At the latest annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) we got a firsthand account of how Jewish pro-Israel groups are perceived on campus from MESA members. MESA has already dropped its original designation as a “non-political learned society” to become a hotbed of anti-Israel invective so it is no surprise that they claim that groups and individuals that are not compatible with their views are seen to have “excessive influence” on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being taught. During this session, Hillel International, was specifically called out for its policies against partnering with those who deny Israel’s right to exist.
Our friend and colleague Ilan Troen, who attended the session, took issue with the argument that a non-academic group should be condemned for having a position stating that,
“If an academic department can’t sustain a lecture series on its own and chooses to invite the assistance of an outside group, why shouldn’t they expect that group will come with requests for how to shape program? If you don’t like it, then don’t collaborate with Hillel or anyone else”
In addition, we recently saw Rutgers University come under fire, where we have witnessed multiple members of its faculty expressing anti-Semitic viewpoints.
Consequently of the above, at a town hall meeting Rutgers University President Robert Barchi refused to condemn these anti-Semitic expressions. Barchi tried to distinguish between free speech and harassment, and argued that the professors in question had the right to say what they wanted, a right protected by the First Amendment.
That being said, it is clear that Barchi did not see the difference (which he should have) between freedom of speech as protected by first amendment and academic freedom emphasis added on academic.
As always, we welcome your feedback and article submissions.
Asaf Romirowsky, PhD