Activists in academia create anti-Israel echo chamber – This is our shocked face
Two anti-Israel activists are touting an academic survey as proof that Middle East academics overwhelmingly favor boycotting Israel. Given the leftist tilt of academia today, some bias against Israel would not be surprising, but the survey cherry-picked its respondents among the anti-Israel community. The survey questions themselves also reveal an anti-Israel bias. The results are hardly surprising.
The survey was directed by Palestinian-American activist Shibley Telhami, a professor at University of Maryland (ironically, Telhami holds the Anwar Sadat professorship for peace and development), and the reliably anti-Israel Marc Lynch, a political science professor at George Washington University.
The survey was reportedly distributed to 1,584 recipients. LIF has previously reported on the hijacking of Middle East Studies by anti-Israel partisans. Even so, Telhami and Lynch left little to chance in ensuring they had an anti-Israel echo chamber. They distributed the survey only to four groups, all of which have proven to be reliable anti-Israel advocates.
The groups were “members of the Middle East and North Africa section of the American Political Science Association (APSA), the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), as well as members of the American Historical Association (AHA) who specialized in the Middle East, and other relevant contacts of the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS) at George Washington University (GWU).”
Three of the four groups were surveyed in Telhami’s and Lynch’s biased poll from February 2021. As Lenny Ben-David observed then:
APSA and MESA are strong anti-Israel advocates and major promoters for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement against Israel. In 2019, APSA considered a resolution that “Israeli academic institutions are complicit in Israel’s settler colonization of Palestine” and “in the attendant ethnic cleansing, dispossession, military occupation, and apartheid policies that constitute this colonization.”
The Middle East Studies Association has crusaded for several years for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. “Hundreds of individual Middle East studies scholars . . . signed on to the academic boycott movement as individuals,” Inside Higher Ed reported in 2015. “MESA members approved [in February 2015] a resolution affirming ‘the right of MESA members to engage in open and transparent discussion of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in the context of the annual meeting and other forums.’” MESA’s boycott proponents explained that the anti-Israel measure was a tactic for putting international pressure on Israel, a “rogue settler-colonial state.”
Earlier this year, MESA endorsed a boycott against Israel. It had previously given up the pretense that it was an academic rather than a political organization by amending its bylaws in 2017 to remove the word “non-political” from its Nature and Objectives. Many supporters of Israel had previously left MESA given its trend toward politicization, and others did after the BDS resolution (as LIF reported). Several of them went to the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), which works hard to be non-partisan. The survey results would have been more persuasive had ASMEA members been asked to participate.
GWU recently became MESA’s headquarters.
AHA, the new addition, contains an active core of Israel-hating lobbyists who have repeatedly (and so far unsuccessfully) pushed their professional association to denounce and boycott Israel (see here, here, here, and here).
From these four organizations, each stocked with active anti-Israel partisans, Telhami and Lynch reportedly harvested 513 responses. Unsurprisingly, they reported that a substantial majority support non-academic boycotts against Israel. Nevertheless, given the way they stacked the deck, it’s actually surprising that they didn’t report stronger boycott support. The survey indicates that 45% of respondents do not support boycotting Israeli universities.
Miriam Elman of the Academic Engagement Network said the number of professors opposed to an academic boycott of Israel means that MESA endorsed BDS before having a fuller sense of its members’ opinions on the issue.
“The survey results also highlight how shortsighted MESA’s leadership was during the run-up to the BDS vote last spring, when it ignored a reasonable request to open an online forum where members could discuss and debate the pros and cons of academic boycotts,” she said.
In a Washington Post article summarizing their findings, Telhami and Lynch devoted a lot of attention to claims about how political scientists’ responses compared with those of other respondents. For example: “Only 43 percent of political scientists supported the MESA resolution, compared with 62 percent of scholars from other disciplines.” The distinctions between political scientists and others were not obvious from the survey report. The report notes that 43% of respondents identified political science as their academic discipline, but did not break down the survey results by discipline.
Besides asking about their support of BDS, the survey asks whether responders had felt the need to self-censor their speech “about the Middle East.” Most said that they had. This is a classic gaslighting tactic. LIF has reported exhaustively about the ongoing efforts of Israel-haters to suppress the speech of “Zionists”. The survey offers those same speech-suppressors the opportunity to claim they are the ones being hounded.
The survey also asks whether it’s “appropriate” to hold academic workshops in a variety of countries. The countries are: Israel, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. With the exception of Qatar, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood, every other nation listed has signed a peace treaty with Israel or, in the case of Saudi Arabia, is believed to have tacitly endorsed recent peace treaties. Middle Eastern countries that have outrageously abused their own citizens/ethnic minorities within their borders, such as Iran, Syria, and Yemen, didn’t make it onto the survey.
This focus on Israel is not new. It’s quite similar to the MESA Committee on Academic Freedom’s persistent obsession with supposed threats to academic freedom in Israel and in Arab nations that have made peace with it. With the exception of Turkey and Iran, MESA-CAM seems to find nothing to challenge about academic freedom in any other Middle Eastern country. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.
How many people persecuted for their belief in and desire for freedom, from a regime adverse to Israel, could have benefited from MESA-CAM’s recognition and support, and from the recognition and support of Middle East academics? Alas, they won’t find either in this survey. All they’ll find is a syllogism: anti-Israel academics support boycotting Israel.DONATE
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