The University of Arizona's Center for Middle Eastern Studies demonstrated real leadership in protecting its Jewish community and supporting free academic exchange by ending its membership in the problematic, Tucson-based Middle East Studies Association (MESA).
As an alum and longtime supporter of UA at the state Capitol, I am proud of the university's decision to cut ties with MESA. The association's blatant disregard for the truth about Israel and Jews endangers Arizona's Jewish community.
Last month, MESA recklessly advanced a boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel. Ninety-three percent of MESA members at their annual meeting voted to advance the resolution to a vote among the full membership.
Supporters of the resolution claim that Israel has committed "systematic violations" of the rights of Palestinian academics, including "isolating, undermining or otherwise attacking Palestinian educational institutions" and "harassing Palestinian professors, teachers, and students."
But this utterly ignores that Israeli colleges and universities are the most diverse in the Middle East. Jews, Muslims and Christians study and teach together in a collaborative environment that would be unimaginable in most neighboring countries.
BDS resolutions can spike antisemitism
MESA, a nonprofit organization of 53 institutions and 2,800 faculty, is meant to foster collaboration among institutions and scholars in the academic field of Middle East studies. Blacklisting schools and professors from one Middle Eastern country because it disagrees with its government is nonsensical and runs counter to the organization's mission.
UA officials concluded that an association with MESA could violate a state law requiring entities conducting business with state government to sign a pledge against BDS. They also worried that continued cooperation with such an organization threatens the university's commitment to free and open academic exchange.
As a member of the Arizona Legislature, I took an oath to uphold our constitution and protect all Arizonans, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. When BDS resolutions pass across the country, antisemitism and violence against Jews often follow.
In fact, the Anti-Defamation League has found a direct and frightening link between BDS resolutions, like the one MESA is considering, and spikes in antisemitic incidents on college campuses.
Jewish students have faced threats, anger
Across the country, Jewish students have had mezuzahs ripped from dorm room doors or have seen horrible flyers posted around campus. They have been excluded from on-campus involvement for having "Jewish-sounding" last names and ridiculed for speaking Hebrew.
While this may seem like something out of a horror movie, it is the reality faced by countless college students. Jewish students yearn for support on campus. Yet as anger toward Israel rages, many exceptional young men and women fall victim.
It goes without saying that universities should take swift action to protect these students, their identities and their safety.
Furthermore, when academic organizations like MESA threaten to boycott Israel, not only do they cut an entire nation out of the global academic community, but they also hurt their own members. Israeli academic institutions work with their counterparts worldwide to create groundbreaking technologies, advance the sciences and solve real-world challenges.
Any logical person would want to see college campus environments serve as safe havens for students from all walks of life and for free and open academic exchange.
Every member campus should follow UA's lead
It is refreshing to see the University of Arizona address MESA's recklessness by taking a stand for Jewish students.
For far too long, American universities have stayed silent while students are subjected to bullying and intimidation. Many of these incidents are rooted in the BDS movement's flawed and antisemitic rhetoric.
UA's Center for Middle Eastern Studies should be commended for taking a stand against antisemitism, standing up for academic independence and protecting Jewish students.
Each institutional member of MESA should reconsider its membership in an association that toys with Jewish students' safety and the truth.
Alma Hernandez is a Democratic member of the Arizona House of Representatives for the 3rd district. On Twitter: @almaforarizona.