If anyone had doubts, the BDS initiative is still around and the Israeli public should prepare for many years of battle on this front. Next on the calendar is the upcoming Middle East Studies Association (MESA) annual conference which will be held in November 17-20 in Boston. MESA, with nearly 3000 members, is considered the most important association of Middle East studies. It describes itself as "a private, nonprofit, nonpolitical, learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world."
Among the many panels this year, BDS merits a special session. Titled "BDS, MESA, and the Politics of Academic Associations", the program states that "as several hundred MESA members have signed calls for academic boycott, this panel explores BDS as a political and intellectual strategy as it relates to academic associations in general, and to MESA in particular... The panelists, representing different areas of expertise in Middle East studies, offer insights on the practice of BDS, its significance and interventions in the contemporary higher education system, the relationship between politics and scholarship, and question of responsibility. They also reflect on the role of and the pressures on MESA in particular and academic associations more broadly."
Organizers of the BDS session are Samera Esmeir, Joshua Stacher, Kent State, Sherene Seikaly, UC Santa Barbara. the Chair is Samera Esmeir, UC Berkeley and the discussants are Michelle Hartman, McGill; Charles Hirschkind, UC Berkeley; Huri Islamoglu, Bogazici; Mary N. Layoun, Wisconsin Madison; Judith E. Tucker, Georgetown. None of which presenting opposing views to BDS. As IAM stated previously, MESA has been the home of the late Edward Said and his many followers with a long history of anti-Israel opinions. Because of its prominence, the MESA paradigm – a mixture of neo-Marxist, anti-colonial, and anti-Israeli themes – has dominated scholarship and classroom instruction on the Middle East and Islam.
MESA has a long history of calling for BDS. For example, during the 2007 MESA gathering, Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) discussed the academic boycott of Israel and argued that "the privileging of academic freedom 'circumscribes the moral obligations of academics.' He told the panelists that international law 'explicitly couples academic freedom with obligations'" and compared the situation to South Africa.
As IAM reported, in November 2014 (MESA) approved a proposal adopting the rights of its members to support an academic boycott and end cooperation with Israeli academic institutions. The proposal was passed by a majority of 265 against 79; it "affirms the right of MESA members to engage in open and transparent discussion of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions in the context of the Annual Meeting and other forums"; and it "affirms the right of the memberships of all organizations to discuss, debate, and endorse or not endorse the BDS campaign."
In the November 2015 gathering, two panels focused on BDS. With regarding to MESA's bylaws which describe the organization as being "nonpolitical," an article at the Inside Higher Ed mentioned Zachary Lockman, former MESA president, who discussed how MESA's definition of being "nonpolitical" has evolved over time to permit it to protest academic freedom violations around the globe. Yet, Lockman stated that, with one exception during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait "the association insistently refused to speak out on conflicts in the Middle East itself."
Not willing to discuss the conflicts in the Middle East while calling for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions is hypocrisy at its best. All fair minded members of MESA should raise this point. Double standards hurts the academic legitimacy of the organization.