In the weeks since the Middle East Studies Association voted for an academic boycott of Israel, reactions across academia have been mixed.

A group of advocacy groups condemned the decision and called on the university to cut ties with MESA. Some group leaders say the rise in anti-Semitism makes it especially difficult for a prominent academic society to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, or BDS, right now.Whether the movement is inherently anti-Semitic heated debate.

MESA President Eve M. Troutt Powell said MESA staff and Middle East Studies centers across the country received hundreds of emails and phone calls protesting the vote and the center’s continued membership of the society. The resolution is not binding on individual or institutional members, but anti-BDS advocates see membership as an implicit endorsement of the association’s position.

In an effort to persuade the Middle East studies sector to withdraw from MESA due to the boycott, some anti-BDS activists distributed letters naming universities they said had refused to renew their membership in support of Israel.but chronicle Contacted the Middle East research centres of eight universities, often named by letters, and found that was not the case.

At the same time, MESA’s move has received less attention in the U.S. higher education community than a notable endorsement by an academic group nearly a decade ago. Boycotts of any kind are a pain point in higher education, as many academic leaders oppose them on the grounds that they violate academic freedom.

After the American Research Association supported BDS in 2013, chronicle More than 80 university presidents have reportedly condemned the action.

This time, hardly so much listed statement from university leadership.Advocacy groups also work with chronicle Messages from two senior leaders were sent as private replies: one from University of Michigan interim president Mary Sue Coleman, a staff member confirming the university’s opposition to the academic boycott of Israel, and another from Chancellor Carol T. Christ, UC Berkeley The professors condemned BDS and all academic boycotts, but relayed that Berkeley would remain at MESA.

The difference between the two situations is striking; Israel is a center for Middle Eastern studies, but not for American studies. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, founder of the Amcha Initiative, which tracks anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses and opposes BDS, said the boycott’s impact in the field is “amazing.”

Among other effects, MESA’s decision legitimized the position that faculty members who signed the BDS statement of support work as individuals, she said: “They have MESA’s support. That’s huge.”

Ten years of change

According to the association, MESA’s referendum passed with 768 votes in favor, 167 against and about 45 percent of the membership vote.

The Israeli government restricts the movement of the Palestinian people, harassing Palestinian students and professors, and provides unequal resources to Palestinian and Israeli universities, Referendum text Say.In the past, MESA’s Academic Freedom Committee has issued numerous open letters Protest against specific actions by the Israeli government and military. The referendum continued, with Israeli universities “being involved in these systematic irregularities by providing direct assistance to Israel’s military and intelligence agencies”.Therefore, the association supports the official BDS campaign, which articulates Specific Guidelines On how to conduct an academic boycott, including not having an official relationship with an Israeli university.

MESA’s Troutt Powell said: “Through this resolution and in response to the wishes of our members, we are raising public awareness of the discriminatory and often apartheid-like effects of Palestinian academics, students and institutions of higher education.”

this Anti-Defamation LeagueSuch groups have condemned the resolution, saying it restricts academic freedom and educational opportunities for Israeli scholars and students, as well as international scholars interested in studying in Israel. Maintaining academic ties with Israeli institutions is good for American universities, Rothman-Benjamin argues: “They need to develop student leaders to truly become experts in the field to help our nation understand areas that are truly critical to America.”

Several years ago, after the American Research Association vote, several expert Tell chronicle They don’t think it’s indicative of a sea change in academia. In fact, in the years following the American Studies Association resolution, two larger groups, the American Anthropological Association and the Modern Language Association, both voted against the Israeli boycott.American Association of University Professors still against Academic boycotts are both a restriction on academic freedom and less effective than economic boycotts.

However, it is also clear that the landscape of BDS in academia has changed over the past decade. It seems to be more widely accepted.Rothman-Benjamin points out all departmentsSignatories, not individual signatories, of a statement in support of the Palestinians following a deadly exchange of fire between Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces in May 2021.American Anthropological Association issue a statement “In solidarity with the Palestinian people” at that time. “As far as I know, that line has never been crossed before at the academy,” Rothman-Benjamin said.

She called the statements “one-sided.” The violence reportedly killed people on both sides, even though Palestinian civilians were killed 10 times as many as Israelis. count From Human Rights Watch.

Within the Middle East Studies Association, members were far more divided over their support for an academic boycott of Israel in 2013 than they are now, Trout Powell said. “Frankly. Our members are changing and getting younger, which is always a good thing, with young academics so deeply engaged,” she said. “I think that changes the discussion dramatically.”

Over the past decade, MESA leaders have also observed how other groups implement boycotts, particularly how to ensure that boycotts affect Israeli institutions and not individual researchers, which is “very important to us,” Trout Powell said. She said the board was considering a fund for Israeli graduate students whose institutions would no longer pay them to attend MESA meetings.

The association is also cautious Publishing Guidelines Indicates that the resolution is not binding on members, including members of the institution. They are free to continue working with Israeli universities. The resolution should only bind the association itself, which seems to have little practical effect. Trout Powell said MESA has no official relationship with any university, Israel or not. Institutional members are the Middle East Studies department, not their umbrella university.

Rothman-Benjamin is skeptical of the idea that boycotts will hurt institutions but not individuals. “Bullshit,” she said. In 2014, a Tel Aviv University professor outlined in an article that chronicle The impact of the American Research Association boycott, including the inability of a consultant to recruit reviewers for a doctoral student’s dissertation, and the failure of a conference organized by Tel Aviv faculty to attract anyone.

Opponents also argue that the center’s $1,100 annual membership fee is implicit support for MESA’s position.

misinformation

The vote against MESA sparked some misinformation, some of which was repeated by advocacy groups and the Association for Middle East and African Studies, an academic organization established 2007 Professors who think MESA has become too political.

A press relations professional working with the Amcha Initiative and the Academic Engagement Network noted that eight universities “have so far become disconnected from MESA following their decision to support an academic boycott of Israel.”As of April 19, the Association for Middle East and African Studies list Almost all of these universities “revoked their institutional memberships in the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) due to a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions”.

when contacting chronicle, the directors of Middle East research at five of the listed institutions said they either did not renew their contracts for budgetary reasons unrelated to Beidou, or have actually renewed or intend to do so.Directors of both agencies did not answer chronicle’s query. The last college to be named was Brandeis College, which issued a public statement saying: “In principle, Brandeis University opposes an academic boycott of universities in any country. In light of this vote and boycott, Brandeis University Separate from MESA and reaffirm our support for academic freedom.”

One non-renewer, Feisal Amin Rasoul Istrabadi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, did say he believed the MESA decision was a mistake. “MESA is an academic organization, and in my opinion, it shouldn’t play politics,” he said. But he said he decided not to renew the membership months before the vote because he didn’t think the membership was worth the cost. “This has nothing to do with BDS,” he said.

When asked about the discrepancies, the leaders of the Amcha Initiative and the Academic Engagement Network said they did not fact-check the lists themselves, but instead relied on other reports on the MESA website or before-and-after-agency lists. Without a clear public statement like Brandeis, “we cannot be certain that the decision not to renew institutional membership was due to MESA’s BDS initiative and not for other reasons,” Miriam F. Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, said in a post. The article reads email.Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of the Middle East and African Studies Association, was contacted by email, no objection was raised chronicle’s report.

Istrabadi said the vote was tough for the center director. For departments where faculty members disagree, some members may complain. For the sector of public universities, it has drawn negative attention from pro-Israel lawmakers. Istrabadi said he always had to “prove to some congressman somewhere that we’re not a bunch of anti-Semitic, anti-American demagogues.” Why make the job harder?

Trout Powell sympathized with Istrabady’s view: “Your institution didn’t vote on this” — individual members voted — “so the pressure on you is unfair.” The association is trying to provide Handle media requests and protests to relieve pressure on center directors.

Meanwhile, Trout Powell said, “It’s hard, but you have to move forward.” She noted that scholars in at least one other field have had to deal with a similar intervention from politicians and public protest: critical race theory.