The American Anthropological Association Censures Israel for Violations of Academic Freedom

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) issued a statement dated June 2016 censuring Israel for violations of academic freedom. In the statement, the “American Anthropological Association expresses its strong disapproval of Israeli government policies and practices that threaten academic freedom and the human rights of Palestinian and Israeli scholars. This is a statement of censure concerning these government policies and practices.” Inside Higher Ed reported on June 27 news of the AAA statement of censure.

The decision to censure Israel follows a very close membership vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions. While the boycott resolution failed to achieve majority support by a mere 39 votes, AAA leadership took the initiative to censure Israel based on a “three-year examination of anthropologically-relevant dimensions of the complex political situation in Israel-Palestine.” AAA includes on its webpage under News, an Israel/Palestine tab with various documents produced by anthropologists related to the issue.

The statement of censure lists the following violations of academic freedom linked to Israeli policies :

  1. restricted freedom of movement for Palestinian academics and foreign academics going to the West Bank and Gaza ;
  2. restricted access to publications among libraries at West Bank and Gaza universities ;
  3. disparities in Internet access that restrict academic pursuits at West Bank and Gaza universities
  4. unjust denial of full accreditation for Al-Quds University ;
  5. unjust denial of freedom of expression to Palestinian and dissenting Jewish faculty and students at Israeli universities, including civil penalties for speaking publicly in opposition to government policies and practices, and a show of military force on university campuses to threaten freedom of expression ;
  6. unjust denial of freedom to Palestinian students for gathering and action, including expression of their identity ; and
  7. undue delays of salary payments to West Bank and Gaza university faculty.

In addition to the statement of censure, Alisse Waterston, AAA President, and Edward Liebow, AAA Executive Director, sent a letter to Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Minister of Education, calling for changes to “ministry’s policies and practices that result in threats to academic freedom and the human rights of these scholars and students.”

These actions are based on the position that even though a small majority of the AAA membership voted against the boycott of Israeli academic institutions (2,423 AAA members opposed the boycott measure, while 2,384 supported it), there is a large consensus among AAA members that Israel violates Palestinian academic freedoms and the association has a responsibility to take action. This consensus position was stated in the AAA press release (June 7, 2016) following the boycott resolution vote : “AAA members are generally in agreement that serious threats to academic freedom and human rights have been noted in Israel-Palestine as a result of Israeli government policies and practices, and that AAA should respond to these threats.”