Effort to block Israel boycott backfires at anthropology association

A resolution against the academic boycott of Israel failed dramatically at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, last Friday, garnering just a handful of votes.

The advocacy group Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions said in a statement that the meeting “was packed with more members than any other time in recent memory” – more than 700 people.

But, the group says, the “effort to shut down the boycott discussion backfired spectacularly: members present overwhelmingly voted down the measure, which mustered a mere 52 supporters.”

One-sided resolution

The defeated resolution “strongly oppose[d] the boycott of Israeli academic institutions” and alleged falsely that supporters of the academic boycott call for shunning individual Israeli scholars.

It claimed that Israeli academic anthropologists have a long record of “opposing the positions of the Israeli government vis a vis the Palestinians” and that in general, “Israeli academics have been in the forefront of the movement for peace, the end of the occupation of the West Bank, and all that it has entailed, the end of the siege of Gaza, and solidly for a two-state solution.”

But the one-sided resolution totally ignored the undisputed fact that Israeli universities have been deeply complicit in Israeli military research and recruitment and fully supported and celebrated Israel’s summertime attack on Gaza that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.

It also failed to address the devastating and broad impact of Israeli occupation, warfare and siege on academic freedom and education for Palestinians.

The resolution concluded with a call for “an immediate resumption of peace talks involving all parties, and not the negativity of a boycott which would not achieve anything.”

Not pushing for BDS this year

The failed resolution was a clear effort to head off any initiative that could lead to the ten thousand-member anthropology association considering an academic boycott similar to the one adopted a year ago by the American Studies Association.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions states that members “campaigning for the boycott elected not to pursue a resolution at this year’s AAA [American Anthropological Association] meeting in favor of building the broadest possible support among members over the coming months.”

That support appears to be gathering: in recent months, more than one thousand anthropologists have signed a boycott pledge to protest Israel’s ongoing, systematic and widespread violations of Palestinian academic freedom and human rights.

Of the 24 members who spoke on the anti-boycott resolution, three-quarters opposed it, according to Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.

One of those who spoke against it was Rema Hammami from Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank. Hammami said she was “thrilled to finally be at an academic conference where the problems faced by Palestinians have been centrally discussed,” according to the statement.

“The staggering defeat of the anti-boycott resolution has helped create a new reality within AAA, one in which boycotting Israeli academic institutions has become a plausible and ever more likely course of action,” the statement concludes.

In a sign of the growing impact of these campaigns, the Committee of University Heads in Israel last week announced a partnership with the anti-Palestinian campus advocacy organization Hillel International to counter academic boycotts.

A compilation of many of the tweets made during the anthropology meeting provides a flavor of the debate.