David Lloyd Reports on the AAA Vote for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Reapalestined David Lloyd’s report on the American Anthropological Association’s vote in favor of a resolution endorsing the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The report is titled “Anthropologists Speak Out for Justice in Palestine” and appeared originally online at jadiliyyah.com. Lloyd is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside. He attended the 2015 AAA convention in Denver and presented a paper at the meeting that can be read here. Below is an excerpt from the report.

“Anthropologists Speak Out for Justice in Palestine” (excerpt)

David Lloyd (University of California, Riverside)

The American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) annual business meeting voted on 20 November 2015 to send a resolution to endorse the Palestinian call for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions to the membership for a full vote.   With more than ten thousand members, the AAA is the world’s largest professional organization of anthropologists. By an eighty-eight percent majority, a packed room voted 1,040 in favor and 136 against. A prior vote on a competing resolution opposing the boycott, misleadingly entitled a resolution to “support dialogue,” failed with 1,173 votes against and 196 votes in favor. The numbers say a lot: members of AAA, both faculty and graduate students, worked for three years on this resolution and succeeded in generating great interest and enthusiasm. The conference center ballroom was overflowing with attendees. A feed had to be set up in the lobby outside the meeting room to accommodate those who could not fit in the room.

The discussion of each resolution  was both numerically and rhetorically dominated by supporters of the boycott. The majority of speakers roundly rejected a first resolution that sought to condemn academic boycott while proposing that the AAA ask the Israeli government to honor its obligations under international law—an endeavor that the US government itself has not been notably successful in furthering.  That resolution was largely regarded as a rather clumsy effort to use the language of dialogue to disguise an anti-boycott resolution.  The second resolution, for the institutional boycott, was delayed by the cumbersome process of counting paper ballots, required because of members’ anxiety about recrimination and retaliation. So a number of participants had to leave before the vote was held. Nonetheless, as the numbers show, the support for the boycott resolution was overwhelming, and speakers for it greatly outnumbered those who opposed it.

For anyone who had attended the American Studies Association’s (ASA) discussion of the boycott or even the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) delegate assembly “town hall” on academic freedom last January, the pattern was happily and inspiringly familiar: supporters of the motion were diverse in terms of ethnicity, generation, gender, and sexuality. It seems fair to say they were also buoyant and positive. More importantly, the arguments supporters made for the academic boycott were markedly various in their focus and pitch and could not be mistaken for rehearsed talking points. The same could not be said of the opponents, who tended largely to recycle the tired objections that have ceased to carry much weight and who were painfully aware that the mood of the room was against them. Had the question not been called quite quickly on each resolution, long before all those already lining up at the microphone had had a chance to speak, the crescendo of support for the boycott resolution would only have become more striking.  Many of us have been saying this for a few years: it is quite clear that the tide really has turned. The resolution will be voted on by the full membership in the organization’s spring ballot in April. As with the ASA, the outcome of this preliminary meeting is an excellent prognosis.

A fuller analysis of the AAA members’ success in mobilizing support, getting out the vote, and presenting the arguments will come in time. Much credit must go to their elected leadership. They allowed the process to take its course and also arranged for an official task force to visit Palestine and investigate conditions for Palestinian scholars and students.  AAA President Monica Heller ran the meeting grace and good humor. But clearly those promoting the boycott in the Modern Language Association (MLA) and other academic associations have much to learn from the exceptionally detailed, imaginative, and dedicated organizing sustained by the working group in AAA. Many of the working group members are graduate students and junior faculty who had to remain anonymous given their vulnerability to the increasingly common acts of retaliation that seek to intimidate supporters of Palestine.   . . .

Read the full version of Lloyd’s report on the AAA vote at jadiliyyah.com.

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