From the Coalition to End Apartheid in Israeli Anthropology 1

Ahoti, the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, and Mossawa | Email circular | 25 March 2004, email circular received October 2004

Ahoti (Sistah-Heb) – For Women in Israel; NGO No. 58-036-274; P. O. Box 4027, Tel Aviv 61040, Israel. Ph. +972-3-525-0959
For all matters re this issue, please use the following e-mail address:
Enclosed please find a complaint we have filed in March with Israel’s State Comptroller about the various violations of cultural rights performed by Israeli Anthropologists.
We hope you can call attention to these violations in your forthcoming faculty meeting so that our complaint might help reformulate the scientific relations between your department and Israeli Anthropologists working from Israeli universities and with the Israeli Anthropological Association.
Orna Zaken, CEO
on behalf of Ahoti, the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, and Mossawa.
Ahoti (Sistah-Heb) – For Women in Israel; NGO No. 58-036-274; P. O. Box 4027, Tel Aviv 61040, Israel. Ph. +972-3-525-0959
Mr. Goldberg, Esq.
Israel’s State Comptroller
P. O. Box 1081
Jerusalem 91010
Send via Registered Mail, RA#10996186-0-IL, Return Receipt Requested
Without Prejudice
Complaint Against
The Hebrew University, Jerusalem;
Tel Aviv University;
Haifa University;
Bar Ilan University;
Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheba
The Essence of the Complaint:
Clarification of the reasons for the almost complete absence of tenured Mizrahi faculty (Mizrahi = Oriental, Heb. – Jews who immigrated to Israel mainly from the Arab World) faculty, and the total absence of Palestinian-Israeli faculty from Anthropology Departments in Israeli universities.
Clarification of the reasons for the total absence of Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli women from both junior and senior faculty in Anthropology Departments of Israeli universities.
Violation of Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli intellectual property rights with regard to the financial gains Israeli anthropologists make out of their cultures.
Absence of an ethics code for the practice of Anthropology in Israel.
Ahoti (Sistah) – For Women in Israel, is a feminist movement. We struggle for the transformation so needed in the social, cultural, economic and political lives of disenfranchised and marginal women as they confront modes of Israeli domination and hegemony. We do so through discourse and action that advocates egalitarian, pluralistic and democratic society. One of Ahoti’s tactics of empowerment is to posit the demand to be heard in the midst of Israel’s Eurocentered public sphere. While we do so, we unearth the apparatuses that exclude us as these continue preserving the socio-economic structure responsible for the ongoing oppression of dispossessed Israeli groups.
All Israeli universities are public, and thus are largely funded by our tax money. Nevertheless, these universities in general, and their Anthropology departments in particular are part and parcel of the violent exclusionary machine owned and operated by Israel’s intellectual elite. An efficient exclusionary mechanism is the refusal to hire Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli faculty for tenure-track or tenured appointments (FTEs). The justifying argument for this hiring practice has to do with labeling Mizrahi and/or Palestinian-Israeli faculty ‘not up to standard’. Oddly, however, after being rejected as job applicants in Israeli universities, who termed Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli research ‘sub-standard’, Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli faculty went on to make made world-class careers in European or U.S. top universities.
The Complaint:
We, Mizrahi and Palestinian citizens of Israel, men and women alike, were always the main research objects of Israeli anthropologists, who made international careers on our backs. Our dispossession dutifully provided the raw materials leading to the proliferation of scholarly articles and books that endowed Ashkenazi (=European Jewish, Heb.) researchers with university tenure-track appointments, merits and promotions. These FTEs were accompanied by monies for Ashkenazi ‘field’ work among us, by large budgets for international conferencing, to present the field-work and generate further publications, by various career development funds, by budgets to purchase imported professional literature, etc. Moreover, the monthly salaries of most Israeli anthropologists were depending on the innocent cooperation of Mizrahi and Palestinian ‘informants’.
Paradoxically, this Anthropology muffled our political claims to our cultures. We still are waiting to share not only the prestige, but also the monetary gains with those extracting their monthly pay out of the anthropology they write and lecture about us. Their tenured positions not only endow them with disposable incomes out of our traditions and histories, but also with lifetime job security. Furthermore, they are granted with the freedom to choose their course topics and graduate advisees, and with generous budgets for international networking, large enough to allow family members to join. They lecture only 5-8 hours a week for only 30 weeks a year. In exchange they get a 12-month yearly salary and with free sabbatical years for research, writing, or just cogitating. They usually spend their sabbaticals abroad. In addition to the social prestige, they get benefit and retirement packages way above what the average salaried worker receives in the tight job market of a small country like Israel.
While our grandparents, parents and ourselves have always been the raw materials of this discipline, for us, the gateways to making a living out of Israeli Anthropology are yet to open. Israeli Anthropology departments are almost purely staffed by Ashkenazim of the old, secular, socialist-liberal, upper class establishment. That is, Anthropology departments continue to be characterized by ethnic and class homogeneity when it comes to faculty selection. One can count on ONE finger the number of tenured Mizrahi Anthropologists in Israel – Prof. Haim Hazan of Tel Aviv University. He has encountered many difficulties in his merits and promotions. Perhaps as a measure of self-protection he has avoided any public dialogue with his Mizrahi history. As for Palestinian faculty – there is not even one male or female Palestinian-Israeli tenured or untenured Anthropologist in all of Israel’s universities. Additionally, even though Margaret Mead’s books were translated to Hebrew since the 1960s, and generated a constant flow of young women’s enrollments on the B.A. level, there has never been not even one Israeli-bred Mizrahi woman Anthropologist employed by any of Israel’s Anthropology departments.
In all Western academic institutions, Anthropologists are obliged to a ‘human subjects’ ethics code. They participate in the everyday lives of the people they study. They get exposed to the most intimate secrets of the people they study. Western associations’ ethics codes have designated measures of punishment and suspension for those violating the confidentiality between the researcher and the people s/he studies. We assume that such a code would also require Anthropologists to refer to the intellectual discourse of the studied population. The Israeli Anthropological Association has no code of ethics, and universities do not require either faculty or students to sign any ‘human subjects’ protection statement.
Devoid of any ethic defenses, we exist only as a population to be studied. We are deprived of the occupational right to become anthropologists, yet continue to serve as the research tools that move the kogs of the Israeli ethnographic industry. Ahoti therefore demands back the intellectual property rights to ours and our parents’ cultures. We ask that Israeli Anthropology faculty cease our treatment as noble savages, preferably locked in our picturesque ‘immigrant’ border villages, in our Palestinian villages that lack infrastructure, or in the ultra-orthodox ghettos, just so that we are unable to dare ask the homogeneous White faculty to accept us into its rank and file as equals.
One striking example to our exclusion is of the late Prof. Abner Cohen. His worldwide contributions to the discipline of social-cultural Anthropology have been beyond dispute. Cohen held an endowed chair at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. He had immigrated from Iraq to Israel in the early 1950s, and was the only Mizrahi in the first group of Israeli PhD candidates who got scholarships to study abroad at Manchester University with the legendary Max Gluckman. For some odd reason, immediately after receiving their PhDs, all members of the group but Cohen managed to secure Israeli FTEs. Cohen, therefore, remained in Britain and became one of the pioneers in the study if interracial relations between immigrants from the former colonies and the White British population. His book, The Two- Dimensional Man, became one of the discipline’s classics.
Another example is Prof. Smadar Lavie, from the working-class town of Holon. She enjoys both international interdisciplinary respect and the Israeli non-academic public recognition for being able to translate her scholarship into activism. Since her PhD completion at the highly regarded U.C. Berkeley Anthropology Dept., she has applied for Israeli Anthropology job whenever vacancies were advertised in the Anthropology Newsletter. Her applications, however, were in vein. Trying to inquire about the reasons behind the rejections, her letters were not answered. Until 1999, when she had to return home due to family trauma, she was advanced to professorship on the accelerated path at U. C. Davis. Her book, The Poetics of Military Occupation, has become a standard textbook not only in Anthropology, but also in many other disciplines across the Humanities and Social Sciences. Perhaps because her scholarship dwells on the racialization of Israeli state and society, Israeli Anthropologists have judge her work to be lacking any measure of scientific objectivity.
Yet another example is Prof. Nahla Abdo, born and raised in Nazareth. She presently chairs the Dept. of Anthropology and Sociology at Carleton University, Canada. When completing her PhD at the Anthropology Dept. of Toronto Univ., she explored the avenues to return home, but was unable to secure a position at any Israeli university despite her excellent credentials. Oddly enough, her fields of interests – gender, race, class and sexuality, as these form the experience of citizenship – were deemed invalid when studied by a Palestinian citizen of Israel. Perhaps only Ashkenazi faculty are able to conduct research among Mizrahim and Palestinians in these fields in order for the research to be considered ‘scientific’ according to Israeli academic standards. Ironically, Abdo’s books and essays are quoted here by those who have denied her right to Israeli academic employment.
A recent example is that of Prof. Rhoda Kanaaneh, born and raised in the village of `Arabeh in the Galilee. She is considered one of the young and gifted in the New York University Anthropology Dept. due to her pathbreaking research on the interrelations between birthing, religion and national consciousness. Upon completing her PhD at the prestigious dept. of Columbia Univ., carefully examining the ethnic-gendered-national makeup of Israeli Anthro. faculty, she realized she wouldn’t have any chance to become part of Israeli academe, because her Israeli so-called colleagues would argue that her research is not scientific enough and ideologically tainted. This research, however, has recently been published by no less than the University of California Press. Prof. R. Kanaaneh’s uncle, Prof. Sharif Kanaaneh of Bir Zeit University, had also been denied employment by Israeli Anthropologists upon completion of his PhD.. His research was also deemed ‘substandard’ and ‘not objective’.
Yet another example is that of Prof. emeritus Mishael Maswari Caspi, who immigrated to Israel from Yemen, and retired a couple of years ago from the University of California at Santa Cruz. Prof. Caspi is a folklorist. Folklore is a sub-division of Anthropology. At the time he had to study for his PhD outside Israel. His professors deployed the argument that as a Yemeni, he was too close to his research subjects, the traditional Yemeni women poets, and thus, not objective. Even though he was an ardent Zionist, his Ashkenazi professors probably feared that his research would not be scientific, but rather, ideologically slanted. Perhaps his Israeli peers would find it surprising that the U. C. Santa Cruz kept promoting him until his retirement, and not bothered by the fact that he was a Yemeni Jew who studied other Yemeni Jews.
The situation described above would be treated as phantasmagorical by respectable Western academic institutions. Rather than searching for crafty excuses to justify a flawed state of asymmetry in power relations, during the last decades, Western Anthropology has been careful to allocate FTEs to those belonging to populations that were once only to be studied and then textualized by the West. We assume that the possibility to argue that an African-American is unable to study other African Americans because his or her research would not be scientific enough, but rather, ideologically slanted, would be considered sheer nonsense. To the best of our understanding, in the U.S., the population considered ‘White’ is about 70% of the citizens’ body. Here are some examples as to the racial-ethnic distribution of Anthropology faculty in three prestigious departments:
** 48% of tenured faculty at the Stanford Cultural Anthropology Dept. are non-White minorities.
** 30% of the FTEs at the Barnard-Columbia Anthropology Dept. belong to the populations Israeli Anthropologists would consider only as ‘research objects’.
** 25% of the U.C. Berkeley Anthropology Dept. FTEs are members of non-White minorities.
In Israel, Mizrahim and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship consist of 70% of the citizenry. The Israeli Anthropological establishment’s argument that there are no viable candidates for Anthropology professorships among us is so fallacious, particularly in light of the reputable success of Mizrahi and Palestinian anthropologists outside Israel, as shown in the above examples. One could deduce from such a ridiculous argument that Israeli Anthropology, a research domain embellishing itself with social radicalism, is nothing but yet another oppressive tool to preserve the same gendered and racinated class structure so often criticized by those Anthropological ‘bleeding hearts’ now and again.
Ahoti-For Women in Israel hereby encloses a chart of the ethnic-gendered-national distribution of Israeli Anthropology FTEs as it appeared in the Anthropology Newsletter of October 2003. The chart juxtaposes this distribution with Israeli anthropologists’ fields of specialization.
Ahoti requests the Israeli State Comptroller to research the reasons for which in all Israeli Anthropology Departments there is only one tenured Mizrahi, and two junior, yet to be tenured Mizrahim, who were raised in the comforts of Western Europe, and immigrated to Israel as adults. Also requested is a research into the reasons for which there is not even one Palestinian citizen of Israel among the file and rank of Israeli Anthropology faculty. We request the State Comptroller to juxtapose these data with the fact that 67% of Israelis holding Israeli universities’ FTEs in Anthropology make their living out of the study of our communities. We would like the State Comptroller to research the feasibility of our possible defenses against the violation of our collective intellectual property rights to our cultures or the invasion of our privacy due to lack of an official ethics code of conduct designated for Israeli Anthropology.
Additionally, Ahoti-For Women in Israel is asking the State Comptroller to find out why there has never been any allocation of Anthropology FTEs to tenured Mizrahi and Palestinian Israelis in a manner that might reflect our contribution to the development of Israeli Anthropology.
Moreover, Ahoti asks the State Comptroller to inquire why, up until now, no FTEs, junior or senior, have been allocated for Mizrahi and Palestinian-Israeli women in neither university nor college Anthropology departments.
We wish to express our thanks to the ombudsperson at the State Comptroller office for the time and thought s/he will dedicate to handle our complaint.
Orna Zaken, CEO.
(1) Chart re the ethnic-genedered-national distribution of Israeli Anthropologists is enclosed as a PDF file.
(2) In case you wish to receive a copy of the original, signed complaint, on our official stationary, please send us your fax number.