Boycott Israel? - More anthropologists on Gaza (II)

(text changed, name removed, see comments below) Four anthropologists are among a long list of scholars who in The Guardian call for a boycott of Israel:

We must do what we can to stop Israel from winning its war. Israel must accept that its security depends on justice and peaceful coexistence with its neighbours, and not upon the criminal use of force.

We believe Israel should immediately and unconditionally end its assault on Gaza, end the occupation of the West Bank, and abandon all claims to possess or control territory beyond its 1967 borders. We call on the British government and the British people to take all feasible steps to oblige Israel to comply with these demands, starting with a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Sarah at Once Upon a Time an Anthropologist Wrote reports about more protests at British Universities in her post How Academic World Reacted Toward the War on Gaza

Maximilian Forte at Open Anthropology has posted more info on boycott activities in Canada and university protests in Britain.

In the US on the other hand 3 students, who protested against Israel’s attacks, were arrested (one of them an anthropologist).

The question of academic boycott was also discussed at a seminar that Thomas Hylland Eriksen organized with his colleages at the research project Culcom. Personally, I am not sure if boycott is the way to go, but I liked the “smart boycott” that political scientist Nils Butenschøn suggested. If you collaborate with Israel you should be sure that the Israeli institution does not discriminate or support acts that breache international law.

What role should academics play in situations like these in Gaza? Theologian Anne Hege Grung said that the conflict is held up by myths. Our job is to deconstruct these myths.

Israeli anthropologist Jeff Halper is one of those intellectuals who does exactly that, she said. Last year he arranged a boat trip to Gaza in order to break the Israeli blockade. There, he formulated a message to his fellow Israelis:

(1) Despite what our political leaders say, there is a political solution to the conflict and there are partners for peace. If anything, we of the peace movement must not allow the powers-that-be to mystify the conflict, to present it as a “clash of civilizations.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is political and as such it has a political solution;

(2) The Palestinians are not our enemies. In fact, I urge my fellow Israeli Jews to disassociate from the dead-end politics of our failed political leaders by declaring, in concert with Israeli and Palestinian peace-makers: We refuse to be enemies. And

(3) As the infinitely stronger party in the conflict and the only Occupying Power, we Israelis must accept responsibility for our failed and oppressive policies. Only we can end the conflict.

His report of the trip can be read on the blog by Ted Swedenburg, another blogging anthropologist. Swedenburg is professor at the University of Arkansas and editorial committee member of the Middle East Report. He has blogged a lot about the Gaza-conflict.

In an earlier post I’ve mentioned several antropologists who try to do something similar. In a more recent post, Maximilian Forte analyzes and criticizes the myths spread by American media:

So THE WORLD trembles with love at the mere mention of “Obama,” while all those who oppose Israeli genocide and demonstrated against it were “Muslims.” In the meantime, the only real threat to peace is Hamas, and its bottle rockets.

Palestinians, not being white, European, privileged allies of the U.S., unlike Israelis, are less than human, and less than important, except as “obstacles.” All that Israel ever does is respond and get provoked, it never initiates — a pristine white victim of irrational brown people, you can almost hear its maiden-like screams across the white Atlantic.

With “reporting” like this, the media will keep anthropologists in business for a long time to come, as we try to clean up the damage they cause in creating a deranged culture of war and hatred. And it is hatred, a subtle, insidious, and racist hatred that motivates and encourages AP to write the kind of articles about Gaza as it has.

Then, I found a post by Palestinian anthropologist Khalil Nakhleh who concludes:

The only future for us, as an indigenous national minority that can exercise our inherited basic human rights on our land and that can achieve true justice and equality, is to reclaim and re-assert our narrative. (…) Our repossessed narrative cannot be a reinterpretation of our history as a dull shadow of Jewish-Zionist narrative. Our repossessed narrative must be based on the deconstruction of the racist Zionist-Ashkenazi system, which itself is a precondition for such a just solution. The existing Israeli system is, by definition, racist and exclusivist, and it is inherently and structurally incapable of providing justice and genuine equality to my Palestinian people.

Today, Anthropologist Smadar Lavie emailed me a link to her text Sacrificing Gaza to revive Israel’s Labor party. She reminds us of the different groups within the Israeli society and writes that it was mostly was the Mizrahim (Jews with origin in the Arab and Muslim World) who have been hit by the Hamas missiles. The Israeli European elite “imported” them “as a demographic shield against the Arab enemy".

Smadar Lavie has put lots of papers online.

Finally, the anthropologists Kerim Friedman and Kiven Strohm have set up the wikipage “Understanding Gaza”

For more comments by anthropologists see my first posts: Anthropologists on the war on Gaza


Comment from: Maximilian C. Forte [Visitor]  
Maximilian C. Forte

Wow, that was quite the tour de force, and thanks for the links as always. I was going to prepare a post reviewing some of these boycott petitions in the UK, and what we have seen so far in Ontario, and now in Quebec, is really starting to get underway. I hope to see/be involved in more discussion about what a boycott actually entails, because it can range across a whole spectrum of activities and I am sure different persons have different visions of what a boycott would mean for them. I’ll post some more when I get a chance and link back to this coverage.

2009-01-27 @ 04:52
Comment from: Maximilian C. Forte [Visitor]  
Maximilian C. Forte

Sorry, I forgot to add: Understanding Gaza is co-produced with Kiven Strohm from the Universite de Montreal, one of the newest anthropology bloggers too. See:


If you wish you can delete this if you want to add the info to the post.


2009-01-27 @ 04:56
Comment from: [Member]

Thanks Maximilian, I’ve added the info. Looking forward to reading more about the complex boycott issue!

2009-01-27 @ 12:40
Comment from: David Graeber [Visitor]  
David Graeber

Wow. A few days ago someone forwards me a petition and I say, sure, I’m as upset as the next guy about all those people the IDF is killing in Gaza… suddenly I check the web and it’s “David Graeber: Boycott Israel!” Didn’t, like, two hundred people sign that petition?

I mean, I don’t want to say it’s not an issue I take very seriously. I was brought up a Zionist, actually, I have cousins born on kibbutzim, I’ve always felt a certain kinship with the Jewish socialist tradition, and I’m outraged the way the one-time idealism of Israel has been betrayed by the heirs of fascists like Jabotinsky who now seem to set the standards for the Israeli state. Also it obviously upsets me, as a Jew, when people blow up babies in my name.

But it’s a little odd to see me as the headline act here. Is the presence of my name there really that significant?

2009-01-28 @ 02:16
Comment from: Maximilian C. Forte [Visitor]  
Maximilian C. Forte

Hello again David!

If it was me, I probably would have used that same title, if anything because you are one of a handful of well known anthropologists to have come out and taken a stand, and now that you have added those details, the reason for spotlighting you would be even more justified in my eyes. In fact, I knew none of that background, so at least I personally learned something valuable from the exchange that has been provoked here.

And besides, you’re a star, what can you do?

2009-01-28 @ 04:34
Comment from: lisa [Visitor]  

On the 22nd January, 30 people came to a meeting in Bristol (UK) to hold the people of Israel and Palestine in their hearts during this time of terrible conflict. Called by 3 friends (2 Jews and a Quaker), the purpose was to infuse public opinion with compassion. Why? Because we cannot even think of changing minds without first opening hearts. We believe the 9.5 million people living in Israel and Palestine are intelligent and creative enough to find their own way to peace. They deserve our compassion. All of them. Especially leaders like Olmert and Lipni, Haniyeh and Rayan - people who need our support to act with wisdom and humanity. Drawing on our Jewish tradition, we meditated on chesed (loving-kindness), chanted, sang and lit candles in the shape of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. Drawing on our Quaker tradition, we held a meeting for worship, a gathered silence with ministry by those moved to speak. Then we shared our vision. One after another, we called out what we want to see, speaking as if it already exists, speaking from our hearts. In the words of one participant: “I came home from this event profoundly moved and heartened. I do not believe this is a ‘cop-out’ or in any way evades the history, seriousness and dangers of the Middle East conflict, or the difficulties ahead.  Instead it reminds us that words and argument and ‘being right’ are sometimes of very limited help, but this does not mean there is ‘nothing we can do’.  Other creative, shared, responses are possible.  And beautiful.  And fragile.  And important.” 
The three friends:
Lisa Saffron, author of Checkpoint - the novel of hope and inspiration about Israel and Palestine Buy on Amazon.co.uk www.redroom.com/author/lisa-saffron
Sheila Yeger, author of Dove – a drama about conflict and hope. www.listeningindialogue.wordpress.com Listen free on Listening to the Tune in Dialogue
Maria Kennedy

2009-01-28 @ 12:56
Comment from: [Member]

Hi David, thanks for your commment. I had similar thoughts as Maximilian. There are very few anthropologists who have taken a stand in the media, so I was glad I found a famous anthropologist on the list! Another thing is that a story about a person that people know will attract more readers, so more people will read about Gaza with your name in the title than without.

So yes, your name is really significant!

2009-01-28 @ 14:31
Comment from: David Graeber [Visitor]  
David Graeber

actually I’m not very happy about being spotlighted because your headline is basically deceptive: it makes it sound like I initiated a call to action when in fact I was merely one of hundreds who signed a petition. Usually it’s one’s enemies, not one’s friends, who make that sort of move.

Honestly: don’t you think I should be the one to decide whether I should be headlined as calling for a boycott or not? Rather than have you decide for me? This is an issue where there are enormous passions and people are systematically targeted for sticking their heads out too far. Now, I have strong feelings, and I’m not a person who’s afraid to take a stand when I think it will make a difference in a significant way, but again, the degree of risk I want to take should be MY decision, not yours.

Why do you think only four anthropologists in all of Britain signed that thing? Some didn’t agree with it no doubt. But hundreds signed because they were afraid something exactly like that would happen to them.

Now you have given them reason to feel their paranoia is entirely justified and done your own little part to ensure they continue be afraid to put their names on such things. I know I’ll think twice what I sign now that I know someone like you might put some headline on a blog making it sound like I initiated the entire campaign!

2009-01-31 @ 01:54
Comment from: [Member]

Hi David,

ok, I’ve removed your name.

But it’s not you but the blogger who decides about the content of texts. That’s what free press is all about as you know better than me. But of course if somebody feels uncomfortable about being spotlighted you’re welcome to take contact. No problem! In this case, a short email would have been enough.

Anyway, it’s troubling to hear about the state of democracy and free speech in Britain when it is considered risky and dangerous to express one’s opinions in public.

2009-01-31 @ 11:35
Comment from: David Graeber [Visitor]  
David Graeber

no, I don’t think that’s what a free press is about at all

a free press means that _governments_ should not in any way interfere, censor, or limit what the press can say

that doesn’t mean people with a press (or blog, etc) _ought_ to say anything they like, even things that are deceptive or harmful to others. In fact, a free press is premised on a assumption that generally speaking, people will act responsibly without having to be threatened by state-sanctioned violence

in the same way, as an anarchist, I don’t believe in police and prisons. That doesn’t mean I think if you dislike someone, it’s okay to shoot them with a submachine gun. Neither do I believe that “freedom” means it should be completely up to the guy with the submachine gun to decide whether or not he should kill an annoying neighbor, and that he has no moral obligation to take the opinions of his potential victim into consideration.

Anyway, you could have emailed me too before you ran that. That would have been the responsible thing to do in my opinion.

I suppose there’s not much damage done - even if google says “David Graeber: Boycott Israel” still pulls up 490 hits. But you have definitely ensured I’ll think long and hard the next time someone sends me a petition.

2009-02-01 @ 00:57
Comment from: Maximilian C. Forte [Visitor]  
Maximilian C. Forte

I have also been added to a petition by academics to boycott Israel. If someone wants to spotlight my name, so be it, I stand up for what I sign, and I will stick my head out. This is not some macho bravado either, this is an ugly mix of anger, sadness, defiance.

Those who may be afraid or paranoid and not willing to sign because they fear going public and getting attention in public…should just not sign.

2009-02-03 @ 06:59
Comment from: Alfred [Visitor]

For the anarchist community David Graeber’s comments (and their tone) will come as quite a surprise, for from his writings and his past activism one could’ve taken him as a radical intellectual who puts his proverbial money where his mouth is. Seems one would have been hasty in drawing such inferences. After his ordeal with Yale, one couldn’t be blamed, in expecting that at least David understands the cost attached when it comes to active enagagement in radical politics. May be, after his dismissal, he has understood it too well and, may be, his comments did lay bare his trajectory similar as of numerous other revered radical/pomo/neo-marxist/liberal intellectuals whom he currently loathes and rightly decimates in his writings. I completely agree with Maximilian Forte’s comments; don’t sign the petition if you’re paranoid of the repercussions (and btw, David, apart from any conspiracy theories that you may have, please tell us as to what could have been the intentions of the author while making your involvement, in the petition, public).

Also, I would request David to give us some pointers as to when did this “Israeli idealism", he mentions, exist and more importantly what were its functional and ideological aims beside legitimising racist colonial ambitions of the euro-american Zionists and the unleashed ethnic cleansing. David’s comment about “one-time idealism of Israel” is all too revealing. Suggestion - careful dear! you’re in the “public” domain.

2009-02-22 @ 07:46

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