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November 22, 2022 5:09 pm
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Overwhelming Majority of Middle East Scholars Support Boycotting Israel, New Survey Shows

avatar by Dion J. Pierre

Illustrative Anti-Israel protestors in Melbourne, Australia, c. 2021. Photo: Matt Hrkac/Wikimedia Commons.

An overwhelming majority of Middle East scholars support boycotting Israel, according to a new survey.

From October 25 to November 8, Shibley Telhami of University of Maryland and Marc Lynch of George Washington University conducted the Middle East Scholars Barometer, a bi-annual survey of  Middle East specialists across the country on “critical issues of the day.”

Shared with The Algemeiner on Tuesday, its data shows that only nine percent of 500 responding experts from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) and the American Political Science Association (APSA) would “oppose all boycotts of Israel.” 91 percent, Telhami and Lynch noted on Tuesday in an op-ed for The Washington Post, “support at least some boycotts.” 36 percent also favor “some boycotts” but not against Israeli universities.

The results were drawn from a question asking scholars if they supported MESA’s decision to endorse the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement after 93% of its members voted in March to approve a resolution proposing the action.

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“This is a problem that we saw trends and symptoms of already back in the 1970s and brings us all the way to today,” Middle East expert and executive director of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) Asaf Romirowsky told The Algemeiner on Tuesday. “No scholar should support any boycott that involves blocking access to information. It’s antithetical to the whole concept of scholarship and exchange of data and research.”

In March, MESA said its endorsement of BDS would not affect individual Israeli scholars. However, critics, including several MESA members, warned that it would threaten academic freedom, preventing “free exchanges between faculty members and students worldwide.” Later that month, Brandeis University, Florida State University, and University Arizona declined to renew institutional memberships with the organization, with Brandeis University arguing that “the resolution attacks the fundamental principles of academic freedom.”

Miriam Elman of the Academic Engagement Network said the number of professors opposed to an academic boycott of Israel means that MESA endorsed BDS before having a fuller sense of its members’ opinions on the issue.

“The survey results also highlight how shortsighted MESA’s leadership was during the run-up to the BDS vote last spring, when it ignored a reasonable request to open an online forum where members could discuss and debate the pros and cons of academic boycotts,” she said.

Another Middle East expert and scholar, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of AMCHA Initiative, said the data identifies a source of rising antisemitism on American colleges and universities.

“Faculty who support an academic boycott of Israel play an outsized role in fueling the surge in antisemitism on campus and the threats that target Jewish students,” she told The Algemeiner. “In fact, schools with BDS-supporting faculty are 5 to 6 times more likely to have acts targeting Jewish students. And faculty are huge players in the latest dangerous and emerging threat on campus — attempts to chisel away at and erode Jewish identity.”

“Twenty percent of assaults on Jewish identity took place at events sponsored by academic departments, and more than one-third of anti-Zionist challenges to well-established definitions of Zionism, Judaism and antisemitism took place in programs sponsored by academic departments,” she added, citing a recent study by AMCHA Initiative.

Launched in 2005, the BDS campaign opposes Zionism — a movement supporting the Jewish people’s right to self-determination — and rejects Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish nation-state. It aims to isolate the country comprehensively with economic, political, and cultural boycotts.

Official guidelines issued for the campaign’s academic boycott state that “projects with all Israeli academic institutions should come to an end,” and delineate specific restrictions that adherents should abide by — for instance, denying letters of recommendation to students who apply to study in Israel.

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