Philadelphia, PA (April 6, 2022) – SPME joined three additional leading organizations in urging a dozen U.S. universities to withdraw institutional membership from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) after the association endorsed an academic boycott of Israel. Failure to do so, the groups charge, would violate the intent and spirit of the Title VI funding that these universities receive from the U.S. Department of Education.
All four groups collaborating – SPME and its partners, AMCHA Initiative, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights (LDB), the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) – work to defend campus free speech while combating campus antisemitism.
The letters were sent to Columbia University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Indiana University, New York University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington and Yale University, all of which have received four-year federal grants of between one and two million dollars to support their schools’ Middle East Studies programs and foreign language instruction.
Two other universities with federally-funded Middle East Studies programs – University of Arizona and Duke University – are among the seven universities that have thus far disassociated themselves from MESA following its decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israel.
SPME Executive Director Asaf Romirowsky stated that, “boycotting Israel encapsulates everything wrong with academia, namely its close-minded censoriousness, aloof cruelty and eagerness to play politics. It also goes without saying that MESA and is members boycotting Israel will do nothing for the Palestinians, except empower their leaders’ rejectionism further into the 21st century. Destructive gestures are also a feature of academia today. Americans should reject the campaign purely on this basis. Further we congratulate Tammi Rossman-Benjamin for her leadership on this issue and welcome the opportunity to work with AMCHA, LDB and AEN.”
Under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, students are protected from discrimination based on their race, color, or national origin at federally funded post-secondary educational institutions.
The guidelines of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) – endorsed by MESA – urge faculty to work toward shutting down study abroad programs in Israel and refuse to write recommendations for students who want to attend them; scuttle their colleagues’ research collaborations with Israeli universities and scholars; and cancel or shut down educational events organized by students or faculty featuring Israeli leaders or scholars, including those that promote coexistence and mutual understanding or that seek to “normalize” Israel by presenting it in anything but a negative light.
“It’s also important to point out that the PACBI guidelines’ rejection of the normalization of Israel in the academy…also encourages the censuring, denigration, protest and exclusion of pro-Israel individuals,” wrote the four organizations. “Recent studies have shown that these PACBI-compliant behaviors are strongly linked to acts targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm – including assault, vandalism, harassment and suppression of speech – and that the presence and number of faculty who support academic BDS are strongly correlated with every measure of campus anti-Semitism.”
In addition to urging the universities to sever ties with MESA, SPME and these likeminded groups recommend each university publicly acknowledge and denounce the direct harm that an academic boycott of Israel would cause students and faculty on their own campuses and provide assurances that they will not allow their faculty to implement an anti-Israel academic boycott.
Finally, for those in the field of Middle East Studies there is an alternative to MESA which is the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) a non-political scholarly association devoted to research and a free exchange of ideas.