Campaigns: Academic & Professional Organizations
Below we document the debates over delegitimization, boycott, and divestment initiatives in academic and professional organizations. In a few cases, there wasn’t much debate. The organizations had developed systemic hostility toward the Jewish state over a period of years, sometimes long before they faced a vote over a resolution. In other cases resolutions have been debated in more than one year. In the case of MLA, the tenth anniversary of the first BDS resolution arrives in 2017. BDS resolutions have often been defeated when there is a well-organized opposition to them. Those facing new or renewed initiatives will find it useful to have a history of documents gathered together in one place. People can compare and contrast the arguments mounted in different fields. Some disciplines, one notes, have been more and less interested in factual evidence; some responded more to political arguments.
We have given emphasis to more detailed and substantive documents and news stories, generally avoiding brief statements for and against. That said, we have surely missed documents of interest. Indeed, the websites where these battles are fought often disappear when votes pass, but readers may have and be able to supply documents we haven’t yet seen. We reserve the right of course to decide that some resources are repetitive or unsubstantial, but please do send us documents you think are interesting. We will update these resources when new material arrives.
Delegitimization of Israel emerged in the MLA as early as 2014, but organizing began in earnest in 2015 during the association’s annual conference. Advocates of academic freedom, supporters of Israel, and those who were against the politicization of their association came together to create MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights (MMFSR). MMFSR submitted an anti-boycott resolution in 2015, which stood in opposition to a pro-boycott resolution, resulting in a decision by the MLA Executive Council to impose a two-year moratorium on resolutions related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to allow for further debate and discussion.
On January 7, 2017, the Delegate Assembly (DA) of the Modern Language Association rejected the principles of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The DA resoundingly voted against Resolution 2017-2 (113-79), which would have encouraged boycotts of Israeli academic institutions. A second proposal, Resolution, 2017-1, stipulated that the professional organization must refrain from endorsing boycotts. The Delegate Assembly passed this proposal (101-93). That resolution will now go to the whole membership for a vote after review by the MLA’s executive council.
MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights released a statement with regards to these votes, which can be found here.
In 2015, the group Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions announced its plan to pass a resolution through AAA that would, as the name implies, establish a boycott of Israeli higher education institutes. With a membership of over 10,000, this would have made AAA the largest academic association to endorse an academic boycott. In response to this threat, a collective of pro-Israeli anthropologists organized into Anthropologists for Dialogue in Israel/Palestine (ADIP), a group centered on protecting academic freedom and open dialogue. Similarly, another group, Anthropologists Against Boycott did the same. While overwhelmingly passed at the the AAA annual meeting in November 2015, ADIP and other allies worked to counter the opposition’s message with factual videos, fliers, and other resources. In the end, the boycott resolution failed to be ratified by the membership of the organization. Although the membership has spoken, the opposition has vowed to continue pushing their agenda until they get their desired result.
In late 2015, it became known that the anti-Israel resolution was going to be introduced at the AHA annual conference in early 2016. The resolution, which was introduced to a more radical subsection of the membership, sought to condemn what was characterized as Israel’s interference with the access and right to education for Palestinians. The Alliance for Academic Freedom argued in opposition to this resolution on the grounds that it was deeply flawed, as revealed by its omissions of key context, and was full of misrepresentations and simplifications with regards to the conflict. As a result of the AAF’s work, as well as other pro-Israel advocates, members of the AHA voted against the resolution by a strong margin in 51 in favor, 111 against. The vote in 2015 follows a failed attempt to pass two similar anti-Israel resolutions at the 2014 annual meeting.
In 2013, it emerged that the American Public Health Association (APHA) was considering a policy resolution titled, “Improving Health in Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which was to be considered at the APHA 141st annual meeting. The proposal focused on improving the health of just one side in a protracted conflict between two inextricably linked parties, and one of its recommendations was a call for divestment from Israel. Given that the APHA boasts over 25,000 members, the resolution’s adoption would have had far-reaching consequences. Concerned members of the organization worked tirelessly up until the conference over a five-month period, and their work paid off; the resolution failed to pass by a margin of 3 to 1.
In December 2013, the ASA initiated a much-publicized boycott, organized by an entirely pro-boycott executive council which shared boycott materials with the entire membership while refusing to provide a platform for dissenting voices. In response to this controversial stance, more than 250 university presidents condemned the boycott, and the American Council on Education, the American Association of Universities, denounced it as well.
The National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) adopted an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions in late November 2015. In a vote that involved 35 percent of the association’s total membership, 88.4 percent voted in favor of a boycott, followed by a ratification vote by the NWSA’s executive committee. As many of the more moderate members of NWSA had departed the organization years prior, this vote was not a surprise as much as it was a disappointment. This is especially the case for Women’s Studies scholars in Israel, who are now double-victimized by sexism in academia, compounded by discrimination by American colleagues.
A NAISA member-initiated petition brought this issue to NAISA Council in 2013. After extensive deliberation on the merits of the petition, the NAISA Council decided by unanimous vote to encourage members of NAISA and all who support its mission to honor the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.