Academic Boycotts in American Professional Associations
From 2013, professional associations organized along disciplinary lines began to place BDS resolutions on their annual agendas. All the various resolutions follow the same formulaic pattern in their rationale and rhetoric: affirming their commitment to principles of academic freedom, human rights, and social justice and in view of Israel’s alleged violations on all these fronts through its occupation of Palestine, the said association will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
To date, the most prominent associations to exclude Israeli institutions, faculty, and researchers from the scholarly community are:
- Apr. 2013: The Association for Asian American Studies resolved to “endorse and  honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”
- Dec. 2013: The American Studies Association resolved the same, adding a denial that it targets “Israeli scholars engaged in individual-level contacts and ordinary forms of academic exchange...provided they are not expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or of the Israeli government.”
- Nov. 2015: The National Women’s Studies Association adopted a recommendation endorsing the call for “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) of economic, military and cultural entities and projects sponsored by the state of Israel.”
An exhaustive catalogue of American academic organizations that endorse BDS, including links to the resolutions, can be found on the website of the AMCHA Initiative.
Resolutions targeting Israeli academics and academic institutions failed to pass in other key academic associations, including:
- Jun. 2014: Members of the Modern Language Association rejected a resolution condemning Israel for supposedly imposing restrictions on the ability of scholars to travel to Israel and the West Bank. The June vote reversed an earlier censure passed by the MLA’s House of Delegates. At the MLA’s annual meeting in January 2015, an agreement was reached to defer consideration of a pro-boycott resolution until January 2017.
- Jan. 2016: Members of the American Historical Association voted down, 111 to 51, a resolution “upholding the rights of Palestinian faculty and students to pursue their education and research freely” and committing the AHA to “monitoring Israeli actions restricting the right to education in the occupied Palestinian territories,” among other points. AEN member Jeffrey Herf tells the full story of the AHA’s boycott controversy.
- Mar. 2016: A measure to discuss the issue of BDS failed to advance to the agenda of the Governing Council of the International Studies Association. It was defeated, 27 to 18, in a vote, conducted by secret ballot.
- Apr. 2016: The American Association of Anthropologists will vote on a referendum to implement a boycott. Richard Shweder of the University of Chicago asks whether “Anthropologists will have the courage to just say ‘no’?”
Cultural Boycotts Against Israel
Promoters of BDS and their ideological allies have increasingly sought to isolate Israel by calling for boycotts of Israeli artists and Israeli cultural groups. Performances by Israeli musicians, conferences featuring Israeli LGBTQ advocacy groups, and even talks by speakers who have no connection to Israel but are sponsored by organizations perceived as pro-Israel, have been cancelled, protested, disrupted, and been the subject of verbal assaults in the media. The following rank among the more notable examples of this trend:
- Sept 2009: The Toronto International Film Festival chose to highlight Tel Aviv in its inaugural “City to City” initiative on the occasion of Tel Aviv’s 100th anniversary. This decision prompted John Greyson to pull his film Covered, a short documentary, from the Festival’s lineup and to denounce the City to City program as part of a “Brand Israel” campaign. In addition, hundreds of actors signed the “Toronto Declaration: No Celebration of Occupation,” which complained that the focus on Tel Aviv ignored the city’s emergence “on destroyed Palestinian villages,” its annexation of Jaffa “after the mass exiling of the Palestinian population,” and that “looking at modern, sophisticated Tel Aviv without also considering the city’s past and the realities of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, would be like rhapsodizing about the beauty and elegant lifestyles in white-only Cape Town or Johannesburg during apartheid without acknowledging the corresponding black townships of Khayelitsha and Soweto.”
- Sep. 2, 2011: At a performance by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in London, England, members of the audience drowned out the orchestra with their own chorus, a parody of Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ with lyrics denouncing Israeli occupation and singing out for Palestine’s liberation. The BBC was forced to call off its live broadcast of the concert, part of its summer broadcast series “Promenade Concerts.” The event marked the first time since the Promenade Concert broadcast series began in the 1930s that a performance was disrupted by protest. Protests have greeted engagements of the Israel Philharmonic in the United States since 2012.
- Feb. 13, 2015: More than 600 British performing and visual artists announced a boycott campaign in an Open Letter to the Guardian. They resolved to accept “neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government.” In response, authors J.K. Rowling, Hilary Mantel, and Simon Schama among others launched a counter effort, “culture for co-existence,” also in the Guardian, October 22, 2015.
- Aug. 22, 2015: At the Annual Reggae Festival “Rototom Sunsplash” held in Valencia Spain, the local BDS-linked association pressured the Festival organizers to drop American Jewish (but not Israeli) reggae musician Matisyahu from the festival program. Responding to this pressure, the organizers requested that Matisyahu sign a statement supporting the “right of the Palestinian people to have their own State” as a condition for remaining on the program. Matisyahu refused, noting that he was the only artist asked to produce a political statement of any sort. The organizers thereafter cancelled his performance, only to re-instate him in the lineup after Jewish and civil rights groups garnered public attention about the anti-Semitic undertones driving the effort to prevent Matisyahu from performing. The events were covered by the Times of Israel in a series of articles (see here, here, here, here, here and here).
- Jan. 20–22, 2016: The Creating Change conference, the largest conference in the United States for the LBGTQ+ community, was held in Chicago. Prior to the conference, anti-Israel activists successfully pressured the organizers at the National LGBTQ Task Force to cancel appearances by A Wider Bridge, a U.S. non-profit dedicated to building ties between American and Israeli queer Jews, and the Jerusalem Open House, an Israel-based LBGTQ organization. Pressure came primarily in the form of the claim that the groups engaged in “pink-washing”—the charge that Israel’s progressive policies on gays and lesbians are promoted deliberately to deflect from Israel’s alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. A public outcry ensued, causing the conference organizers to reverse their decision. But at a reception the evening before the conference, anti-Israel protesters mobbed the hallway in the Hilton Hotel, aggressively obstructed entry for participants, and took over the stage, preventing the Israeli representatives from Jerusalem Open House from speaking. The executive director of A Wider Bridge, Arthur Slepian commented that the protesters “turned the LGBT Task Force’s conference and the Hilton Hotel into a fire storm of hate that felt truly unsafe and threatening.”