In a statement released Thursday in conjunction with its Annual Meeting, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) condemned "attacks" on academic freedom.
Oddly, the statement's first paragraph juxtaposes the "pressing need to continue to combat anti-Semitism" with "affirming the protection of academic freedoms." But what does anti-Semitism have to with academic freedom?
The answer (such as it is) comes a few paragraphs down. MESA condemns "what appears to be an orchestrated campaign by groups based outside of academia that seek to delegitimize and silence scholarship and teaching with which they disagree." Critics of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, MESA claims, conflate "criticism of Israeli actions and policies, and of Zionism as a political ideology, with anti-Semitism."
Where to begin?
BDS isn't speech; BDS is a campaign. The 2018 case of University of Michigan professor John Cheney-Lippold is instructive. Cheney-Lippold refused to write a recommendation for a student to study abroad in Israel because he adhered to the BDS campaign's guidelines, which call for participants not to assist students who wish to study abroad in Israel. Cheney-Lippold's refusal violated his academic responsibilities and thwarted the student's ability to pursue her academic interests.
BDS isn't "criticism" of Israel or Israeli policies; it is active opposition to Israel's existence.
Moreover, BDS isn't "criticism" of Israel or Israeli policies; it is active opposition to Israel's existence. As Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Political and Academic Boycott of Israel, told the New York Times this past summer, the "Jewish state" of Israel must be "opposed categorically."
This rejection of a Jewish state is, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition, anti-Semitism. Denying "the Jewish people their right to self-determination," according to the IHRA, is a form of anti-Semitism.
Finally, criticism of academe by those dreaded "outside" organizations does nothing to "silence scholarship." This hackneyed cliché, dragged out by privileged professors when truth and wit fail them, aims to curry favor by falsely portraying the multi-billion dollar academic establishment as a helpless victim of its critics.
MESA's statement purports to oppose anti-Semitism and support academic freedom. In truth, it excuses the anti-Semitic BDS campaign and tolerates its efforts to stifle open academic exchanges.
David Gerstman is managing editor of Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.