MESA's decision to adopt BDS is wrong - opinion

by Yuval Appleboim
March 22, 2022
Read the original post in the Jerusalem Post.

In December, the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) adopted a resolution endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting the Israeli universities and academics.

According to MESA President Dina Rizek Khuri, “the decision was made to show solidarity with researchers whose lives and livelihoods are being attacked by the Israeli government, the government with which the universities are cooperating.”

As an Israeli student of Middle Eastern studies at Ben-Gurion University, where Jews and Arabs study together, this decision infuriates me. As a student at an Israeli academic institution, I can testify that lecturers and professors at Israeli universities, as in any other democratic state, can speak freely about the situation in Israel, express their opinions and publicly oppose this or that government policy without fear. The premise of MESA’s letter is false.

Furthermore, while the resolution claims to promote Palestinian rights and freedoms in academia by boycotting Israeli academic institutions, it has no tangible impact on Palestinian lecturers, students and researchers. Nor does it in any way promote access to higher education for Palestinians. It does the opposite. The decision negatively impacts the Arab population living in Israel, who make up many students and lecturers at Israeli universities.

Even MESA has historically condemned such absurd calls for the boycott of academic institutions. In 2005, MESA’s Middle East and North African Academic Freedom committee argued that no academic institution should be boycotted based on the country’s political policy in which it is located, as such an act would infringe on academic freedom.

This decision, reached at the organization’s annual conference in 2005, was developed in response to the British Association of University Teachers’ attempt to boycott academic institutions in Israel. In the past, MESA condemned the boycott movement and was a critical factor in its abolition, proving the capacity for influence the organization has and its dual standard.

The principle behind MESA’s initial decision still stands; it is not possible to boycott academic institutions without harming research teams, teaching staff and, of course, students. 

Boycotting cooperation with Israeli academic institutions will effectively nullify research collaborations, student exchange programs and peer reviews of scientific publications, and lead to a violation of my and many students’ rights to study and collaborate with academics abroad, simply because we are students at an Israeli institution.

In 2017, Dina Khuri, president of MESA who led the move, signed a petition by the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) to establish an SJP (Students For Justice In Palestine) chapter at Fordham University campus after the university administration condemned the problematic group.

Students for Justice in Palestine has expressed support in 2017 for the activities of the convicted terrorist Rasma Odeh, who murdered two Israelis in a terrorist attack in 1969 and was deported from the United States because she hid her past.

And not only that, the organization chose International Women’s Day to glorify Odeh as a role model, as well as the terrorist Leila Khaled, who hijacked a plane with Israeli hostages in 1969, to blackmail the Israeli government into freeing Palestinian murderers with blood on their hands.

While Khuri and MESA call for a boycott of Israeli universities for academic freedom, they ignore the Hamas terrorist organization’s control over Palestinian academia in the Gaza Strip and its frequent attempts to terrorize and kill Israeli civilians.

For example, research laboratories at the Islamic University in Gaza were used to manufacture weapons for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades and conduct research to increase the lethality and range of Qassam rockets that terrorize Israeli cities. Beyond research, Hamas outright militarizes universities, using their facilities to produce missiles and launch them into Israeli cities.

Of concern, Hamas has also developed a presence at universities in the West Bank.

While MESA calls for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are fertile ground for creativity and pluralism, the organization continues in thunderous silence in the face of Palestinian academic institutions’ conduct that provides fertile ground for terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

The Israeli government does not systematically violate the Palestinians’ right to education. Instead, it opposes education for blind hatred to Israel, as can be seen in the Palestinian education system from the elementary school where terrorists and terrorist attacks are proudly taught in textbooks to academic institutions around the world that under the auspices of supporting the Palestinian people, encouraging the dehumanization of Jews.

Those arrests of students in the West Bank constitute exceptional cases in which the Palestinian University serves as a refuge for terrorist supporters under the guise of students who support killing innocent people.

As a Middle Eastern studies major, I can attest that Israel is part of a geographical area with a diverse culture, different religions, rich history, and different languages. Although the country is very different from its neighbors, it is an integral part of the region.

MESA was founded to promote and encourage public understanding of the Middle East region and its people. It is impossible to call for a boycott of Israel and question its legitimacy without materially undermining the truths of the study of the region. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions of their research and their many contributions to studying the entire Middle East’s history, culture, religion and politics is hypocritical. By doing so, MESA is compromising its values.

Politics should be left out of the academic world and invested in Palestinian institutions by providing scholarships. After all, Israel extends scholarships to minorities and deepens cooperation between educational institutions globally with Palestinian and Israeli academic institutions.

If MESA were genuinely interested in helping the Palestinian people, they would forgo the Israel bashing and focus on offering support to Palestinian academic institutions and extending financial and educational resources to Palestinian academics.

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