Most academic organizations have been wary of discussing, much less endorsing, the academic boycott of Israel. But things have changed since April 2013, when the Association of Asian American Studies became the first academic organization to answer the call for solidarity from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) emanating out of Palestinian civil society. The American Studies Association vote to endorse the academic boycott of Israel that December put into motion a mass movement that has had a ripple effect way beyond the United States. The horrific Israeli attack on Gaza this past summer, which killed more than 2,200 Gazans, including over 500 children, garnered worldwide protest demonstrations on an unheard-of scale. And just recently, continuing the Israeli government’s hard turn to the far right, the Israeli parliament passed a Nationality Law that, according to the Christian Science Monitor, “threatens to further alienate Israel’s minority of Arab citizens, tarnish its reputation as a democracy, and erode Israel’s ties with western allies.”
At the November 23 meeting of the cabinet of Israel, there was open contention over this controversial law, which would “enshrine in law Israel’s nature as a Jewish state, reserving what the prime minister called ‘national rights,’ such as the flag and anthem and right to immigrate, for Jews alone.” And while according to Netanyahu, “it would also underline Israel’s democratic nature, with equality for all its citizens,” nobody can seriously accept that contention, given the nature of the law—even if they could before.
The combination of unmitigated building of illegal settlements, massive and inhumane military operations, and legislative maneuvers to codify racism has changed the playing field. If not in resounding resolutions in support of the BDS movement, we see a significant shift of attitude in academic organizations. No longer is it taboo to even talk about a possible boycott—organizations such as the American Anthropological Association (AAA) are formally opening the conversation.
Gathered in December in Washington, DC, members of the AAA addressed a petition that would have closed off discussion of a possible boycott of Israeli institutions. Before that, more than 1,000 members of the AAA had signed a statement supporting the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. In one of the largest gatherings in the history of the association (so large that hotel staff had to remove a partition in the meeting room in order to accommodate 700 participants), a pro-boycott faction in the AAA observed, “The effort to shut down the boycott discussion backfired spectacularly: members present overwhelmingly voted down the [anti-boycott] measure, which mustered a mere 52 supporters. The atmosphere in the room was electric, as anthropologists from across the profession discussed the boycott and the ongoing violations of Palestinian academic freedom and human rights. Of the 24 members who spoke, three-quarters opposed the resolution, arguing that it was an attempt to shut down a crucial debate.” (Emphasis in the original.)
And on November 20, Rosalind Petchesky, a member of the National Women’s Studies Association, reported: “This past week, at the annual conference of the National Women’s Studies Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico, a coalition of feminist Palestine solidarity activists—mainly Palestinian and Jewish—succeeded in urging almost the entire attending body of the conference—a hugely diverse group of around 2,300 faculty members and graduate students in Women & Gender Studies from around the country meeting in occupied Puerto Rico—to support a statement concerning injustices in occupied Palestine.” A draft of the NWSA statement reads in part: