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June 17, 2021 12:31 pm
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MESA’s Troubling ‘Statement of Solidarity With the Palestinians’

avatar by Asaf Romirowsky

Opinion

Six-year-old Ido Avigal, who was killed by a Hamas rocket. Photo: Screenshot

Following the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas after an intense 11 days of military activity, universities published statements of support. Surprisingly, however, this support was not for the region’s only thriving democracy and American ally, Israel — but for Hamas, the designated Islamist terror group that rules over Gaza, and whose lethal use of thousands of rockets — sent into Israeli towns and cities with the object of killing Jewish civilians — instigated the recent violence.

As a network of some 40,000 faculty members on over 3,000 campuses around the world, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) has followed developments in Gaza and Israel — and we’ve been very troubled by the response, particularly from the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), a scholarly association that purports to “promote high standards of scholarship and teaching, encourage public understanding of the region and its peoples, and defend academic freedom…”

Given the history of MESA’s public support for the Palestinian cause and denigration of Israel through repeated calls for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, it is not surprising that the MESA board has produced yet another one-sided response.

MESA’s statement claims that it is the product of scholars, and yet it presents a juvenile morality tale: Palestinians only suffer, always as victims of Israel. Not a mention of Hamas, a designated terror group whose charter calls for Jewish genocide, or Hamas’ attacks on Jewish civilians, and even Palestinians. This bizarre presentation of the situation defies any conceivable notion of honest scholarship, but it does permit silence about Hamas and the attribution of malevolence to Israel.

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Despite not mentioning Hamas, the declaration follows closely the directives for journalists of Hamas’ media department: “All victims are civilians. Do not show Hamas firing rockets, especially from civilian areas.”

We hear in detail about aggressions against Palestinians, but nothing of their aggressions against Israelis, from the TikTok attacks that started the open conflict to attempted lynchings of isolated civilians, or to 4,000 rockets fired at civilian targets. And we certainly don’t hear about Hamas’ treatment of its own people, including their brutal suppression of press and academic freedom, and their open and proud use of their own people as human shields.

Neither mentioning Hamas, nor its rockets, MESA’s statement of concern for Palestinian suffering predictably ignores the almost 700 Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets that fell short or exploded on site — and their primarily civilian victims. Using statistics from the Hamas Ministry of Health, well-known for consistently manipulating the numbers of civilian and military casualties, MESA lays exclusive blame on Israel.

Gaza is “occupied” by Israel, even though one might more accurately argue Gaza is occupied by Hamas. Obviously, Israel is “apartheid”: “The Israeli government’s purposeful and systematic privileging of Jewish Israelis while dominating and oppressing the Palestinian people amounts to apartheid.”

In support for this lethal accusation, MESA cites Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization notorious for its problematic research and unhealthy preoccupation with Israel, whose cited report weaponizes a dishonest use of “apartheid,” precisely so others (like MESA) can use the accusation.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of MESA’s statement is its complete lack of empathy for Jews, its impermeability to the very existence of a human Jewish-Israeli narrative, or a reasoned, empirical analysis. No. Palestinians suffer; Israeli Jews wantonly inflict suffering.

And their obsession blinds us all. Where are MESA’s many statements of outrage about the region for which it claims dedication? Although the loss of the 250 Palestinian and Jewish lives is a tragedy, there are incomparably more dead Christians, Yazidis, and Muslims of all kinds, throughout the region of MESA’s alleged expertise. Instead, MESA’s obsession with Israel suffocates and distorts our knowledge and understanding of the forces at work in this crucial area of the globe.

MESA, whose 2,700-plus members teach in departments of Middle East studies throughout the world, has recently dropped its original designation as a “non-political learned society,” transforming itself into a hotbed of anti-Israel invective. So deep has this Israel-obsession colonized their collective mind, that the association seems oblivious to the possibility that its recent endorsement of the BDS campaign, and attendant efforts to obstruct the containment of resurgent antisemitism on US campuses, are crossing the thin line between “normal” Israel-bashing and classical, obsessive Jew baiting.

SPME supports vigorous debate and dialogue about contentious issues, one of which is certainly the Middle East and Israel’s conflict with her neighbors, in particular. But academic inquiry must be informed by the airing of both a wide range of evidence, and open discussion of disparate views and perspectives within a framework of rigorous scholarship. None of this appears in this MESA “scholars’” statement. The academy cannot, and should not, accommodate such undermining of intellectual integrity for the sake of advocating hate. When weaponized ideology, bias, and advocacy take over the classroom, it degrades teaching and victimizes students.

We call on those remaining scholars in MESA to demand that their association revert to its original mission to “foster the study of the Middle East, promote high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourage public understanding of the region and its peoples” rather than obsess over Israel and Jews, even as they exclude her voice, and thereby serve as a propaganda outlet for the voices of violence, murder, and destruction in the Middle East.

The author is the Executive Director of SPME.

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