USACBI statement on the American Anthropological Association boycott vote: The struggle continues!

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel salutes Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions for a campaign that has sparked debate and galvanized awareness within the anthropology discipline and broader academic community about Palestine, BDS, and the responsibility of academics in the United States to respect the global boycott picket line.

We support and pledge to work with Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions in their continuing campaign, following a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions that was under consideration by the American Anthropological Association (AAA) narrowly missing adoption by a razor-thin margin of 39 votes, 2,423-2,384 (50.4%-49.6%). The exceedingly close vote indicates the rising tide of support for the Palestinian people and the BDS campaign, despite a well-funded, state-backed, and university-administrator-pushed campaign to suppress participation and stop anthropologists’ support for the global Palestinian boycott picket line, including the use of legal threats and the pushing of anti-BDS legislation in various US states.

The anthropologists’ boycott campaign is part of a growing movement throughout academic disciplines and associations in the United States, where USACBI organizers and advisory board members have been active in passing resolutions in support of academic boycott at the American Studies Association, Association for Asian American Studies, African Literature Association, Critical Ethnic Studies Association, National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, Association for Humanist Sociology, and the Peace and Justice Studies Association. It also comes amid growing campaigns among academic workers, with academic workers” unions at the University of California, New York University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel for its violation of Palestinian rights.

At the AAA’s annual meeting in Denver, 88% of attendees supported this referendum and the academic boycott of Israel – with 1040 votes for the motion (88.5%) to boycott Israeli academic institutions and 136 votes (11.5%) against the motion. The holding of the referendum is in and of itself a historic and groundbreaking accomplishment by scholars of conscience within the AAA, as is the important report by a AAA Task Force recognizing the settler-colonial practices of the Israeli state.

Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions developed real and meaningful discussion and analysis of colonialism in Palestine, and a practice of meaningful solidarity with Palestinian colleagues under attack on a daily basis by the Israeli settler-colonial state: facing arrests, imprisonment and torture, campus invasions by a military occupying force, travel bans, checkpoints and denial of the right to movement, and the entire framework of Zionist oppression in Palestine. They faced a well-funded campaign sponsored by outside right-wing pro-Zionist organizations, alongside structural legal threats and personal hate mail and threats, in an attempt to derail the clear and just call for academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

This campaign is particularly significant as anthropology is a discipline with a significant number of members involved in actual work in Israel, one reason why the struggle was so intense. Of course, anthropology is also a discipline with a long history of studying colonialism and colonial interventions, lending support to the campaign which at this point produced a dead even result – which means that the campaign will, and must, continue, with the broad support of thousands of anthropologists.

Although the AAA did not pass the resolution measure, the margin of defeat is statistically insignificant.  This was a dead even vote that shows that support for the Palestinian people is only growing – and that academic boycott will remain on the agenda of the AAA and its members. Indeed, the AAA Executive Board officially stated that AAA members recognize the ongoing attacks on Palestinian academic freedom and human rights taking place at the hands of the Israeli state, and decided to take actions, including:

  • Issuing a statement of censure of the Israeli government.
  • Issuing a letter to relevant authorities in the US government identifying the ways in which US resources and policies contribute to policies in Israel/Palestine that violate academic freedom and disenfranchise Palestinians.
  • Approving ways to provide active resource support for Palestinian and Israeli academics as well as visiting scholars in the region.

Similar razor-thin votes have taken place in religious organizations such as the Presbyterian and Methodist churches.  These sorts of votes would not have been imaginable six years ago.  Despite the heavy handed interference of the leadership of the entire UC system, despite unconstitutional declarations by Governor Cuomo, despite interference by the state of Israel, BDS continues to advance its cause.  We stand in solidarity with the AAA boycott supporters who themselves have vowed to fight on.  We congratulate them on a hard-fought battle.

We express our ongoing support, appreciation, and congratulations to Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Institutions for their tremendous work in educating across and outside their discipline about Zionist colonialism in Palestine and the necessity of the academic boycott of these complicit Israeli institutions, and look forward to continuing to work together to support justice and liberation in Palestine by advocating for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in the anthropology discipline and all areas of scholarly and cultural work.


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