Using federal funds "to implement an academic boycott that directly contravenes the purposes for which these funds have been granted" is totally "unacceptable" argues a recent statement signed by 87 groups who oppose the Middle East Studies Association's (MESA) support of an anti-Israel boycott.
The letter is addressed to the U.S. Department of Education, the governmental agency that ultimately decides on federal funding for higher education, and was organized by the AMCHA Initiative, which describes itself as "an American campus group and an antisemitism watchdog group that combats BDS activities on campuses."
On March 23, 2022, MESA voted to endorse the Palestinian-orchestrated boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, officially adopting a BDS resolution.
At its core, BDS opposes the Jewish people's self-determination in its historic national homeland, the Land of Israel, and denies the State of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish nation-state. It seeks to boycott Israel economically, politically, and culturally, as steps toward the ultimate elimination of the Jewish state. BDS' official guidelines state that "projects with all Israeli academic institutions should come to an end," and demand that students seeking to study in Israel be denied letters of recommendation.
"The campaign has been widely condemned by Jewish leaders worldwide, including major American Jewish organizations, for rejecting Jewish rights and trafficking in antisemitic tropes," reported The Algemeiner in March.
On April 20, 2022, 87 organizations responded to MESA's anti-Israel endorsement with the aforementioned letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, which stated in part: "We are 87 education, civil rights and religious organizations, representing hundreds of thousands of members and supporters. We are deeply concerned that in the wake of the recent Middle East Studies Association (MESA) vote endorsing an academic boycott of Israel, some directors and affiliated faculty in federally-funded Middle East Studies National Resource Centers (NRCs), most of which are institutional MESA members, may feel emboldened to implement the boycott in ways that will substantively hurt U.S. students and faculty and directly violate the legislative intent of Title VI of the Higher Education Act."
The letter added, "We therefore urge you to establish safeguards to ensure that an academic boycott of Israel, or of any country within the academic purview of a federally funded area studies program, may never be implemented by the program's affiliated personnel."
With regard to the legality of MESA's boycott, the letter notes that federal legislation provides NRCs with "millions of taxpayer dollars" and "stipulates that the funding is specifically intended 'to promote access to research and training overseas, including through linkages with overseas institutions.'"
"An academic boycott, however, calls for the exact opposite: it seeks to deny access to research, training and education in and about the targeted country, and to break linkages with the targeted country's educational institutions," concludes the letter.
Among all the countries in the Middle East, a region that is home to some of the world's worst state-sponsored human rights abuses, Israel remains the only country to face such a boycott by MESA, two experts recently told The Algemeiner.
According to professor emeritus of Judaic History at the University of Oklahoma and chair of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, Norman Stillman, "[MESA] has abandoned any pretext of being an academic association in favor of an organization with a singular political cause: to delegitimize Israel."
He told The Algemeiner in March that that despite Israel earning the highest ranking of any Middle Eastern country in the annual Freedom House ratings, MESA's initiative only targets the Jewish state, which he said is "deeply rooted in old biases and prejudice."
Similarly, Smith College Professor Donna Robinson Divine called MESA's move "shameful."
"It compromises the academic integrity of the association," Divine told The Algemeiner. "It may serve the interests of a discourse and those who control its vocabulary, but that discourse is increasingly distant from providing an accurate explanation of actual developments. Needless to say, it does nothing to provide actual help for most Palestinians wherever they reside."