The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
The annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association has approved a resolution to boycott Israel, which must now be voted on by the group's membership. There are some unappreciated ironies that arise from the AAA's efforts, and its interaction with private businesses that the AAA contracts with and takes donations from.
The resolution seeks to enlist a major academic publisher in excluding Israeli institutions from access to scholarly publications. And while the AAA is doing this, the AAA's major donors are among the most important companies in Israel—which probably have not yet caught on to what is being done with their money.
For it turns out that the AAA does not mind getting funding from companies that, by the AAA's logic, "maintain perpetuate the occupation." Two of the group's most "significant" donors are Intel and Yahoo! Labs.
Intel does not just do business in Israel, it is a big part of the Jewish State's economy, and vice versa. Its Israel division is the country's largest private employer, while accounting in recent years for up to 40 percent of Intel's profit.
Intel is deeply tied in to Israeli academic institutions and has facilities all over the country. If Israel's obscure anthropology departments "have been directly and indirectly complicit in the Israeli state's systematic maintenance of the occupation and denial of basic rights to Palestinians, by providing planning, policy, and technological expertise for furthering Palestinian dispossession," as the AAA resolution claims, surely Intel must be the Great Dispossessor.
Similarly, Israel plays a crucial role for Yahoo Labs (formerly Yahoo Research), and its Haifa facility is one of only two overseas locations. It has extensive collaborations with numerous Israeli academic institutions—the same ones that the AAA is spending Yahoo! Labs money to organizing a boycott campaign with.
So it seems that AAA is what some would call "profiting from the occupation." Heck, if as the AAA obscurely claims, Israel uses "anthropological frameworks" to "further occupation and colonization," then surely the tech developed with the AAA's benefactors is surely even more useful.
Doubtless the AAA did not know about their benefactors' leading role in the state they despise, and the tech firms did not intend to support a boycott. Now that this is brought to the AAA's attention, perhaps they will take a stand on principle and return the tainted money, and certainly refuse to take more. On the other hand, it is also likely that Yahoo and Intel, with their deep and mutually beneficial ties to Israeli academic institutions, will certainly not want to continue funding boycotts of Israeli academia.
Another aspect of the planned boycott that will prove problematic in its implantation concerns academic publishing. As the AAA Boycott resolution explains:
[T]he boycott precludes granting permission to copy and reprint articles from AAA publications to journals and publications based at Israeli institutions. The boycott may also preclude the AAA from selling Anthrosource access to Israeli institutions.
AAA journals, however, are mostly published by Wiley-Blackwell, a prominent international academic publisher. Wiley & Co., a publicly traded company, also runs the Anthrosource database, and manages the subscriptions. I am not sure, but it seems that articles in Wiley publications will often fall under Wiley's copyrights and be governed by its "Terms and Conditions of Use."
Aside from any possible legal issues with Wiley's possible liability under anti-discrimination laws for enforcing the boycott, this presents the odd prospect of a global academic publisher devoted to the dissemination of knowledge boycotting a particular a country. This would surely be a first.
Wiley is surely surprised by AAA's efforts to enlist it in enforcing a nation-specific boycott. One expects that Wiley will want to quickly disassociate itself from these efforts. Similarly, the other academic publishers, like Oxford, that sponsor the AAA—who are devoted to the global diffusion of knowledge, even to Israel—will doubtless come under pressure to stop their support for activities that contradict these ideals.
[Updated to revise headline.]