US Mideast academic group opposes MESA’s BDS activity

by Benjamin Weinthal
December 7, 2021
Read the original post on the The Jerusalem Post website.

The executive director of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA), Asaf Romirowksy, issued on Saturday a rebuke of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) for its move toward endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign targeting Israel.

“Overall, the goals of ASMEA still remain to help energize, clean and reshape a field that has long lost since its obligation to academic objectivity to transform Middle Eastern studies into platforms for agitprop especially, now that the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is in the midst of fully endorsing BDS. The Middle East deserves far more than the platitudes and reductionist writings that have become the trademark of so many in the field of Middle East Studies. At ASMEA we strive and promise to provide the critically needed diversity of opinions and perspectives, “ said Romirowsky.

Writing in The National Interest on Saturday, Romirowsky and Alex Joffe, a senior non-resident scholar at the BESA Center at Bar-Ilan University, said that “The irony that calls for academics to discriminate against an entire society is cast in terms of alleged infringements on academic freedom is equally blatant but is not especially new. Both overt hostility to Israel and antisemitism under the guise of anti-Zionism have for years dominated the field of Middle East Studies, a fact illustrated by the parade of anti-Israel vituperation on display annual at MESA conferences and its routine, almost United Nations-like, condemnations of Israel.”

The scholars added that “MESA has thus gone from merely endorsing the call to boycott Israel to calling on its members to do so, and actively doing so itself. Israeli universities, among the most liberal (and multicultural) institutions in that society, are branded as human rights violators. Individual Israeli academics are not formally targeted but will be in reality, as MESA members evaluate job applicants, visiting speakers, grant proposals, and the like. The litmus test for MESA members, and Israelis, is blatant.”

MESA’s planned vote on BDS comes amid the votes by federal parliaments in Germany and Austria that deemed BDS an antisemitic campaign that recalls the Nazi movement’s boycott of Jewish businesses during the 1930’s.
ASMEA completed its annual conference in November in Washington DC where a gathering of top Middle East scholars and other prominent academics met to discuss a wide range of topics.

“Among the many highlights of the recent ASMEA conference it is worthy to note the honoring of the two founding fathers of the association (whose voices are sorely missed) Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami in two distinct ways,” said Romirowsky.

He added that “This year we inaugurated the Bernard Lewis Prize focused on highlighting scholars that study antisemitism with an eye towards combating it. While Christian antisemitism is well studied, a stigma remains about addressing Muslim antisemitism. Beyond this, relatively few scholars focus on the Middle Eastern dimensions of Christian antisemitism in religious and cultural terms, much less the political impacts in the West. Encouraging both younger and established scholars through research support for publication excellence are ways in which this important area can be revitalized.”

Romirowsky noted that “Secondly, we put forth a roundtable honoring the legacy of Fouad Ajami entitled, ‘Dream Palaces: Twenty Years After 9/11’ which included Ms. Michelle Ajami and had notable participants Prof. Russell Berman, Col. Joel Rayburn, and Prof. Franck Salameh. In addition, in attendance were many students of all ages who shared the impact Ajami had on them.”

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