Anthropologists back Israel boycott in landslide vote

"BDS" written using spray paint on the separation wall

The American Anthropological Association is the largest academic association to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills

Palestinians this week warmly welcomed a significant victory as the American Anthropological Association voted overwhelmingly to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

This makes the AAA the “largest and oldest scholarly body” to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement launched by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005. BDS is modeled on the successful global effort to help end apartheid in South Africa.

Around 71 percent of voters endorsed the resolution, which affirmed that “the Israeli state operates an apartheid regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

The resolution commits the association to “boycott Israeli academic institutions” until they “end their complicity in violating Palestinian rights.” The boycott does not include Israeli individual academics.

PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, thanked “members who worked tirelessly to ensure the association was on record as refusing ties with Israeli universities complicit in Israel’s crimes against us.”

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) said it hoped the victory would “be an inspiration and model for future BDS campaigns in other academic, scientific and cultural associations.”

“As scholars with a long history of studying colonialism, anthropologists are all too familiar with the devastating harm of Israel’s oppression and theft of Palestinian land,” Jessica Winegar, an anthropology professor at Northwestern University, said.

Winegar is also a member of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, which campaigned for the vote.

The AAA joins the American Studies Association, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the Middle East Studies Association, the Canadian Society for Socialist Studies and the Latin American Council of Social Sciences in backing the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

“Israeli universities are actively involved in developing the weapons systems that kill and maim us, in colonizing our lands with their campuses and in elaborating the policies that force us to live under apartheid and the justifications for their continued implementation,” PACBI added.

Although the referendum took place in June, the results were not announced until this month. Around 40 percent of the association’s 12,000 members participated in the vote.

Prior to the vote in June, members of the association debated the proposed boycott on the association’s online “Communities” discussion site.

Some accused moderators of censoring certain posts supporting the boycott under the guise of regulating inappropriate or divisive content.

Despite contention within the association, and interference from pro-Israel quarters, the resolution passed with a resounding majority.

“This breakthrough comes despite attempts to pressure, intimidate, and misinform anthropologists from outside pro-Israel organizations with no apparent link to the discipline,” Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions said.

“These efforts included unsolicited and harassing emails sent to all AAA members; lobbying university presidents across the country to intervene in the vote; and frivolous threats of litigation.”

Earlier this year, a court in Washington, DC, threw out a long-running Israel lobby-backed lawsuit against the American Studies Association over its support of an academic boycott of Israel.

The president of the AAA Ramona Pérez said that “this was indeed a contentious issue, and our differences may have sparked fierce debate, but we have made a collective decision and it is now our duty to forge ahead.”

The Academic Engagement Network, an Israel lobby group, pushed back against the results of the referendum.

“Supporters of the resolution continued to push the absurd claim that its application is limited to ‘institutions’ – as if it’s possible to boycott universities and colleges without harming the actual people who work and study in them,” the group’s executive director Miriam Elman said.

Meanwhile, earlier this month at least five directors requested that their films be withdrawn from the Jerusalem Film Festival due to its complicity in Israeli apartheid.

This came after Palestinian and international filmmakers and actors, including Ken Loach, urged participants to withdraw from the festival for its partnership with the Israeli cultural ministry.

The Israeli government routinely uses art and culture to whitewash crimes against Palestinians, particularly through festivals that normalize.

Jane Campion, the Oscar winning New Zealand filmmaker and director of The Power of the Dog, was among those who heeded the Palestinian call to respect “the nonviolent Palestinian picket line” by withdrawing her 1989 film Sweetie.

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.