An Anthropologist Against BDS


Yael Assor is currently a PhD student at the Department of Anthropology, UCLA. Her research focuses on how culturally situated moral sensibilities contribute to negotiation processes in the Israeli Healthcare Committee (ועדת סל התרופות). Prior to her academic career, she was the national director of the Tav Chevrati initiative and volunteered as Jerusalem district chairwoman of the Meretz political party. Yael continues to be involved in social and political activities for a better Israel. Most recently, she founded with several women a new initiative for empowering women to partake in public discussions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This year, I have come to know the BDS movement on a close and personal level. If before I only knew this movement from media reports, I now witnessed its workings in my professional field. I am an anthropologist in training, pursuing my PhD at UCLA. Last year, the main professional organization for anthropologists, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), started to discuss endorsement of BDS as its official policy. If BDS is endorsed, all international cooperation with Israeli academy will cease, including withdrawal of research funds, conferences, and international research. Votes about this critical decision will be held throughout this year.

Right now, more people have signed on a petition promoting BDS than the one resisting it. Since the anthropological community is not big, every voice matters. When I understood this, I became determined to fight back BDS this time as hard as I can. With the help of a previous ROI Micro Grant, it was possible for me to pay the relatively high membership fees and become an AAA member, thus granting me the potential right to vote against BDS when the time comes. However, as mentioned above, I realized it is not enough that I myself vote against it; I need to somehow work to make others resist this offer as well. I figured out one way that I could make this happen, which would have the added value of contributing to my professional development: attending the main conference for anthropologists in my field, the biennial conference of the Society for Psychological Anthropology (SPA).

I attended the conference this last April. It was a rather small gathering, thus providing a perfect opportunity for me to network and advance both my professional aspirations and my advocacy work for Israel and against BDS. I had numerous conversations there with anthropologists, some of whom are very influential figures in this field, in which I delicately approached the sensitive topic of Israel and presented my worries about allowing the BDS bill to pass. Although this did put me sometimes in some awkward positions, I felt that it was my duty to spread this message and do whatever I could against this strong front put up by BDS supporters.

While it is hard to currently measure the long term benefit of this endeavor, as the BDS final vote will only be in November, I am convinced that making these connections and doing this outreach throughout the SPA conference was crucial in forming peoples’ positions concerning the vote. This effort would not have been possible without the Go Professional! ROI Micro Grant, which made it possible for me to attend this conference. I am grateful for the generosity of the Schusterman Family Foundation and ROI for facilitating this venture and making it possible for me to contribute in the fight against the de-legitimization of Israel.