More than 500 anthropologists back academic boycott of Israel

Palestinian children play near houses destroyed during Israel’s summer offensive, in the Shujaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City, 5 October, on the second day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha.

Mohammed Asad APA images

More than 500 anthropologists from around the world have signed a new call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

According to a statement issued on 1 October, the scholars call upon Israel to:

End its siege of Gaza, its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967, and dismantle the settlements and the walls;

Recognize the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and the stateless Negev Bedouins to full equality; and

Respect, protect, and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

The initial list of signatories featured more than 250 names, including academics from Australia, Canada, China, Holland, India, Lebanon, Palestine, Sweden, Turkey, the UK and the United States. Colleagues from Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Chile, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Kuwait, Portugal, Qatar, Mexico, the Philippines and South Africa, among others, have added their support.

“The recent military assault on the Gaza Strip by Israel is only the latest reminder that the world’s governments and mainstream media do not hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law,” the statement notes, offering a rationale for civil society action.

Amongst the signatories are major names in the anthropology field, including Professors Jean and John Comaroff of Harvard University, Professors Lila Abu-Lughod and Michael Taussig of Columbia University, Talal Asad of CUNY and Sherry Ortner and Susan Slymovics of UCLA.

The list also includes a number of specialists on Palestine itself, including Nadia Abu El Haj of Barnard College, Glenn Bowman of the University of Kent, Julie Peteet of the University of Louisville and Rosemary Sayigh, probably one of the best-known writers and scholars on Palestine since the 1970s.

Organizers also noted, however, that “In addition, 46 scholars have elected to sign this statement anonymously” and that at least forty of these were untenured academics, post-doctoral fellows or graduate students. This seems to suggest that academic staff without the protection of tenure still feel that they may face harassment or discrimination if they speak up for Palestinian rights.

The group of anthropologists joins a number of US academic associations, including the American Studies Association, the African Literature Association, the Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association in supporting the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

In doing so, the anthropologists pledge “not to collaborate on projects and events hosted or funded by Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or attend conferences or other events at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel.” However, as with other boycott supporters, “They remain open to collaboration with individual scholars based in the Israeli academy.”

From colonialism to solidarity

In addition to their generic support for the call for an academic boycott, the announcement notes that anthropology as a discipline “specialize[s] in how power, oppression, and structural violence affect social life, and as witnesses to the State of Israel’s multiple and egregious violations of international law that constitute an assault on Palestinian culture and society, they pledge to abide by their discipline’s stated commitment to ‘the promotion and protection of the right of people and people’s everywhere to the full realization of their humanity.’”

The statement also notes anthropology’s history as a discipline which, having started out with close links to colonialism, has endeavored to become a means of supporting the self-determination and liberation of the peoples with whom it works.

“In responding to the Palestinian call,” the statement continues, “we seek to practice what the [American Anthropological Association] calls an ‘engaged anthropology’ that is “committed to supporting social change efforts that arise from the interaction between community goals and anthropological research.” Anthropological research has illuminated the destructive effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian society.”

In addition to acknowledging the wide-ranging impacts of Israeli occupation and militarism on Palestinian people, the statement also notes the particular effects on higher education – including recent raids on a number of Palestinian universities, among them Birzeit University, the Arab American University in Jenin and Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, and the destruction of large parts of the Islamic University of Gaza.

This is explicitly contrasted with the “unconditional support” pledged for the Israeli military by universities including Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Bar-Ilan University, Haifa Univerity, Ben-Gurion University and Technion.

The anthropologists’ statement, while singling out the “intimate” connection between Israeli academia and militarism, also notes that anthropologists have taken strong ethical stances on other countries and organizations complicit in human rights abuses, including the South African apartheid regime, abusers of indigenous and minority rights in Chile, Brazil and Bulgaria, the brutal Pinochet regime in Chile and commercial boycotts including those of the Hilton Hotel chain and Coca-Cola.

The full statement and signatory list are at, as are contact details for those wishing to add their names to the list.




It's especially noteworthy that, as the statement acknowledges, the field of anthropology was long associated with colonialist policies and rationales. Practitioners today largely reject those premises and have come to redraw the contours of their discipline. This declaration by 500 senior anthropologists underscores that shift and calls further attention to the role of Israeli academic institutions in enforcing apartheid (and worse) throughout historical Palestine. This is another welcome measure in isolating the Zionist state as a necessary prelude to a just settlement.

Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.