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20 The Magic of Myth: Fashioning the BDS Narrative in the New Anthropology David M. Rosen David Rosen provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement within the American Anthropological Association (AAA). Despite a multiyear effort by anti-Israel activists, including the leadership of the AAA, in 2016 the membership voted BDS down by a razor-thin margin of thirty-nine votes. Rosen documents the many questionable tactics of the anti-Israelists, showing how a small cadre of committed radicals can nearly take over an entire organization. He explores the abuse of the notion of complicity by which activists seek to justify their bigoted boycott and shows how their interest is not in engaging in debate with anyone but in demonizing and silencing their opponents instead. “To impose pariah status on the Jewish State, they are more than willing to tear apart the freedoms and protections American academics have created over centuries.” Anyone who does not advocate the end of Jewish self-determination is rendered complicit in the alleged crimes of the Jewish State. Although BDS lost this time, the challenge isn’t over: BDS activists have announced that their efforts will continue. On June 7, 2016, the AAA announced that its members rejected a proposed BDS boycott of Israeli universities and academic institutions by a vote of 2,423 to 2,384—a slim margin of just 39 votes. Fifty-one percent of the association’s approximately 9,353 members voted, the largest voter turnout in its history. It was a hard-earned victory for boycott opponents. Only six months earlier, at the 2015 annual meeting of the association and one of the biggest moments for BDS in academe, members of the association had voted 1,040 to 136 to place the boycott resolution on the spring ballot. The carnival atmosphere at that meeting, with all the symbolic trappings and paraphernalia of a BDS political pep rally, made victory over BDS seem almost impossible. Had the boycott vote succeeded, the AAA, the largest association of anthropologists in the world, would have become a party in the Israeli-Palestinian The Magic of Myth | 281 conflict. It would have marked the final transformation of the AAA from a professional scientific organization into a radical nongovernmental organization (NGO). With the defeat of the boycott, this has not occurred—yet. However, even with the failure of the boycott resolution, significant damage to the profession has been done. Major departments of anthropology are still in the grip of the boycott ideology and continue to impose conformity or silence from dissenters , faculty, and students. Boycott supporters vow that they will continue the boycott on an individual basis, thereby ensuring that a silent boycott against Israeli institutions and scholars will continue to operate. In the most Orwellian sense, boycott supporters have, as Richard Shweder has pointed out, turned BDS’s discriminatory animus into a public and private virtue. Equally important , the elected leadership of the AAA continues to claim that there is a consensus within anthropology for condemning Israel and continues to promote views on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that begin and end with Israeli culpability for every issue. Despite the vote, the battle within anthropology is hardly over. So, it is crucial to understand how BDS functions within anthropology and the wider academy. There is no doubt that over the last several decades anthropology has become a highly politicized discipline. From its earliest days, many individual anthropologists have held strong political positions. What is new is the degree to which forces within anthropology have demanded that the entire discipline take a unified position and that the association transform itself into a political entity. Equally important, the current leadership of the AAA has embraced this idea and systematically privileged the boycott movement’s central place in the association ’s affairs. The formal public process of valorizing BDS within the association began with the 2014 annual meetings in Washington, DC. Shortly after the deadline for submissions for those meetings, the leadership announced that something had to be done in anthropology regarding Israel-Palestine. What it did was package and promote a series of panels and events put together by BDS activists under the cover of promoting a conversation within the association. When the leadership of an association takes it on itself to address any controversial issue, basic fairness suggests that all interested parties be given notice of the association’s intentions and that all parties be given an opportunity...


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