Our View: Academic Angst

Our View: Academic Angst

The American Anthropological Association has rejected a resolution to institute an academic boycott against Israel, but the news is bittersweet.

It’s alarming how close the vote was. The association announced Tuesday, June 7, that 51 percent of its more than 9,400 members participated in this spring’s online election. The boycott resolution lost by only 39 votes: 2,423 (50.4 percent) to 2,384 (49.6 percent).

The result is a dramatic change from the 1,040-136 vote at the association’s November convention to ask the full organization to support a boycott of Israel, and Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt praised the rejection as “an important milestone” in the struggle against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

But it was possible to dismiss the November vote as an aberration. Only those who attended the convention could vote, and the boycott resolution was presented without debate or any formal presentation of an opposing view. So there was a chance that the 1,040 votes represented a mix of people who knew and cared little about the modern Middle East and those who just believed that such an important decision should go to the full membership, all driven by a handful of pro-Palestinian activists.

The run-up to the voting by the general membership, however, featured aggressive anti-BDS campaigning by two groups, Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel & Palestine and Against Anthro Boycott, which explained why, regardless of the politics surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a boycott of academics was the wrong approach to effect change. And the resolution still almost passed.

Frustratingly, the leadership of the association is viewing the vote not as a rejection of anti-Israel positions, but as an acceptance of the Palestinian narrative and an endorsement of every step except a boycott to isolate and pressure Israel.

The association announcement of the election results presented a picture of oppressed, silenced and disenfranchised Palestinians and promised a statement censuring the Israeli government and a letter educating the U.S. government about its support for Israeli suppression of academic freedom. It made no mention of Palestinian violence or, more to the point for an organization of academics who study human history and development, Palestinian denial of the history of the Temple Mount, Jerusalem and the land of Israel.

Hardly a great victory for Israel or the anti-BDS forces.

The association revealed its shamelessness or its cognitive dissonance after two Palestinian gunmen shot up a Tel Aviv restaurant the next day, killing four Israelis. One of the dead was Michael Feige, an anthropology professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev who would have been a victim of the threatened academic boycott.

Faced with the violent reality behind its binary fantasy of oppressor Israelis and oppressed Palestinians, the American Anthropological Association did not apologize for its stridency or promise to reconsider its approach.

The association did express deep sadness at Feige’s death, but it did not say who shot him: Palestinian Muslim terrorists. It did not say that he was one of four slain, nor that the only reason the death toll wasn’t much higher was that the terrorists used poorly made knockoffs of Swedish submachine guns.

The five-sentence statement did have room for politics: “His and all loss of life make it all the more urgent that peace with justice be achieved in Israel-Palestine. Violence must come to an immediate end.”

But the anthropological association’s rhetoric and actions are encouraging Palestinian violence and pushing peace further away.

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