The fight over the academic boycott of Israel in the United States mostly is confined to professional associations in the Humanities and Social Sciences, where anti-Israel activist faculty have some ability to rig the system in their favor through control of key committees and programs.

Unlike in the real world at universities, the faculty who take control of professional organizations are not counterbalanced by the faculty as a whole, students, administrators, trustees, parents and alumni.  Professional organizations are the perfect vehicle for anti-Israel activists for this reason.

The activists have the ability filter the debate and tailor the information provided to membership so as to provide a one-sided view.

That’s what happened at the American Studies Association, which passed a boycott resolution but refused to distribute to the membership materials requested by the pro-Israel side. The resolution passed with less than 20% of the total membership voting for it, because of low overall participation.  Since then the ASA has turned into a full-time boycott entity, with its executive board calling for a complete boycott of Israel in all aspects, and an entire day of boycott organizing scheduled alongside its Annual Meeting.

At the Modern Language Association debate last January on a resolution critical of supposed Israeli travel restrictions on academics, the panel discussion at the annual meeting was limited to anti-Israel activists. At the house of delegates, pro-Israel faculty did get a chance to argue against the resolution, and with that the resolution — which had been expected to pass easily — barely passed, and only after the language was watered down. When put to the entire membership, the resolution failed to gain the needed votes, and failed.

Rigging the debate appears to be happening now at American Anthropological Association for an upcoming debate, as Haaretz reports, U.S. academics bemoan ‘rigged’ fight in battle against BDS:

The BDS movement is hitting home for David Rosen, a long-time professor of anthropology at Farleigh Dickinson University. Rosen’s professional group, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), is debating BDS measures at its annual conference in early December. And already, Rosen says, he can see that the process is “rigged” against those who oppose BDS….

Rosen is an anthropologist of Africa and the Middle East who will present his study of Israel’s social protest movements at the AAA conference. He has been an AAA member for 47 years, but during some of the sleepless nights he has spent thinking about the upcoming AAA debate, he has thought of resigning.

The AAA, which has assembled a task force devoted to the organization’s engagement on Israel-Palestine, has some 10,000 members, said Executive Director Edward Liebow. Twenty-five of them have Israeli mailing addresses.

At the annual conference – running December 3-7 in Washington, D.C. – panel discussions devoted to the topic will be led almost entirely by BDS advocates, including Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. Her group played a key role in persuading the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to vote, in June, to withdraw $21 million in investments from three major manufacturing companies that sell construction equipment to Israel. While JVP does not currently work to create academic boycotts of Israel, it supports them, and is developing its own academic council, Vilkomerson tells Haaretz.

Other participants in the upcoming AAA panels have publicly endorsed academic BDS. All of them are stocked with speakers from leading American universities and the Palestinian territories, Rosen said in a letter to the AAA. Not one speaker is from a major Israeli university, and only on one panel have BDS opponents been invited to speak.

None of this is surprising. Anyone who has covered the academic boycott movement closely, as I have, knows that we are dealing with intolerant people who seek to stifle debate while playing victim themselves.

It is no surprise that one of the leaders of the academic boycott movement was Steven Salaita, the professor who was denied a tenured position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after months of bizzare tweets in which, among other things, he denied that those who disagreed with him even deserved to be heard.

But there is good news emerging. Those who oppose the hijacking of academia by the anti-Israel faculty crowd are beginning to come forward. This is a big deal because in my experience, those opposed to academic boycotts are not as politically involved as those who favor them. That’s how professional organizations can be taken over by a relatively small number of faculty activists.

Last Sunday I wrote how a Petition against the academic boycott of Israel had gathered over 500 signatures, mostly from faculty.

That Petition just passed 1000 signatures, and hopefully more will step forward.

The Petition is important because its lets faculty know there are many others like them who — regardless of their views on particular aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute — do not believe that the academic freedom of the entire educational system should be sacrificed at the alter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

(Click on image to sign Petition)

If you are a present or retired faculty member, academic staff, post-doctoral student, trustee or administrator, please sign the Petition. If you know someone who fits that description, get them to sign.

You don’t have to be “pro-Israel” to sign — only pro-academic freedom, pro-fairness, pro-intellectual honesty, pro-education and pro-peace.

Update 9-30-2014: I received the following from the AAA today:

Professor Jacobson – I highly recommend that you do some fact checking before you reprint articles like Ms. Cohen’s error-filled piece in Haaretz. “U.S. academics bemoan ‘rigged’ fight in battle against BDS.” First, contrary to Professor Rosen’s procedural description quoted by Ms. Cohen, to be considered at the American Anthropological Association’s Annual Business Meeting, resolutions must be submitted at least 30 days in advance (5th November 2014, this year). Second, as Ms. Cohen reported, the Association has not received a BDS resolution for consideration; it is incorrect to indicate that “we are one of several considering BDS resolutions.” Third, the real news here has to do with our Association undertaking a thorough consideration of ways in which we might engage with the ongoing Israel Palestine conflict. Our Annual Meeting’s Call for Papers is broadcast worldwide in January each year, and the panels that were considered for this year’s program were all subject to the same deadline and the same review process. Moreover, we have opened a number of channels for dialogue on a range of options the Association’s members might consider; the annual meeting panels, an open members’ forum, and the Business Meeting itself, constitute just one set of those channels. The Association’s Task Force will be seeking input from area and subject matter experts far and wide, and I personally welcome recommendations concerning experts to whom the Task Force should be referred. I have been corresponding with Professor Goldberg, as well as Israeli Anthropology Association (IAA) members who do not share the majority IAA position. I have extended to them the same invitation for referrals. In all, our Association is committed to facilitating open dialogue among our members about the issues and how they relate to anthropology, anthropologists, and the Association. Thank you in advance for correcting the record, and please do not hesitate to contact me for further information. Ed Liebow

Edward Liebow, Executive Director
American Anthropological Association

I received this response to Liebow disputing some of his characterizations of inaccuracies in the Haaretz article:

Hello Prof. Jacobson –

Someone sent me the LI piece citing my Haaretz article.

I would appreciate your appending this note under Liebow’s:

Ed Liebow is correct only insofar as there were two (relatively minor) errors in my Haaretz article. One related to the timing of when resolutions can be submitted to the AAA (I was given incorrect information) and the other related to the way the boycott efforts within the AAA could be described. The article has been updated. It is unfortunate that Liebow felt the need to exaggerate by calling it an “error-filled piece.”

Debra Nussbaum Cohen

There also is a comment posted below taking issue with Liebow’s characterizations and asserting bias in panel composition.


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.