Final Report: Task Force on AAA Engagement on Israel-Palestine

23 thoughts on “Final Report: Task Force on AAA Engagement on Israel-Palestine”

  1. The anthropologists who want to get on the BDS train need to think seriously as to whether they wish to risk the American Anthropology Association’s 501(c)(3) tax exemption (not legal advice) the way the American Studies Association risked its own, and damaged ASA’s reputation regardless of how the 501(c) issue went down.

    See my posting at Arutz Sheva, “13909 the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement” (13909 is the Internal Revenue Service form number for filing a complaint about the activities of a tax exempt organization.)

    Should people lile Nadia Abu El-Haj, Lisa Rofel; Ghassan Hage; Lori Allen; Magid Shihade; Lara Deeb; Nadia Abu El-Haj; Julia Elyachar; Jessica Winegar; Ann Stoler, Lori Allen; Omar Barghouti; Richard Falk; Rebecca Vilkomerson; Saba Mahmood; Noura Erakat; Daniel Segal be allowed to jeopardize the AAA’s credibility (at the very least) for their anti-Israel and, by implication, pro-misogyny, pro-gay-bashing, and pro-terrorism agenda of Hamas and similar Palestinian institutions?


    Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D.

    Rutgers University-Camden, NJ

    November 15, 2015

    It is unfathomable and beyond comprehension that as the world’s attention turns to the devastating terror attacks in Paris with ISIS’s name seemingly behind the horrendous murders, the American Anthropological Association has decided to solely condemn Israel among all the nations in the world. There is no parallel effort to condemn any of the world’s terrorist groups committing atrocities daily or to sanction any of the nations that harbor them or any of the countries engaged in unspeakable abuses of their own people. What the AAA report on Israeli/Palestinian relations has implicitly concluded is that Israel is more evil than any other nation and presumably the only country to warrant an international boycott.

    The AAA report on discriminatory conditions for Palestinians and the injustice of Israel’s settlements in occupied territories has led to an extraordinary leap of logic that an academic boycott of Israeli institutions is justifiable. By this logic, those who are doing research in China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and in any other country with an oppressive regime should be advocating an academic boycott of those countries. The question is not whether anthropologists have legitimate political criticism of Israel, but whether by singling out one nation for condemnation and an academic boycott and not holding other countries accountable for their repressive policies, anthropologists are, in the words of Daniel Orenstein, “ostracizing and painting blood red” Israel and Israel alone.

    I am boycotting the annual meetings this year, because the AAA is acting irresponsibly in creating a movement to single out Israel among all the countries in the world and to indict its universities as complicit and accountable for the Israeli government’s activities. In my field work in the United States, I have seen American children in the inner city sick from lead poisoning and living in neighborhoods unsafe to play in playgrounds with drug needles and with some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. Should we boycott American universities that fly the American flag and in so doing perpetuate conditions of radical inequality in this country? The hypocrisy of the AAA in its hate and condemnation of Israel is clearly evident.

    The report of the AAA has already created damage. It has led anthropologists to reach harmful, anti-Semitic, and damaging conclusions on the basis of a biased report. Look at some of the comments on the AAA website. One anthropologist writes on the association’s blog, “I knew the settlers were awful, but the behavior towards Palestinians does, in fact, echo Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.” Anyone actually familiar with what happened to Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930’s would find this comparison bizarre and reprehensible. Furthermore, as the report itself points out, if a boycott goes into effect, there is no mechanism or standard in place by which to end it, and thus punitive measures against Israel could be indefinite.

    If the AAA supports an academic boycott of Israeli universities, those anthropology professors in Israel who have been at the forefront of criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and advocating for a two-state solution, will undoubtedly be more isolated in the world community than ever before. If the AAA moves forward with an academic boycott of Israel, it will at the very least look daffy and have advocates for mutual respect shaking their heads at anthropologists’ single-minded bias against Israel at the very moment that terrorism poses a deadly threat to all of us. At the worst, the AAA actions will be a breach of academic freedom, put into question the legitimacy of Israeli academics, effectively stifle debate on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and lend support to forces of anti-Semitism as it backs a destructive boycott that has no prospect in place for its end.


    Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D. Rutgers University-Camden, NJ

    1. It is also to be noted that the AAA’s attack on Israel supports the Palestinians’ mistreatment of gay people, systematic oppression of women, systematic oppression of Christians, and ongoing litany of terroristic violence against Israeli civilians. Follow-through with this boycott would constitute non-material but moral support to terrorists, as well as possible cause (not legal advice) for revocation of the AAA’s tax exemption.

      When you look at the names and histories of the individuals behind the boycott, e.g. Nadia Abu El-Haj, you will question seriously whether these individuals should be allowed to jeopardize your professional association to pursue a vicious agenda that has nothing to do with the organization’s purpose or objectives.

      In fact, I would encourage members to consult an attorney to determine whether the organization can be enjoined from so much as voting on the resolution because of the harm (loss of the organization’s credibility and standing, possible loss of its 501(c)(3)) to the dues-paying members that might arise from this course of action. If a professional organization to which I belonged and paid dues, and relied upon for professional development and growth, engaged in this kind of behavior, I would certainly talk to other members about getting a court to shut down the questionable activity before it caused a problem.

  3. I join other anthropologists, committed to human rights and justice, in a search for change in the Middle East. In the unequal conflict between Israel and Palestinians, initiating steps to redress injustices and relieve suffering must begin with the more powerful party. But the path of anthropologists is to draw upon the skills of dialogue in pointing to dignified solutions.
    Boycotting Israeli universities is the wrong choice of action. Rather than enhance peace and justice, it may exacerbate hostilities.

    Here are 5 reasons why:
    • Calls to boycott Israeli universities cavalierly conflate them with the state, the Occupation, and injustice generally. But Israeli universities are no more complicit with the Occupation than are US universities with the invasion of Iraq or Chinese universities with blocking Facebook. Some of the clearest voices criticizing Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians emanate from Israeli academics.

    • A boycott of Israeli universities by academics abroad will not inspire change in government policies. Rather, it will augment a sense among Israelis that ‘the world is all against us,’ deepen intransigent impulses, isolate internal critics and stymie initiatives for peace.

    • The conditions that pro-boycott statements set for lifting a boycott – including a proposal to AAA members for November 20th – are vague. Leaving those boycotted with no hope for it ever to end, such boycott loses positive potential, yielding only acrimony and conflict among colleagues.

    • Ostensibly defending Palestinian academic freedom, an academic boycott of Israel is simply blunt retaliation that punishes Israeli moderates. It will damage academic freedom and will curtail the ability of social scientists and humanists of all political and disciplinary persuasions, to teach and carry out research in Israel/Palestine.

    • Once a boycott is in place, distinctions between individuals and institutions become hollow. We may be more or less proud of our institutional affiliation at times, but it is part of our identity. Delegitimizing a scholar’s institution is a personal affront. And protocols that specify activities in which an academic might be ‘allowed’ to participate, are shameful attempts at creating exceptions that prove a repugnant rule.

    Instead of boycotting our colleagues in Israel, there are other actions, suggested by the AAA’s Task Force on Israel/Palestine, which we, as individuals and as members of the AAA, could embark on now, in order to effect change in the region:

    • Voice personal and collective criticism of Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, including the continued Occupation of Palestinian lands;

    • Call on the US government to put pressure on Israel to advance Palestinian rights;

    • Call on Israel to enhance the freedom of speech and movement for Palestinians, and to stop persecutory policies towards Palestinian universities;

    • Support anthropologists’ effort to teach and conduct research in the region;

    • Provide Palestinian libraries access to anthropological journals at no cost;

    • Offer funds for visiting professors at Palestinian universities and to Palestinian anthropologists wishing to teach at home and abroad;

    I am part of a group of anthropologists that has proposed a resolution, to be discussed and voted on at the AAA’s Business Meeting in Denver, that ensures that AAA will undertake these kinds of constructive engagement, as recommended by the Task Force. Our resolution also advocates the establishment within the AAA of an ear-marked fund, valued at 1% of the Association’s annual expenditure, to promote and enhance scholarly endeavors in conflict areas, with an initial emphasis on Palestine and Israel.

    I urge you to Vote Yes on proposed Resolution number 1: End the Occupation; Resist the call for Academic Boycott; Support Dialogue

    At the AAA Business Meeting on Friday, November 20th
    6:15 PM—the Colorado Convention Center.

  4. Dear Anthropologists Boycott,

    I am afraid I am not able to attend the forthcoming AAA Annual Meeting/Conference at Denver this year, thus (subject to your permission) I wish to share my position as a critical anthropologist of UK and Israel citizenship, born in Jerusalem in 1943 and member of the Israeli Anthropological Association/IAA and American Anthropological Association/AAA on what is “perhaps the most common objection to the boycott is the accusation of “singling out” Israel.

    To my understanding, Israel ought to be single out – but not because popular racism and popular xenophobia is qualitatively different in Israel relative to such as prevails in liberal-democratic North America or Europe. For instance, tribal families in liberal-democratic North America and Europe are as likely to oppose their daughters “marrying out” as tribal families in Israel. But in the event the “mixed-couples” in question are determined to establish their relationship as a family, their right to do so would be enshrined in the liberal constitutions of the USA, Canada and the EU, as would their right to freely choose where they wish to reside and/or purchase and/or lease property. Not so in Israel (or more precisely, apartheid Israel), where (exceptions notwithstanding) 93% of the territory of the State within the 1949 armistice lines (otherwise known as the “Green Line” and/or “pre-1967 borders” and/or “Israel proper”) is reserved in law for residence and development of one tribal group/ethnic group/national group only, namely, such as is defined in law as “Jews”. In the former apartheid Republic of South Africa 87% of the territory of the Republic were reserved in law for “Whites” only). Note that the apartheid divide in law in the former Republic of South Africa was “White” vs “non-White”, whereas in apartheid Israel the apartheid divide in law remains “Jew” vs “non-Jew”.

    As I have suggested since the mid-1980s with the publication of my book Israel: An Apartheid State (Zed Books, London, 1987 & 1990 and Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within (Zed Books, London, 2003)) racism and popular xenophobia is not apartheid and apartheid is not racism. To my reading, apartheid is a state political system that enforces in law (by Acts of Parliament) racist values and practices within the territories under its sovereignty and/or jurisdiction and imposes racist values and practices by applying the law-enforcement instruments of the state.

    Israel, as a settler-colonial state is, at core, quintessentially an apartheid state. As noted above, almost all of apartheid Israel lands (some 93 per cent of the territory of ethnically cleansed and occupied “Israel proper” are restricted in law and in practice for the development, settlement and housing of “Jews” only, to the exclusion of its “non-Jewish” citizens, notably, its Palestinian citizens (the odd exception notwithstanding). As a result the Palestinian community in Israel (some 20 per cent of the total number of the total odd 8.3 million citizens of Israel) have been ghettoised in mixed cities (e.g. Acre); overcrowded in under-serviced towns (e.g. Umm al-Fahm) and villages (e.g. Arara); and in hundreds of unrecognized and underdeveloped localities, many of the latter totally lacking basic services such as running water, sewage and electricity, while being threatened with eviction and demolition.

    As you may be aware, I am, perhaps, the first critical academic to have identified Israel’s strategic apartheid legislation in detail. In sum, these include: the Law of Return; Absentees Property Law; Development Authority Law, all of 1950; World Zionist Organization – Jewish Agency Status Law of 1952; Keren Kayemeth Leisrael (Jewish National Fund) Law; Land Acquisition (Validations of Acts and Compensation) Law, both of 1953; Covenant between the Government of Israel and the Zionist Executive, also known as the Executive of the Jewish Agency for the Land of Israel of 1954; Prescription Law of 1958; Basic Law: Israel Lands; Israel Lands Law; Israel Lands Administration Law, all of 1960; Covenant Between the Government of Israel and the Jewish National Fund of 1961; and more …

    To my knowledge, after the demise of apartheid legislation in the Republic of South Africa (beginning with the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990) Israel remains the only apartheid state that is a member of the UN General Assembly (namely, a state the enforces in law (by Acts of Parliament) racist values and practices within the territories under its sovereignty and/or jurisdiction and imposes racist values and practices by applying the law-enforcement instruments of the state) and it is as such that it ought to be singled out for BDS until such time as its apartheid legislation (notably its core apartheid legislation as listed above) is dismantled.
    So far as I am aware, my observation to the effect that Israel remains the only apartheid state that is a member of the UN General Assembly has not been challenged. I am happy to be corrected, in which case, I would (of course) argue that BDS measures ought to be applies to apartheid Israel and any other state where 93% of their territories are reserved to one of its tribal groups/ethnic groups/national groups only, with the view to assisting them to replace their apartheid legislation with liberal-democratic constitutions informed by the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


    Uri Davis (Dr)
    Erstwhile Associate Professor
    Israel Studies Track
    Institute of Area Studies
    AL-QUDS University
    Jerusalem, Abu Dis
    Palestinian Authority
    Honorary University Fellow
    College of Social Sciences and International Studies
    Institute of Arab & Islamic Studies
    European Centre for Palestine Studies
    University of Exeter, UK

    Cellular: +972 54 452 3838
    Tel/fax: +972 2 298 4682


    Begin forwarded message:

    From: Anthropologists Boycott
    Date: 4 November 2015 12:08:43 EET
    Subject: [anthroboycott] Voting on the Boycott at AAA — what you need to know
    Reply-To: Anthropologists Boycott

    Dear colleagues,

    The upcoming business meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Denver will likely be historic and we need your vote!

    We need as high a turnout and as decisive a majority as possible. If the AAA votes in favor of the boycott, we anticipate unfair coverage in the mainstream media and attempts at intimidation from pro-Israel organizations. In order to withstand this pressure, the Association must speak with one voice. More so than ever, every vote counts.

    If you will be in Denver, there are three things you need to know:


    The meeting is Friday, November 20, 6:15-7:30pm in Colorado Convention Center Mile High Ballroom 2&3.

    You must attend in person to vote. No proxy or absentee voting is allowed.

    Doors close on time. To make sure your vote is counted, please plan to show up early and bring your conference badge.


    The first resolution on the agenda is against the boycott. Similar to a measure that was defeated last year, Resolution #1 would block any substantive action by combining a rejection of the boycott with toothless criticism of the occupation and a vague appeal for donations to support “dialogue.” Resolution #1 flies in the face of the AAA Task Force’s unanimous recommendation that the Association take substantive action on Israel/Palestine and not simply issue a statement of censure.

    We urge you to vote NO on Resolution #1.


    Resolution #2 is the boycott resolution. Endorsed by Jewish Voice for Peace and Friends of Sabeel, Resolution #2 is a reasonable and effective response to Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinians’ human rights, including their rights to education and academic freedom. For a U.S.-based association, endorsing the boycott is also an act of protest against Washington’s unqualified support for Israel’s actions.

    The boycott resolution is narrowly focused on institutions. Individual Israeli scholars would still be welcome to publish in AAA journals and attend Association conferences.

    We ask you to vote YES on Resolution #2.

    We expect that voting on Resolution #2 will take place before 7:30, the scheduled end of the meeting. However, due to the anti-boycott resolution being first on the agenda we cannot guarantee that this will happen. We therefore ask that you plan for the possibility of staying a bit later past 7:30 if need be.

  5. This report is an excellent, balanced investigation of the context under which Palestinian and Israeli scholars suffer from the militarization of academic life. It indicates that we must do more than we are doing, and that non-action is not an option (this includes the things we have been doing, like so-called “dialogue”).

    First, having one’s institution boycotted is a great thing! It gives solidarity to those of us seeking to resist the many wrong turns our institutions take. When I invited an Iraqi doctor to speak at UCSC, she said “I can’t come as a representative of my institution, only as myself, because UC (Berkeley) weaponized the strontium that I am finding in my patients, and UC recently received a 5 million dollar grant with the US army.” Fair enough. That is what an academic boycott looks like: minimal, and powerful.

    An academic boycott is not about two political camps. It is about scholarly independence from the creep of the military industrial complex. This is about partnering with all those Israeli and Palestinian academics struggling against militarization. This is about offering each other solidarity against our institutions when they become complicit in structural violence, when they cannibalize academic freedom.

    Anthropologists have consistently taken a stand against militarization, whether boycotting the Human Terrain System or boycotting an entire country until the end of apartheid in South Africa or occupation in Palestine. These are meant to be temporary measures, the endurance of which is determined by the oppressor. We are being asked by an oppressed people to do this one very small thing (small indeed, as exampled by the Iraqi boycott of UC).

    Second, an academic boycott is what real dialogue looks like in practice. An academic boycott uses silence as a message of dissent against institutions. It lifts the voices of individual scholars, it uplifts academic freedom. It is a chorus.

    Otherwise, we are left with the monologue of the past 50 years. This October alone, over 50 people were killed. Some to settler violence. Some to knives. Some to bombs still being dropped in Gaza. Over 3,000 people have been injured. That is what a monologue looks like: militarization wins on all fronts, while we talk and talk.

    We must be in dialogue in earnest with militarization: we must boycott the occupation as scholars with independent minds and the faculties to make ethical stands at historical moments.

    Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D.
    Rutgers University-Camden, NJ
    October 25, 2015

    Along with my strong support for Israel, I have long opposed Israeli settlement policies and support a negotiated two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with negotiated adjustments. But I am concerned that the main focus of the Task Force committee seems to have been to prove the claims of the BDS movement correct and not to reflect on fairly and seriously the genuine complexities of the situation and the long list of missed opportunities by both sides in the quest for a just and mutually beneficial peace settlement.

    The AAA Israel-Palestine Task Force Report is not even-handed and balanced. The 120 “interviews” that were collected were (at least in my case) carefully crafted statements. To the extent that my opposition to the AAA’s possible support of the BDS campaign (and I assume others who made similar arguments) were glossed over and summarily dismissed in a cursory way, the report is deeply flawed. Here are some of the views that I expressed to the Task Force committee regarding my strong opposition to an academic boycott of Israel.

    1. First, as others have noted, the boycott, despite denials from its proponents, threatens to silence individuals and not just institutions. I am very concerned that if the AAA votes in support of the BDS campaign, Israeli scholars will have a very difficult time participating in future anthropological meetings in the United States. Will Israeli scholars be able to wear name tags that list their Israeli university affiliation? Will they feel estranged and targeted at our meetings? What about American students who are currently in Israel or hope to study in Israel? How will support of a BDS position affect them? Will they themselves be retaliated against simply because they might receive some sort of financial or other support from Israeli institutions? A boycott would have consequences, intended and unintended, not only for the government of Israel but for our own colleagues, students, and friends.

    2. The larger question remains why it makes moral sense to single out Israel for a boycott. What are the deeper implications of such an act? Should we be boycotting China for its occupation of Tibet? The disproportionate attention that the AAA is paying to Israel is mind-boggling when one considers that the list of countries with serious human rights violations is endless, and includes major power such as China and Russia and smaller countries such as Uganda and Haiti. The human rights records of some other countries in the Middle East is particularly egregious. Consider in this respect Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and many other nations. Nor is Israel alone in being involved in an ongoing occupation and territorial dispute with its neighbors; other prominent examples include, of course, Russia as well as Turkey, Armenia, and Morocco.

    3. More broadly, we also need to confront the issue of implicit or structural anti-Semitism. I do not believe that most of the supporters of the boycott in the AAA are consciously anti-Semitic. Far from it. But as scholars who rightly study and emphasize “structural racism” and other forms of unconscious bias, we should be equally sensitive to the ideological and other biases that have at times influenced portions of the BDS movement. We also need to understand, with the same rigor that we bring to the rest of our anthropological work, how the mood generated by BDS can degenerate into the sort of explicit anti-Semitism displayed, for example, in the recent outrageous treatment of a student at UCLA, see:, or the targetting of Jewish students at campuses all over the country. As scholars, however pure our own motives, we need to take into account the larger context in which our actions are embedded. And as teachers we need to consider the spillover effects of such actions on many of our students.

    4. Finally, as someone who is critical of many of Israel’s current policies, I wonder what good a boycott would actually do. Would it help strengthen the many voices in Israeli civil society including Israeli anthropologists who call for a renewed effort to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians, and whom incidentally the AAA Task Force did not consult for its report? Would it influence the Israeli government to alter its policies? Would it help build bridges between Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans? Would it help strengthen the ability of anthropologists and anthropology as a discipline to be a credible voice in American and international political discourse. Or would it, to the contrary, as I suspect, either have no effect or accomplish the very opposite of all these laudable goals?

    I would not want to be a member of the AAA if it supports the BDS campaign because the AAA would no longer represent the voice of academic freedom and open inquiry that it claims to champion. Moreover, as the committee members who wrote the Task Force report are not experts in the field, spent so little time in the West Bank, and never spoke to most Israeli anthropologists, when the AAA membership votes at its annual meeting in Denver, it will be voting on a politically motivated, biased report that makes some of us who hope to continue an Israeli/Palestinian dialogue feel that our presence is no longer welcome in the AAA.


    Cynthia Saltzman, Ph.D.
    Rutgers University-Camden, NJ

  7. Parsing the TFIP Report

    I have tried to get a good sense of the direction of the TFIP report. Some commentators have claimed that it reaches an unambiguous conclusion. Others have pointed to the complexity of its findings and diversity of the options it presents. A careful reading of the text itself may provide some openings.

    The authors bring the authority of Foucault and Said to claim that anthropology should “deconstruct the inequities of everyday social life” (p 7). “Deconstruction,” of course, is a notion deriving from Jacques Derrida, who showed that a close look at any elaborate text shows unsettling gaps, and puzzles as how to continue. Here are a few that struck me.

    The term “unanimous,” referring to the TF member opinions, appears throughout the report. Yet, when it comes to the crucial segment on the possibility of an “academic boycott” (80ff), we discover that we are “free to pick and choose as if ordering from a menu” (81). To me this was doubly puzzling. First, is this issue such a light matter that we can just relax and choose whatever we wish, as if in a restaurant? Second, what about the unanimous stand of the TF? Are the TF members actually split and not decided about the action to be taken? Also, given the short time frame and rules governing annual AAA business meetings, when and where would we actually have the ability to give all these options fair consideration?

    These perplexities were a trigger for me, an invitation to look back and understand the TF procedures more closely.

    Much work by the TF went into producing the text; members became aware of a “vast and rich literature” (6). A great deal of material was collected, while how they were sorted and selected is not apparent. One recommendation is that the “AAA maintain and regularly update a library and/or bibliography of relevant sources” (7), apparently with the hope that they will be read. But who is supposed to be collecting and reading them with an analytical eye? Next is the question of empirical inquiry. It turns out that the major research method was interviews, both in the US and during a visit to Israel and Palestine by the TF delegation (vii).

    As an anthropologist, I particularly was interested in the move from absorbing background information to a position that, while not actual ethnography, was closer to a field situation. A broad view of approaching this step is outlined: The TF aimed to “validate, correct and amplify the observations gained” in the first stages of work (4). It was a short trip during which they sought to learn about “lived experiences” (ibid). This orientation, while echoing good anthropological tradition, still raised some more questions. What expectations did the three delegates bring with them, and could they be met in such a brief visit?

    This is not just a mechanical question, but stems from an additional puzzle—the context depicted and the professional backgrounds of the TF members (including the delegation). On the one hand, members of the TF were selected for “not having deep histories of expertise in the region” (p. vii, in the box), but had “a record of significant service to the Association” (ibid). As such, they must have been exposed to the “increasing interest within the [AAA]… in researching, debating and intervening in the situation in Israel/Palestine” (1). Given these countervailing thrusts and potential conflicting interests, isn’t the absence of an explication of their initial perspectives within the report another conundrum for the reader?

    Perhaps the text provides some hints as to how to sort out some of these puzzlements and gaps? Remembering the goal of visiting the region to “validate, correct and amplify,” I looked for instances of moves in all these directions. Examples of the second (to” correct”) eluded me (readers are invited to do their own search). While I found it difficult to identify examples of the TF being corrected, one case of amplification is made very clear: “With the delegation’s trip to Israel and Palestine, the human rights dimension took on greater prominence.” (2). But the way this issue is presented, constituted another set of stumbling points as I read on.

    There is no question that serious human rights violations grow out of Israel’s control of Palestinian lands and of Palestinians, but in perusing the report I found my ethnographic senses balking. While the dominant term used within the report in referring to the region is “Israel/Palestine,” human rights are brought up only with reference to violations directed toward Palestinians. As is stressed often, it can be misleading to view “the conflict” in terms of even “sides,” but there has been much suffering by Israelis also. Some stems from clear human rights violations, the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets into civilian centers. This receives but the briefest of mentions —simply “Hamas rocket attacks” (p 18)—with Hamas not even appearing in the historical appendix. So I pondered the selective use of data. Has the report shared with us its bases for selecting and describing the material at its disposal? I could find hardly a hint in the text.

    If the Hamas, that seriously threatens the existence of the Palestinian Authority, is given just one mention, is the TF report merely being sparse with words? I don’t think so, after finding myself pausing at other elliptical formulations.

    In the subsection entitled “The ‘Settler Colonialism’ Frame” (11), I wondered whether this condensed expression is being used just to understand Jewish settlers in Palestinian lands after the 1973 war, or is this a reference to Zionism, or to Israel generally? My puzzlement was reinforced by the end of that section, where mention is made of Palestinians who are Israelis. We learn there that within Israel itself, Palestinians “can also vote and have access to the Israeli court system if they want to try to assert their rights” (14). The phrasing suggests that for Israeli Palestinians to “assert their rights,” occurs only now and then. It skips over, and maybe even hides, the facts that there are Palestinian members of Parliament as well as lawyers and judges who are part of the Israeli court system (as well as very many Palestinian students studying law in Israeli law schools). Or are typical AAA readers, with no “deep histories of expertise in the region,” expected to figure this out on their own?

    These are only some of the textual and empirical bumps I encountered in going through the report. It contains many details worth knowing, but also begs to be supplemented both by more information and by context. The choice of words may seem confusing to some. The overall project is viewed as an “engagement,” while under “Potential Actions AAA Could Consider” (beginning p 78), subheadings direct us to terms like “censure,” “apply pressure,” and three versions of “boycott.”

    Actually, the TF’s advice to “pick and choose” is prudent. The report offers a path to begin to learn about Palestine and Israel, but one that ought to be followed critically and with eyes open. It tells me that this is just a beginning. While the terms just cited seem to be more about “dis-engagement,” another alternative for anthropologists ought to be “dialogue.” In such a tense atmosphere, this undoubtedly would be difficult and frustrating. But does a menu without such a choice portend any serious anthropological contribution to relief for Israel/Palestine?

  8. A Reaction to the Final Report of the Task Force
    As AAA President Monica Heller has noted elsewhere, the Executive Board’s view is that the debate over Israel/Palestine is historically important and anthropologically relevant. The association is well placed to offer AAA members a chance to gain an anthropologically informed perspective on the region and on the broader questions it raises, and to participate in productive conversations about them. (Introduction p.1)
    How sad it is that the report of the Task Force shows little sign of the historically or “anthropologically informed perspective” that President Heller promised. Instead we have a report that could not be more one-sided in its basic orientation, even if it contains some statements that could be cited to demonstrate “objectivity.” The primary concern of the committee appears to have been to prove the claims of the BDS movement correct–not to understand the historical and anthropological situation as a whole and in its extraordinary complexity. We have come to expect this from an academic field whose obsession has become the search for victims and victimization, but we could have hoped for a bit of professional objectivity and understanding as well.
    Above all the report is lacking in two major areas. First, there is no hint of Palestinian or Arab agency throughout the 68 or so years of this conflict. In an era when “agency” has become a key word, amazingly the Palestinians seem to have none–and apparently never did. Secondly, it appears according to the Task Force Report that the sins of the Israelis are unmotivated except by greed and the desire to control others. The history that is appended to the report has the appearance of a straightforward account, but it lacks any hint that the Arab countries and their leaders and the Palestinians had any role in the events that lead to the terrible situation we have now. There is absolutely no consideration of the concerns of Israelis throughout the long history of the conflict. How can an anthropologically informed perspective totally ignore the worries and interests of one of the major parties? This can only be the work of a group that is a priori committed to one side of the case.
    The examples of bias and key omissions in the document are legion but here are just a few. Nowhere does the report mention the primary desire of Israelis for the recognition of their right to their own state, and to live their lives in safety and peace. Nowhere is it noted that these desires have been repeatedly denied, thwarted, and attacked, first politically by the combined forces of the Arab League in 1947, and then militarily in 1948 when armies from Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon invaded Israel. Through the decades there were continual attacks on Israeli communities, especially once the Palestinians themselves developed their own nationalist organizations in the 1960s. Here are several examples of important elements of this historical conflict that never appear in the Task Force report.
    1. The word “Khartoum” is not in the document. After the Six Day War of June 1967–forced on Israel by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria–Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza (previously ruled by Jordan and Egypt respectively). Israel officially, through its Foreign Minister Abba Eban, proclaimed a desire for peace, “Everything is negotiable,” he said. Seventeen Arab nations met in Khartoum in 1967 and declared “the three ‘no’s” — no negotiations with Israel, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel. At that time there were no Jewish settlements on Arab land in the West Bank or Gaza. Settlement activity was enabled by four decades of Palestinian unwillingness to settle with Israel.
    2. A search of the report reveals that the cluster of letters plo appear 34 times, mostly in such words as employment, explore, upload, and redeployment, but only twice as “PLO.” Reference to the Palestine Liberation Organization is found only in the appendix, where it is noted that this organization was given control of the West Bank and Gaza by the Madrid and Oslo accords. There is no mention of the development of this political movement, headed by Yasser Arafat, sworn in its National Charter to destroy Israel. This and similar groups, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, used every violent method they could devise to kill Israelis and those who dealt with them. They blew up airplanes as well as hijacking them, they bombed civilian sites (buses, a hotel, a university cafeteria, and much more), killed innocent (non-Israeli) passengers in an airline terminal, took over schools with the threat to kill the children (which they carried out more than once), and kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. While the PLO’s acceptance of the Oslo accords in 1993 and 1995 required their grudging recognition of Israel, the implications of the current rejection of those accords by President Mahmoud Abbas are unclear. Hamas, ruling in Gaza, never agreed to the accords in the first place.
    To many people the violent acts mentioned above would be considered “terrorism.” Perhaps these are “weapons of the weak” but they do give Israelis some reason to be concerned–or so reasonable people might think. But the words “terror” and “terrorism” appear in this report almost exclusively as Israeli allegations of Palestinian terrorist acts. In 120 pages there is only one incidental suggestion that fear of violence might, in fact, be a legitimate concern for Israelis (p. 38) and that is followed immediately by the suggestion that Palestinians are even worse off! The authors of the report show more consideration for the feelings of those individuals who feel uncomfortable espousing the Palestinian cause on American campuses than they do for Israelis who have been exposed to deadly attacks for generations–and still are. (They do not mention the problems of those students and faculty who defend Israel in the face of the concerted efforts of the forces of the BDS in universities and scholarly associations, especially in Europe.)
    3. “Recognition”–a primary, a major, concern of Israel since 1948, appears only as “Palestinian Al-Quds University Fights for Israeli Recognition.” (The word also appears in two incidental and unrelated senses.)
    4. The name “Hamas” appears just once. Surprisingly, there is a reference to “Hamas rocket attacks,” but no mention of the fact that the rockets were always aimed at civilian targets in heavily populated areas. Nor does the report point out the fact that after the Israeli government withdrew its troops from Gaza, and then forcibly removed Israeli settlers from there in 2005, instead of a movement for peaceful coexistence, Hamas took over Gaza by force, renewed its declared intention to wipe out Israel, and began the rocketing of Israelis. (Those who are interested may read the Hamas Covenant at many websites, for example: This was a great disappointment to Israelis, but not much of a surprise. It was just a continuation of a half-century of such declarations and hostile action directed at civilians.
    Not for a moment do I consider the Israeli side of this conflict blameless, but the situation is not the one-sided affair depicted in this report. There is a great deal of “agency” that we can ascribe to the Palestinians, who are seen in the Task Force’s Final Report only as victims. A report that was produced from an “anthropologically informed perspective” would have been much more balanced, reasonable, and a better guide to action by the AAA. The association had a right to expect much better.

  9. Reading the TFIP Report: Criticizing Israel, the Problematics of an Academic Boycott and Constructive Alternatives –

    The TFIP report can be read and evaluated in different ways. I, for one, found the report helpful as it outlines a thorough criticism of the Israeli government policies and the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel, and its horrible practices and consequences. However, on the practical questions that are of deep concern for many AAA members – “what should be done?”, and “what about boycotting Israeli academic institutions?” – the TFIP report is less clear. I’d like to highlight how this report – through the many voices it summarizes and cites – provides many crucial reasons why a boycott of Israeli academic institutions wouldn’t be the right way to go, morally and politically, and what are some better alternatives.

    To begin with, the TF reminds readers that academic boycotts stand in sharp contrast with academic freedom and the basic principles that anthropology is based upon – namely disseminating academic knowledge and the free exchange of ideas. Furthermore, the report quotes many testimonies demonstrating how the boycott is in practice and not only in principle a blunt (in my opinion, violent) act. Ample evidence portrays the climate of fear the debate around the boycott has established within anthropology departments and within the AAA – and how the boycotters as well as the anti-boycotters intimidate their Others, those who do not agree with them. The TF report spells out how the boycott would harm and is already harming individuals, how it will not target just institutions, and how it would be quite impossible for the AAA to determine when the boycott demands would be fulfilled and the boycott lifted. The report also brings up those voices that explain why punishing Israeli academics and Israeli anthropologists in particular is problematic, how Israeli anthropologists are not complicit with the occupation and with Israeli government policies, and in fact how they are among the major critics of their government and are being attacked by the Israeli political right. More generally, by opening up an important space for thinking through the situation in Israel/Palestine and what the AAA should and should not do about it, the report contributes to a fruitful debate about the meaning and practices of political and moral anthropologies.

    When looking to some guidance – although the report should not be read as an authoritarian text – the report outlines some constructive alternatives to a boycott that should be worked out on a number of tracks – political, academic and financial – and would help Palestinian academics, anthropologists in particular, and would participate in building up peace and justice in the region. Among such steps I found compelling are: Issuing a statement criticizing Israeli government policies and practices and encouraging the US government to pursue effective ways to change them; More specifically, even before real justice is achieved, call upon Israel to enhance freedom of speech and expression, movement and communication for Palestinian Israelis within Israel and for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and stop Israel’s prosecution and violent invasion of Palestinian universities and interference in their academic life; Developing archives, teaching resources and research opportunities in the region for AAA members, including a wide educational project like RACE; Provide Palestinian university libraries access to anthropological journals and sources at no cost and offering funds to Palestinians academics and for teaching at Palestinian universities. I, and many other anthropologists (see the initiative termed ADIP: believe the majority of the AAA community can stand behind these measures and give voice to a clear moral and responsible stand in the on-going struggle over the human and national rights of the Palestinians, hopefully ending of the Occupation, and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

  10. Interesting to see how you point out that the fact that only 2% of academic faculty in Israeli universities is a sign of discrimination. Have you checked what the percentage of African Americans is in American universities? Let me help you with that: it’s about 4.4%, compared to 13.2% among the American population. Hispanics make up about 2.6% of faculty, compared to 17% in the total population. (source:
    Incidentally, as of 2015, Arabs make up roughly 15% of all undergraduate students in the Israeli universities, mostly thanks to a government sponsored program to improve and expand the access of the Arab minorities to higher education in Israel. You can read all about the program here:

    So, if you’re going to boycott anyone, I suggest you start with American universities. When you’re done fixing racial discrimination in the U.S., you can turn to Israel.

  11. We commend the Task Force on Israel/Palestine for its nuanced, anthropologically-informed research report. The Task Force has admirably fulfilled its charge in making clear the implications of the occupation/conflict on academic life and much more on the West Bank, and in Israel and Gaza. The many options it enumerates as possible responses clearly suggest serious parameters for our deliberations as an international professional organization of researchers, teachers, and scholars. We are grateful for your courageous and balanced analysis on such a complex, divisive issue. We are confident your work will serve as the basis for discussion at the upcoming AAA meetings in Denver.

    As culturally-identified Jews with extensive family connections in Israel, we experienced both pain and shame in reading the report and wish it didn’t ring so true! But, although much relevant context is provided in Appendix B, many Israeli friends would say that the report lacked sufficient background on what happened in response to the first and second intifadas. This means that there is little sense in the body of the report that increasing and oppressive securitization was one response to the daily threats of terrorism experienced by Israeli citizens. Thus we are concerned that what one respondent on page 61 at the end of the report rightfully calls a “security obsession” needs to be better contextualized in the everyday experiences of Israelis, including anthropologists, who also live with the threat of imminent danger. This in no way minimizes the David and Goliath situation in which Palestinians experience diminishing access to resources to further their aspirations, including education for their children and young adults. As anthropologists meet to debate this devastating and seemingly intractable situation, we again commend the authors of this report. We as anthropologists are particularly skilled at understanding daily life from all points of view and need to apply our training to understanding all those who must endure such harsh realities throughout the region.

    Leni M. Silverstein and Ellen Lewin, co-editors
    Mapping Feminist Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century
    Rutgers University Press, forthcoming 2016

  12. I am one of many anthropologists who oppose both the Israeli occupation of territories conquered by Israel in 1967 and the BDS boycott of Israel. While I usually teach at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a small university in New Jersey, this year I am a research fellow at the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. About a week ago, I went with my wife and a close friend who is one of the leaders of Machsom Watch – an organization of Israeli women who monitor the conduct of soldiers and policemen at checkpoints between Israel and Palestine — to a concert at the 19th century Austrian Hospice in the Old City of Jerusalem. The concert was sponsored by the Representative of the Czech Republic in Ramallah.

    As we sat down and began to listen to the music, there were loud noises outside, and we soon learned that a Palestinian had just murdered two Israelis near the front steps of the Hospice and that he had also been shot to death by the police. Much later, when the police finally let us out of the Hospice, we emerged into the dark and deserted streets, still wet from having just been cleansed of the blood of the dead, and made our way out of the Old City via the Damascus Gate.

    This and other experiences I have had in Jerusalem have made me realize that I am only interested in participating in processes that are at least calculated to resolve rather than to exacerbate conflict. Thus when the Task Force report came out a few days ago, I first had to ask myself in what way does this report contribute to the reduction of violence and to a fair and just resolution of the conflict? Sadly, I believe the Task Force Report fails.

    To my mind, the report reads like legal brief or indictment rather than an explanation of the situation. As the readers’ responses show, it has served to add self-righteous passion to a situation in which there is already too much self-righteous passion. BDS supporters of anthropology are celebrating this report on their websites. I cannot ken how this is supposed to be helpful. Last night as I watched the television news here in Israel during this current wave of violence, I listened to Palestinians claiming that Israel wants to seize control of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary. I saw cartoons created by Hamas showing how to stab Israeli civilians. I heard right wing Israelis claiming that giving Palestinians any hope of their own state only gives them the hope of destroying Israel. I heard another right wing politician say that the bodies of terrorists should all be thrown into the ocean like Bin Laden. The voices of radicalism are everywhere. And now we have forces in anthropology that want this association to throw itself into one side of this conflict. This might be victory for BDS, but it is a lose/lose proposition for American anthropology.

  13. The Task Force should be commended for three important accomplishments. One – it has researched and written a comprehensive, nuanced and contextualized analysis of a complex situation. Two – it comes out with an unequivocal call to the AAA’s executive and membership to become engaged with Israel / Palestine, and lists an array of options for action. Three, and most important, it offers a penetrating analysis of the texts which advocate the boycott of Israeli universities, paying particular attention to the conditions made in these texts which, if met, would merit ending a boycott. Its analysis (p.83) correctly identifies the highly problematic wording of these conditions on all pro-boycott texts: “These conditions are straightforward to support in principle. In practice, however, they are highly problematic. AAA lacks the in-house capacity to monitor and assess the extent to which such conditions are met, and in the absence of further clarity concerning what these conditions entail, it is not possible to determine whether such a boycott could ever be ended.”

    Bravely voicing the concern that a boycott, if administered, might prove indefinite, the report does the association a valuable service. It cautions members against a measure which purports to be constructive and conducive to genuine change, but might in fact be nothing more than a punitive, mendacious and inflammatory gut-reaction.

  14. I’m reading the Task Force Report on Israel/Palestine. What an upsetting document. I knew none of this! Yes, I knew the settlers were awful, but the behavior towards Palestinians does, in fact, echo Nazi Germany in the 1930’s. When I’ve finished, I suspect my attitude toward the AAA taking a stand on this issue will have changed. Before, I thought it was anti-Semitism. Nope, that’s not it at all. Anti-Semitism is obviously the cloak used to label justified outrage about Fascistic (and I use the term carefully) behavior. The Task Force did an amazing job. Please tell the Task Force that I think the report is a remarkable achievement!

  15. The board of the AAA Middle East Section, whose members are deeply concerned with the situation in Palestine/Israel, thanks the task force for its substantial efforts to provide a careful and deep accounting of the conditions of Palestinian lives under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and inside Israel. The task force report documents the systematic violations of national rights, human rights, and academic freedom to which scholars of the region have long sought to bring attention. It is deeply gratifying to us to see the AAA not only acknowledge these conditions, but recognize our professional responsibility to speak out in opposition to them. Thank you very much for your hard work on this important matter.

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