Recent years have seen increasing pressure in the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and many other professional academic associations to discuss alleged Israeli violations of academic freedom and human rights, and to move toward sanctioning Israel. More than 1,100 anthropologists, many of whom are AAA members, have now signed a petition asking the AAA to undertake a boycott of Israel. This particular position, along with the perspectives of others encouraged AAA to consider how it might best engage with the issues the situation in Israel/Palestine raises. On August 1, 2014, the AAA Executive Board announced the formation of the Task Force on the AAA Engagement on Israel/Palestine (hereinafter referred to simply as the Task Force, or TFIP). The Task Force was charged with helping the Executive Board consider the nature and extent to which AAA might contribute – as an Association – to addressing the issues that the Israel/Palestine conflict raises. The Executive Board specifically asked the Task Force to: (1) enumerate the issues embedded in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine that directly concern the Association; (2) develop principles to be used to assess whether the AAA has an interest in taking a stand on these issues; (3) provide such an assessment; and (4) on the basis of that assessment, make recommendations to the Executive Board about actions the AAA could undertake.
Executive Director’s Note: The Executive Board deliberated carefully regarding the composition of the Task Force. Each Task Force member is an established scholar with expertise in one or more of the discipline’s major subfields. They bring to the Task Force’s mandate a broad range of analytic approaches. They have expertise in such topics as conflict and historical memory, issues of identity, the use of anthropology and archeology in political efforts, and many other areas of expertise central to the Task Force’s mission. All but one of the Task Force members are typical of most AAA members in not having deep histories of expertise in the region. However, they have been able to engage widely with those who do. The Task Force members have a record of significant service to the Association, and thus a strong sense of its mission and governance. The Executive Board kept the group small to ensure its agility and its ability to do its work with all deliberate speed; that is, to have sufficient time to assure that all relevant perspectives are duly considered, and accomplish its task in the time allocated.
The Task Force has focused on helping the Board determine what is of importance to anthropologists, to the AAA as an international scholarly society, and to the discipline of anthropology. We set out to understand current perspectives on and experiences of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Our data are primarily obtained through extensive interviews and during a visit by a Task Force delegation to Israel and Palestine in early May 2015. Interlocutors included AAA members and other academics, especially those with expertise in the region, members of NGOs, and other Palestinians and Israelis. We also compiled background material and information on actions taken by other scholarly associations on the issues.
This report provides details about the Task Force’s work, including (1) the methods used, (2) the issues of relevance to anthropologists and the AAA, and (3) the Task Force’s recommendations to the AAA Executive Board on actions the Association could take, as well as the potential implications of taking these actions. Task Force members wrote this report collaboratively and all agree on its content. We have done our best to confirm the report’s accuracy. Any remaining errors, omissions, or misinterpretation are the Task Force’s responsibility and not the responsibility of the AAA Executive Board.
Relevant Issues and Realities for Scholars in the Region: The largest portion of the report catalogues the lengthy history of displacement, land loss, discrimination, restrictions on movement and free speech, and adverse health and welfare effects that Palestinians have experienced as a result of Israeli state policies and practices. This portion of the report is divided into two sections. The first, examining the situation through the frame of human rights, looks at the experiences of Palestinians in both the Occupied Territories and Israel itself. The second section focuses on issues of academic freedom and responsibility in Israel/Palestine, synthesizing testimony from interviews with Israeli, Palestinian and American academics.
This report recommends a range of possible courses of action available to the AAA Executive Board to intervene on behalf of academic freedom and the rights of Palestinians. These courses of action are based on a number of principles, each of which is discussed in some detail in the report, including:
- A commitment to human rights
- A commitment to academic freedom
- A commitment to advocate for minorities, disadvantaged groups, and indigenous groups
- A commitment to human subjects
- A critical awareness of US complicity in the region
- A fiduciary obligation to the Association
- An obligation to flexible democratic practice within the Association
- An awareness of the extent of the Association’s leverage.
The possible courses of action the Executive Board could consider, each of which is discussed in detail in the report, include:
- No Action, a possibility we do not recommend
- Issue statement of censure of the Israeli government
- Institute an academic boycott of Israeli universities
- Institute an academic boycott of selected Israeli universities
- Make AAA members aware of individual economic boycott choices
- Develop and make available teaching resources for AAA members
- Undertake a public education initiative (comparable to the Race: Are We So Different? and World on the Move™ initiatives)
- Work with sister societies on the problem of the de-politicization of archaeological research results in Israel
- Make AnthroSource available to Palestinian university libraries at minimal or no cost
- Offer travel or academic scholarships to Palestinian scholars and students
- Publish special issues on topics of relevance in relevant AAA journals
- Maintain an up-to-date library and/or bibliography of relevant sources
- Provide support for visiting scholars to give short courses in Palestinian universities
- Call on relevant agencies of the US government to work towards effective changes in Israeli government policies and practices
- Call on relevant ministries of the Israeli government to:
- Repeal Israeli laws that make it a crime to speak publicly in favor of a boycott
- Change visa regulations for foreign scholars to teach, study and do research in Palestine
- Eliminate checkpoints
- Improve Internet access in the Occupied Territories
- Cease IDF raids of universities, arrests of students on campus, and use of tear gas on campus
- Stop withholding accreditation from Al-Quds University
- Grant the same rights to Palestinian students on Israeli university campuses for gathering and action, including expression of their identity, as Israeli students enjoy.
We are of the unanimous opinion that, in terms of the principles outlined above, there is a strong case for the Association to take action on this issue, and that the Association should do so. The pros and cons of each of these possibilities can be assessed on the basis of the principles we have recommended. If there ever was a time when this was a fringe issue within the Association, that time has passed.