Last year the Middle East Studies Association (MESA)—long the major academic organ for its field in North America—formally endorsed the boycotting of Israeli institutions of higher learning. Martin Kramer examines what’s happened since:
At that moment, MESA transformed itself from an academic association to a political advocacy group. That raises an acute question. MESA has a category of institutional members which (so it claims) “share MESA’s commitment . . . [to] defending the rights of scholars and academics around the world.” How many of these members have continued their membership in MESA, given that the association has violated the rights of Israeli scholars and academics?
We now have a clearer answer to that question. Numbers tell part of the story. At the end of 2022, there were 43 institutional members. At present there are only 31. The downward trend has been evident for a while: in 2010, MESA had 62 institutional members. But the most recent drop has been swift and steep. Still, it’s the qualitative deterioration that’s truly remarkable. Some of the nation’s leading Middle East centers no longer appear on the membership rolls.
Given the timing, one suspects that MESA’s boycott resolution is responsible for the flight, at least in part. These veteran Middle East centers are precisely the ones that compete for federal funding as “national resource centers.” Having their names associated with the aims of a BDS organization may be perceived as a risk. Better just to leave the MESA renewal notice in the “to-do” box or toss it out.