For a while, the backlash against the American Studies Association (ASA) vote in 2013 to support academic BDS created the impression that other professional organizations will not follow suit. The huge Modern Language Association narrowly rejected a BDS resolutions in January 2014, a decision that some supporters of Israel described as a victory for their cause and a possible turning of the tide.
Meanwhile, all eyes were on Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the umbrella group of most of the professors who teach courses on Middle East in the United States. MESA, the home of the late Edward Said and his many followers, has a long history of anti-Israeli opinions. The list of the past presidents of the Association reads like a “who is who” among anti-Israeli activists. Because of its prominence, the MESA paradigm – a mixture of neo-Marxist, anti-colonial, and anti-Israeli themes – has dominated scholarship and classroom instruction on the Middle East and Islam.
In his book Ivory Towers on Sand, Martin Kramer illustrated how this skewed perspective left the United States ill-prepared in understanding Islamist radicalism and terrorism prior to 9/11. In 2003 Congress held hearing on the teaching of Middle East during its review of Title IV legislation. Indeed, Congress is due to review Title VI again and would most likely take up the issue of MESA again.
That MESA chose to adopt the BDS resolution is a testimony to the limited power that political pressure and legislative seem to have. On February 2, 2013, Peter Roskam (R-Il) and Dan Lipinski (D-Il) introduced a bill “Protect Academic Freedom Act” (H.R. 4009) in the House of Representatives. Even if the legislation is adopted, a big if, it would certainly face court challenge.
In the end though, the BDS is secondary to the real significance of MESA. Because of its prominence, virtually all college graduates in liberal arts, including journalists and teachers, are socialized to perceive the complex issues of the region though the MESA paradigm. Books by MESA scholars are used in Foreign Service programs that prepare future Foreign Service officials. Military service academics, the stepping stone for future officers, are also part of the MESA epistemic community.
The few Israeli observers such as the journalist Ben-Dror Yemini have bitterly complained about the bias of MESA. Though emotionally satisfying, hand wringing is not a plan for action. On this issue and many others, the Israeli authorities, as usual are missing in action.
Leading Mideast studies group allows members to support BDS
Israeli academics present at Middle East Studies Association’s AGM in Washington call the move unprecedented and a game changer.
Haaretz -- Nov. 25, 2014
The Middle East Studies Association approved a proposal on Monday adopting the rights of its members to support an academic boycott and end cooperation with Israeli academic institutions.
The proposal was passed by a majority of 265 against 79.
The organization, which is considered the most important in the field of Middle East studies, was founded in 1966. It has 2,700 members and over 60 institutional members worldwide, as well as 39 affiliated organizations.
It calls itself “a private, nonprofit, nonpolitical, learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world.” Among its declared goals is fostering the study of the Middle East in the United States and promoting high academic standards; it publishes a number of journals and other publications.
The wording of the decision, which Haaretz has obtained, supports the right of organizations who have already decided to boycott Israel to do so, and criticizes attacks on them.
The draft resolution calls boycotts a legitimate nonviolent political means. The proposal was expected to pass, say various members of MESA. Israeli academics called the resolution unprecedented and one that changes the rules of the game.
Hundreds of people attended a preliminary session on the issue, held Sunday during the organization’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The session was closed to the press, but some participants said supporters of the boycott controlled the meeting’s tone.
Israeli academics were also present in the hall and answered aggressive questions from the audience, including those concerning academic freedom for Palestinians in Israel and the territories, as well as the percentage of Palestinian students in Israel.
Statements supporting the boycott received applause and cheers, and the atmosphere was unpleasant, said one of the Israeli participants. At least one Israeli diplomat was present at the session: Israeli consul general to the Midwest, Roey Gilad.
The resolution on Monday states that the organization recognizes there are various opinions about the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel, but that this debate falls under the definition of academic freedom, and so is protected by the organization.
Even if for now the significance of the resolution is mostly symbolic, the debate over a boycott of Israel is gradually moving into the center of the academic sphere and is no longer on the margins.
Israeli academics who attended the meeting expressed concern over the implications if the resolution is passed. Prof. Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University and a member of MESA, said the resolution would mark a precedent.
“I hope I am proven wrong,” Rabi said, “but this is a game changer, and from my perspective it does not look good.”
Resolution for Consideration at the 2014 Annual Business Meeting
Middle East Studies Association (MESA)
Whereas, Members of various academic associations in North America have sought to organize
forums for discussion and debate of the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott,
divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel; and
Whereas, A number of academic associations have held membership votes on whether to endorse the
BDS call; and
Whereas, We acknowledge that members of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) have
differing views on the necessity or productivity of such actions; and
Whereas, Individual scholars and academic associations organizing, participating in, or commenting
on such discussions, debates, and votes have been subjected to efforts to silence and/or
punish them; now, therefore be it
Resolved, That the MESA membership
Affirms that calls for institutional boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions are protected free
speech and legitimate forms of non-violent political action; and
Affirms 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
Affirms the right of the memberships of all organizations to discuss, debate, and endorse or
not endorse the BDS campaign; and
Deplores the measures of intimidation directed against the American Studies Association,
the Association for Asian American Studies, the Critical Ethnic Studies Association, and
the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, among other associations, and
some of their individual members, as we MESA members uphold the principles of free
speech that protect the expression of such views and actions; and
Strongly urges MESA program committees to organize discussions at MESA annual
meetings, and the MESA Board of Directors to create opportunities over the course of the
year that provide platforms for a sustained discussion of the academic boycott and foster
careful consideration of an appropriate position for MESA to assume.
Lila Abu-Lughod Ziad Abu-Rish Nadje Al-Ali Barbara Aswad Asef Bayat Joel Beinin Marilyn Booth Terry Burke Charles
Butterworth Elliott Colla miriam cooke Molly Greene Bassam Haddad Sondra Hale Jens Hanssen Mervat Hatem Suad Joseph Hasan Kayali Mark LeVine Melani McAlister Isis Nusair Roger Owen Stephen Sheehi Majid Shehade Peter Sluglett Joshua Stacker Suzanne Stetkevytch Christopher Stone Judith Tucker Jessica Winegar
Evil spirit taking over Middle Eastern studies
Op-ed: The source of hostility toward Israel can be found in the American academia. If this is the education young students get, what will the lecturers of the next decade teach?
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has voted to protect its members' right to support the anti-Israel BDS campaign.
MESA appears to be the most important body in the American academia. That's where the media take experts from to explain the Israeli-Arab conflict. That's the place which breeds students who will go on to become commentators and researchers. If we wish to know what is the source of hostility toward Israel – it's still small, but it's growing – we should look at the source.
Quite a few years ago, Dr. Martin Kramer wrote his book "Ivory Towers on Sand," which dealt with the evil spirit taking over Middle Eastern studies. The book was written before the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States and was published immediately after them, in October 2011.
Even then, Kramer had already argued that the trendy theories taking over the field had led to a complete failure in understanding the Middle East.
For example, one of the most prominent academics in MESA, Prof. Hisham Sharabi, said in 2002 that "Jews are getting ready to take control of us and the Americans have entered the region to possess the oil resources and redraw the geopolitical map of the Arab world." Twelve years have passed. The Jews haven’t taken control of anything, and the United States is paying a fortune for every barrel of oil.
That same Sharabi headed the Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at the time. Under Sharabi, the center became an anti-Israel propaganda system. There is nothing new here. One can say anything. The thing is that the institute itself was on the list of prestigious institutions which received special aid from the American establishment to promote the understanding between the US and the Arab world.
More than a decade has passed. The situation in MESA is getting worse every year. Prof. Juan Cole, who was the president of MESA, described Gaza as "the worst outcome of Western colonialism anywhere in the world outside the Belgian Congo." He made the comment in 2007, after Israel pulled out of Gaza.
In Belgian Congo there was a genocide of about 10 million people. Since then, tens of millions of people have been killed under colonialism in Asia and in Africa. It's hard to believe that such poor nonsense could come out from anyone's mouth. But the man who said it became MESA's president. What does that tell you about Middle Eastern studies?
And the list goes on. Many of MESA's presidents have signed petitions turning Israel into a monster which commits, or is planning to commit, crimes against humanity. They have called and are calling for a boycott. They are ardent supporters of any anti-Israel initiative.
I have clashed with MESA members here and there on American campuses. My arguments with them were usually embarrassing. The amount of lies they pour into the air is terrifying.
Prof. Sara Roy claimed recently that she saw, with her own eyes, Israeli soldiers "shunting a child between them with their feet, mimicking a ball in a game of soccer. The baby began screaming hysterically and its mother rushed out shrieking, trying desperately to extricate her child from the soldiers’ legs and feet."
Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability determines, more or less, that what cannot be refuted can hardly be taken seriously. Such a story cannot be refuted. One can only add that the expert on Hamas never told her students that the Islamic organization systematically preaches the annihilation of Jews. Why should she? Why it would ruin her anti-Israel paradigm. Kramer has already dealt with the lies this lady is distributing.
The problem is that Roy is not just another professor. She presents herself as the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She is a senior researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. This center, it should be noted, is named after its chief donor, Saudi billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal.
These are the prominent and leading people. There are many more who are less known, but much worse. So yes, there is room for concern. Because if this is the education young students get, what will the lecturers of the next decade teach?
One of the main reasons for imposing a boycott on Israel is the "oppression of higher education" among the Palestinians. That's an interesting reason. In practice, when Israel entered the territories there were zero – zero! – higher education institutions there. This isn't Zionist propaganda. It's what Birzeit University President Gabi Baramki said.
In recent years, following the horrible oppression, the Palestinians have ranked first in the percentage of people with higher education in the Arab world. Again, this is the conclusion of a joint research conducted by two people, an anti-Zionist Jew and a Palestinian researcher.World Bank data reflect the same conclusion.
These are the facts. Of course they won't confuse the big experts on Middle Eastern studies. They will continue to blame Israel for almost every crime in the world.