Q & A

Q: What is the problem with academic boycotts?


A: Boycotting academic institutions to make a political statement runs counter to the fundamental principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry and free speech. The American Association of University Professors has officially rejected academic boycotts as a legitimate form of protest. Academic boycotts are widely considered hostile to the free flow of information


Q: Why should we, as anthropologists, oppose boycotts?


A: Instituting a boycott has the effect of imposing an ideological ‘litmus test’ for full membership in the anthropological community. Boycotts create a chilling effect on the lives and careers of anthropologists, by creating a climate of hostility that prevents them from carrying out normal teaching, research and scholarly activities, including publishing, participating freely in academic conferences, serving on editorial boards of journals, or developing international collaborative research.


Q: Should Israeli universities be held accountable for the actions of the Israeli government?


A: We should not apply this standard to Israeli universities unless we are willing to apply the same standard to American universities and institutions in other countries as well. Israeli universities are no more complicit in Israeli government policy than US universities were complicit in the recent wars in Afghanistan, Iraq or even Vietnam. The AAA has never considered a boycott of American Universities that received funds from the Department of Defense or did defense research during these wars. When the American Anthropological Association voted to boycott the state of Arizona over its immigration laws, it did not target Arizona public universities for refusing to take a stand against such laws. We did not treat such universities as complicit simply because they continued to accept funding from the state of Arizona.


Q: Doesn’t the proposed boycott target only institutions and not individual anthropologists?


A: This is a false and deceptive distinction. Experience shows that it is impossible for academic boycotts to target institutions without harming individuals. In the UK, Israeli scholars — one a former head of the Israeli branch of Amnesty International– were dismissed from their positions on the editorial boards of scholarly journals — as part of a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. The formal boycott created an accompanying “silent boycott,” which blocked Israeli students from access to doctoral programs in the UK. In the wake of the American Studies Association decision to boycott Israeli universities, Israeli scholars have found their collaboration with American studies scholars in America blocked, and a Palestinian doctoral student at Tel Aviv university was unable to obtain an outside examiner for his doctoral dissertation. Even routine attendance at conferences would become difficult or impossible for Israeli anthropologists who, like all scholars, depend upon institutional funding and support to help cover the expenses for such conferences and meetings.


Q: Don’t Israeli institutions sanction academics who criticize the actions and policies of the Israeli Government?


A: Conversations and testimonies of many colleagues in different Israeli universities, make clear that the reality of their lives bears little resemblance to the BDS narrative that is circulating about them. Just like academics in the United States and in many countries around the world, our Israeli colleagues function within a context of increasingly polarized public and political sectors.  Despite this, the universities, and anthropologists and social scientists in particular, are working hard to ensure that diversity of opinion is respected on their campuses, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  In a recent example, the faculty, president and rector of Ben Gurion University successfully rejected a call to close the Political Science department which has been highly critical of the Israeli government. .


Q: Do Palestinian-Israeli students have the right of free expression in Israeli Universities?


A: Israeli universities have a strong record of promoting free speech for all under difficult circumstances.  As just one example, Palestinian-Israeli students have held demonstrations in commemoration of the Nakba (“catastrophe” – the Palestinian designation of Israel’s founding moment in 1948) as counter-narratives to Israel’s Memorial and Independence Day celebrations.  The Council for Higher Education and Israeli university administrations have allowed commemorations of the Nakba to proceed, despite harsh criticism from Israeli Government officials.  In fact, the BDS narrative creates a false picture of daily student life at Israeli Universities. Thousands of Jewish- and Palestinian-Israeli students study with one another both in and outside of classes, get their degrees together, and drink coffee in the same cafes – sometimes together, sometimes simply beside each other. It is true, of course, that when war breaks out and innocent civilians on either side are killed, there are inevitable tensions; and there are circumstances in which some students on both sides seek to be provocative. Ensuring freedom of expression is, thus, an ongoing struggle for many faculty and students, who are trying to  promote equality for all. There have been instances in which  free speech has been be compromised for various parties, including both Palestinian- and Jewish-Israelis. We argue, however,  that protesting and fighting against these situations requires academic freedom be ensured for ALL, and is certainly not advanced by restricting free speech and academic freedom for Israeli academics through an international boycott.


Q: Why is it important to sign this petition? Isn’t it enough simply to vote against the boycott?


A: There has been a great deal of publicity and press about the possibility of the AAA voting to boycott Israeli academic institutions. It is important to publically and clearly state support for the principles of academic freedom, open inquiry and free speech, and to make explicit the negative consequences – both intended and unintended – of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.


Q: Who created this statement?


A: We are a group of concerned anthropologists from across the globe, many of us members of the American Anthropological Association, who reject the use of boycotts against our colleagues in Israel, many of whom are also members of the AAA.  We believe that a boycott of anthropologists based upon national origin will undermine the credibility of the American Anthropological Association as a professional scientific organization, and cause palpable harm to our colleagues and to our discipline.


Q: How do I sign this statement?


A: On this website, click on the Sign the Statement tab and fill out the form. Hit submit. Then forward the link to this website to any other anthropologist you know who might be interested. Thank you.


Q: Where can I get more information?


A: On the Resources tab of this website, you will find links to websites, articles and statements about the issue of academic boycotts in general and the BDS effort to have the AAA boycott Israeli academic institutions.