Will Anthropologists Endorse Racism And Discrimination?

This article, directed to members of the American Anthropological Association who will be voting, beginning today, on whether to boycott Israeli academic institutions, certainly has a few lines that just make me want to Vomit emoticonStill, it’s worth reading overall, for the rare, well-researched summaries of human rights problems in parts of the word that are not the only Jewish state on the planet. For example,

Just as “many Israelis are unfamiliar with even the word ‘Nakba,’”[8] the Arabic term for the Palestinians’ 1948 catastrophe, many BDS proponents with whom I have spoken seem strikingly uninformed or — worse still — singularly unconcerned about the human rights records of other recipients of U.S. military aid and hardware. . . .

The longest separation wall in the MENA region was built by Morocco. Illegally occupying Western Sahara since 1975, the Moroccan government brutally oppressed the Sahrawi people and waged war against the Polisario Front, which it terms a terrorist organization, until a fragile ceasefire took hold in 1991. The Moroccans built a heavily mined, 1,600-mile-long berm or wall to force Polisario fighters and their sympathizers into the desert, where they have tried to survive ever since. Many live in squalid refugee settlements, some of which the Moroccan military attacked again in 2010. Most of the Sahrawi population has lived in exile for decades, in dismal camps in Algeria, with few possibilities of returning. In 2015 Polisario’s foreign minister indicated that the Front might have to return to armed struggle because of international inaction on Western Sahara and Morocco’s ongoing contempt for international law.[11] Morocco kicked out the UN’s Western Sahara mission (MINURSO) in March of this year, allegedly because UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon used the term “occupation” when he visited the region.[12]

Morocco’s barrier is almost four times the length of Israel’s wall, yet the tragedy of the Sahrawis is little known and often forgotten. Morocco continues to be a destination of choice for established and early-career foreign anthropologists, just as it has been since 1975.[13]

What about Turkey, which destroyed some 4,000 Kurdish villages by 2003 and many more since then?[14] The numbers of displaced in our NATO ally’s war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which began in the mid-1980s, were three or four times the number of Palestinians expelled in the 1948 Nakba.[15] Turkey, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian and violent rule, is again engaging in a scorched earth campaign against the Kurds. Foreign academics have, to their credit, spoken out against the government’s persecution of Turkish colleagues, but they have not suggested boycotting Turkish universities.

Regardless of how the vote turns out, though, it certainly seems as though the AAA has already become just as bigoted and morally bankrupt as the American Studies Association. Richard Shweder, who attended the preliminary vote in the fall, wrote,

What I had not anticipated was the bullying that went on during the debate over an alternative resolution offered by some opponents of the boycott. Dissidents who were lined up and waiting to voice their views were suddenly denied access to the microphone by the president of the association and effectively silenced. Shortly before they were cut off one young scholar did manage this memorable (and chilling) remark: She anxiously prefaced her arguments by saying that she was well-aware that in speaking against the boycott she would probably never get a job in an anthropology department. I wondered whether I could honestly tell her she was wrong.

Marc Edelman, the author of the first essay quoted above, concludes it by asking whether, in ten years’ time, the AAA will be embarrassed by its actions now. Good question.



A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.

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