Why the BDS Campaign Can’t Tolerate Israeli Moderates

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

In 2001, Edward Said partnered with Daniel Barenboim to create what Said’s widow since labeled the most important project of his life: the East West Music Diwan, a platform for Palestinian and Israeli young music talents to meet, rehearse and perform together. In 2012 the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel denounced the Diwan as “undermining Palestinian civil resistance.”
I am an Anthropologist at Tel-Aviv University, proud to have been a personal friend of Edward Said. I am currently involved in an effort to curb attempts to boycott Israeli universities, attempts which, like PACBI, are inspired by BDS – the Palestinian movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. The uphill battle in which my colleagues and I are engaged often makes me think of Edward’s legacy.
How did Said’s Diwan and Israeli universities end up being targeted by BDS?  “Boycott, divestment and sanctions” suggests an economic emphasis. Given the success of economic pressure elsewhere – South Africa and more recently Iran stand out as two examples – why does BDS neglect mainstream Israeli economic institutions? And why is it so eager to boycott Israeli universities, inhabited by individuals who, like Said in his time, are overwhelmingly in favor of dialogue and compromise?

This is not the only puzzle surrounding BDS’s strategic choices. BDS’ homepage suggests that Israeli universities would be boycotted until they “call on Israel” to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, end the Gaza siege, give Palestinian citizens equality and recognize Palestinian refugees’ right of return.
These are reasonable demands (even the refugee clause is worded moderately). Hidden between the lines, however, is a procedural impasse: universities cannot, must not and do not state institutional positions on political issues. The condition, in other words, is one which universities can never meet, a recipe for indefinite boycott. Another version of a boycott, to be debated by the American Anthropological Association on November 20, suggests it will be enforced until such time when Israeli universities ‘end their complicity’ with the injustices inflicted on the Palestinians. Israel does inflict injustices on Palestinians, but making universities accountable for them is ludicrous, and a condition as vague as ‘when universities end their complicity’ is a new procedural quagmire. Who decides whether or when “complicity” has “ended?” Are universities everywhere ‘complicit’ with unseemly actions by their governments?

BDS is in the academic boycott business too long for these procedural blunders to be put down to oversight. Other elements of BDS’ strategy in fact suggest they were deliberate. BDS’ insistence on Israel’s withdrawal from the territories it took in 1967 suggests a two-state solution.

But statements by BDS leaders and supporters over the years reflect vehement opposition to this formula and a consistent preference of a future with no Israel. They are aware of course that such an endgame, complete with the negation of the right of Jews to self-determination, is hard to sell. So they embellish it. The demands from Israel, designed to be interpreted by innocent  bystanders as a call for a two-state solution, obfuscate a more sinister vision that has no place for Israel; and a call designed to ostracize Israeli universities indefinitely tries to pass as an effort to correct their moral fabric.

A vision of a future with no Israel explains BDS’ disinterest in economic sanctions. A stick-and-carrot ploy, economic sanctions nudge the target to do right under pressure now and enjoy benefits later. For example, economic sanctions of the type now contemplated by the European Union could force Israel to withdraw and to accept a Palestinian state, with the carrot coming later as renewed international support, so vital for Israel’s survival. Coy language on its website notwithstanding, BDS wants none of this. This is why economic sanctions, useless when the target is not assigned a future, are irrelevant for BDS.

Academic and cultural boycott, on the other hand, fits BDS’ endgame perfectly.  Israel’s intransigent and violent conduct in recent years brought international sympathy for it to an all-time low. BDS operatives hope this fall from grace could soon be followed by an ultimate collapse, and see an opportunity: demonize Israel as a radically essentialized epitome of evil, and you might expedite its ultimate demise.

This tactic has willing partners on the Israeli right, where politicians thrive on cultivating “the world is all against us” ethos. What it cannot tolerate are Israeli moderates. A vibrant, credible intellectual milieu, where academics and artists embrace complexity and nuance, openly criticizing the occupation and the government, subverts BDS’ essentializing mission.

Those who question the over-simplified, self-righteous, monolithic tale of evil colonial oppressors and angelic indigenous victims must be marginalized and silenced. Particularly when they include the likes of Said, Barenboim and Noam Chomsky. The more amenable to dialogue we are the more “boycottable” we must become.

Those who believe that Israel should not have been created or that it now no longer has the privilege to carry on have a right to their opinion. But they have obligations too. They must come clean about seeking a post-Israel endgame; they must specify the process they think might lead there; and they  must openly and realistically assess the price those on the ground might have to pay for it.
The conversation could grow tense, but at least it will be honest. This is essential if stakeholders and observers are to reach decisions based on real positions, not duplicitous manipulations.

This article was originally published in Haaretz

YES for Anthropological Engagement, NO to an Academic Boycott

By, Gila Silverman, School of Anthropology, University of Arizona

At the upcoming AAA Annual Meeting, the association’s members will be faced with two opposing resolutions about Israel and Palestine.

Both resolutions acknowledge the ongoing tragedies and suffering in Palestine and Israel. Both seek to do something about this suffering.

But only one resolution provides productive options for anthropological engagement in the region. The other seeks to ostracize our Israeli colleagues, and will cause serious damage to anthropological efforts in the region.

I will be voting NO to an academic boycott. The reasons for this have been stated clearly elsewhere, but the main points that I find relevant are:

  • Such boycotts end up punishing individual scholars, not institutions;
  • These scholars are often the very people seeking to understand and address the issues in the region;
  • Singling out Israel when other conflicts and human rights issues are ignored implies that there are other underlying reasons for this call to action;
  • Singling out Israel demonstrates a lack of understanding of this particular conflict and the larger socio-political dynamics of the region as a whole.

I will be voting YES for anthropological engagement. I believe that anthropologists can make an important contribution to the heated and passionate discussions about the Middle East, and about Israel-Palestine in particular. We are one of the only scholarly disciplines who have the tools to problematize the social, religious and political histories of the public discourses on all sides of the debate, and to explore the everyday experiences of those living in the midst of these terrible events.

If we as anthropologists truly want to support greater understanding and catalyze movement towards peace in Israel and Palestine, academic boycotts are the opposite of what we should be doing. AAA should be encouraging academic dialogue, theoretically and methodologically sophisticated scholarship, and curriculum development. Rather than an academic boycott, AAA should spearhead an initiative for greater academic engagement in Israel/Palestine, advocate for more research and scholarship funding, challenge universities to teach more courses and create more faculty lines for those who take on these complex issues.

There are many anthropologists – Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans – who have done excellent work to help us analyze and understand this region. These scholars have demonstrated tremendous sensitivity and have worked hard to build the trust and neutrality that is necessary in such a polarized and emotionally-laden region. They have done this academic work despite the risk to themselves, their families, and their careers. Their research looks beyond the deep fears, angers, and passions that characterize any discussion of the Middle East; it forces us to challenge our assumptions, helps us to better understand those we might see as “other” – on all sides of the political, cultural and religious spectrums – and provides rare insights into an extremely complicated situation. This is exactly the type of anthropological scholarship that I want to make available to my students. I want to hear more from these researchers, and I want new scholars to tackle these complex questions. I would hate to see us shut down these lines of inquiry through a boycott of our colleagues and peers. We would achieve nothing by silencing the very voices that are most needed on this complex issue.

We might also consider turning our anthropological lens on ourselves, in order to explore the very questions raised in discussions of an anthropological academic boycott: Why has Israel/Palestine been singled out? Why is the discourse around Israel so different from that about other countries in the region? Why have AAA members chosen to bring this issue to the Executive Board, and not the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Ukraine?

Anthropological studies of Israel-Palestine, and of the other conflicts spread throughout the entire region, have much to teach us. Rather than boycott those grappling with these issues, we should do everything we can to support and encourage them.

Oppose Academic Boycott: A Letter From a North Carolina-Based Anthropologist

By: Michele Rivkin Fish, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

A boycott positions “us” –the non-Israelis– as less entangled, less responsible, less complicit in the militarization and violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—despite the deep involvement of the US government and corporate world in this conflict. It expresses a hubris of moral purity that one can condemn colleagues without understanding the lives they lead, or knowing the specific labor they pursue. A boycott represents a simple refusal to engage, under the guise of engagement, rather than the challenging investment of time and energy to figure out how our expertise may contribute positively to the goals of peace.

Read Michele’s letter: Rivkin Fish letter to AAA re-boycott

Isaiah Silver and the Strange Crimes of Israeli Anthropologists

By David M. Rosen Professor of Anthropology and Law at Fairleigh Dickinson University

 Among the many peculiar and troubling voices within the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement in anthropology is that of the fictional character Isaiah Silver, whose writings feature prominently in the popular anthropology blog Savage Minds. The name Isaiah Silver, with its obviously Jewish shadings, is claimed to be the collective pseudonym of two members of the American Anthropological Association who have lived and worked in Israel and Palestine and who describe themselves as “proud Jews.”  And so it is as a “proud Jew” that Isaiah Silver points his accusing finger at Israeli anthropologists, charging them with all manner of crimes against Palestinians.

As a former “insider,” Isaiah Silver, the renegade “proud Jew,” lends the aura of authenticity to BDS’s accusations. In reality, the emergence of the character of Isaiah Silver is reminiscent of what the late Richard Hofstader dubbed the paranoid style of American politics, in which the renegade figure –formerly the ex-Communist and now the anti-Israel Jew—plays a central accusatory role. But why choose a pseudonym? After all, anyone remotely familiar with American anthropology knows that you don’t exactly need to be Braveheart to condemn Israel in front of a crowd of American anthropologists. But the pseudonym adds to the aura of staged victimhood, as these BDS propagandists demand that their identities be protected as they seek to destroy the careers of their Israeli colleagues.

But why go after Israeli anthropologists? After all, Israeli anthropologists, on the whole, are politically left, liberal, tolerant, and opposed to the politics of occupation as pursued by the current right wing government of Israel. They would ordinarily be natural allies of any anthropologists interested in finding fair and just solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But instead treating them as allies, “Isaiah Silver” and his ilk have invented vicarious and phony transgressions to be rectified by boycott. First and foremost is the charge that Israeli anthropology is responsible for the nationalist bent of some Israeli archeology. Left unsaid is that in Israel, as in Europe, archeology is not a subfield of anthropology. Archeology is a separate field with its own departments, training, faculty, and students. Anthropology students do not study together with archeology students, nor vice versa. How anthropologists are to be held responsible for the alleged transgressions of scholars in a completely independent and separate discipline remains unexplained. Also left undiscussed is the nationalist bent that archeology has taken in many other countries in the Middle East and beyond.

Secondly, BDS supporters charge Israeli anthropologists with ‘crimes of omission’ in their work, when they fail to engage the issue of the Palestinians. It is true that not all Israeli anthropologists are political, and many have engaged in research which has little or nothing to do with politics or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But anthropologists throughout the world engage in work that has scant connection to politics. How does the normal work of anthropology come to be characterized by BDS and its supporters, and even by our own Task Force, as a kind of crime of omission? Even more problematic, how anyone can buy into this nonsense?

The answer is quite simple: All radical movements demand simple binary oppositions: a world made up of oppressors and oppressed, good guys and bad guys. All radical movements have “take no prisoners” and “if you’re not with us you’re against us” positions. BDS is no different. Its own ideology – the destruction of Jewish sovereignty in Israel –cannot abide even the mere existence of liberal, tolerant, pluralistic, and progressive Israeli institutions and actors. The BDS anti-normalization project is specifically designed to eliminate all cooperation with centers of progress and reform in Israel. All become subsumed under the slogans of the regressive left, such as “settler colonial state,” “complicity” and, of course, the evil specter of “Zionism.”

What does all this mean for anthropology? BDS is now asking the American Anthropological Association to become a sponsor and underwriter of its ideology. It would be wise to remember that while the American Anthropological Association has had some proud moments in the past, it has also had some extremely dark moments. The horrific attacks on Franz Boas by the association and, in more recent years, the kangaroo court (aka Task Force) used to harass and condemn Napoleon Chagnon illustrate this association’s potential for viciousness when it is seized and overwhelmed by self-righteous illusions. Now we are being asked to take an unprecedented step: to become a party to a political conflict. Any contemporary observer knows that the forces of radicalism –left and right—have seized the opportunity for promoting violence in Israel and Palestine. In this conflict, BDS is asking us to take the side of the some of the most radical and irredentist forces within the Palestinian national movement, against the forces of moderation, including our own colleagues and their departments in Israel. I have grave doubts that American anthropology can ever recover from taking such a radical step.

A Flawed Strategy

By: Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D. Rutgers University-Camden, NJ

I oppose, for reasons I outline below, any effort to involve the AAA in any boycott of Israel, Israeli institutions, or Israeli scholars or programs. Along with my strong support for Israel, I have long opposed Israeli settlement policies and support a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with negotiated adjustments.   I therefore appreciate efforts to come up with alternative statements to resolutions which support academic boycotts of Israel. I do feel, though, that the alternative resolution, “Engaging Israel-Palestine,” is too one-sided to reflect fairly and seriously the genuine complexities of the situation and the long list of missed opportunities by both sides in the quest for a just and mutually beneficial peace settlement.

More also needs to be said about the AAA Israel-Palestine Task Force Report itself. The 120 “interviews” that were collected were (at least in my case) carefully crafted statements. To the extent that my opposition to the AAA’s possible support of the BDS campaign (and I assume others who made similar arguments) were glossed over and summarily dismissed in a cursory way, the report is deeply flawed. Here are some of the views that I expressed to the Task Force committee regarding my strong opposition to an academic boycott of Israel.

  1. First, as others have noted, the boycott, despite denials from its proponents, threatens to silence individuals and not just institutions. I am very concerned that if the AAA votes in support of the BDS campaign, Israeli scholars will have a very difficult time participating in future anthropological meetings in the United States. Will Israeli scholars be able to wear name tags that list their Israeli university affiliation? Will they feel estranged and targeted at our meetings? What about American students who are currently in Israel or hope to study in Israel? How will support of a BDS position affect them? Will they themselves be retaliated against simply because they might receive some sort of financial or other support from Israeli institutions? A boycott would have consequences, intended and unintended, not only for the government of Israel but for our own colleagues, students, and friends.
  1. The larger question remains why it makes moral sense to single out Israel for a boycott. What are the deeper implications of such an act? Should we be boycotting China for its occupation of Tibet? The disproportionate attention that the AAA is paying to Israel is mind-boggling when one considers that the list of countries with serious human rights violations is endless, and includes major power such as China and Russia and smaller countries such as Uganda and Haiti. The human rights records of some other countries in the Middle East is particularly egregious. Consider in this respect Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and many other nations. Nor is Israel alone in being involved in an ongoing occupation and territorial dispute with its neighbors; other prominent examples include, of course, Russia as well as Turkey, Armenia, and Morocco.
  1. More broadly, we also need to confront the issue of implicit or structural anti-Semitism. I do not believe that most of the supporters of the boycott in the AAA are consciously anti-Semitic. Far from it. But as scholars who rightly study and emphasize “structural racism” and other forms of unconscious bias, we should be equally sensitive to the ideological and other biases that have at times influenced portions of the BDS movement. We also need to understand, with the same rigor that we bring to the rest of our anthropological work, how the mood generated by BDS can degenerate into the sort of explicit anti-Semitism displayed, for example, in the recent outrageous treatment of a student at UCLA, see: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2015/02/23/ucla-students-jewish-background-questioned-during-vote-for-judicial-board/, or the targeting of Jewish students at campuses all over the country. As scholars, however pure our own motives, we need to take into account the larger context in which our actions are embedded. And as teachers we need to consider the spillover effects of such actions on many of our students.
  1. Finally, as someone who is critical of many of Israel’s current policies, I wonder what good a boycott would actually do. Would it help strengthen the many voices in Israeli civil society including Israeli anthropologists who call for a renewed effort to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and whom incidentally the AAA Task Force did not consult for its report? Would it influence the Israeli government to alter its policies? Would it help build bridges between Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans? Would it help strengthen the ability of anthropologists and anthropology as a discipline to be a credible voice in American and international political discourse. Or would it, to the contrary, as I suspect, either have no effect or accomplish the very opposite of all these laudable goals?

I would not want to be a member of the AAA if it supports the BDS campaign because the AAA would no longer represent the voice of academic freedom and open inquiry that it claims to champion. Moreover, as the committee members who wrote the Task Force report are not experts in the field, spent so little time in the West Bank, and never spoke to most Israeli anthropologists, when the AAA membership votes at its annual meeting in Denver, it will be voting on a politically motivated, biased report that makes some of us who hope to continue an Israeli/Palestinian dialogue feel that our presence is no longer welcome in the AAA.

BDS and Self-Righteous Moralism

By, Dan Avnon, political theorist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
I have never previously been singled out for boycott merely because of my being a Jewish-Israeli scholar, and surely have never been boycotted by the left-wing edges of political activism, whereas ironically, in Israel I have occasionally been condemned by academic and non-academic self-anointed Jewish and patriotic zealots. The novelty of this experience – being boycotted due to my national identity and organizational affiliation– is in the backdrop of my reflections.
I will address two aspects of my BDS experiences: I’ll explain how by my being subjected to their propaganda, leaflets and demonstrations, the BDS activists enabled me to realise that their actual goal is to end Israel’s existence as an independent Jewish state. That’s the political aspect.

Citation Bias Mars Task Force Report on Israel/Palestine 

By: David M Rosen, Professor of Anthropology and Law at Fairleigh Dickinson University

When the American Anthropological Association formed the Task Force on Israel/Palestine, it charged the group with developing “principles to be used to assess whether the AAA has an interest in taking a stand on these issues. This may include providing a comprehensive and neutral overview of arguments for and against a range of specific possible stands (including no action).” Inherent in this charge is the idea the Task Force should adhere to reasonable standards of neutrality.  Obviously, in a situation such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is no end to passionate debate, and the slippery descent into detailed point/counterpoint arguments can be overwhelming. Nevertheless, it is useful to ask to what degree the narrative of the report is shaped by any particular agenda.  After all, most anthropologists reading the report are not experts in the Middle East and so would ordinarily rely upon findings of fact and conclusions contained in the report to help them form an opinion. Admittedly, the report is not an ethnography, but at the same time, there is a reasonable expectation that reports created by anthropologists should adhere to basic principles of fair-minded and unbiased investigatory perspectives and methods. With this in mind, I examined the report for its underlying narrative and for the ways it presents arguments for and against various aspects of the situation. I also analysed the report’s presentation of possible actions to be taken by the AAA.


In this short comment I’ll refer to one central issue, that of citation bias. Citation bias is a form of reporting bias that turns on the selective inclusion or omission of information. In citation bias, the citation or non-citation of research findings and of relevant perspectives can have a profound influence on the results — in this case, the central narrative of the report. I was alerted to the problem of citation bias early in the report, when I noticed that while the Task Force cited a petition in support of a boycott, it failed to cite a petition signed by other anthropologists in opposition to the boycott. This immediately raised in my mind the possibility of citation bias. Since this is a report written by anthropologists for anthropologists, I was particularly interested in whether the contemporary anthropological sources cited by the Task Force were biased in one way or another regarding the issue of academic boycotts.  The criterion I applied was whether an anthropologist cited in the Task Force report was either a supporter or an opponent of BDS. I used only public self-declarations, such as being signatories to pro- or anti- BDS petitions or other published statements relating to boycotts of Israeli academic institutions. I based this solely on self-declaration by the authors; I did not infer any political position based upon the writings themselves.  I also eliminated three anthropologists cited in the report from this list, as these colleagues were long-deceased before the emergence of the boycott movement. These were Raphael Patai, Eric Wolf, and Henry Rosenfeld. To be fully transparent, I am one of the more than 400 anthropologists who signed a un-cited petition in opposition to the boycott. See: https://anthroantiboycott.wordpress.com/ The results of my inquiry are displayed in the following chart.

Author BDS Supporter BDS Opponent Unknown
Abu El-haj, Nadia x
Abu-Lughod, Lila x
Asad, Talal x
Ben Ari, Eyal x
Bishara, Amahl x
Bornstein, Avram x
Bowman, Glen x
Davis, Uri x
Deeb, Lara x
Feldman, Ilana x
Furani, Khaled x
Halper, Jeff x
Hammami, Rema x
 Kaplan, Danny  x
Kelley, Tobias x
Kersal, Morag x
Lomsky-Feder, Edna x
Markowitz, Fran x
Rabinowitz, Dan x
Sa’ar, Amalia x
Shokeid, Moshe x
Swedenburg, Ted x
Weiss, Erica x
Winegar, Jessica x

Clearly, the overwhelming preponderance of anthropologists cited in the report are self-declared supporters of BDS (fourteen).  Only six publically-declared boycott opponents are cited, while another four seem to have taken no public position on the issue.  In my next post, I will examine the content, narrative, and arguments presented in the report and investigate whether and how citation bias shaped the presuppositions ­­and conclusions of the report. Like many anthropologists, I am a critical opponent of the Israeli occupation, but I am greatly concerned about anthropologists blindly ignoring all the complexity of the situation and allowing anthropology to be used as a public relations channel for a particular version of the Palestinian cause.  In this light, AAA members should be particularly cautious about what steps should be taken by the association, especially an academic boycott, given the evidence of bias in the Task Force report and its recommendations.

23 Anthropologists submit a draft resolution to the AAA’s Business Meeting: Engaging Israel Palestine: End the Occupation, Oppose Academic Boycott, Support Dialogue.

The proposed resolution will be debated and voted on at the AAA’s business meeting on November 20th at 18:15, during the Association’s annual conference at the Denver Convention Center. ADIP fully supports this resolution and urges anthropologists of all persuasions to support it and, if possible, attend the business meeting for the vote.

The proposed resolution reads as follows:

Proposal for Resolution

At the Business Meeting of The American Anthropological Association

To be held on November 20th 2015

Denver, CO

Title: Engaging Israel Palestine: End the Occupation, Oppose Academic Boycott, Support Dialogue

Authors submitting the proposed resolution: Yoram Bilu, Peter Brown, Dale Eickelman, Judith Farquhar, Harvey Goldberg, Yehuda Goodman, Michael Herzfeld, Susan Kahn, Jack Kugelmass, Mark Nichter, Michele Rivkin-Fish, David Rosen, Amalia Sa’ar, Gila Silverman, Sydel Silverman, Alex Weingrod, Allan Young (Dan Rabinowitz, Bruce Kapfere, Mia Goodman, Andrew Lakoff, Charles Lindholm and Jenny White also took part in drafting and preparing the resolution but for technical reasons were ineligible to become official signatories).

Whereas: Human rights, the quest for justice, and a hope for a viable future for Israelis, Palestinians, and the broader Middle East is a concern for many;

And whereas: Israel’s occupation since 1967 of Palestinian territories is an impediment to peace;

And whereas: The need for a speedy recovery and reconstruction of the Gaza strip following the devastation inflicted on it by Israel in 2014 is as urgent as ever;

And whereas: Resolution of the tragedy of Palestinian refugees remains a prerequisite for reconciliation in the region;

And whereas: Moderate segments in Israeli and Palestinian society, including academics, continue to have a crucial role in the difficult struggle for peace;

And whereas: Associating academics with the political regimes in which they operate contradicts anthropology’s most enduring contribution to intellectual and political sensibilities, namely its ability to recognize and articulate nuance, deal with social and cultural complexity, and avoid essentialization;


The AAA calls upon the Israeli government to follow UN resolutions and adhere to the initiatives of many in the international community by:

  • Finding a way to end the siege of Gaza and cooperate with the Palestinian leadership, Egypt, and the international community in a genuine effort to reconstruct the Gaza strip after the damages inflicted on it in 2014, while safeguarding security for Israelis;
  • Negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians towards a just and final settlement of the conflict, based on Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967;
  • Recognizing the rights of Palestinian and Bedouin citizens of Israel to full equality, and doing everything necessary to fulfill this right;
  • Promoting and implementing a spectrum of dignified, just, and effective solutions to the tragedy of Palestinian refugees.

Further: The AAA calls on anthropologists and academics to resist conflating the activities of academics with the policies and actions of their governments, and to refrain from initiatives to boycott universities as a means of applying pressure on political regimes and governments everywhere, Israel no exception.

Further: The AAA urges its members and anthropologists everywhere to strengthen anthropological engagement with Palestine and Israel by focusing research, debate, and teaching in and about the region; by mobilizing anthropological insight, sensitivity to histories and heritages and moral integrity in the service of renewed dialogue between willing parties on either side; and by contributing to ongoing and future efforts to terminate the occupation and nudge reluctant leaders towards peace.

Further: To enhance this engagement, the AAA membership instructs the Executive Committee to allocate 1% of its annual expenditure to Scholarly Endeavors in Conflict Areas, with an initial emphasis on Israel and Palestine. These endeavors will include grants and scholarships for budding anthropologists, funding of anthropological courses, seminars, workshops and study programs, both locally and abroad, and developing curricula and research projects that focus on understanding conflict generally and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular (see appendix 1 for a more detailed note on finance).

Appendix 1

Financial Note

To ensure that implementation of the AAA’s Scholarly Endeavors in Conflict Areas does not exert undue pressure on the AAA’s already over-stretched budget, we propose that the necessary funds for these endeavors will be generated through a voluntary contribution drive that the AAA will initiate at its earliest convenience. Appeals to members and non-members to contribute to it will use all media outlets available, including online prompts for those initiating or renewing membership with AAA. Activities associated with this initiative will be implemented only on budget years in which the contributions received by the Scholarly Endeavors in Conflict Areas’ voluntary contribution drive exceed 0.99% of the AAA’s overall expenditure.

Proposals for Resolutions on Israel/Palestine

In a few days (October 21st 2015 ) the American Anthropological Association (AAA) will upload the texts of two or more proposals for resolutions on Israel/Palestine submitted to its annual Business Meeting. The business meeting will take place on November 20th 2015 at 18:15, during the AAA’s 114th Annual Meeting at the Denver Convention Center, downtown Denver. One of the proposed resolutions, entitled ‘Against the Occupation, Against an Academic Boycott’, was submitted jointly by 22 anthropologists, including some who are associated with Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel/Palestine (ADIP). It is expected that at least one proposal for a resolution promoting a boycott of Israeli universities will be discussed there too.

This is the first time the AAA has decided to make available proposals for business meeting resolutions a month before the meeting (previously proposals were made public only a day or two before the meeting). The move, clearly geared to encourage debate ahead of Denver, is constructive, and we at ADIP are looking forward to the deliberations that will ensue.

In June 2015 the Israeli Anthropological Association (IAA) carried a resolution which addresses the issue and in a way anticipates the current debate at AAA. The news item published in Haaretz on June 16 2015, a few days after the IAA resolution makes this connection to succinctly.

Parsing the TFIP Report

By: Harvey Goldberg, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Anthropology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

I have tried to get a good sense of the direction of the TF report. Some commentators have claimed that it reaches an unambiguous conclusion. Others have pointed to the complexity of its findings and diversity of the options it presents. A careful reading of the text itself may provide some openings.

The authors bring the authority of Foucault and Said to claim that anthropology should “deconstruct the inequities of everyday social life” (p 7). “Deconstruction,” of course, is a notion deriving from Jacques Derrida, who showed that a close look at any elaborate text shows unsettling gaps, and puzzles as how to continue. Here are a few that struck me.

The term “unanimous,” referring to the TF member opinions, appears throughout the report. Yet, when it comes to the crucial segment on the possibility of an “academic boycott” (80ff), we discover that we are “free to pick and choose as if ordering from a menu” (81). To me this was doubly puzzling. First, is this issue such a light matter that we can just relax and choose whatever we wish, as if in a restaurant? Second, what about the unanimous stand of the TF? Are the TF members actually split and not decided about the action to be taken? Also, given the short time frame and rules governing annual AAA business meetings, when and where would we actually have the ability to give all these options fair consideration?

These perplexities were a trigger for me, an invitation to look back and understand the TF procedures more closely.

Much work by the TF went into producing the text; members became aware of a “vast and rich literature” (6). A great deal of material was collected, while how they were sorted and selected is not apparent. One recommendation is that the “AAA maintain and regularly update a library and/or bibliography of relevant sources” (7), apparently with the hope that they will be read. But who is supposed to be collecting and reading them with an analytical eye? Next is the question of empirical inquiry. It turns out that the major research method was interviews, both in the US and during a visit to Israel and Palestine by the TF delegation (vii).

As an anthropologist, I particularly was interested in the move from absorbing background information to a position that, while not actual ethnography, was closer to a field situation. A broad view of approaching this step is outlined: The TF aimed to “validate, correct and amplify the observations gained” in the first stages of work (4). It was a short trip during which they sought to learn about “lived experiences” (ibid). This orientation, while echoing good anthropological tradition, still raised some more questions. What expectations did the three delegates bring with them, and could they be met in such a brief visit?

This is not just a mechanical question, but stems from an additional puzzle—the context depicted and the professional backgrounds of the TF members (including the delegation). On the one hand, members of the TF were selected for “not having deep histories of expertise in the region” (p. vii, in the box), but had “a record of significant service to the Association” (ibid). As such, they must have been exposed to the “increasing interest within the [AAA]… in researching, debating and intervening in the situation in Israel/Palestine” (1). Given these countervailing thrusts and potential conflicting interests, isn’t the absence of an explication of their initial perspectives within the report another conundrum for the reader?

Perhaps the text provides some hints as to how to sort out some of these puzzlements and gaps? Remembering the goal of visiting the region to “validate, correct and amplify,” I looked for instances of moves in all these directions. Examples of the second (to “correct”) eluded me (readers are invited to do their own search). While I found it difficult to identify examples of the TF being corrected, one case of amplification is made very clear: “With the delegation’s trip to Israel and Palestine, the human rights dimension took on greater prominence.” (2). But the way this issue is presented, constituted another set of stumbling points as I read on.

There is no question that serious human rights violations grow out of Israel’s control of Palestinian lands and of Palestinians, but in perusing the report I found my ethnographic senses balking. While the dominant term used within the report in referring to the region is “Israel/Palestine,” human rights are brought up only with reference to violations directed toward Palestinians. As is stressed often, it can be misleading to view “the conflict” in terms of even “sides,” but there has been much suffering by Israelis also. Some stems from clear human rights violations, the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets into civilian centers. This receives but the briefest of mentions —simply “Hamas rocket attacks” (p 18)—with Hamas not even appearing in the historical appendix. So I pondered the selective use of data. Has the report shared with us its bases for selecting and describing the material at its disposal? I could find hardly a hint in the text.

If the Hamas, that seriously threatens the existence of the Palestinian Authority, is given just one mention, is the TF report merely being sparse with words? I don’t think so, after finding myself pausing at other elliptical formulations.

In the subsection entitled “The ‘Settler Colonialism’ Frame” (11), I wondered whether this condensed expression is being used just to understand Jewish settlers in Palestinian lands after the 1973 war, or is this a reference to Zionism, or to Israel generally? My puzzlement was reinforced by the end of that section, where mention is made of Palestinians who are Israelis. We learn there that within Israel itself, Palestinians “can also vote and have access to the Israeli court system if they want to try to assert their rights” (14). The phrasing suggests that for Israeli Palestinians to “assert their rights,” occurs only now and then. It skips over, and maybe even hides, the facts that there are Palestinian members of Parliament as well as lawyers and judges who are part of the Israeli court system (as well as very many Palestinian students studying law in Israeli law schools). Or are typical AAA readers, with no “deep histories of expertise in the region,” expected to figure this out on their own?

These are only some of the textual and empirical bumps I encountered in going through the report. It contains many details worth knowing, but also begs to be supplemented both by more information and by context. The choice of words may seem confusing to some. The overall project is viewed as an “engagement,” while under “Potential Actions AAA Could Consider” (beginning p 78), subheadings direct us to terms like “censure,” “apply pressure,” and three versions of “boycott.”

Actually, the TF’s advice to “pick and choose” is prudent. The report offers a path to begin to learn about Palestine and Israel, but one that ought to be followed critically and with eyes open. It tells me that this is just a beginning. While the terms just cited seem to be more about “dis-engagement,” another alternative for anthropologists ought to be “dialogue.” In such a tense atmosphere, this undoubtedly would be difficult and frustrating. But does a menu without such a choice portend any serious anthropological contribution to relief for Israel/Palestine?