The university announced on March 24 that it would be disassociating from the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) after the organization announced it would be supporting Palestinian boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The university stated that “as a matter of principle” the university does not support academic boycotts in any country, according to a BrandeisNow article.
“The resolution attacks the fundamental principles of academic freedom and association to which MESA specifically refers in its mission statement, and to which Brandeis is committed,” reads a BrandeisNOW article with the universities response to the resolution.
The university announced its disassociation from MESA on March 24 to affirm its support of academic freedom, according to the article. MESA made the decision to support BDS on March 23 after many years of discussing taking a stance, according to an article on the MESA website. “In a 768-167 vote, members of the Middle East Studies Association have voted in favor of a resolution endorsing the Palestinian call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel as a way to hold the government accountable for ongoing human rights violations,” reads the article.
The decision had about 80 percent support within the organization and the proposed resolution does not target individual scholars or students but rather institutions, according to the resolution. In the resolution, it also states the right of individual MESA members to make an individual choice over whether they will participate in the academic boycott. The academic boycott is designated for Israeli institutions that are complicit “in Israel’s violations of human rights and international law through their provision and direct assistance to the military and intelligence establishments,” according to the resolution.
There was a 50-day voting period for this resolution from Jan. 32 to March 22, according to an article from The New Arab. Though the BDS vote has been in consideration by MESA members since 2005 and the academic boycott is intended as a way to support Palestinian scholars who are at risk due to Israeli occupation, according to a statement by Eve Troutt Powell, president of MESA’s board of directors.
“In light of this vote and the boycott, Brandeis dissociates from MESA and reaffirms our support for academic freedom,” reads the university’s statement on the BrandeisNOW article.
BDS is a Palestinian-led movement, according to the BDS movement page, seeking freedom, justice and equality. The campaign launched in 2005 and it is built on the three pillars of boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Boycotts are held against companies and organizations which are complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights, divestment from state of Israel companies and sanctions to push governments towards aiding the end of Israeli apartheid, according to their page.
The university is not the only institution that has decided to cut ties with MESA and also announced a condemnation of MESA for supporting a boycott against Israeli higher education institutions, according to a BrandeisNOW article. Universities began rescinding from the organization back in December 2021 when MESA first voted to consider endorsing BDS, according to an Algemeiner article. Florida State University and an academic center at the University of Arizona both ended their association with MESA in January 2022, according to the article.
The dissociation of Florida State University and the University of Arizona from MESA due to the threat to “academic freedom” posed if MESA endorsed BDS. In Florida, there are specific state laws that prohibit the use of public funds to support BDS, according to the article, and since the university is a state university it could not be associated with MESA.
The Brandeis Hoot reached out to Julie Jette, Assistant Vice President for Communications, for comment, but did not receive an immediate response before publication.