Our Op-Ed in The NY Post: “As increasing numbers of Middle Eastern countries normalize relations with Israel, MESA seeks to expunge Israel from Middle Eastern Studies.”
Here we go again. Anti-Israel Propagandists with Ph.D’s once again are hijacking an academic organization as part of their war to destroy Israel.
The only major U.S. academic group to endorse the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) boycott so far is the American Studies Association in December 2013. Legal Insurrection led the way in mounting a reaction to that endorsement, leading to over 250 university presidents condemning the vote. ASA became, in the words of the NY Times, a pariah.
While ASA has not reversed course, the widespread backlash led to BDS defeats at other major academic groups, including the American Historical Association (2020 – for the 4th time), American Anthropological Association (2016), and Modern Language Association (2017). At MLA the backlash was so strong, the group passed an anti-BDS Resolution several months later.
In each of these efforts, there were years of planning to corrupt the academic mission of the organization, with activists methodically taking over committees and executive boards, and getting supporters to join as members so they can vote. They then manipulate and control the timing the resolution is introduced at a business meeting, and pack the meeting with their supporters.
That is what just happened at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). MESA is the largest and most influential US Middle Eastern Studies group. It has nearly 2,700 individual members and 54 institutional members, including major public universities, such as Florida State University and the University of Arkansas. MESA has dozens of Partner organizations, including the Association for Israel Studies. The virulently anti-Israel “Human Rights Watch” is one of MESA’s Academic Freedom Partners, which is not surprising considering how openly biased HRW is against Israel.
On December 2, 2021, the business meeting at the annual meeting passed a resolution endorsing the BDS boycott against Israel. The resolution now goes to a full membership vote in mid-to-late January 2022. Given how radicalized and politicized MESA has become, there is a very good chance at passage. This is not just an Israeli fight, because if MESA embraces BDS, it will directly affect U.S. campuses, institutions, and students.
OUR OP-ED IN THE NY POST
I wrote an op-ed, along with Johanna Markind of Legal Insurrection Foundation, in the NY Post about the MESA boycott, Middle East Studies Association’s anti-Jewish BDS backing is a frontal attack on academic freedom.
Here is an excerpt, but please click over to read the whole thing and share it:
BDS represents a full-frontal assault on academic freedom at American universities and colleges, not just against Israeli institutions. BDS academic boycott guidelines bar almost all interactions with Israeli academic institutions and “representatives” of such institutions.
Prohibited activities include academic projects or activities, research and development projects, speeches (including debates), study-abroad programs in Israel, publishing in or refereeing articles for Israeli university journals and “normalization projects.” As the BDS guidelines make clear, the boycott covers individual Israelis who represent such institutions. MESA vows in the resolution “to give effect to the spirit and intent of this resolution” endorsing BDS.
The impact on Jewish and Israeli Studies in the United States will be profound. The Association for Israel Studies condemned the vote as “an effort to curtail and to suppress” academic “freedom for any scholar associated with Israel or with Israeli academic institutions.”
These haters bide their time. They spent several years setting this up, as we mention in the op-ed:
Anti-Israel academic activists systematically took over MESA, leading many moderate and pro-Israel members to drop membership or participation.
In 2015, MESA approved a resolution condemning opposition to BDS as a violation of academic freedom. BDS supporters demand the academic freedom to deprive others of academic freedom.
In 2017, the group amended its bylaws to remove the word “non-political” from its Nature and Objectives, removing an impediment to a BDS endorsement.
Here’s how the op-ed appeared in the print paper (thanks to a Legal Insurrection reader for the photos), with a different headline:
I like the page placement!
Make no mistake about it, this is an assault not only on academic freedom, but on Jews (of course, some “as a Jew” leftists support it, but that doesn’t change its nature):
The American Association of University Professors opposes such systematic academic boycotts that threaten “the principles of free expression and communication on which we collectively depend.” ….
Permitting MESA to operate a systematic discriminatory boycott at or through universities will violate non-discrimination and academic freedom protections.
There are other good reasons to condemn in the MESA resolution: It’s typical of the one-sided, ahistorical demonization of Israel that has become common in far-left and Islamist academia. The boycott also is religiously discriminatory, since it will affect Jewish students and scholars disproportionately.
BDS has a long anti-Jewish history. It’s an outgrowth of the anti-Jewish boycotts in the British Mandate for Palestine that continued through the Arab League Boycott of Israel. Those anti-Jewish boycotts were repackaged at the openly anti-Semitic 2001 Durban conference into a call for an international boycott, which was the source for the BDS formula. The 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society” call for BDS, referenced in the MESA resolution, was social-justice window dressing for the almost century-old anti-Jewish boycott….
As increasing numbers of Middle Eastern countries normalize relations with Israel, MESA seeks to expunge Israel from Middle Eastern Studies. MESA’s general membership should reject this discriminatory hijacking of the organization for political purposes.
REACTIONS SO FAR
Word is just spreading about MESA’s actions.
The Association for Israel Studies statement opposing MESA’s actions reads in full:
AIS statement on MESA Resolution regarding BDS
The Association for Israel Studies, as an affiliated society of MESA, is deeply concerned regarding the proposed resolution in support of BDS.
The Association for Israel Studies is neither an Israeli association nor one that takes any particular political stance on matters of Israeli policy or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The AIS is committed to academic freedom, fundamentally the freedom to engage in the pursuit of knowledge without fear of sanction. Membership in AIS has no ideological litmus test, and members in fact reflect the full range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many AIS members are also members of MESA. We express our view, then, as an affiliated society with a strong interest in and commitment to academic freedom.
The proposed resolution accuses Israel alone of violations of human rights. By charging Israeli universities as being “imbricated in these systematic violations”, it casts a net of collective and inescapable guilt over any citizen of Israel and ignores the broad range of opinion and political stances articulated by members of the Israeli academic community. It effectively calls for collective punishment for all who are thus guilty by association.
While the language of the proposed resolution claims that it will “target institutions and not individuals”, it is clear that its primary impact will be precisely its effect on individuals, including many individual members of MESA.
Although claiming to be operating in the spirit of “MESA’s commitment to academic freedom”, this resolution in fact represents an effort to curtail and to suppress precisely that freedom for any scholar associated with Israel or with Israeli academic institutions.
In short, If the proposed resolution in support of BDS is passed, MESA will have taken a clear stance in opposition to academic freedom, and will have transformed itself from an academic association committed to the free exchange of ideas to an ideological advocacy organization in which only some ideas are permissible. The damage to MESA and to academic activity in the field of Middle East Studies will be unambiguous and profound. We call on the MESA membership to maintain the association’s commitment to academic freedom and reject this discriminatory and censorious resolution.
A statement against MESA’s actions has been issued by the Academic Engagement Network, which reads in part:
We dispute the reasoning put forward to justify endorsing BDS against Israel. Proposed by 36 MESA members, the “Resolution regarding BDS” maintains a singular focus on Israel – and a deafening silence about the travesties committed by many other nations. It paints a picture of a monolithic Israeli academy malevolently hostile to Palestinians when in fact there is a wide range of opinions and many academics in Israel object to the Israeli government’s policies and actions. It accuses Israel alone of causing harm to Palestinian professors and students, ignoring how the academic rights of these scholars and students are severely restricted by the intimidation, harassment, and even violence routinely perpetrated by Palestinian governing authorities as well as radical societal groups. It asserts that Israeli universities are “imbricated” in the oppression of Palestinians when the reality is that Israel’s campuses are a model of diversity and coexistence, with Jews, Arabs, and others studying, researching, and teaching together. In fact, in the past decade the number of Palestinian Arab students in Israel’s higher education institutions has doubled.
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East issued a statement that reads in part:
… SPME questions why MESA feels compelled to answer the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions, specifically, and not universities in countries where actual suppression of dissent, academic freedom, and scholarly inquiry are prevalent—China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and others, for example. The targeted boycott of only one country—Israel—indicates that MESA has made the determination that, at least in the Israeli/Palestinian debate, there is only one side worthy of defense, that any voices from Israeli scholars are irrelevant, unworthy, and deemed unacceptable to even be part of academic community and the marketplace of ideas that academia seeks to create….
Specifically, Palestinian higher education is defined by radical politics, rival political factions who use harassment, violence, and intimidation to promote their views, alignment with terror groups such as Hamas, repression of opposing views, the use of terror cells within university facilities for weapon production, and violence against and even the murder of dissenting faculty who do not conform to the prevailing hatred of the Jewish state or the tenets of Islam. University buildings and research facilities are regularly used for the production of weaponry and arms used by terrorists to murder Israeli citizens. Student activists in competing militant factions, some even linked with Hamas, boast with each other concerning the number of civilians they have murdered.
As word spreads about MESA, expect more reactions.
MESA WENT POLITICAL
This isn’t the same political landscape as in 2013 when ASA passed BDS. The academic enemies of Israel now control the Socialist Democrats of America, which is a significant force in Democrat politics (see, e.g. Omar, Tlaib, etc.) At the same time, friends of Israel control numerous red states that have taken action against BDS discrimination. MESA chose to go political in 2017 and again with the BDS resolution, now it will be subjected to the political process.
MESA chose to abandon its role of promoting education and is taking an overtly political action that is discriminatory and harms the academic freedom of all people. If BDS had its way, American students could not study at Israeli universities and Israeli faculty representing their universities could not teach or do research in America. Moreover, critical medical and scientific cooperation would have to be abandoned under the BDS academic boycott.
This is an American fight, not just an Israeli fight. You will hear more about this in the coming weeks, and perhaps years.
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