colleague was invited to the lectern, a person suddenly got up and addressed the chair. He introduced himself as a Palestinian and asked whether it was true that the speaker—who had not yet begun—was an Israeli. Upon hearing that she was, he expressed an objection that he and others were not informed earlier. His critical remarks included the statement that “Israelis are not human.”

He then began to walk out, and was joined by some others. I saw some people hesitate as whether to leave or not. Near me was one of the students with whom I had chatted. At first he did not move, but then I saw him notice a signal from and older person. He then left too.

At the end of the session, I was approached by a man from a university in Tunisia. In concise and crisp French he told me: “In politics we are adversaries; in science we are colleagues.” His statement has always stayed with me.

As Mideast Violence Escalates, Debate and Dialogue Shrinks

By: Mira Sucharov, an associate professor of political science at Carleton University.

As hot as things have become in Israel and the West Bank over the last several weeks with escalating violence, here in North America a chill is palpable. It comes in the form of silencing within and across communities – in private homes, on university campuses and in community institutions. It’s coming from both sides: those who call themselves “pro-Palestinian” and those who call themselves “pro-Israel.” While the Palestinian solidarity side uses boycott and silencing, the Jewish community has its own internal conversation watchdogs.

Last week, a speaker at the University of Minnesota was shouted down, his talk delayed by 30 minutes. The invited scholar was Moshe Halbertal, a philosopher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a professor of law at New York University. It was a scholarly talk: the Dewey Lecture in the Philosophy of Law, sponsored by the university’s law school. Prof. Halbertal is also a noted military ethicist who helped draft a code of ethics for the Israel Defense Forces. The Minnesota Anti-War Committee took credit for the stunt; Students for Justice in Palestine endorsed it.

If you’re concerned by the extent to which civilians have born the brunt of violence and destruction in the Israeli-Palestinian context, Prof. Habertal is someone you’d want to speak with, especially in an academic context where the point is the free exchange of ideas. But it’s hard to pose tough questions if you’re trying to silence the person.

This blocking of Prof. Halbertal’s speech is a trend that gets its fire from the academic and cultural boycott of Israel organized by the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement, along with the more general push against what many Palestine solidarity activists call “normalization,” meaning ordinary engagement with Jews and Israelis and their ideas. Activists argue that the target is institutions, not individuals. But the effects on individuals and open speech, as they were at the University of Minnesota last week, are clear.

Continuing in this vein, last week producers of Dégradé, a film about Gaza told from the perspective of clients at a hair salon, pulled it from the Other Israel Film Festival sponsored by the JCC Manhattan because it’s a “Jewish” festival. While it seems that the producers’ decision was their own, it suggests a dangerous precedent: fortifying the silos between acceptable audiences and unacceptable ones in the world of art, ideas and culture.

Meanwhile, while the Jewish community doesn’t talk in terms of boycott and anti-normalization, it has its own troubling rules of engagement.

There are the narrow speaker guidelines for those with whom campus Jewish groups allow their members to publicly engage in dialogue. The guidelines for Hillel International, the world’s largest Jewish student organization, exclude anyone who “delegitimize[s], demonize[s] or appl[ies] a double standard to Israel, or supports the boycott, divestment and sanction movement.” While it’s natural that Israel supporters would bristle at those things, the rules effectively preclude Hillel students from inviting for debate and dialogue any Palestinian solidarity activists, almost all of whom, unfortunately, have jumped on the BDS bandwagon.

When my seven-year-long columnist post was cut from my local Jewish community paper last summer, I was told that it was to “make room for new voices.” Since then, it’s become clear that the publisher wanted only one angle on Israel. The columnist who focuses almost exclusively on the failings of Israel’s adversaries remained in place, while my replacement is steering clear of Israel altogether.

And then there are the corners of quiet shunning. I recently organized a Jewish community youth project involving rotating hosts. One of the participants pulled out, citing the fact that her husband “didn’t want me in his home.” He was appalled by my last Globe and Mail piece. When it comes to “support for Israel,” they said, “there is only one side.”

But some – young Jews in particular – are pushing back against this narrowing of discourse. First there was Open Hillel, a grassroots organization devoted to opposing the speaker guidelines mentioned above. (Disclosure: I am on the group’s academic advisory council.) And now there’s the Jewish People’s Assembly, which launched on Sunday in Washington. The group is demanding that Jewish Federations – the main funding body of local Jewish communities –“not condition support for Jewish institutions and organizations on these institutions’ adherence to red lines around Israel.”

One might fantasize about casting all the silencers into a room where they can sit in silence with each other to their heart’s content. Meanwhile, the rest of us can continue to try to talk, to write and to publicly grapple with the dilemmas of the day, trying to search for bits of common ground wherever they might be.

The original article was published at The Globe and Mail

What Your Boycott Means to Me

Like most academics in the summer time, I recently attended two professional conferences where I presented my research and heard about the research of my colleagues from around the world. Aside from the perk of world travel, summer vacation is an opportunity – perhaps the opportunity – to broaden horizons and learn about the state-of-the-art in our scientific fields. During this particular summer, I had pleasant conversations with Turkish, Chinese, and American colleagues, among many others.

Continue reading ‘s article.

Boycotting Israeli Universities and its Discontents

By: Dan Rabinowitz, Professor of Anthropology at Tel Aviv University

Those advocating a boycott of Israeli universities strive for the moral high ground, but puzzling contradictions cast doubts on their motivation

The initiative to have the AAA endorse a boycott of Israeli universities comes in two versions, each with its peculiar load of inner contradictions. The first version appeared in 2014 as a foundational statement. The gist: Israeli universities will be boycotted until ‘they call on Israel’ to end the siege of Gaza, withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967, grant Palestinian citizens of Israel full equality and ‘respect, protect and promote’ Palestinian refugees’ right of return.

Continue reading at Anthropology News

Resist the Call for Academic Boycott; Support Dialogue

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

European Sociology Association (ESA) Adopted Ethical Guidelines Condemning Academic Boycotts.

In a recent meeting of its General Assembly on August 27th 2015, the EuropeanSociology Association approved two ethical guidelines which specifically condemn boycott against academics. Ethical Guideline 2 reads: ‘The aim of the Association to develop sociological understanding of both the diversity and the complexity of existing European societies should be reflected in norms of social investigation that take into account the experiences and perspectives of others according to our own non-discriminatory ethic’.

Ethical Guideline 3 reads: ‘To this end the ESA holds that its members, conference participants and partners are not to be discriminated against in any way, direct or indirect, including boycott of themselves or their institutions, based on their ethnic, national, gender, age, religious, disability, political or sexual orientation backgrounds’.

Click here for the full statement. See also the European Sociology Association website.