Middle East Studies Association Runs Up Against State Anti-BDS Laws
BY HUGH FITZGERALD
republished below in full unedited for informational, educational & research purposes:
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a politico-academic group consisting of university teachers of the history, religion, contemporary politics, economics, and sociology of Middle Eastern lands and peoples. Many of its members are themselves Muslims — Arabs, Turks, and Iranians. The departments and centers where they work are often the recipients of Arab funding; the best known of these bought-and-paid-for places is the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, founded in 1993 by a well-known apologist for Islam, John Esposito, with an initial $20 million endowment from Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal.
Given the makeup of most Middle Eastern Departments, it is almost impossible for someone who takes a dim view of Islam or a positive view of Israel to be hired. The Muslims will hire only those who share their views, and their non-Muslim colleagues will similarly choose only those who, like themselves, have decided to agree – whether out of genuine conviction or out of calculated self-interest – with the Muslim view of Islamic history, Islam, Israel and “Palestine.” These faculty members reproduce themselves, and their Middle East departments become ever more partisan, filled with Defenders of the Faith (of Islam), promoters of such fictions as the “convivencia” of Islamic Spain, and the claim that “Islam has always been part of America’s story,” and hostile to Israel and to those who dare to defend it. Examples in Middle East Studies departments of strong partisans of the Palestinians who are deeply hostile to Israel are everywhere; think only of Rashid Khalidi, Joseph Massad, and Hamid Dabashi at Columbia, or Sarah Shields and Kylie Broderick (though a graduate student, and virulently anti-Israel, Broderick has been entrusted with teaching a course on Israel and the Palestinians) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In these Departments of Middle Eastern Studies, a sanitized view of Islamic history is presented by academic apologists well-versed in taqiyya and kitman; unwary young students can be easily led astray. Fear of being charged with “islamophobia” is enough to silence those members of the faculty who might otherwise object to the versions of Islamic history, and of Islam, being taught. There is nothing so politicized as an academic department. Teachers don’t want to antagonize their colleagues, especially If they don’t yet have tenure. Even with tenure, it’s important to stay in the political good graces of colleagues. Professors who do not toe the party line may find that their teaching load is increased, that a favorite course has been assigned to someone else, that they have been assigned to teach the course that “no one wants to teach,” that they are saddled with more administrative tasks than are others, that they are left off of search committees, and so on. Why stick your neck out?
MESA has unsurprisingly come out foursquare for the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Divestment) movement. It wants to boycott Israeli academic institutions and professors. But now it has run up against an unexpected obstacle: many states have outlawed the BDS movement. And this means that their universities are refusing to renew their membership in MESA. If this anti-BDS movement in statehouses gains steam, it could lead to significant loss of membership, money, and influence, for MESA.
A report on two universities that have followed the anti-BDS legislation in their respective states and thus refused to renew their membership in MESA is here: “The University of Arizona, Florida State University End MESA Ties Amid Israel Boycott Debate,” by Dion J. Pierre, Algemeiner, January 18, 2022:
Florida State University and an academic center at the University of Arizona have declined to renew membership in the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA), amid questions over whether the group’s movement toward an academic boycott of Israel could violate state or university policies.
At MESA’s annual meeting in December, 93 percent of voting members present resolved to direct leadership “to give effect to the spirit and intent” of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. A vote to ratify it will be held for MESA’s 2,800 members as early as this month.
93 percent of the MESA members present and voting wanted to “give effect to the spirit and intent” of BDS, by supporting a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. That gives some idea of just how overwhelming anti-Israel sentiment is In MESA. That vote reflects what the French call “la pensée unique.” This means it is the only accepted view. The Party Line.
A group of critics, including several MESA members, warned at the time that such a move would threaten academic freedom, by preventing “free exchanges between faculty members and students worldwide.” Later, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cautioned that as a public institution, Florida State University would likely not be permitted to participate in an Israel boycott via its partnership with MESA, due to state law prohibiting the use of public funds to support BDS.
FSU confirmed to the blog Legal Insurrection on Sunday that it had not renewed its annual membership in MESA for the year 2022. The spokesperson did not give a reason for the decision.
On Tuesday, asked about FSU’s decision, Anne Betteridge, Director of the University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, told The Algemeiner that the institution had also not renewed its membership at the end of 2021. She later added that the center had not received its dues notice from the association.
Like Florida, Arizona has passed a so-called anti-BDS law, as have a number of other states home to MESA partners, including the University of Arkansas, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of Michigan. Some of those state laws have been challenged in court over alleged First Amendment violations….
But so far, not one of these anti-BDS laws has been struck down.
To its chagrin, MESA may find itself on the receiving end of anti-BDS legislation by a growing number of states. Thirty-five states have already passed such legislation; within a few months, there may be another ten. What this means is that those states who have such laws on their books, and their public universities, will no longer join MESA, will do nothing to help the group, and may even call for a boycott of the MESA boycotters, as by refusing to allow them to hold their meetings in those anti-BDS states. Another worry for MESA members teaching in public universities is the possibility that state legislatures may start to hold hearings on the scandal of the hiring practices, the courses offered, and the treatment of students who may not agree with the BDS movement, in Middle East Studies Departments in the state. The publicity will not be good for those departments.
With this potential worry, MESA members will likely choose to drop their plans to institute a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and decide, for their own good, to stay away from the BDS temptation. Otherwise, they may find that they have inadvertently provoked investigations into their practices, that will not stand strict scrutiny, and could lead to a loss of funding from states determined to make Middle Eastern departments in their universities places where teaching and scholarship are no longer imbued with nearly-unanimous pro-Islamic, pro-Palestinian, and anti-Israel attitudes.