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Professors Support Resolution To Boycott Israeli Institutions

By Jessica Min, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: December 3, 2015, at 5:41 p.m.

Twenty-one Harvard faculty and graduate students have voted or signed a petition to place a controversial resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions on the American Anthropological Association’s spring ballot.

The resolution supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement issued by Palestinian civil society, which calls for academic associations to refrain from formal collaboration with Israeli academic institutions.

Considered by the more than 1,400 members present at the AAA’s annual meeting in Denver late last month, the resolution must garner a favorable vote from a simple majority of the organization’s entire membership of more than 10,000 members in April to go into effect. It is part of a growing academic movement to boycott Israeli institutions in the midst of ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinians.

While the proposed academic boycott of Israeli institutions would not prevent Israeli academics from publishing in AAA journals, it would prevent journals based at Israeli institutions from reprinting or copying articles from AAA publications, according to the resolution appendix. Israeli institutions would also be barred from participating in certain AAA events.

Harvard Anthropology professor Steven C. Caton, who attended the conference and voted for the resolution, argued that it stands to make a strong statement against Israeli academic institutions and what he characterized as the country’s mistreatment of Palestinians.

“I am an educator and belong to the education establishment. I think of this as another tactic to limit Israel’s aggression,” said Caton, who works alongside graduate and post-doctoral students from Israel on various research projects.

Harvard faculty also cited their studies of human systems as a motivating factor in their decision to vote for the resolution. Ajantha Subramanian, a professor of anthropology and South Asian studies, related her work on colonialism and rights politics and the ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians to her decision to support the resolution. She cited obstacles Palestinians face in obtaining an education as a reason for supporting it.

Faculty who voted in support of the resolution said they have faced backlash as a result of their vote.

Some professors at Harvard, meanwhile, have voiced opposition to it. Ofer Bar-Yosef, a professor emeritus of prehistoric archaeology who currently resides in his home country of Israel, disagrees with the resolution.

“The AAA resolution does not reflect what anthropologists can contribute for conflict resolution. It is simply a political manifest against Israel,” Bar-Yosef wrote in an email, also characterizing many of the claims made in the AAA resolution as untrue.

Peter Machinist, a professor of Hebrew and other Oriental languages who is not a member of the Anthropology department, also voiced concerns with the resolution, writing in an email, “I do object seriously to this boycott as a real violation of the kind of free exchange of ideas and relationships that is fundamental to scholarship and to life in general.”

Machinist also questioned targeting Israeli institutions when human rights violations are occurring in other countries around the world. “Why single out Israel, as is done regularly in such cases, and not consider a range of other countries whose behavior is outrageous?” he wrote.

Several other associations based in the U.S. have also supported the boycott, including the Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

—Staff Writer Jessica Min can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jessmin17.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: December 3, 2015

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that scholars at Israeli institutions would be barred from publishing in American Anthropological Association journals if the AAA Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolution is passed. In fact, scholars at these institutions would still be permitted to publish in AAA journals.

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