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May 3, 2023 4:34 pm

‘Profoundly Destructive’: Jewish Organizations from Across Ideological Spectrum Call on Academic Association to Reject BDS Resolution


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative An anti-Israel protest. Photo: Ted Eytan/Wikimedia Commons

Over 80 major Jewish organizations spanning the American political spectrum have signed a blistering letter imploring members of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) to reject a resolution proposing an academic boycott of Israeli universities.

The measure, which accuses Israel of being an apartheid regime and committing crimes against humanity, will be considered via electronic ballot from June 15-30, according to the website of Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions (AnthroBoycott), a group that supports it. If passed, AAA would become the first major academic professional association to endorse the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement since the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) did in 2022.

“The boycott of Israel’s universities cannot be meaningfully separated from the faculty and students who work, teach, and study in them,” the letter says. “The boycott thus functions as a blacklist that punishes individual academics on the basis of their nationality, political views, and the policies and actions of their employers and government.”

The letter, drafted by the Alliance for Academic Freedom (AAF) and The Academic Engagement Network (AEN), adds that Israeli universities “work hard to foster Arab-Jewish coexistence” on their campuses and foster viewpoint diversity, which, it noted, includes “support for Palestinian voices.” The groups also emphasized that Israeli academics take the lead in criticizing Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

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Signatories to the letter include the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), National Association of Scholars (NAS), B’nai B’rith International, Legal Insurrection Foundation (LIF), AMCHA Initiative, Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, J Street, StandWithUs, American Jewish Committee, and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

“It’s legitimate to ask whether any members of the AAA who are now once again promoting a divisive resolution to boycott Israel’s system of higher education have ever visited an Israel university or college in recent years,” AEN executive director Miriam Elman said on Wednesday. “If they had, they would have witnessed a campus climate that’s open and free to dissenting views, including Palestinian voices. In recent years, Israeli universities have launched major initiatives to enroll Palestinian students along with programs that foster diversity and coexistence.”

Cary Nelson of, chair of AAF’s executive committee, said the signatories of the letter “stand together” for academic freedom.

Launched in 2005, the BDS campaign opposes Zionism — a movement supporting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination — and rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation-state. It seeks to isolate the country comprehensively with economic, political, and cultural boycotts. Official guidelines issued for the campaign’s academic boycott state that “projects with all Israeli academic institutions should come to an end,” and delineate specific restrictions that adherents should abide by — for instance, denying letters of recommendation to students who seek to study in Israel.

An overwhelming majority of Middle East scholars support boycotting Israel, according to a survey published in Nov. 2022, which shows that only nine percent of 500 responding experts from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the American Political Science Association (APSA) would “oppose all boycotts of Israel.” 91 percent “support at least some boycotts.” 36 percent also favor “some boycotts” but not against Israeli universities.

Established in 1902 and based in Arlington, Virginia, the American Anthropological Association, which has over 10,000 members, has considered boycotting Israeli universities before. In 2015, a measure similar to the resolution AAA members will vote on in June was defeated by 39 votes, with 4,807 votes cast.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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