posted November 22, 2015
At its annual meeting a few days ago, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) voted on whether to embrace a boycott of Israeli academic institutions “until such time as these institutions end their complicity in violating Palestinian rights as stipulated in international law.” Those present voted to approve the proposed resolution by an almost 10 to 1 margin. The resolution must still be voted on by the ten thousand members of the AAA, but this endorsement is significant. AAA is the world’s largest association of anthropologists, and if this measure secures final approval, it would become the largest American academic society to embrace the boycott movement against Israeli academia.
As Vice Chair of the American Association of Universities, Penn President Amy Gutmann has signed a resolution opposing the academic boycott of Israel and has spoken repeatedly in favor of the fundamental importance of academic freedom and against efforts to boycott Israeli universities and scholars. President Gutmann’s position is in accord with that of the American Association of University Professors, which opposes academic boycotts as a threat to academic freedom.
In the wake of the AAA’s vote, I feel it is important to express my own opposition to academic boycotts (and my opposition to discrimination on the basis of national origin which this resolution may encourage), and my commitment to sustaining the Katz Center as a site for the free exchange of ideas, information and discoveries among scholars in North America, Israel and elsewhere. We will continue to support the research of scholars from around the world, including Israeli scholars, and to pursue collaborative relationships with academic institutions from abroad, including Israeli academic institutions.
I have written about well-meaning efforts by scholars to intervene in conflicts, which raises a number of intellectual and ethical issues. I appeal to AAA members and other scholars to resist the conflation of academic institutions with the policies and actions of governments, to reject the use of scholarship as an instrument of punishment, and to embrace its power to build bridges of understanding across the boundaries imposed by fear, hatred and political conflict.
Ella Darivoff Director of the Katz Center
Abraham M. Ellis Professor of Hebrew and Semitic Languages and Literatures