Chris Toensing, an outgoing member of MESA’s board of directors, sends a clarification on the boycott vote and what comes next:
MESA’s procedures are that such resolutions are proposed at the members’ business meeting at the annual conference. Resolutions approved at this meeting go to referendum. So the vote on Monday means that the resolution goes to a referendum of the full membership. Should the referendum pass, then MESA will have adopted the resolution.
A huge win for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual conference in Washington. Participating members voted overwhelmingly, by a majority of 265 against 79, to adopt a draft resolution defending their right to boycott Israeli academic institutions, part of the Palestinian campaign for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.
The resolution “affirms calls for institutional boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions are protected free speech and legitimate forms of non-violent political action” and “deplores..measures of intimidation” that have been directed against other academic associations mentioning 4 by name who have passed similar resolutions in the past.
While the resolution doesn’t commit the association to take its own position on the boycott it “urges” the organization of discussions at MESA annual meetings encouraging MECA’s board of directors to create opportunities throughout the year to provide platforms for “a sustained discussion of the academic boycott” to consider an appropriate position for MESA to assume in the future.
Uri Blau reporting for Haaretz mentioned MECA’s status in the field of Middle East studies as being considered “the most important” and that Israeli academics are calling this both “unprecedented” and a “game changer”. Blau notes “the debate over a boycott of Israel is gradually moving into the center of the academic sphere and is no longer on the margins.”
MESA’s Committee for undergraduate Middle East Studies organized a research workshop on the opening day of the conference, Saturday, November 22, focusing on free speech and academic freedom. Featuring a panel discussion with Dr. Steven Salaita, the focus included “faculty governance”. The impetus for the workshop being the radical decision taken by the administration of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to abruptly fire Salaita from a position as associate professor in the American Indian Studies program, for which he had relinquisted a tenured position. In referencing the workshop and that rescission, MESA’s Preliminary Program (pdf) asks “What does it all mean for Middle East studies scholars?”
Reporting on MESA’s vote on the resolution The Chronicle of Higher Education (TCHE) mentioned attendees of Saturday’s workshop gave Salaita a standing ovation:
At a Saturday panel discussion on academic freedom and criticism of Israel, Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, said her group had to resist pressure not to allow a discussion, at its annual conference this year, on whether to join the BDS movement.
The MESA panel discussion’s audience gave a standing ovation to Steven G. Salaita, who became a cause célèbre for many MESA members last summer after the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign responded to his inflammatory denunciations of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians by withdrawing an offer to hire him as a tenured professor. He alleged in remarks delivered on Saturday that he had been the victim of pressure on Illinois by wealthy donors and of “organized suppression of those who speak on behalf of Palestine and Palestinians.”
The next day of the conference there was a Presidential Forum on the BSD movement. The preliminary program mentions that calls to support the BDS had grown and that attendees would have the have opportunity “in a moderated, open forum” to discuss issues surrounding the BDSmovement.
Here’s the MESA BDS-Resolution Nov-2014, excerpted below:
“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.”
This is huge.
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is an offshoot of the broader BDS movement.