U.S. Anthropologists Massively Back Boycott of Israel

American Anthropological Association vote goes 1,040 for, 136 against; association’s 12,000 members worldwide will now be asked to approve or reject decision.

A BDS demonstration in Melbourne, Australia, 2010.
Mohammed Ouda/Wikimedia Commons

The American Anthropological Association overwhelmingly passed a resolution Friday to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The association’s 12,000 members worldwide will now be asked to approve or reject the decision, which delegates at the association’s annual conference in Denver, Colorado passed by a vote of 1,040 to 136.

The American Anthropological Association is the largest professional organization of anthropologists in the world. Both supporters and opponents of the decision called it “historical,” noting that it could lead other organizations to support an academic boycott of Israel.

Friday's decision calls on the association to refrain from official cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, but not with individual scholars, who may continue to take part in the association’s conferences and publications. Moreover, scholars are not obliged to abide by the resolution.

The resolution comes after three years of harsh internal debate. About six weeks ago a committee released a comprehensive report criticizing Israel’s policy in the territories and discrimination against Arabs in Israeli universities, and proposing a number of possible actions, including boycott.

Before the vote in favor of boycott, the conference resoundingly voted down a milder proposal criticizing the State of Israel but rejecting calls for a boycott; that motion was rejected, 1,173 to 196. Another attempt to soften the resolution by inserting a clause that the association supports academic freedom and opposes discrimination on the basis of race, religion, nationality, sexual preference age or disability was also rejected.

A statement by the faction of anthropologists that pushed for the boycott said, “As heirs to a long tradition of scholarship on colonialism, anthropologists affirm, through this resolution, that the core problem is Israel’s maintenance of a settler colonial regime based on Jewish supremacy and Palestinian dispossession. By supporting the boycott, anthropologists are taking a stand for justice through action in solidarity with Palestinians.”

According to the statement, Friday’s resolution was the result of “three years of organizing within the association to educate and mobilize members to stand against Israel’s widespread, systematic, and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights, as well as to protest the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in these abuses.”

Tel Aviv University's Prof. Dan Rabinowitz, a member of the group that opposed the boycott said, "Such actions play into the hands of the right wing in Israel, which will see them as further proof that ‘the whole world is against us.’"

Technion President Prof. Peretz Lavi, chairman of Israel's committee of university heads, said that an academic boycott of Israel could “severely damage research, which depends on international cooperation, which will impact industry, economy and the future strength of the State of Israel.”