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New academic boycott effort — still the wrong target

Over 1,000 American anthropologists have signed onto a boycott Israel petition. What this type of activism fails to do is to target the occupation in its essence – as an international system, sustained by an array of multinational interests.

By Gil Hizi

Illustrative photo of boycott advocates. (Photo: Brian S / Shutterstock.com)

Illustrative photo of boycott advocates. (Photo: Brian S / Shutterstock.com)

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) will hold its annual conference in Washington DC next week. This year there are several panels scheduled to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with particular focus of how to promote sanctions on Israeli academic institutions. At present, almost 1,000 anthropologists have signed a petition in support of a boycott and the AAA will supply plenty of ink for scholars who wish to add their signature to the cause.

The occupation is a grave matter and international intervention is necessary. Yet what this type of signature-activism fails to do is to target the occupation in its essence – as an international system, sustained by an array of multinational interests.

The AAA petition explains how Israeli universities participate in the occupation. It demands very generally to end the siege on Gaza, to provide Palestinian refugees the “right of return” and to guarantee equal citizenship rights to Israeli Arabs. While one letter of reply from Israeli anthropologists supports this petition, the official response from the Israeli Anthropological Society is highly critical of the boycott. It laments that the AAA, the largest anthropological association in the world, is exercising its power over Israeli anthropologists and the fact that the boycott ignores the “complexity” of the conflict.

Read also: The academic boycott of Israel: No easy answers

Another response, a worldwide petition of anthropologists against the boycott, emphasizes that the occupation must end immediately and that Israel carries responsibility for the situation. Its criticism of BDS lies in the probability that sanctions will only serve the interests of the Israeli government, which wishes to mute radical voices inside local academia. Left-wing anthropologists such as Dan Rabinowitz, Edna Lomsky-Feder and Eyal Ben-Ari, who have all dedicated the last decades to criticizing Israeli institutional power, are supporters of this initiative.

While that second message expresses important ideas, even it fails to point out the biggest flaw of the boycott. The BDS petition discusses the political problem and the responsibility of scholars but ignores two important questions: how is the occupation operated? What initiative is required in order to undo the occupation and improve the living conditions of Palestinians?

Anthropologists Lisa Rofel and Ilana Feldman, two of the most vigorous promoters of the AAA’s boycott proposition, seem to understand this problem. In a recently post they state that because of the U.S. government’s support for Israel, U.S. citizens are “not just witnesses to Israeli crimes, but complicit in them.” Nevertheless, Rofel and Feldman’s instrument for change somehow remains a boycott that isolates Israel.

The U.S. indeed invests billions in the Israeli army and in addition, blocks every initiative for Palestinian self-determination in the UN. Even those who place all the blame on Jewish lobbies understand that Islam-hatred in the U.S. is hardly fuelled solely by love for the Star of David. Yet these underlying factors don’t lead scholars to realize that the U.S. does not merely “support” Israel altruistically, but is also operating with/through Israel, and that perhaps the White House should become the address for protests, rather than petitions that ignore the large picture. And perhaps the position of U.S. scholars vis-a-vis their government’s foreign policy should be scrutinized before the U.S. academy extends its institutional claws toward small academic communities in Israel.

A post by highly-acclaimed anthropological blog Savage Minds, which supports the BDS motion, correctly points out that most arguments against the boycott are, in fact, opposing the general principle of a boycott rather than responding to the crux of the matter. Yet, it seems that those who promote the boycott are guilty of the exact same sin: they praise the importance of taking a stance and engaging in political activism, while they forget to examine the conditions that may actually facilitate change.

How can we expect political change when there is no overarching pressure on the U.S. — and other allies — to transform its policies in the Middle East? Isolating Israel here serves all actors of the occupation: it is used by the Israeli right wing to demonstrate that it is the only true guardian of Israel, and it plays into the hand of foreign powers who prefer to keep their contributions to the occupation in the dark. This charade of “good cop, bad cop” has been going on for decades already, while residents in Gaza and the West Bank remain in despair. The occupation will not come to an end until activists and politicians fully acknowledge its international character.

Gil Hizi is a PhD candidate in anthropology and the University of Sydney. Although not the focus of his current research, he is concerned with social problems (and their academic analysis) in Israel, especially in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has been a Tel-Avivian most of his life, with more recent episodes in Jerusalem and Neve Shalom.

The academic boycott of Israel: No easy answers
Stephen Hawking’s message to Israeli elites: The occupation has a price
The boycott isn’t economic warfare, it’s psychological

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    1. Pedro X

      The AAA, just another BDS organization attempting to destroy the Israeli state:

      “It demands very generally to end the siege on Gaza, to provide Palestinian refugees the “right of return….”

      So the AAA wants Hamas to have the right to unlimited access to import weapons and use them on Israel. It wants to flood Israel with descendants of Arab refugees who fled Mandate Palestine 67 years ago, thus ending the Jewish state and preventing Jewish people of Israel from having exercised the right of self determination.

      Well it is not going to happen. The Arabs begun a boycott of Jewish people back in 1945 before there was even the re-establishment of the Israeli state. Israel survived the boycott, the attempted genocide in 1948 by the Arab Palestinians and Arab states, and many wars and boycotts since then.

      Some might want to read Gil Troy’s column:


      Reply to Comment
      • Weiss

        “The AAA, just another BDS organization attempting to destroy the Israeli state”

        “So the AAA wants Hamas to have the right to unlimited access to import weapons and use them on Israel.”

        NOPE…. those are NOT the words of the AAA

        They are the typically desperate Hasbara lies that are destroying Israel FROM WITHIN

        The Right Wing Fascists that spew this garbage are the true anti-Semites because they are turning even Moderate Jews like myself into BDS supporters and critics of a failed Iron Fist Policy designed to perpetuate Jewish Supremacy and Sado-Masochistic Dominance over the Palestinians.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          Algemeiner reported in 2013:

          “A new report issued by the Simon Wiesanthal Center has labelled the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel “a thinly-veiled, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic ‘poison pill,’ whose goal is the demonization, delegitimization, and ultimate demise of the Jewish State.”

          The report, which was compiled by Dr. Harold Brackman, takes a comprehensive look at the origins of the movement dating back to 2001. Among its many conclusions is that BDS “is a movement that does not help better the life of a single Palestinian and which is oblivious to major human rights disasters erupting throughout the Middle East and beyond.”

          As a determining factor of BDS’s illegitimacy, the report uses Natan Sharansky’s ‘three Ds test’ for when criticism crosses the line into anti-Semitism:

          “FIRST: Double Standards – singling out Israel for criticism while ignoring the more egregious behavior of major human rights abusers in the Arab and Muslim world and beyond.

          “SECOND: Demonization of Israel – distorting the Jewish State’s actions by means of insidious and false comparisons with the Nazis and/or South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

          “THIRD: Delegitimization – when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied—alone among all nations in the world—this too is anti-Semitism.

          “BDS claims to be peaceful or to favor “nonviolent punitive measures” (while refusing to denounce anti-Israel, anti-Jewish violence).

          “BDS often downplays its programmatic commitment to the unlimited “right of return” of millions of Palestinians, not born in Israel but claiming refugee status that would spell the end of the Jewish State.

          “BDS ostensibly wants to right the specific wrongs done to Palestinians, yet attacks the foundations of Israel’s entire economy and society: all (Jewish) Israelis are collectively guilty.
          “BDS is fueled by and reinforces a one-sided historical narrative denying any responsibility of Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim “rejectionists” for destroying chances for peace and reconciliation—from before Israel’s establishment in 1948, to the 1980 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, to the 1993 Oslo Accords, to the 2000-2001 Camp David and Wye Summits, to the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and to this very day.

          “BDS slanders Zionism and supporters of the Jewish State by falsifying the profound differences between Apartheid South Africa and democratic Israel.

          “BDS utilizes—without admitting it—Christian “supersessionist” theological claims that Jews and Israel have lost divine favor because of the Jewish People’s alleged sins and as result Jews no longer have legitimate historic or moral claims to the Holy Land.”


          Reply to Comment
    2. Mikesailor

      One of the silliest articles I have read in a long time. So what does this “scholar” posit as an answer to the Israeli occupation? Absolutely nothing. Instead of advocating a broadening of the BDS movement to include multinationals etc. and their fellow travelers within the Israel lobby. Almost all recognize the international component of governments and media which actively suppress or ignore the atrocities. Yet the writer criticizes the only, and I repeat ONLY, movement actively pressuring Israel and its policies. I know many of the Israeli hasbaristas will write comments disparaging the writer but in reality they both are on the same side. Its a pity when the know-nothings make common cause with “scholars” like these. The deep freeze placed upon criticism of Zionism since WWII lest someone be deemed “antisemitic” has thawed and various political actions, especially on university campuses, has been undertaken by those who refuse to be cowed by hasbaristas. But doing nothing becaue it serves the Israeli right-wing is not an option.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The article is not silly (that’s rather flip and insulting analysis); the author is making a valid point. Academic boycotts will not end the occupation any more than similar boycotts (and sporting boycotts) ended South African apartheid.

      But each and every boycott (providing the target is legitimate) contributes to the overall solidarity movement and gives support to the oppressed people, encouraging them to struggle for their rights, which is one component that will change systems. And equally acts to demoralise the oppressors and make even liberals who feel personally innocent look in the mirror and wonder why the world is against them.

      Unfortunately, in Israel there is a glib answer of ‘anti-semitism’ whereas in S Africa, although the Afrikaaners had a long persecution complex, they couldn’t automatically believe that the whole world hated their race. But that’s another discussion.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Victor Arajs

      the entire creation of the zionist entity is the largest human rights violation since Genghis Kahns invading hordes. The purpose of the boycott is not to end the post 1967 occupation it is to end the post 1948 occupation of both Palestine and AmeriKKKa by zionist hordes

      Reply to Comment
    5. Go BDS! It’s working, its nonviolent, it is powerful and if it were not, the naysayers would be somewhere else.

      “A new report issued by the Simon Wiesanthal Center has labelled the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel “a thinly-veiled, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic ‘poison pill,’ whose goal is the demonization, delegitimization, and ultimate demise of the Jewish State.”


      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        BDS is working? Despite BDS, the Israeli economy has more than doubled its Gross Domestic Product in the last 8 years despite the economic woes in most of the rest of the world. Israel’s Gross Domestic product is just below 300 billion dollars for a population of 8 million with very few natural resources beyond the ingenuity of its people. Israeli trade has mushroomed in Europe and Asia and remains strong in the United States and Canada. The sky is the limit for Israel trading in India and China.

        Meanwhile BDS has not improved the life of Palestinians as they wallow in an economy with a gross domestic product of 6.8 billion dollars for 4 million people. Their export trade is a measly amount. The Palestinians are the biggest per capita welfare recipients on the face of the earth.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Your hasbara is all the proof needed that it is working, it’s message is out their and it is growing, growing, growing……..

      – Kuwait to boycott 50 companies over role in illegal Israeli settlements October 27, 2014 by Palestinian BDS National Committee The blacklisted companies include some of the top corporate targets of the BDS movement, such as Veolia, Volvo, Heidelberg Cement, Dexia, Pizzarotti and Alstom

      – Cairo donor conference: Palestinian civil society calls for public scrutiny of aid and zero complicity with Israeli violations of international law October 12, 2014 by Palestinian BDS National Committee

      – Nobel laureates and 60,000 others call for military embargo on Israel October 12, 2014 by Palestinian BDS National Committee

      – Palestinian students call for Barclays boycott over Elbit investment October 9, 2014

      – BNC Appeal to Union of European Football Associations regarding Israel’s bid to host UEFA 2020 tournament games September 9, 2014 by Palestinian sports clubs and civil society organisations

      – Stop U.S Repression of African Americans in Ferguson August 20, 2014 by Palestinian BDS National Committee

      – ANALYSIS On Gaza and global rage August 19, 2014 by Haidar Eid at Middle East Eye Palestinian efforts to encourage a boycott of Israel, modeled on the South African anti-apartheid global campaign, is gaining momentum as a democratic movement

      – What’s behind the rise of BDS? August 8, 2014 by Sherry Wolf at International View Point

      – U.S. Should Stop Funding Israel, or Let Others Broker Peace August 5, 2014 by Noura Erekat at New York Times

      – Some Reflections on BDS and Feminist Political Solidarity May 14, 2014 by Brenna Bhandar at Feminists@law

      – Solidarity with Anti-Apartheid Resistance in Post-Oslo Palestine April 5, 2014 by Haidar Eid NEWS

      – Saturday November 29th – UK Stop Arming Israel day of action November 21, 2014 by UK organisations UK activists are gearing up to pressure the UK government and British companies to end all relationships with Israeli arms companies and to end all forms of military cooperation with Israel

      – EU must cease “material support” for Israel’s crimes, say leading trade unions November 20, 2014 by Michael Deas at Electronic Intifada The appeal is one of the most widely endorsed statements by European organizations on Palestine to date.

      – Costly pro-Israel PR campaign fails to stop UC Los Angeles divestment November 19, 2014 by Nora Barrows-Friedman at Electronic Intifada The University of California at Los Angeles is the sixth of nine undergraduate campuses in the UC system to call for divestment

      – University of Exeter students vote to boycott Israeli settlement products in a landslide November 1, 2014 by Andrew Meyer at Mondoweiss The referendum, which garnered 86% approval, generated the largest voter turnout in the history of the university.

      – SodaStream to close illegal settlement factory in response to growing boycott campaign October 30, 2014 by Palestinian BDS National Committee

      – Jordan civil society demands boycott of Israel October 27, 2014 by Alurdun Tuqate’ The Jordan BDS Movement, known in Arabic as Alurdun Tuqate’, has published a statement calling for a boycott of Israel that has been signed by more than 60 civil society organisations

      – More than 500 anthropologists back academic boycott of Israel October 25, 2014 by Sarah Irving at Electronic Intifada “The recent military assault on the Gaza Strip by Israel is only the latest reminder that the world’s governments and mainstream media do not hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law,” the statement notes

      – Israel excluded from Italy military exercises after protests October 20, 2014 by Stephanie Westbrook at Electronic Intifada Public pressure appears to have forced the Italian government to exclude the Israeli military from joint military exercises it was due to take part in

      – Los Angeles activists block unloading of Israeli cargo ship for two days October 19, 2014 by Charlotte Silver at Electronic Intifada The Block the Boat coalition of Los Angeles claimed another victory, delaying an Israeli cargo ship for more than 34 hours

      View more NEWS – See more at: http://www.bdsmovement.net/#sthash.WZHEr1iU.dpuf

      And the response from the hasbarists will most likely be “We don’t care”.

      Everyone else seems too.

      Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Add up the monetary effect of all BDS and it is didly squat, measured in real dollars. Meanwhile one Israeli free trade deal with India will increase trade by 10 billion dollars.

        The greatest failure of BDS is that it has not improved Palestinian lives one iota.

        Reply to Comment
        • Free trade deal with India? Racist thugs have to stick together after all and Netanyahu and Modi have quite a bromance going on. Ah young love…Well, not young at all but ah love…..

          “The greatest failure of BDS is that it has not improved Palestinian lives one iota.”

          I didn’t know that. That’s obviously your opinion, you’re entitled. But you couldn’t be more wrong. Success is not always measured materially Pedro. I believe that’s a little too much for you to wrap your head around as all you’re talking about is dollars.

          Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            So now 1.25 billion people of India are racist thugs in your book?

            No matter what scale one uses, Palestinian society has failed its people.

            More than 1 in every 4 persons in the Palestinian territories is unemployed. 1 in 20 is unemployed in Israel. Israel has an open democratic government while the Palestinians are ruled by two autocratic governments. In Israel citizens have equal access to government services, health professionals, free speech, an independent free press, an independent justice system, the right to criticize their government and to elect a new one its place. In Israel one can exercise one’s religious or sexual preferences.

            The hallmark of Palestinian government is corruption, nepotism and party affiliation. Neither the PA nor the Hamas government permit free speech or a free press. Each controls the media in its own sphere. Palestinians are regularly beaten, arrested and tortured in the Palestinian territories for questioning the government or insulting the president. There is no independent judiciary in the Palestinian territories. One cannot exercise one’s sexual preferences. A large portion of Palestinian women are subject to abuse and beatings by their men folk. As the Turkish Prime Minister said in Islam women are not equal to men. In the Palestinian territories men can have more than 1 wife, up to 4. Women can not have more than one husband and are subject to being killed to save the honour of the family for things such as talking to men or dating someone not approved by the family.

            Palestinian Arabs following the 1948 war placed many of their people in transit camps which turned into ghettos by the 1950s and have kept them there, denying them a fruitful and satisfying life for themselves, children and grandchildren.

            Then one can look at Gaza. Before and after the latest Gaza war Gazans enjoy regularly swimming in their own excrement with every heavy rain. Their self controlled water resource is on the verge of collapse. Gazans only have electrical power for a portion of the day. Gazans are not free to travel or export. Their economy is extremely limited. UNWRA food aid feeds the population. Hamas enforces dress and morality codes and arrests, tortures and executes those it chooses in defiance of Palestinian law. Hamas has started three wars which it knew it could not win and knew what the consequences would be to the population.

            If you call this success, then maybe you should move to Gaza.

            Reply to Comment
          • Free trade deal with India? Racist thugs have to stick together after all and Netanyahu and Modi have quite a bromance going on. Ah young love…Well, not young at all but ah love…..

            I’m speaking to Netanyahu and Modi. You’ve chosen to print a lie, a misrepresentation and slander with this “So now 1.25 billion people of India are racist thugs in your book?”

            Can always count on the drama from Pedro.

            Reply to Comment
          • Sluggo

            This is the same Marnie who was outed at Mindoweis for pretending to be a Jewish woman living in Israel. Just so you know

            Reply to Comment
          • Why are you afraid and stalking me?

            Reply to Comment
    7. Bar

      Congratulations 972, you’ve managed to argue against idiocy with idiocy.

      It’s pointless to raise the numerous arguments against this boycott or this essay. I’m writing to point out that thanks to this essay, I visited the “highly-acclaimed anthropological blog” Savage Minds to read their essay on BDS. Unsurprisingly, it contained standard claims that falter quickly under scrutiny. Of course, comments were closed so there could be no scrutiny…

      Reply to Comment
    8. Tomer

      AAA = Active American Antisemites

      Reply to Comment
    9. Boaz Monczer

      An excellent article which shed a light on a major aspect of so called ocupation, which is the American secret agenda of an on going conflict. i also think that israel is being mistreated and misunderstood, and last, if you boycot Israel you pretty much need to boycot everything, from boycoting the U.S to mainland China

      Reply to Comment
    10. gil

      A clarifications:
      The idea here isn’t that this petition is dangerous or overarching. It is initiated by people with very positive agendas (plus it also faces a strong. I only bring it as an example, a symptom, of a certain rhetoric that fails to address some of the core mechanisms of the occupation (and needless to say the pro-Israelis voices have never showed any interest in these mechanisms).

      It is, as Paul wrote, important to express solidarity with a cause even when not having a direct impact, but it seems that in our world there’s too much indirect impacts going around, as people are often more interested in their personal responsibility and representation of identity than in change. It is not easy to move beyond this, but I do have high expectations from the anthropology community, which knows a thing or two about power relations and political mechanisms.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Susan

      Are ALL Israelis going to be equally boycotted or just the Israeli Jewish academics? Usually a boycott of Israeli academics means a boycott of JEWISH Israeli academics.

      It also is boycotting the most liberal segment of Israeli society. It’s like protesting the Vietnam War by boycotting Berkeley. It makes me wonder what it looks like to the average Israeli who thinks if they are boycotting the peaceniks what does it matter what we do because they just hate us.

      Reply to Comment
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