‘MESA’s endorsement of the BDS movement undermines academic freedom by rejecting cooperation based on national origin and support of Israel’s right to exist,’ pro-Israel group says.
George Washington University has announced it will no longer partner with the Middle East Studies Association by the end of this year.
The College Fix reached out via email to George Washington University three times in the past two weeks for comment on the decision and reasoning. It has yet to respond.
Though it did not explain why, it comes after MESA voted in favor of “boycott, sanctions and divestment,” an action that targets Israel.
“Our members have cast a clear vote to answer the call for solidarity from Palestinian scholars and students experiencing violations of their right to education and other human rights,” the group’s president stated last March. “MESA’s Board will work to honor the will of its members and ensure that the call for an academic boycott is upheld without undermining our commitment to the free exchange of ideas and scholarship.”
The resolution “calls for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions for their complicity in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law through their provision of direct assistance to the military and intelligence establishments.”
A board member with MESA told The Fix he would email by Monday, Aug. 7 with a comment, but has yet to respond. The Fix reached out to the general email for the board and another member but no responses were received in the past two weeks, despite two follow-up attempts.
The partnership’s end will mean a loss of benefits for the academic group.
A memo of understanding signed in 2019 included a four-year agreement that allowed the academic group to locate its headquarters at the D.C. university’s Institute for Middle East Studies.
The memo cited the interim director of IMES, William Youmans, on the decision.
“It is impossible to overstate how foundational MESA has been to the rise of the field of Middle East studies,” Youmans said at the time. “This strikes me as a perfect match that should produce new opportunities for growth.”
George Washington University is not the first to separate itself from MESA after the organization resolved to support the Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS against Israel in 2022. Nearly “a dozen” other universities have cut ties with MESA over its opposition to collaboration with Israel, according to Algemeiner.
The university told the publication that it and the academic group “agreed to enter into a four-year partnership that has run its course, and we are now parting ways amicably.”
The CEO and co-founder of a nonpartisan pro-Israel group told The Fix in a media statement that BDS “undermines academic freedom.”
“MESA’s endorsement of the BDS movement undermines academic freedom by rejecting cooperation based on national origin and support of Israel’s right to exist,” Roz Rothstein with StandWithUs told The Fix.
Rothstein said the boycott “restrict[s]academic discourse by discounting the research and experiences of an entire national identity” and “also requires that institutions and individuals oppose the Jewish people’s right to self determination in their ancestral homeland, a right afforded to all peoples under international law.”
Rothstein commended the university for ending its partnership.
“Institutions that purport to value academic freedom, diversity, and inclusion, have a responsibility to cut ties with organizations that oppose such principles,” Rothstein said. “We commend GW and the other universities who ended their association with MESA and hope other institutions follow their lead.”
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