Phi Beta Cons

Anthropologists Barely Defeat Pointless Boycott Israel Proposal

Anthropology is among the many academic disciplines where ideological activists are very powerful. Less interested in scholarship than in pushing their “progressive” ideas, they now dictate acceptable research, denounced unacceptable conclusions, and even throw their weight behind symbolic causes that have nothing to do with their academic fields.

In today’s Pope Center piece, anthropology professor Glynn Custred writes about the latter sort of instance, specifically a referendum put to the members of the American Anthropological Association calling for an “academic boycott” of Israeli institutions.

The pro-boycott members are up in arms over the Israeli government’s policies regarding Palestine. That doesn’t have anything to do with anthropology, but so what?

What it was about, Custred writes, was simply “a show of solidarity with those outside the profession who share their ideological perspective.”

Furthermore, Custred notes, this gesture didn’t even change anything within the AAA, which had no formal ties to Israeli institutions anyway.

The referendum was voted on by the membership of the AAA in April and May. The result was a very narrow defeat for the boycott. Nevertheless, the executive board has announced that it plans to issue a statement censuring Israel for its Palestinian policies.

Still, Custred is mildly hopeful after the boycott’s defeat. “Perhaps I am too optimistic,” he writes, “but it seems that political activism is starting to burn out in anthropology. Let’s hope this turn in events will soon run its course and anthropology as a valuable branch of scholarship and human understanding will continue as before.”

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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