The Smallest of Margins: The American Anthropological Association and the Academic Boycott of Israel Vote

By the smallest of margins, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) membership voted against a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. 2,423 members voted Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 12.13.18 PMagainst the resolution and 2,384 voted in favor of it (50.4%-49.6%).

While the result is disappointing, Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic have done remarkable work mobilizing support for the boycott movement and raising awareness about the conditions of Palestinians.

In its press release, Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions state: “the decision to hold this vote in the first place marks a historic step forward in opening spaces for critical discussion of the U.S. role in enabling Israel’s widespread and systematic abuses against the Palestinian people. The past three years of debate about the boycott have brought exponentially more discussion of Palestinian rights in the AAA than ever before in the Association’s history. This includes a ground-breaking report by a AAA Task Force recognizing the settler-colonial practices of the Israeli government. These represent important first steps towards opposing Israeli human rights violations.”

Over the past three years, and especially during the campaign leading up to the AAA votes in 2015 and 2016, Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions produced some of the most insightful and well-crafted materials, making a powerful case for the academic boycott and documenting the dire conditions of Palestinian education.  In November 2015, 88% of AAA members who attended the association’s business meeting at the national convention voted to support the boycott resolution.

Over 1300 anthropologists signed a petition endorsing the boycott through their own personal practice, which contrasts revealingly with the 400 or so who signed a statement opposing the boycott resolution.

During the last several months, pro-Israel organizations not affiliated with AAA undertook a massive anti-BDS campaign, which included lobbying university boards and state legislators to prohibit boycotts of Israel. During her campaign, Hillary Clinton has made anti-BDS politics a prominent feature her pro-Israel position. And at the very moment when the voting of AAA members began, a specious lawsuit was filed against the American Studies Association for its endorsement of the academic boycott of Israel. Despite the heavy-handed tactics aimed at misinforming and intimidating boycott advocates, almost half those anthropologists who cast votes endorse the boycott measure.

Even though the membership vote came up short, the many hundreds of anthropologists who voted “yes” have expressed their commitment to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Over 1300 anthropologists signed a petition endorsing the boycott through their own personal practice, which contrasts revealingly with the 400 or so who signed a statement opposing the boycott resolution.

Before the rise of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, only a small group of anthropologists would speak out about Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights; since the launching of the academic boycott campaign within AAA, 1000s of faculty and students in anthropology and other disciplines have embraced the academic boycott movement. BDS is stronger today because of the exemplary commitment of Anthropologists for the Academic Boycott of Israeli Academic as is evident in the position’s taken by the AAA Executive Board.

In its statement on the vote results, the AAA indicated that even though the boycott resolution did not pass, the association’s Executive Board has a mandate from the membership to take action in solidarity with Palestinians and to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights:

AAA members are generally in agreement that serious threats to academic freedom and human rights have been noted in Israel-Palestine as a result of Israeli government policies and practices, and that AAA should respond to these threats. . . . The Board-approved actions include:

  • Issuing a statement of censure of the Israeli government
  • Issuing a letter to relevant authorities in the US government identifying the ways in which US resources and policies contribute to policies in Israel/Palestine that violate academic freedom and disenfranchise Palestinians.
  • Approving ways to provide active resource support for Palestinian and Israeli academics as well as visiting scholars in the region.

To view the full set of actions click here.

By means of these actions, AAA will contribute to raising critical awareness of the dynamics of peace and conflict in the region, draw attention to the disproportionate suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of the Occupation.

This vote is not the end of the boycott movement among anthropologists or academics in general. The Anthro Boycott campaign has achieved noteworthy successes, setting high standard in academic organizing on Palestinian rights, bringing people into the BDS movement, engaging the association in unprecedented political debates, winning substantial political victories within AAA, and laying the groundwork for more collective actions across disciplines and professional associations in support of the academic boycott.

MLA Members for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions enthusiastically applauds the achievements of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions and recognizes the courage of the many hundreds of anthropologists who stood on principle and voted in support of the resolution.

A parallel campaign has been organized within the MLA, where a similar resolution is being put forward for debate before the Delegate Assembly in January 2017. Should the MLA academic boycott resolution successfully go before and be endorsed by the Delegate Assembly, the MLA membership will be voting in Spring 2017. Join the growing movement and support the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

 

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