American Anthropological Association Adopts BDS
July 31 2023

Following a referendum held between June 15 and July 14, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) voted by 71% to boycott Israeli academic institutions. This makes the AAA the largest and oldest American academic association to endorse the Palestinian call to support Palestinian rights and an academic boycott of Israel.

The AAA released the results on July 24, stating “thirty-seven percent of AAA’s eligible members voted, with 2,016 members (71% of the votes) supporting the resolution, and 835 members (29% of the votes) voting to oppose it.”

The resolution prevents the AAA from engaging in any formal relationships with Israeli academic institutions. It does not prevent individual Israeli scholars from participating in AAA activities or collaborating with AAA members. With this in mind, the Executive Board has approved the following list of actions, barring Israeli academic institutions 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, and
  • where within AAA’s control, republishing and reprinting articles from AAA publications in journals and publications owned by Israeli institutions.

AAA President Ramona Pérez stated, “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.”

Palestinians and members of AnthroBoycott, the collective of AAA members who work in support of Palestinian human rights, have celebrated this historic vote. “As scholars with a long history of studying colonialism, anthropologists are all too familiar with the devastating harm of Israel’s oppression and theft of Palestinian land. This vote is an important step in showing that support for Palestinian rights goes hand in hand with the AAA’s values of human rights for all,” said Jessica Winegar, an anthropology professor and a member of the AnthroBoycott collective.

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) released a statement welcoming the vote stating, “We thank the many AAA members who worked tirelessly to ensure the association was on record as refusing ties with Israeli universities complicit in Israel’s crimes against us. We thank those who took the time to learn from and listen to Indigenous Palestinian voices.”

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is a founding member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee and is tasked with overseeing the academic and cultural boycott aspects of BDS. BDS, short, for Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice, and equality that launched in 2005. The organization highlights that an academic and cultural boycott of Israel is necessary because of these institutions deep and persistent complicity in Israel’s denial of Palestinian rights.”

The AAA will now join the ranks of other scholarly associations across the United States that have endorsed a boycott of Israeli academic institutions including the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, the Middle East Studies Association, the National Women’s Studies Association, and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

This is not the first time the AAA has attempted to pass a resolution in accordance with BDS. In 2016, the association voted for a similar boycott resolution which was missed by less than 1% of ballots cast.

Anthropologists in support for the referendum applauded the decision and the changes it will inspire within the discipline of anthropology.

Associate Professor and anthropologist Sami Hermez shared the importance of this vote, he tweeted: “To my fellow anthropologists, the vote gives us all the institutional backing to boycott. No longer is your act an individual act. You can now take comfort in your association. You can say, ‘I refuse because I follow my disciplinary association.’ We are no longer alone. This is the power of an AAA boycott!”

Professor Hermez identifies an important perspective as AnthroBoycott writes, “This breakthrough comes despite attempts to pressure, intimidate, and misinform anthropologists from outside pro-Israel organizations with no apparent link to the discipline. These efforts included unsolicited and harassing emails sent to all AAA members; lobbying university presidents across the country to intervene in the vote; and frivolous threats of litigation.” Intimidation tactics used by pro-Israel groups now have less impact with the AAA’s passing of BDS.

Author and anthropologist Maya Mikdashi tweeted, “The AAA has voted to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions! The largest academic association to do so yet, in solidarity with Palestinians and their struggle for freedom. There will be more to come.”

This news is inspiring to Palestinians and allies everywhere advocating to implement BDS into their institutions and organizations. The spirit of BDS and support for Palestinian human rights cannot be silenced, and like in AnthroBoycott’s case, will prevail. Support for the BDS movement will continue to grow as more people, groups, and organizations call for Palestinian human rights and stand up for freedom, justice, and equality.

About The Author: 

Asma Barakat is the co-creator of an oral history archive titled Rooted in Palestine. Asma holds an MA in Sociology from The New School and a BA in Political Science from Montclair State University.

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