In Win for BDS Movement, U.S. Middle East Studies Association Endorses Israel Boycott

The prominent academic organization pledges to 'ensure that the call for an academic boycott is upheld without undermining our commitment to the free exchange of ideas and scholarship' after resolution passes to endorse BDS

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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A tourist photographs a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem calling to boycott Israeli products in 2015.
A tourist photographs a sign painted on a wall in the West Bank town of Bethlehem calling to boycott Israeli products in 2015.Credit: AFP
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – The Middle East Studies Association on Wednesday officially passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement as a means of effectively holding Israel accountable for alleged human rights violations, in what can be described as a watershed moment for the BDS movement.

Over the course of a 50-day vote, 768 of MESA's members voted in favor of the resolution compared to 167 who voted against. MESA’s Board of Directors will work in consultation with its Committee on Academic Freedom to enforce it in a manner consistent with MESA’s bylaws as well as relevant U.S. federal, state and local laws.

The resolution will not target individual students or scholars, and affords individual MESA members the choice of whether to participate in an academic boycott. It does, however, call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions for their "complicity in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law through their provision of direct assistance to the military and intelligence establishments."

"Our members have cast a clear vote to answer the call for solidarity from Palestinian scholars and students experiencing violations of their right to education and other human rights,” said MESA President Eve Troutt Powell. “MESA's Board will work to honor the will of its members and ensure that the call for an academic boycott is upheld without undermining our commitment to the free exchange of ideas and scholarship.”

The MESA resolution cited right-to-education violations such as: “restricting freedom of movement for Palestinians; isolating, undermining, or otherwise attacking Palestinian educational institutions; harassing Palestinian professors, teachers, and students; harassing Israeli professors and students criticizing Israeli policies; destroying, confiscating, or otherwise rendering Palestinian archival material inaccessible; and maintaining inequality in educational resources between Palestinians and Israelis.”

MESA noted Haaretz's recent coverage of Israel permitting Palestinian institutions of higher education to employ lecturers from overseas only if they teach in fields that have been designated as essential by Israel, and only if the lecturers and researchers are accomplished and possess at least a doctorate, according to a new set of procedures by the Defense Ministry issued during the voting period, adding that it is still evaluating how these procedures will impact its membership.

“Since 2005, the BDS vote has been discussed among MESA members, who have organized various forums for conversations and debates regarding MESA’s participation in an academic boycott of Israeli institutions and other ways of standing in solidarity with Palestinian scholars at risk under Israel’s longstanding military occupation,” added Troutt Powell. “We affirm our commitment to academic freedom for Palestinians, and for all scholars in all countries throughout the region.”

The organization, considered the most important in the field of Middle East studies, was founded in 1966. It has 2,700 members and over 60 institutional members worldwide, as well as 39 affiliated organizations. It calls itself “a private, nonprofit, nonpolitical, learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world.” Among its declared goals is fostering the study of the Middle East in the U.S. and promoting high academic standards; it publishes a number of journals and other publications.

MESA in 2014 adopted the rights of its members to support an academic boycott and end cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, in a decision that leading Israeli academics deemed a "game-changer."

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