U.S. Anthropologists' Association Recommends Some Sanctions Against Israeli Academia

After 1,100 anthropologists signed petition calling for boycott last year, AAA task force presents several options for action.

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A Belgian demonstrator displays a sign reading "Boycott Israel, racist state"Credit: Reuters

A comprehensive report from the American Anthropological Association released last week deals with whether it is appropriate to boycott Israel and Israeli academia. The report recommends that some action be taken, although it left open a range of options.

It identifies a range of possible engagements as a means to display its commitment to human rights, and explicitly says that “no action” is not an option. The report states “Task Force members wrote this report collaboratively and all agree on its content.”

The document levels harsh criticism at Israeli policy and what it alleges is discrimination against Arabs at Israeli research universities. The authors of the report visited Israel and met with Palestinian and Israeli researchers, including supporters and opponents of a boycott. The report includes considerable material on the issue over the years.

The task force was convened in August of last year after 1,100 anthropologists, many of whom are members of the AAA, signed a petition calling for a boycott of Israel. The task force’s mandate was to look into the implications of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the academic context and more broadly, and to determine whether the AAA has an interest in taking a position on the matter and if so, to recommend what action should be taken by the association.

“We find that the policies and practices of the Israeli government place significant limitations on academic freedom and have led to substantial deprivations in the health and welfare of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as within Israel itself,” the task force stated.

The report proposes a range of possible courses of action to the AAA executive board, but explicitly recommends against no action at all. It also suggests that any action take into consideration the implications of the Israeli anthropology community.

Among the range of possible academic boycott options noted was refraining from inviting official representatives of Israeli universities to AAA conferences, that AAA members be allowed to refuse to serve as visiting lecturers at Israeli universities and refuse to work on projects funded by the Israeli government, and that the organization could encourage lecturers not to give letters of reference for Israeli university faculty.

“The main complaint of Palestinian academics within Israel about their Jewish colleagues in anthropology is not that they have actively collaborated with the occupation, but that they have done little to explicitly oppose it, especially as a collective community,” the report states. But it adds: “While this was fair comment at the time we conducted our interviews and our trip to Israel/Palestine, the task force notes that, on June 11, 2015, a few weeks after the delegation visited Israel/Palestine, the Israeli Anthropology Association adopted a resolution condemning the occupation (while also condemning the boycott movement) with 74% of those voting in favor.”

The report also noted what it said was possible harm to the AAA itself if it declares a boycott of Israel, including one person’s suggestion that there could be nuisance lawsuits against the group and others who warned of possible action by members of the United States Congress “to punish the AAA and the discipline of anthropology for a strong stance on this issue by cutting public support for anthropological research.” And AAA members “who do research in Israel and Palestine are likely to be significantly affected, being barred from the country or denied permits for archaeological research,” the report warns.

Other than a possible academic boycott of universities in Israel, other proposed options include issuing a statement of censure of the Israeli government, making “AAA members aware of individual economic boycott choices,” working “with sister societies on the problem of the de-politicization of archaeological research results in Israel,” offering “travel or academic scholarships to Palestinian scholars and students,” providing support for visiting scholars to give short courses at Palestinian universities, and lobbying the U.S. government to work for changes in Israeli policy.

The report also suggests possibly calling directly on Israeli government ministries to change their policy. Among the issues proposed for such an effort is repealing “Israeli laws that make it a crime to speak publicly in favor of a boycott.” It should be noted, however, that in its ruling on controversial legislation providing for civil damage suits for advocating a boycott of Israel earlier this year, the High Court of Justice noted that the legislation does not impose a criminal prohibition on “political expression as such.”

The recommendations also included urging the Israeli government to eliminate West Bank checkpoints and raids on Palestinian universities, arrests of students and the use of tear gas on campuses, and what it described as granting “the same rights to Palestinian students on Israeli university campuses for gathering and action, including expression of their identity, as Israeli students enjoy.”

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