Middle East Studies Association Boycott of Israeli Universities Reveals “Spread of Intellectual Intolerance” | JNS

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) voted overwhelmingly (93%) at its annual meeting on December 2 to advance a resolution “approving the Palestinian call for solidarity in the form of boycotts. , divestments and sanctions, or BDS ”. The resolution will be put to a membership vote early next year (MESA has over 2,800 members).

In the resolution, MESA says its calls for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions are consistent with its “commitment to academic freedom” as Israel has committed “systematic violations” of the rights of Palestinian academics, including “isolating, undermining or otherwise attacking. Palestinian educational institutions; by harassing Palestinian professors, teachers and students.

However, two academic groups told JNS they saw the resolution as part of a “spread of intellectual intolerance” on US campuses, one aspect of which is targeting Israel.

Asaf Romirowsky, Middle Eastern historian and executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), told JNS: He years ago and focuses, unsurprisingly, on Jews and the Jewish state.

MESA’s reasoning that it supports BDS due to Israel’s stifling of Palestinian educational opportunities “is ironic at best,” he said. “It was the State of Israel that provided these educational opportunities to Palestinians in the first place after the Six Day War of 1967. If you look at history where educational opportunities came from and where universities have obtained their support, it was thanks to Israel’s involvement.

“He has done wonders for his members”

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), agreed with the claim that Palestinians being excluded from educational opportunities due to Israeli malfeasance does not correspond to the facts. “There are a lot of Palestinians pursuing studies, a good number of them in Israel. In Israeli institutions where they apply and fulfill the admission requirements, they are readily admitted, ”he said.

According to the Israel Council for Higher Education, there are approximately 54,000 Arab students in Israeli universities during the 2020-2021 academic year, or 17% of all students in Israel, compared to 20% of the total population. . Significantly, this is a 110 percent increase in the number of Arab students compared to the 2009-2010 academic year.

“It’s the usual jujitsu that the left uses. When he wants to do something shockingly bad, he takes classic liberal education vocabulary and flips it. So, action that is really meant to suppress true intellectual and academic freedom is labeled as a blow to academic freedom. “

A recent report from the Anti-Defamation League found that 17 BDS resolutions were considered in the 2020-21 academic year by student governments, of which 11 were passed. However, the report found that the level of BDS resolutions was not significantly higher than in previous years. For example, in the 2015-16 school year, 23 BDS resolutions were reviewed, of which 14 were passed. The following year, 2016-17, 14 BDS resolutions were reviewed and six were passed. Further, the ADL noted that none of the BDS resolutions had been implemented, which in some cases flatly rejected the student government resolutions.

Whatever the truth about the larger situation of American institutions with regard to Israel, MESA’s story is one of continuing decline, Romirowsky said. “MESA has been around since the 1960s. They weren’t in love with Israel. They have always been involved with pro-Palestinian sympathizers. But they had a little more intellectual honesty before it all got out of hand. “

MESA, which is considered the “flagship organization” for Middle Eastern studies and “has weight in Middle East studies circles”, can also be motivated by the experience of its British counterpart. —BRISMES, or the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. – who said he saw membership increases after endorsing BDS, he said.

“BRISMES said it has done wonders for its members,” Romirowsky said.

However, in the United States, more than 30 states have legislated against BDS, Romirowsky noted. “There’s a reason MESA’s base of operations is no longer in Arizona, which has anti-BDS legislation, and is now based in Washington. There is a legal question as to whether the universities, which are institutional members of MESA, themselves violate anti-BDS laws. I’m in the hands of the lawyers to answer that question.

The boycott of Israeli universities proposed by the Middle East Studies Association after the “spread of intellectual intolerance” first appeared on JNS.org.

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