Indigenous rights defender urged to cancel Israel lecture

James Anaya (Jean-Marc Ferré)

A prominent Indigenous rights defender and former UN human rights investigator is being urged to cancel a lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

James Anaya, the dean of the University of Colorado law school, served as UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples from 2008 to 2014.

In a response to The Electronic Intifada, Anaya defended his decision to give a lecture at the Israeli institution scheduled for Tuesday.

Anaya has a long career advising and representing Indigenous groups. His official biography says that he was lead counsel for the Indigenous parties in Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua, a case in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for the first time upheld Indigenous land rights as a matter of international law.


“As a former UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, James Anaya knows all too well the injustices suffered by Indigenous peoples around the world, including Palestinians,” a spokesperson for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel told The Electronic Intifada.

“It would be hypocritical for Anaya to speak at an institution whose facilities were built by the direct expulsion of entire Palestinian families from their lands,” the spokesperson said.

“This seems to be another example of redwashing on the part of the Israeli institution,” Native Hawaiian scholar and activist J. Kēhaulani Kauanui told The Electronic Intifada, using a term that refers to the promotion of Indigenous peoples of the Americas as a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Nick Estes, a scholar and member of Kul Wicasa (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe), is also calling on Anaya to cancel his talk.

“The UN was founded in 1945 partly to end colonialism. What Israel practices is a form of settler-colonialism, very much aligned with what the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia practice against Indigenous peoples,” Estes stated in an open letter at the website of The Red Nation, an activist collective dedicated to Native liberation.

Estes urged Anaya to heed the Palestinian call to boycott Israeli academic institutions actively involved in Israel’s human rights crimes against the Palestinian people, among them Hebrew University.

The boycott call has been endorsed by numerous academic associations, including the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

“With increased international attention to Indigenous rights with Standing Rock and Indigenous peoples’ opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, our actions must speak to our values and commitments to human rights,” Estes added, referring to the ongoing efforts to block contruction of an oil pipeline across Native lands that the Trump administration has vowed to facilitate.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee, the civil society coalition that leads the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, has likened the Standing Rock Sioux’s struggle to defend sacred lands to Palestinians resisting Israel’s destruction of their burial sites in Jerusalem.


Anaya said his visit “follows my engagement with the human rights concerns of the Bedouin of the Negev” during his time as UN special rapporteur. In an email to The Electronic Intifada he said he had wanted to visit the area in his official role but was refused permission by Israel.

“Now that I am no longer special rapporteur, I am able to travel to Israel and follow up on my inquiry into the situation, without seeking or obtaining the permission of the Israeli government,” Anaya stated.

Anaya credited the Hebrew University’s Minerva Center for Human Rights with being “kind enough to facilitate my visit to the Negev.”

“I sincerely believe that my engagement at the university will do more to further human rights, including the human rights of the Palestinian people, than refraining from the visit would do,” Anaya stated.

Anaya did not explain why he would need to rely on an Israeli institution complicit in the state’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in order to facilitate a visit to Bedouin communities that are the targets of the same violent practices by the same state, rather than going through organizations that are not involved in these crimes.

False symmetry

Anticipating the kind of defense put forward by Anaya, PACBI’s guidelines for the academic boycott state that “international academics who insist on crossing the BDS ‘picket line’ by pursuing activities with boycottable Israeli institutions and then visiting Palestinian institutions or groups for ‘balance,’ violate the boycott guidelines and contribute to the false perception of symmetry between the colonial oppressor and the colonized.”

Anaya’s lecture at Hebrew University is scheduled just days after a landmark UN report declaring that Israel is guilty of apartheid was withdrawn under intense political pressure, prompting the resignation of a senior UN official.

Nick Estes states that without the “lateral solidarity” between the South African anti-apartheid movement, Palestinians and Indigenous struggles, “Indigenous peoples would not have made such historic gains, like the drafting of the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“As Indigenous people committed to peace and human rights, we cannot cross this picket line,” he said.




I do not know Mr Anaya personally but I trust that he will not say or do anything that might be interpreted as an endorsement of Israel politics.


Esteemed Professor James Anaya, the origin myth of zionist Israel is directly from the playbook of the myth of the origins of Amerikkka. Palestine is your story. Do not forsake your indigenous brothers and sisters.


I am deeply disappointed that Dr. S. James Anaya would conduct his visit through an Israeli institution complicit in precisely the colonial settler ethnic cleansing that I studied through his excellent research. He is one of the world's foremost scholars in the history and the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Israel's violence towards all Palestinians, including Bedouin communities is criminal as Anaya surely could not deny and there are many organizations and institutions more appropriate than a tool of the Israeli state during a massive, effective global BDS movement. I have admired his work for twelve years, since I first began to study the rights of Indigenous Peoples and a decision to accept the stolen hospitality of Hebrew University’s Minerva Center for Human Rights is so hypocritical of so much of what I learned through have his research and his leadership. I hope that he sees the folly of his choice before he goes and the wisdom of accepting and upholding the power of the Palestinian call for BDS.


If the University hadn't taken the land, to expand its campus, it's not like the Palestinians would've gotten the land back. It would've gone for some other Israeli purpose. This intitution has a pretty amazing history, of Jewish/Arab solidarity. Its early administrators and professors were active in Brit Shalom, and later Ihud, groups which argued for a bi-national government, and against a Jewish state. In fact, there's a Zionist book, "The Jewish State: The Struggle for Israel's Soul" (2001) by Yoram Hazony, which is a whole screed against the history of the Hebrew University, claiming that it's been educating generations of Israelis to hate Zionism. From its founding, it has remained independent of the Israeli government. As for giving special consideration, to its students called up for military service; I don't think it necessarily follows, that honoring the service of soldiers, indicates approval of the war. Americans always tell service-members, "Thank you, for your service"; in no way implying support for the wars they're sent to fight. Yes, some young Israelis refuse to fight; but that takes exceptional courage and independence. A university has to support its students, regardless of the politics. I think Mr. Anaya can be seen as making a legitimate call, to lecture at this particular university, which has such an amazing heritage, as a force for justice in Palestine. Let's not be so quick to be throwing out any babies who may be swimming against the tide in the bathwater.


I'm in favour of a smart boycott. Going to entertain Israelis for profit - don't do it. The well respected Prof. James Anaya lecturing at HU (which has, I think, over 15% Arab students) on "The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" could be helpful and constructive.

In the same way, people automatically calling for boycott of every individual Israeli academic visiting Overseas are misguided, in my view - it depends on the person and whether they represent the official institutions.

Of course, boycott against people and institutions based in the OPT or aiding the occupation is another matter and doesn't need such individual considerations.

I expect to get some flak for this...


Here's a tiny bit of the flak you expected for your post: You haven't yet grasped that there is no difference between world Zionism's behaviour in the West Bank and in all of historic Palestine: it is all occupied, and the term 'OPT' reveals not only ignorance but disdain for Palestinians everywhere. Your claim to be smarter than the PACBI people is not supported by your lack of perception on this question. Anyone who uses the term OPT doesn't get it, is trapped within their own Green Line.


I understand your point, Blake. However, all "official" Palestinian bodies, and many Palestinians that I have met, do talk about the occupied territories or OPT and many support the 'two-state solution', which is backed by most international bodies. Not my preferred outcome, but I don't live there, it's not up to me. And there are many Israelis (tho not enough) who oppose the occupation. So it depends what audience you want to engage. I really think it's a stretch to say that I show 'disdain for Palestinians everywhere' (my personal commitment to the Palestinian cause for over 45 years is a funny way of showing disdain). As for my ignorance, you really can't judge that; disagreeing with my opinion is a different matter).

I have never claimed to be 'smarter than the PACBI' people, and as they are affiliated to the widely-supported BDS national committee, I clearly do not know better. I didn't even say they were wrong on this issue. I pointed out though that there could be positive aspects of such a lecture if it went ahead. Maybe my wording was clumsy, however, it was intended to be in the spirit of the PACBI-BDS guidelines for the boycott at, which do not bar all such speeches or call for every Israeli to be boycotted.

Let me confess more. I have flown to Israel, landing at Ben Gurion airport and travelled on Israeli built roads to many parts of the historic area of Mandate Palestine. Undoubtedly, some of those facilities "were built by the direct expulsion of entire Palestinian families from their lands”. Indeed a prime reason for the terrible expulsion of the residents of Lydda in 1948 was that it bordered the international airport. I believe my visits have on balance been better than staying away and enable me to be well informed about the situation and therefore to campaign better at home. No doubt you will disagree but it illustrates that there is a calculation to be made in such matters.


Can we get a copy of his speech? Since he decided to give the speech, it may be informative to to know what he said...