In the latest move taken by an academic group in protest of Israel, the American Anthropological Association voted last week to put a potential boycott of Israeli academic institutions in front of its full membership. Pro-Israel academic groups broadly denounced the action.
A major academic organization is ready to put a hot-button issue in front of its members—an issue that’s already caused trouble for some smaller academic groups.
At its annual meeting last week, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) took a big step toward a possible boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The association backed a resolution that will put the boycott decision up for a vote among the association’s more than 10,000 members next spring.
Outgoing AAA President Monica Heller emphasized the methodical approach taken in considering the issue for a vote. More than 1,400 members attended the association’s business meeting last week, with a vast majority favoring the resolution in a 1,040-to-136 vote.
“We provided as much relevant information to our members as we could and used the same approach we apply to everything else, namely utilizing an anthropological framework to understand what the range of positions is and why people hold them,” Heller said in a news release. “We’re encouraged by the turnout and expect our members to continue an informed and respectful conversation regarding the issue.”
The AAA’s move is one of many undertaken by academic groups in recent years. In particular, the American Studies Association has been the subject of ongoing controversy since a 2013 vote favored a boycott, though the group has attempted to use the controversy as a way to highlight freedom-of-speech issues on college campuses nationwide.
A Passionate Issue
The AAA’s move was rejected by Israeli academic groups, who suggested the BDS movement—which advocates for the boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel and has been driving the recent actions by higher-education groups—misrepresents the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The pro-Israel groups—including Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, The Academic Council for Israel, The American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Stand With Us, and the Louis D. Brandeis Center—issued a joint statement in anticipation of the association’s vote.
“We stand united in our condemnation of calls and campaigns for boycotting, divestment from, and sanctions against Israeli academic institutions, professors, products, and companies that do business in or with Israel,” the statement said.
Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions, the advocacy group that spearheaded the campaign within the association, noted that Friday’s successful vote required years of campaigning.
“Today’s historic result is due to over three years of organizing within the Association to educate and mobilize members to stand against Israel’s widespread, systematic, and ongoing violations of Palestinian rights, as well as to protest the complicity of Israeli academic institutions in these abuses,” the boycott group stated.
It’s not the first time the issue has come up for the AAA; at last year’s business meeting, a measure that would have opposed an academic boycott was soundly defeated by the organization, paving the way for continued conversation and leading to last week’s vote.