Brandeis University and New York University disassociating from MESA over BDS vote

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  March 31, 2022

In last week’s newsletter I mentioned that the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA) had passed a resolution endorsing BDS. To recap, the group’s members voted between January 31-March 22 and the results were 768-167. An overwhelming victory.

“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,” said MESA President Eve Troutt Powell in a statement.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the move has ignited some backlash. This week Brandeis University announced that its disassociating itself from MESA. “The Middle Eastern Studies Association’s (MESA) announced on March 23, 2022, that a majority of its members voted in favor of a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions,” reads its statement. “Brandeis University condemns MESA’s boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel. The resolution attacks the fundamental principles of academic freedom and association to which MESA specifically refers in its mission statement, and to which Brandeis is committed. As a matter of principle, Brandeis University opposes academic boycotts of universities in any country. In light of this vote and the boycott, Brandeis dissociates from MESA and reaffirms our support for academic freedom.”

Brandeis is not the first school to sever its ties with MESA over BDS. Last winter, when the BDS resolution advanced to a vote, Florida State University chose not to renew its annual membership with the group. The University of Arizona’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies also let their membership expire.

New York University (NYU) President Andrew Hamilton has also put out a statement condemning the vote:

NYU rejects and is deeply disappointed by the Middle East Studies Association’s (MESA) recently passed resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel.

 NYU’s opposition to academic boycotts is longstanding (for example: hereherehere) and is grounded in the belief that academic boycotts are at odds with the principles of academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas.

NYU thinks it is deeply unfortunate for a scholarly organization to take this position. For the sake of academic freedom, we urge MESA to reconsider its ill-advised resolution.