UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) is working with its European partners to prevent the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) from introducing a boycott against Israel.
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), formerly the Middle East Studies Association of North America, is an association for academics in fields relating to the Middle East. Most of its members are still based in North America, but it also has a number of individual and institutional members around the rest of the world.
MESA states that it defends academic freedom but has asked its members tovote on a resolution to promote a boycott against Israel. No similar resolution is proposed in relation to any other country, even though serious human rights violations are taking place in a number of countries in the Middle East as well as around the rest of the world.
Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, commented: “As well as being racist, a boycott of Israeli academic institutions would contravene the UK Equality Act, UNESCO’s Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel and MESA’s own Mission Statement.”
UKLFI has written to the Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations, based in Islington, London, and The Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter, which are both institutional members of MESA. UKLFI also asked the pro-Israel organisation Med Israel for Fred (MIFF) in Sweden to write to Lund University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies highlighting the proposed boycott and urging them not to participate in it.
The letters say that MESA institutional members have a responsibility to urge individual members to reject this proposed Resolution and to withdraw their own membership of MESA if it is passed.
Lund University’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies has already responded, affirming that “CMES has never supported an academic boycott of Israeli researchers and therefore CMES does not support this resolution.”
UKLFI explained the following reasons why the proposed resolution should be rejected:
UKLFI pointed out that participating in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions is a clear breach of sections 39, 91 and 92 of the UK Equality Act 2010 since it discriminates directly or indirectly against Israeli and Jewish staff and students.
The Preamble to UNESCO’s Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel of 11 November 1997 expresses “concern regarding the vulnerability of the academic community to untoward political pressures which could undermine academic freedom” and considers “that the right to education, teaching and research can only be fully enjoyed in an atmosphere of academic freedom and autonomy for institutions of higher education and that the open communication of findings, hypotheses and opinions lies at the very heart of higher education and provides the strongest guarantee of the accuracy and objectivity of scholarship and research”.
The Recommendation goes on to provide, inter alia,
“13. The interplay of ideas and information among higher-education teaching personnel throughout the world is vital to the healthy development of higher education and research and should be actively promoted. To this end higher-education teaching personnel should be enabled throughout their careers to participate in international gatherings on higher education or research, to travel abroad without political restrictions and to use the Internet or video-conferencing for these purposes.
“14. Programmes providing for the broadest exchange of higher-education teaching personnel between institutions, both nationally and internationally, including the organization of symposia, seminars and collaborative projects, and the exchange of educational and scholarly information should be developed and encouraged. The extension of communications and direct contacts between universities, research institutions and associations as well as among scientists and research workers should be facilitated, as should access by higher education teaching personnel from other states to open information material in public archives, libraries, research institutes and similar bodies.”
Paragraph 22(n), under the heading “Institutional accountability” states that higher education institutions should be accountable for “encouraging, where possible and appropriate, international academic co-operation which transcends national, regional, political, ethnic and other barriers, striving to prevent the scientific and technological exploitation of one state by another, and promoting equal partnership of all the academic communities of the world in the pursuit and use of knowledge and the preservation of cultural heritages”.
Paragraph 27 emphasises that “Higher-education teaching personnel are entitled to the maintaining of academic freedom, that is to say, the right, without constriction by prescribed doctrine, to freedom of teaching and discussion, freedom in carrying out research and disseminating and publishing the results thereof, freedom to express freely their opinion about the institution or system in which they work, freedom from institutional censorship and freedom to participate in professional or representative academic bodies. All higher-education teaching personnel should have the right to fulfil their functions without discrimination of any kind and without fear of repression by the state or any other source.”
The proposed MESA Resolution would conflict with these provisions.
MESA’s Mission Statement
MESA’s Mission Statement states that it “fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom in accordance with its status as a 501(c)(3) scientific, educational, literary, and charitable organization.”
Boycotting Israeli academic institutions would conflict with this Mission Statement.