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June 8, 2016 5:34 pm

Behind the Scenes: How the Anti-BDS Vote Within the American Anthropological Association Ballooned

avatar by Lea Speyer

Members of the American Anthropological Society narrowly voted down a BDS resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Photo: Wikipedia.

Members of the American Anthropological Association narrowly voted down a BDS resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Photo: Wikipedia.

Opponents of the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) recently defeated anti-Israel boycott resolution were able to increase their voting power seventeen-fold since November, when a pro-BDS referendum passed, a leader of the AAA’s opposition movement told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.

David Rosen, co-founder and member of the Steering Committee of Anthropologists for Dialogue on Israel and Palestine (ADIP) — which promotes the use of anthropological theories and methods for seeking peace and social justice in the region — made his comment in light of a narrowly defeated AAA resolutionwhich called for an academic boycott against Israel. The results were 2,423 votes against the resolution, and 2,384 in favor. 

Following the AAA’s annual business meeting in November — during which a small subset of members voted overwhelmingly in support of an academic boycott resolution (1,040 to 136) — Rosen said, “We were not certain that we could win, but we were confident that we could do better with a membership-wide vote.” It was thus that in April, AAA opened up voting for all members.

“The Association’s business meeting was dominated by forces loyal to the BDS movement and we lost very badly. We always believed that the business meeting was targeted by BDS supporters not representative of the AAA as a whole, and that the larger membership of the association would have a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.

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Rosen and his colleagues launched a widespread campaign that he said “provided a thoughtful and anthropologically grounded counter-narrative to BDS propaganda.” The central feature of the campaign, Rosen explained, was “to put a human face on Israeli anthropologists, and to show how harmful and repellent a boycott was to anthropological values.” Tactics included writing articles for anthropology focused media; having opposition members post against the resolution on their individual websites; creating Facebook pages opposing the resolution; distributing short videos of Israeli and American anthropologists explaining why they oppose the boycott; and producing a major critique of an AAA report on Israel and “Palestine” used by BDS leaders as a platform for their anti-Israel efforts.

“We showed that this resolution was ideologically motivated, devoid of any scientific merit, that it constantly misconstrued crucial data and reduced the discussion of Israel and Palestine into a series of highly biased, stereotypic, erroneous and negative images of Israel,” Rosen told The Algemeiner.

With the defeat of the resolution this week, “clearly we were more successful,” he said. “BDS forces in anthropology were able to more than double their vote from 1,040 to 2,384, but we were able to multiply our vote by more than 17 times.”

According to Rosen, support for the BDS movement within the AAA came from a surprising place. “I and others were completely unaware of how deeply BDS had influenced the AAA’s leadership,” he said, adding that anti-Israel efforts “clearly received the blessing of the AAA leadership…who were behind these efforts claiming ‘something had to be done’ about Israel.”

Despite AAA members signaling to the organization’s leadership that they oppose an academic boycott against Israel, the AAA still plans to take a series of actions against Israel, the group said in a statement, including:

Issue a statement of censure of the Israeli government…policies and practices that: restrict freedom of movement for Palestinian academics and foreign academics going to the West Bank; restrict access to publications on the West Bank; inflict damage on Palestinian academic life; deny full accreditation for Al-Quds University; deny freedom of expression to Palestinian and dissenting Jewish faculty and students at Israeli universities; and obstruct payment of salaries to West Bank faculty…

Issue a letter to relevant authorities in the US government…[that] will identify the ways in which US government resources and policies contribute to policies in Israel/Palestine that violate academic freedom and disenfranchise Palestinians…

AAA will issue a statement reiterating its socially responsible investment policy…pointing out that AAA has no investments in any company anywhere that does not fit this criterion, including Israeli companies…

Following the defeat of the resolution, AAA President Alisse Waterston said in a statement, “The consensus within the AAA remains and that is that there are serious human rights problems that exist in Israel/Palestine as a result of Israeli state policy, practices and the occupation and that AAA must take a course of action.”

Rosen slammed Waterston’s comments, saying, “The leadership of the AAA continues to promote the BDS agenda by claiming that there is a consensus about Israel. No such consensus exists. The AAA is radically divided on all these issues. The leadership has absolutely no mandate from the membership of these issue. It is purely self-directed.”

The results of the AAA vote — which took place via electronic ballot between April 15 and May 31 — were announced on Tuesday. Some 51 percent of 9,359 eligible-voting members took part in the vote. Had the resolution passed, AAA would have joined other academic institution — such as the American Studies Association, the National Women’s Studies Association, the African Literature Association and the Association for Asian American Studies — in boycotting Israel.

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