Anthropologists Vote to Boycott Israeli Academic Institutions

About seven in 10 of the 37 percent of members who voted backed the resolution. A similar measure in 2016, with half of AAA members voting, failed.

The members of the American Anthropological Association have endorsed a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

An all-member referendum took place from June 15 to July 14, and the results were announced today.

Thirty-seven percent of eligible members voted. Of them, 2,016 voted for the resolution (71 percent) and 835 people voted against it (29 percent).

The vote represents a dramatic shift in the anthropology association’s thinking on the issue.

In November 2015, those attending the association’s annual meeting voted overwhelmingly, 1,040 to 136, in favor of calling for a boycott. But when the full membership was polled in 2016, the measure was narrowly defeated. A total of 2,423 AAA members voted to oppose the boycott measure, while 2,384 supported it.

That vote attracted about 51 percent of AAA’s 9,359 voting-eligible members.

“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, united in our commitment to advancing scholarly knowledge, finding solutions to human and social problems, and serving as a guardian of human rights,” said a statement from Ramona L. Pérez, a professor of anthropology at San Diego State University and president of the association.

Pérez added, “By means of these actions, AAA will contribute to raising critical awareness of the dynamics of peace and conflict in the region, draw attention to the disproportionate suffering of the Palestinian people as a result of the occupation and what can be done about it, and expand the space for dialogue on these sensitive and important human rights and academic freedom issues.

“We believe that these actions can contribute to the enrichment of the health and welfare of all citizens in the region, increase circulation of anthropological scholarship, ease restrictions on scholars’ travel, increase freedom of expression for Palestinian and Israeli anthropologists, and increase dialogue about how archaeology is used in political arguments.”

Specifically, the Executive Board of the association said it would bar Israeli universities from:

  • Being listed in AAA’s published materials, including AAA’s AnthroGuide to Departments.
  • Advertising in AAA publications, websites and other communications channels, including the AAA Career Center.
  • Using AAA conference facilities for job interviews.
  • Participating in the AAA Graduate School Fair.
  • Participating in the AAA Departmental Services Program.
  • Participating in joint conferences or events with AAA and its sections.
  • Republishing and reprinting articles from AAA publications in journals and publications owned by Israeli institutions.

The Executive Board also said that the boycott does not prevent:

  • Individuals affiliated with Israeli academic institutions from registering for and attending AAA conferences, even if their institutions have paid for their expenses.
  • Articles published in AAA journals from being reprinted or republished in journals not owned by Israeli institutions that are edited by individuals affiliated with Israeli academic institutions.
  • Individuals affiliated with Israeli academic institutions from serving as journal editors or AAA elected officials, even if their institutions have paid for related expenses (their institution would be identified as being subject to an institutional boycott).
  • Individuals affiliated with Israeli academic institutions from publishing in AAA journals, even if their institutions have paid for their expenses.
  • Israeli university libraries from subscribing to AAA journals, including AnthroSource.

The resolution also offers a view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It says, “The Israeli state operates an apartheid regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, including the internationally recognized state of Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank,” and that “Israeli academic institutions are complicit in the Israeli state’s regime of oppression against Palestinians … including by providing research and development of military and surveillance technologies used against Palestinians.”

Some groups have opposed the boycott. In June, Lori Lowenthal Marcus, legal director for the Deborah Project, which represents people “facing discrimination in educational settings because they are Jewish and/or pro-Israel,” wrote to the association’s executive director. Marcus said the firm has clients who are part of the association and are “deeply concerned about the association’s proposed resolution endorsing Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.”

She wrote, “Should you fail to act consistently with AAA’s bylaws and/or with all relevant federal, state and local laws, we will not hesitate to bring a legal action against the AAA and/or the board.”

In May, the AMCHA Initiative, which describes itself as an “organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at colleges and universities in the United States,” wrote that it had organized 100 education, civil rights and religious groups against the boycott.

AMCHA said that an academic boycott is unlike an economic boycott. It said the academic boycott threatens to “suppress the open exchange of ideas, collaboration and scholarly discourse. By supporting an academic boycott, the AAA would be contradicting the fundamental principles of academic freedom, the pursuit of knowledge, and the open exchange of ideas. It also undermines the values of inclusivity and diversity that higher education institutions should provide.”