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Middle East Studies Association affirms members’ right to boycott Israeli academic institutions (Updated)

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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.

Original Post:

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.

Logo: MESA's 48th Annual Meeting, Washington DC

Logo: MESA’s 48th Annual Meeting, Washington DC

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

forums; and

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.

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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21 Responses

  1. just
    November 26, 2014, 11:02 am

    Thanks, Annie. I did a veritable whoop, holler, and jump for joy when I read of this yesterday. That it was passed by such a resounding margin is glorious.

    It is “huge”~ the Resolution is a thing of beauty. Thank you to Professor Salaita, and to all of the good people of MESA.

    “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.” ”

    Blau’s got that right!

    • just
      November 26, 2014, 11:09 am

      PS: The logo is brilliant.

      Naji al-Ali’s Handala lives on…

    • annie
      November 26, 2014, 11:29 am

      yeah, it’s so awesome! sorry it’s up late, i wrote it yesterday but for some reason it took me forever.

      the success of the vote represents a lot of sustained effort by bds activists (YEAH!) and the relevancy and impact of these (MESA) scholars willingness to stop cooperating with israeli academic institutions in the future should not be underestimated. it’s huge.

      • just
        November 26, 2014, 11:32 am

        It’s a great article~ worthy of the time you labored on it.

  2. Rusty Pipes
    Rusty Pipes
    November 26, 2014, 5:48 pm

    It looks like a commitment to take a vote at next year’s meeting by inviting fora to discuss and debate the issue in the intervening time. To the vocal minority of MESA scholars who not only want to prevent action on BDS, but to shut down discussion of it (by accusing its proponents of anti-Semitism), the motion challenges the opponents of BDS to come to the table with real arguments rather than smears. Let’s hope that MESA carries through on this commitment.

  3. hophmi
    November 27, 2014, 12:05 am

    Lol. This is nothingness. It is a resolution by ideologically left academics affirming the right of people to be pro-BDS and the right of people to be anti-BDS, a statement anyone would affirm.

    You can keep saying this is huge until the organically feed cows come home, and it still won’t be true.

    • annie
      November 27, 2014, 11:21 am

      you think he’s wrong?

      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.”

    • kma
      November 27, 2014, 8:38 pm

      dear humpme,

      you are right. this resolution is bogus. however, when the “cows come home”, it is still an ethnic cleansing, and the movement is going to take down Israel.

      neener neener neener.
      Americans who number in the hundreds of millions are going to stop paying for it. the world is sick to death of it. I have no feelings for you. none. I usually ignore you, and I will now go back to doing so.

  4. Sassy
    November 27, 2014, 7:45 am

    MESA & BDS

    At what point in a moral universe does an organization stand up and say, “Enough”?

    While debates can rage about Israel’s morality or justification – or lack thereof – regarding not just “mowing the lawn” or controlling an entire Palestinian population, not only in Gaza but also the West Bank if not within Israel itself, at some point one must ask, “What if I were a Palestinian?”

    The fear to act, in this case supporting BDS as an organization, is understandable. MESA fears the Jews. Actually, that may not be true because, notably, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the fastest growing Jewish organization in the country, stands firmly as a very vocal advocate of BDS so perhaps we should say fear or the Zionists. But when, under whatever fear strikes one’s heart, does one realize that neutrality is no stance at all and that one must take a stand and by doing nothing one is taking a stand.

    “Neutrality enables the status quo of oppression (and therefore violence) to continue. It is a way of giving tacit support to the oppressor.” (Kairos South Africa Document)

    As is often the case, almost any solidarity with the Palestinians is vehemently opposed by the Israeli lobby who claim to want “neutrality” and “inaction,” and claim that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. But as Rene’ Cassin rightly states, “The solution to anti-Semitism is human rights,”
    and as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

    At what point would MESA determine enough is enough? How much genocide is enough to finally take a stand? How much human suffering will we put up with before we decide to risk sticking our heads out, getting slapped around and demonized for a moral cause?

    This issue is not about Jews; it’s about justice and I long for the day when, as we think of Israel we think of her many wonderful accomplishments in technology, pharmaceuticals, and many other great industries that enhance humanity rather than its Apartheid.

  5. Kay24
    November 27, 2014, 11:29 am

    Meanwhile Simon Peres comes out against Boobi’s apartheid policy bill:

    “Former President Shimon Peres on Thursday came out against the Jewish nation-state bill, calling it an attempt to “subjugate the Declaration of Independence to fleeting political needs.”

    Peres attended a memorial service honoring Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, at his home and burial place, the Negev kibbutz of Sde Boker. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and current President Reuven Rivlin also attended the commemoration.”

    “The nation-state bill could rattle the nation and destroy Israel’s democratic status at home and abroad,” Peres said. “Ben-Gurion’s voice demands that we be what Israel was meant to be – a model state that is sane and enlightened, and seeks justice, equality and peace.”

    If there ever was a medal for a moron who keeps ignoring advice, it should be given to dear Chickenshit Boobi.

    • just
      November 27, 2014, 11:43 am

      Ari Shavit has, too. In today’s Haaretz. I don’t agree with the uber Zionist, but he holds sway over a bunch of numbskulls.

      “Never has there been such a comprehensive, serious and profound offensive on Zionism.

      The Jewish nation-state law? This is an anti-Zionist law that shatters the complex, delicate, vital idea of a Jewish democratic state. When the Jewish element of our life is placed above the democratic one, they both vaporize. In the 21st century there’s no Jewish state that isn’t democratic, and in the Middle East there’s no democratic state that isn’t Jewish.

      But the band of fools who took over the 19th Knesset and 33rd government insists of blurring the contrast. In the most sensitive period of our history they are trying to turn us into an inseparable part of a tribal, nationalist, messianic, violent region.

      The new anti-Zionists who have taken over our government and Knesset are undermining Israel’s foundations, setting Jerusalem on fire and bringing disaster upon us.”

      (it’s a premium article, so I linked to TPP so people can read it…)

      All I can say is that it’s probably best that Israel declares itself for what it isn’t~ a democracy. This should dispel all of the lies that Israel has put forth with the support of USA.

      • just
        November 27, 2014, 11:58 am

        “The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York has come out against Israel’s proposed nation-state bill, which would enshrine into law Israel’s status as Jewish state.

        In a written statement Wednesday, Arnold Eisen, chancellor of Conservative Jewry’s flagship seminary, said that JTS was “alarmed” by the Knesset’s consideration of the bill.

        “We hope that the State’s lawmakers will have the wisdom to affirm Israel’s character as a democratic Jewish State in a way that does not relegate Israeli Arabs and other minorities to second-class status,” Eisen said.”

        Sorry, Eisen. The cat is out of the bag.

      • seafoid
        November 27, 2014, 12:34 pm

        The Jewish Theological seminary hopes the 1970 Olympics are a success .
        And wonders what space travel will look like in 2001 AD.

      • Kay24
        November 27, 2014, 1:08 pm

        Sounds like the Boobi is slowly but surely making Israel look an apartheid and racist nation, and that it is isolating itself from the outside world, and making their own people question his sanity.

      • eGuard
        November 28, 2014, 7:41 am

        Kay24: the complex, delicate, vital idea of a Jewish democratic state

        It’s not complex, it’s racist.

      • amigo
        November 30, 2014, 3:40 pm

        “What was built so laboriously over more than 100 years of enlightened Zionism is eradicated and vilified. What was built in 66 years of Israeli democracy is defiled.”Ari Shavit

        ” zionst enlightenment and Israeli democracy???.

        He goes on about the Iran threat and the instability of the middle East in which Israel is an oasis.

        Read it again just.It is full of self serving zionist bunkum. He does point out a few salient facts but dilutes the article with his support for zionism and tears at it,s impending demise.

  6. ritzl
    November 27, 2014, 2:34 pm

    If a plurality of JEWS can’t bring themselves to recognize Israel as “the Jewish State,” how can the Palestinians be expected to do so (to the point of failure of the cherished, yet chimeric/ever-just-out-of-reach dream of a two-state outcome).

    Hello Beltway types. Look at the gaping chasm separating the PR and the reality of what is going on in Palestine. To put it politely, start making sense. Stop making decisions and strategy based on the PR.

    So much diplomatic energy knowingly wasted [on doing Israel’s intentionally-conflicted bidding].

    • just
      November 27, 2014, 2:50 pm


      • Mooser
        November 30, 2014, 4:10 pm

        “If a plurality of JEWS can’t bring themselves to recognize Israel as “the Jewish State,””

        Well, then, the obvious answer is to make sure all those Jews in Israel stay on the edge of a nervous existential breakdown all the time over the Palestinians, or they just might begin to remember how much they hate each other! (And since Palestinians, take it all and all, are pretty pacific and generous, we’ll have to provoke the hell out of them to get any action. So let’s spill over and stay outside our borders right away and get started) And whatever you do, don’t let them have a moment of peace security or legality, cause they will just start arguing. (Good Gott in Himmel, if they get any peace or security, the Israeli public might move to the left! What a nightmare!)

    • annie
      December 1, 2014, 5:10 pm

      thanks tworeddogs

      “Once one has a list of those university lecturers who support the boycott of Israel, one can select targets among them for investigation. It is likely that if one chooses one’s targets intelligently, one would find a few who plagiarize, publish using incorrect sources or are guilty of academic fraud. It is also likely that some of their colleagues would gladly provide the names of those to be investigated. The lecturers that do not meet academic standards would then be exposed within their universities and among their professional colleagues. One only has to find a few such cases in order to greatly diminish the threat of boycotts.

      Much like the general population, most academics are cowards. Many of those who enjoy the free anti-Semitic boycott lunches today may think twice before joining any boycotts in the future if it could means their careers would be at risk.

      There would be nothing wrong with the Israeli government partly financing such investigations, in addition to private funding.”

      an interestingly his book is called The War of a Million Cuts.

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