AMCHA, AEN, LDB and SPME Demand 12 Universities Receiving Millions from Federal Government for Middle East Studies Programs Withdraw Membership from MESA

Santa Cruz, CA, April 6, 2022 – Four leading organizations that work to defend campus free speech and academic freedom and combat antisemitism at American universities and colleges, today, urged a dozen universities whose Middle East Studies programs receive millions of dollars in federal grants to withdraw their institutional membership with MESA over the association’s endorsement of an academic boycott against Israel.

“An academic boycott of Israel, if implemented, would seek to derail the academic opportunities of students and faculty who desire to study in and about Israel, end the many formal partnerships your university has with educational and training institutions in Israel, and thwart extensive faculty research initiatives and collaborations at Israeli institutions and with Israeli scholars. All of these boycott-compliant actions would directly and substantively harm your university’s students and faculty,” wrote the organizations in personalized letters to each of the 12 schools.

The letters were sent by AMCHA Initiative, the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) to Columbia University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, Indiana University, New York University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Washington and Yale University, all of which have received four-year federal grants of between one and two million dollars to support their schools’ Middle East Studies programs and foreign language instruction.

Two other universities with federally-funded Middle East Studies programs – University of Arizona and Duke University – are among the seven universities that have thus far disassociated themselves from MESA following its decision to endorse an academic boycott of Israel.

In addition to the harm an academic boycott poses to students and faculty, the organizations note that remaining in MESA could jeopardize the considerable federal funding each of these universities receives from the U.S. Department of Education under Title VI of the Higher Education Act. The purpose of this federal funding is to support international and foreign language studies, the exact opposite of what MESA’s resolution calls for its members to do with respect to Israel, a country in the region they are being funded to study. In addition, when applying for these coveted federal funds, each school touted its commitment to the study of Israel and Hebrew, including their numerous research partnerships with Israeli institutions of higher education and their popular Israel study abroad programs. All of these programs for which federal funding was requested would be clearly threatened by an academic boycott of Israel.

Contrary to the mission of Title VI of the Higher Education Act, the guidelines of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) endorsed by MESA urge faculty to work toward shutting down study abroad programs in Israel and refuse to write recommendations for students who want to attend them; scuttle their colleagues’ research collaborations with Israeli universities and scholars; and cancel or shut down educational events organized by students or faculty featuring Israeli leaders or scholars, including those that promote coexistence and mutual understanding or that seek to “normalize” Israel by presenting it in anything but a negative light.

“It’s also important to point out that the PACBI guidelines’ rejection of the normalization of Israel in the academy not only calls on its faculty endorsers to work towards boycotting educational programs and research opportunities in or about Israel and canceling or shutting down pro-Israel events and activities on campus, it also encourages the censuring, denigration, protest and exclusion of pro-Israel individuals. Recent studies have shown that these PACBI-compliant behaviors are strongly linked to acts targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm – including assault, vandalism, harassment and suppression of speech — and that the presence and number of faculty who support academic BDS are strongly correlated with every measure of campus antisemitism,” wrote the organizations.

Last month, AMCHA released a study, Anti-Zionist Faculty: Ground Zero for Campus Antisemitism, which found that faculty who have endorsed an academic boycott of Israel are directly fueling a surge in campus antisemitism. The study found that schools with five or more faculty academic boycotters were 7.2 times more likely to have departments that released or endorsed anti-Zionist statements and 5.6 times more likely to have a student government that passed an anti-Zionist resolution. Those same schools were also 3.6 times more likely to host harmful activities targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students; 4.5 times more likely to have pro-BDS incidents on campus; and 3.3 times more likely to have incidents related to anti-Zionist rhetoric from students.

AMCHA’s previous studies have revealed similar alarming results. One study of 50 syllabi of courses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that were taught at 40 schools across the country found that courses whose instructors had been signatory to one or more petitions calling for an academic boycott of Israel assigned, on average, four times more readings authored by BDS-supporters than instructors who do not support any form of BDS. Another study of 550 departments of Ethnic, Gender, and Middle East studies across the country found that departments with one or more faculty boycotters were 5 to 12 times more likely to sponsor public events with pro-BDS speakers, and the more faculty boycotters in a department, the more events with pro-BDS speakers.

In addition to demanding the universities sever ties with MESA, the organizations recommend each university publicly acknowledge and denounce the direct harm that an academic boycott of Israel would cause students and faculty on their own campuses and provide assurances that they will not allow their faculty to implement academic BDS.

AMCHA monitors more than 450 college campuses across the U.S. for anti-Semitic activity. The organization has recorded more than 4,500 anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses since 2015. Its daily Anti-Semitism Tracker, organized by state and university, can be viewed here.
AMCHA Initiative is a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism at colleges and universities in the United States.

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