Fighting Back the 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, 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.

A year and a half ago, I was facing a difficult decision. It was time for me to commit myself more fully to one of three paths: political activism, directorship positions in NGO's, and academic research. After long deliberation, I chose to pursue a lifelong dream and become an anthropologist. I was lucky enough to be accepted to one of the top programs in anthropology at UCLA. I thought that this move might give me an opportunity to distance myself from the political and social activism I was so used to engaging with, thus providing me a different perspective on things. Reflecting on the past months, the move indeed presented me with a new perspective of things, but from an unanticipated direction. A month into my studies, I learned that two separate organizations with which I am affiliated are considering endorsing BDS as a formal policy. BDS is a movement calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions on all aspects of Israel’s international affairs as means of pressure on Israeli policy concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The severity of these means and the statements the movement releases cause many, including myself, to perceive it as an anti-Israeli movement.

The first organization that was considering endorsing BDS as a formal policy was the labor union for teachers’ assistants working at the University of California's system. As a graduate student who is about to work as a TA, I started receiving emails from my labor union calling me to endorse the BDS, and found out that some of my graduate student colleagues are advocating for support of BDS. This was my wakeup call, but it came too late. By the time that I got involved in fighting against this vote, public opinion was formed in support of BDS, and the vote passed. At the same time of this ordeal, I learned of a second front in the fight against BDS: the American Anthropological Association (AAA) was starting to discuss endorsement of BDS. While the TA's union's decision was mostly declarative, the AAA's decision might be devastative to anthropological research in Israel, as well as to Israeli anthropologists as individuals. 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 the 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. The first step in doing this was to become a AAA member to vote against BDS, as well as to advocate for this cause in AAA’s events. However, as a graduate student in the most expensive city in the US - Los Angeles - I did not have sufficient funds to cover the expensive costs of AAA membership. I am therefore grateful for ROI and the Schusterman Foundation for providing me with a GO PROFESSIONAL ROI Micro Grant to fulfill this cause. With their help, I managed to register as a AAA member just in time to gain eligibility to participate in the BDS vote. I am thankful for ROI and the Schusterman Foundation for making this opportunity possible, and hope that I can contribute as much as I can in the efforts to fight back BDS.