This weekend the American Anthropological Association voted 1040-136 to boycott Israeli academic institutions. As opposed to last year's Middle East Studies Association resolution which called only for discussion of a boycott, this resolution tells the AAA to "boycott Israeli academic institutions until such time as these institutions end their complicity in violating Palestinian rights." The resolution was submitted by Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions. An annotated version of the resolution makes a poor attempt to justify claims in the text. Here are three examples:
Claim: "The United States plays a decisive role in enabling Israel's systematic violations of Palestinians' basic rights under international law."
Citations: Statistic of US annual aid to Israel. Link to Jeremy Sharp's June 2015 CRS Report about radar and missile defense technology (though it mentions the F-35, which could be used against Palestinians). The report does not say the US enables Israeli violations in the West Bank and Gaza - in fact, it notes several cases where the US rebuked Israel for using US aid beyond the 1967 borders. Finally, a statistic about US vetoes of anti-Israel resolutions at the UN with no mention of how many related to Palestinians. None of the sources explain how US monetary aid actually creates systematic Israeli violations.
Claim: "U.S. academic institutions facilitate Israeli academic institutions' complicity by continuing to maintain close, extensive and privileged ties with them."
Citation: Jewish Virtual Library list of American universities that have institutional connections to Israeli universities, even those merely exploring "future potential partnerships." There is no evidence given that US-Israeli academic collaboration is facilitating "complicity" in Palestinian rights abuses.
Claim: "Israeli academic institutions have been directly and indirectly complicit in the Israeli state's systematic maintenance of the occupation and denial of basic rights to Palestinians."
Citations: Link to a report from the Alternative Information Center linking Israeli universities to the IDF, but not specifically to "systemic maintenance of the occupation." Link to an article about Ariel University which, being in a settlement, is an outlier among Israeli universities. Links discussing how Ariel University's location makes it an outlier among Israeli universities. Link to an article about the IDF's urban warfare doctrine developed 8 years ago at Tel Aviv University with no explanation of how these tactics "systematically maintain" occupation. Link to a book about the architecture of occupation but no specific citation about academic complicity.
These oversights are egregious because in academia, citations matter. Believing that Israel's academy might be complicit in occupation doesn't make it so. That being said, not every claim in the resolution is unsubstantiated - The resolution makes important points, for example, about targeting Palestinian universities and harassing academics going to and from the West Bank and Gaza. Yet in its over-generalizations, the resolution departs from the fact-based inquiry that is at the heart of social science.
The resolution also suffers from a critical under-appreciation of its authors' positionality. American and European academics bring their own experiences and biases into their work, including their activism. This resolution suffers from under-appreciated positionality as evidenced by its singular focus on Israel. One could level the majority of its grievances, for example, against the American and European academies themselves.
This is not just an argument about the resolution being "unfair." As written, the resolution implies that Palestinian suffering merits more attention than, for example, Yemenis killed in US drone strikes using technology desgined by US academics. The authors also ignore the complicity of universities across the Middle East in the human rights violations of their government. The suffering of Shia in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia is not inherently less important than Palestinian suffering - both matter. AAA members should consider the message the resolution sends to these at-risk communities about how much academic rhetoric about responsibility is credible.