Israeli Anthropology and American Anthropology: Our “Special Relations”
Prof. Smadar Lavie
The following article by the brilliant Mizrahi activist author of one of the most insightful books of anthropology The Poetics of Military Occupation is a detailed argument which definitively shows the racism that exists at the very heart of the Israeli academic system.
In March three registered NGOs, Ahoti (Sistah, Hebrew),
These NGOs advocate Mizrahi (Arab-Jews of Asian and North African origins) and Palestinian-Israeli human rights. The complaint was researched and co-authored by Yif`at Hillel, Nurit Hajjaj, Vardit Damri-Madar, Rafi Shubeli, Smadar Lavie and by the late Vicki Shiran, founder of Israel’s feminist-of-color movement.
In these NGOs’ complaint, clarification is sought on the
almost complete absence of tenured Mizrahi faculty, and the total absence of
Palestinian-Israeli faculty in anthropology departments in Israeli
universities. Such absences are in complete violation of any principal of equal
opportunities employment. Mizrahim and Palestinian citizens of
The complaint also noted the total absence of Mizrahi
and Palestinian-Israeli women in both junior and senior faculty positions in
Israeli universities’ anthropology departments, violations of our Mizrahi and
Palestinian-Israeli intellectual and cultural property rights, and the complete
absence of an ethics code for the practice of anthropology in
The complaint argued that Israeli Ashkenazi (European
Jewish) anthropologists have made social and financial gains through the
appropriation of Mizrahi and Palestinian cultures. Sixty-seven percent of
Israeli anthropologists study Mizrahim and/or Palestinians. Ashkenazim consist
of about 30% of
The complaint juxtaposes the data about Israeli academic
apartheid practices with data about the present gendered-ethnic FTE
distribution in major
International and Israeli Responses
The Ahoti-Rainbow-Mossawa coalitional team emailed and faxed English translations of the complaint to the AAA, the Royal Anthropological Institute of Britain, the European Association of Social Anthropologists, and the Canadian Society for Anthropology and Sociology. The Society for Cultural Anthropology and the American Ethnological Society, sections of the AAA, discussed the complaint this spring, along with the AAA executive board, as it continues to generate ongoing discussion on the AAA Middle East Section’s listserv.
The Israeli State Comptroller has yet to substantially address the concerns raised in the coalition’s complaint, although he acknowledged its receipt. Currently the Israeli Anthropological Association is developing an ethics code in response to the complaint.
We find this ironic given the benevolent colonialism of the so-called progressive edition of Israeli anthropology. Even those Israeli anthropologists who pose as radical - and as part of this pose have even expressed their support in our activism - actually preserve the master Ashkenazi-Zionist narrative of anti-Arab apartheid when deciding about their choice of departmental colleagues, whether in FTE allocations, merits and promotions. In some instances when the coalition has tried to address alleged issues of Ashkenazi ethnographic beneficence or institutional racism it has been silenced through threat of lawsuit, on the one hand, and hegemonized cajoling, on the other. Yet the silence ought not be interpreted as evidence that that such acts of racism do not exist.
US Anthropology’s Role
In May, UC Berkeley anthropologist Lawrence Cohen
From the onset of the Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli
anti-racist struggle, Israeli anthropology has been applied as an arm of
governmentality to better suppress it and to design pacifying policies of
cooptation. This was done through in-situ cross-cultural application of the
works of Victor Turner or Talcott Parsons on our transit camps, neighborhoods
and villages. Paradoxically, however, Israeli anthropologists cynically quote
A largely decontextualized version of
After such visits to Israeli anthropology academics, US anthropologists are then requested to reciprocate with weighty career evaluation letters that decide the fate of Israeli anthropologists’ merits and promotions, invitations for sabbaticals, and assistance in getting Israeli articles admitted to prestigious periodicals and edited US-based university press collections.
Israeli anthropologists get promoted in Israeli universities on the basis of English-language publications mainly in US periodicals. Academic English is not accessible to the majority of Israelis. The coalition worries that given the monochromatic, elitist and insular composition of Israeli anthropology faculty, these scholars’ English-language publications, written in the absence of any human subjects procedures, thereby provide a slanted view of Israeli society, and concurrently hurt the scientific reputation of academic US periodicals.
Through the public media, Israelis often learn about US
intellectual interventions in sites of grave injustice outside the
From The Anthropology Newsletter, January 2005