At the upcoming American Anthropological Association (AAA), set to take place on November 20th ,AAA members will debate whether to endorse the call for boycott of their Israeli colleagues and institutions. The proposed language suggests that AAA should impose boycotts until such time when Israeli universities ‘end their complicity’ with the injustices inflicted on Palestinians. To that end, as Professor Dan Rabinowitz of Tel Aviv University correctly wrote, “Israel does inflict injustices on Palestinians, but making universities accountable for them is ludicrous, and a condition as vague as ‘when universities end their complicity’ is a new procedural quagmire. Who decides whether or when “complicity” has “ended?” Are universities everywhere ‘complicit’ with unseemly actions by their governments?”
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East echoes the call from Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine (ADIP) for the AAA to reject any proposed boycott. Why? Because, as Professor Michele Rivkin Fish noted, “a boycott represents a simple refusal to engage, under the guise of engagement, rather than the challenging investment of time and energy to figure out how our expertise may contribute positively to the goals of peace.”
The illusion that BDS will generate peace has long been proven false, yet we have seen calls for BDS intensified in various academic settings. The executive committee of the American Studies Association (ASA), which in late 2013 endorsed BDS, called for the U.S. to end support for Israel. BDS resolutions were also pushed by student groups in South Africa, Britain, and by a unionized group of graduate students in the U.S. in California. The latter move met with public condemnations from groups opposed to BDS.
A group of over a hundred Middle East specialists signed a letter calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions that was published on the Arab Studies Institute web site. The letter endorses the Palestinian “right of return” and thus the destruction of Israel. Signers include numerous well-known BDS supporters. Another petition by a group calling itself “Historians against the War” also accused Israel of “war crimes” and demanded the US withdraw support. The group was originally formed in 2003 in opposition to US involvement in Iraq but largely went into abeyance until this year. Observers have noted the historians’ stance objectively supports Hamas. None of these initiatives have brought a negotiated settlement closer. They have instead emboldened rejectionists.
Pronouncements that appeal to the conscience of pro-BDS academics often also depict Israel as a Nazi-like state. These views—once labeled extreme—have become increasingly mainstream as academics call for Israel’s destruction, not by military power but by bad analogies and discriminatory policies.
The BDS campaign is contrary to the search for peace, since it represents a form of misguided economic warfare. It is in direct opposition to decades of agreements between Israel and Palestinians, in which both sides pledged to negotiate a peaceful settlement and a commitment to a two state solution. But only Israel has repeatedly made concessions for peace. By focusing obsessively on Israel, and not on countries where actual human and civil rights abuses exist, the actions of those supporting the BDS campaign are, as former Harvard University President Lawrence H. Summers put it, “anti-Semitic in their effect if not in their intent.”
Therefore, SPME condemns all efforts to use academia to promote boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. They represent an abandonment of scholarly principles, a degradation of campus civility, and a violation of the precepts of unbiased, rational academic inquiry.