Florida State Drops Middle East Studies Association Membership As Group Moves Towards Israel Boycott

by William A. Jacobson
January 16, 2022
Read the original post on the Legal Insurrection website.

As previously reported, on December 2, 2021, the business meeting at the annual meeting passed a resolution endorsing the BDS boycott against Israel. The resolution now goes to a full membership vote expected to start in mid-to-late January 2022.

If MESA’s membership ratifies the academic boycott of Israel, it will have profound implications for the academic freedom of American students and scholars, not just Israelis, as I explored in an Op-Ed at The NY Post:

BDS represents a full-frontal assault on academic freedom at American universities and colleges, not just against Israeli institutions. BDS academic boycott guidelines bar almost all interactions with Israeli academic institutions and “representatives” of such institutions.
Prohibited activities include academic projects or activities, research and development projects, speeches (including debates), study-abroad programs in Israel, publishing in or refereeing articles for Israeli university journals and “normalization projects.” As the BDS guidelines make clear, the boycott covers individual Israelis who represent such institutions. MESA vows in the resolution “to give effect to the spirit and intent of this resolution” endorsing BDS.
The impact on Jewish and Israeli Studies in the United States will be profound. The Association for Israel Studies condemned the vote as “an effort to curtail and to suppress” academic “freedom for any scholar associated with Israel or with Israeli academic institutions.”

We explored the implications of the MESA boycott in related posts:

MESA has nearly 2,700 individual members and 54 institutional members, including major public universities, such as Florida State University and the University of Arkansas.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ office issued a statement rejecting the MESA boycott with the expectation that public universities in Florida would do the same, DeSantis Office: Florida Opposes Middle East Studies Association Conducting BDS Anti-Israel Academic Boycott Through FSU:

Florida has long had a strong relationship with the State of Israel. As a matter of law and principle, the State of Florida does not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the Israeli people, including boycotts and divestments targeting Israel (the BDS movement).
Recently, this problem has arisen with corporations, such as Ben & Jerry’s earlier this year. Here’s the statute that applied in that case: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0200-0299/0215/Sections/0215.4725.html
As you can see, the law is designed to ensure that the state of Florida is not doing business with companies participating in boycotts of Israel. It does not explicitly address public postsecondary institutions. Nevertheless, Governor DeSantis’ position has been clear: It is unacceptable for Florida taxpayer funds to subsidize BDS or any other anti-Israel activist movement.
It is our expectation that Florida State University will not permit MESA to operate a boycott of Israel through a public institution, will not accept the academic boycott of Israel, and will not allow university funds to be paid indirectly or directly to any organization that endorses BDS. The same goes for any other institution that receives state funding.

Florida State University Middle East Center

We have reached out to MESA’s institutional members for comment on the proposed MESA boycott, and among other things, whether MESA institutional membership would be continued if it adopts the BDS boycott. We will be reporting on some of those responses in coming days.

But there was a very important response from Florida State University, whose Middle East Center was a MESA institutional member. A communications officer for FSU responded to our inquiry by indicating that FSU has not renewed its membership and no longer is a MESA member:

“The FSU Middle East Center did not renew its annual membership in MESA for the 2022 calendar year. Membership expired Dec. 31, 2021.”

No further explanation was provided, but the timing is pretty clear. MESA’s business meeting overwhelmingly adopted the BDS boycott, which reflects that the leadership of the organization supports and advocates BDS. FSU then chose not to renew its membership.

We will continue to follow these developments.

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