Brandeis Disassociates from MESA Following Passage of Pro-BDS Resolution

by Aaron Bandler
March 28, 2022
Read the original post in the Jewish Journal.

Brandeis University announced on March 24 that they are disassociating themselves from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) after the organization overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

In a statement, Brandeis said they condemn “MESA’s boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel.” “The resolution attacks the fundamental principles of academic freedom and association to which MESA specifically refers in its mission statement, and to which Brandeis is committed,” they added. “As a matter of principle, Brandeis University opposes academic boycotts of universities in any country. In light of this vote and the boycott, Brandeis dissociates from MESA and reaffirms our support for academic freedom.”

The Anti-Defamation League tweeted, “All institutional members of @MESA_1966 should follow the lead of @BrandeisU and dissociate after it ratified a #BDS resolution boycotting Israeli academic institutions. This resolution is antithetical to academic freedom & discourages productive dialogue.”

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham urged all American universities to “sever ties with MESA” in a statement. “The hypocrisy and sheer lunacy of MESA’s vote is self-evident ,as it will surely extend to the fields of cancer, bio-medical and technological research – all fields which Israeli universities, faculties, and students—including Arab students—excel in,” Cooper said.  “It will also have a debilitating effect on Jewish and pro-Israel students already struggling against  BDS anti-peace activists who try to prevent pro-Israel speakers, events and other activities on campuses.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin said in a statement to the Journal that they “strongly commend” Brandeis for taking action against MESA. “Other universities should follow Brandeis’ lead and immediately withdraw their membership from MESA, as well as establish clear and unassailable safeguards to prevent faculty from using their university positions and departmental affiliations to promote politically motivated advocacy and activism that undeniably hurts their own students and colleagues,” she added. “MESA members should be ashamed of themselves. What they did was to provide disciplinary legitimacy to the censuring, denigration, exclusion and silencing of pro-Israel students and faculty. Universities must make abundantly clear they won’t stand for such faculty abuse, which is a direct and major contributor to campus antisemitism.” AMCHA also noted in a tweet that five other universities have disassociated themselves from MESA as well.

Asaf Romirowsky, who heads Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and the Association for the Study of the Middle East and North Africa (ASMEA) as an alternative to MESA, said in a statement to the Journal, “I applaud Brandeis University’s decision for condemning MESA’s boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel. And correctly stating that the resolution attacks the fundamental principles of academic freedom as such they are dissociating themselves from MESA . Further, I hope other universities follow suit. In particular [George Washington University], that houses MESA’s offices, should seriously consider what this endorsement of BDS means to a university that should be promoting discourse and an open exchange of ideas, not boycotting them.”

StandWithUs CEO and Co-Founder Roz Rothstein also said in a statement to the Journal, “We salute Brandeis for condemning and disassociating itself from MESA for supporting the antisemitic BDS campaign against Israel. MESA and its members have a responsibility to all American college students to provide factual education free from bias. By endorsing BDS, MESA has violated this. We call on more universities and MESA members to follow suit and disassociate themselves from the organization for discriminating against Jewish and Zionist students and faculty.”

Judea Pearl, Chancellor Professor of Computer Science at UCLA, National Academy of Sciences member and Daniel Pearl Foundation President, tweeted that while Brandeis’ decision is good, he wished “they would explain the move with a bit more compelling argument: BDS is an eliminationist movement, not simply one that opposes academic freedom.”

MESA did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment.

The resolution, which MESA members had been voting on from January 31-March 22, received 768 votes in favor and 167 against. The resolution accused Israeli universities of being “imbricated” in “systemic violations” against the Palestinians. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) tweeted that they were “appalled that MESA ratified a #BDS resolution boycotting Israeli academic institutions, undermining academic principles of dialogue & obstructing Israeli-Palestinian engagement. MESA-affiliated universities must disassociate from this biased action.”

Pearl tweeted that he was going to start taking “unilateral, one-man action” against MESA. “Now that MESA has turned Israeli students and academics into a disadvantaged minority, I am starting a ‘reverse discrimination’ program to assist them in any way I can,” he wrote. Pearl told the Journal that he plans to strengthen his current ties to Israel. 

“I have a visiting position in a Technion. My colleagues have a connection in various others universities,” Pearl said. “To strengthen [those ties] is very easy to do … if I spend two hours a week before, I’m going to spend four now. And if I have applications from Israeli scholars who want to come to UCLA, I will give preference [to them].” He added: “We need to help the disadvantaged. Nobody today thinks Israelis are disadvantaged, and that is the main uniqueness of the idea … and we need to make it visible.”

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