Statement on the BDS Resolution by MESA Against Israeli Academic Institutions

In response to the ratification today [March 23, 2022] by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) members of its Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel, the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) Academic Council Chairman Prof. Norman (Noam) Stillman released the following statement today:

"By passing this resolution to blacklist and boycott Israeli institutions of higher learning, the membership of MESA has abandoned any pretext of being an academic association in favor of an organization with a singular political cause: to delegitimize Israel. Their abandonment of the basic principles of academic integrity and freedom, namely the free expression of ideas, is deeply rooted in old biases and prejudice."  

Israel is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa given the highest ranking by Freedom House, which includes academic freedom within its rankings. Israel scores higher than Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Freedom House even notes, "Israel's universities have long been centers for dissent."

Yet, according to their resolution, no other country in the Middle East or North Africa warrants such action from MESA. In addition, the resolution effectively threatens any scholar with professional ostracism and sanctions should they affiliate or cooperate with Israeli institutions, many of which are among the finest in the world.

"For these reasons, we strongly urge scholars and institutions of higher learning to reconsider their affiliations with MESA, a blatantly political organization with an explicit agenda to delegitimize Israel," said Stillman.  

Years ago, the founders of ASMEA, Profs. Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami foresaw the looming danger of the over-politicization of Middle Eastern studies within MESA and warned of this deviation from the organization's foundational purpose.

It was the view of Lewis and Ajami that a professional society for those engaged in the study of the region, and the conflicts that arise within it, should not dilute scholarship with overt political advocacy.

In response to this deviation, ASMEA was established in 2007 to promote the highest standards of academic research and teaching in the fields of Middle Eastern and African studies, and related fields.

"By rejecting all forms of blacklisting and boycotting, and championing academic freedom and non-partisanship, we will continue to support scholars and institutions of higher learning around the globe as an unbiased forum for debate and discussion on the many issues affecting the regions," said Stillman.


Read the original press release here.

For additional comments, please contact ASMEA Executive Director Dr. Asaf Romirowsky at [email protected] or 215.866.8811.

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