Dear Fellow anthropologists,
I am writing this letter after much hesitation, since I do not see myself as a spokesperson against the BDS movement, nor do I see myself as a representative of the Israeli State (although I am an Israeli citizen). Still, I decided to write this letter since I think that in such a complicated topic, those of you who go to vote at the AAA business meeting, Friday November 20th, should make an informed choice which takes into account what exactly the BDS movement calls for and all possible implications of endorsing BDS as a tactic of opposing Israeli policy.
Essentially, what I am urging you to do is to consider whether endorsing BDS in its current form will actually contribute to its goals. I write this based on my personal experience as a political activist against the Israeli occupation. In Israel, I organized and spoke in numerous demonstrations against current Israeli policy, and co-founded activities directed specifically in addressing gendered aspects of living in a conflict zone. I should also mention that I am a strong supporter of boycotts against Israeli products made in the occupied territories. Based on this experience, I strongly believe that BDS in its current form will probably reach the opposite of its goals. Furthermore, as an anthropologist, I am deeply disturbed by the preference to exercise authority to limit academic freedom upon any other alternatives.
Concerning the possible results of endorsing an academic boycott, please consider the following: The Israeli academy is exactly the sector of Israeli society where pro-Palestinian and pro-peace activity is most flourishing. Boycotting Israeli academy can only bring to weakening its ability to voice an opposition to Israeli policy. Those who are arguing against this by saying that the Israeli academy is complicit with Israeli army and enforcing the occupation, should keep in mind that the only direct link between Israeli academic institutions as a whole and the Israeli army is that they are both significantly funded by Israeli tax payers, which is a result of the fact that most of the academic institutions in Israel are public. Second, anyone who thinks that endorsing BDS will change Israeli policy does not understand how Israeli politics works. Currently, what this move is more likely to do is stir greater crowds to a more militant, right wing position (I rely on current polls on this subject, so this isn’t just my perspective).
Concerning my second point, I urge you to consider whether choosing to silence voices of Israeli academics through endorsing an academic boycott is an appropriate pathway for a discipline that is troubled by questions concerning anthropologists’ authoritative practices. Furthermore, choosing to silence one group of academics as a main punitive action seems to be in contradiction with the discipline’s ethos of conducting a multifaceted, vibrant, professional discourse. There are multiple other measures to politically engage with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without harming the core of our professional ethos; without disenfranchising a whole group from participation in the international professional scene. For those who argue in return that Palestinian scholars are in fact silenced in these days by the Israeli occupation I say- this is correct. But how does silencing another group of people solve this situation? Since when retaliation by the same token is the optimal means to fight that situation?
I therefore urge you to carefully consider your vote on BDS, and all of its possible implications. Also, if you care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and want to do something about it, please know that there are many other possibilities to be engaged and contribute to bringing an end to the Israeli occupation that do not involve such problematic measures.
First published on Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine on November 19, 2015.