The Middle East Studies Association Releases a Statement on Palestine and Israel
MESA middle east studies association

The Board of Directors of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) of North America released a statement on Palestine and Israel shortly after the events of October 7, 2023. They condemn Israeli forces’ ongoing attack on the Gaza strip while acknowledging that Hamas kidnapped and killed Israeli civilians.

The group addresses the unprecedented death toll in the Gaza strip and the growing number of injured Palestinian men, women, and children. MESA’s Board of Directors calls for “safety, dignity, and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.”

Who Is MESA?

MESA is a non-profit organization that fosters the study of “the Arab World” through programs, publications, and services designed to “enhance education” and “further intellectual exchange.” The organization defends academic freedom through both political advocacy and public scholarship.

MESA was founded in 1966 and now has thousands of members across North America. Through its various publications, annual conference, and awards program, the MESA group advances learning and communication about the Middle East region.

Statement on Palestine and Israel: The Motivation to Speak Up

In this statement, MESA acknowledges that the organization’s members are “acutely concerned with and heartbroken by the loss of Israeli and Palestinian lives” in the ongoing war. They remind the public that the “increased killing, injuring, and displacing of Palestinian people does little to increase the safety of Israelis.”

The MESA Board of Directors wrote that their decision to speak out was grounded in an affirmation of Palestinian people’s fundamental rights to peace and security. They are also moved to stand for academic freedom amidst the suppression of voices standing for Palestine.

Suppressing the Voices for Scholars

MESA’s statement addresses one aspect of the broader Israel-Palestine conflict: the attack on academic institutions. They critique the “decades-long Israeli military and government attacks on Palestinian students, teachers, and educational facilities.” The association says this violence is a part of the larger system of colonial violence Israel inflicts on Palestinian people.

The Board connects these issues with the “many cases” of university professors speaking on the issues between Israel and Palestine “being discouraged or silenced.” According to MESA, “the swift and dramatic narrowing of permissible speech on Israel/Palestine” from universities across North America “strikes at the heart of academic freedom.”

They summarize the current state of affair in academia:

“Many campus leaders at U.S. and Canadian universities have released statements a majority of which exclusively address violence against Israelis, while many among their faculty, staff, students have sought to challenge such statements and present alternative viewpoints. In several troubling instances, these efforts have been met with threats to and vilification of faculty and staff.”

This silencing has also extended to students and student groups.

Students Under Fire

Numerous student organizations have issued statements critical of Israeli policies or expressing solidarity with Palestinians. Unfortunately, many have subsequently been “subject to harassment, intimidation, and threats” through their academic institutions.

Worse even, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students and student groups have been increasingly targeted for their views.  As the MESA statement asserts, some university presidents have “shut down campuses to prevent pro-Palestinian protests or vigils.”

Further adding fuel to the fire, outside groups and organizations are directly pressuring university presidents. They often pressure academic leadership to release statements that only offer humanity to Israel and its citizens.

Calls to Action from MESA

MESA’s statement has two main demands: (1) an end to the ongoing violence in Gaza and (2) a retention of the right to academic freedom. They make these demands not only to the Israeli government, but also to academic institutions across North America.

A Demand to End the Violence

MESA’s Board of Directors are clear in their statement: they do not believe that military interventions will bring about long-term solutions. They argue that the Israel-Palestine conflict has been riddled with unnecessary death, including the killing of thousands of civilians. If the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian people continues, the MESA Board fear that the current siege of Gaza strip “risks becoming a campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

The organization remains committed to their philosophy that the best path forward, for both Palestine and Israel, is “one premised on the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis to live in dignity and safety.”

A part of their dedication to a peaceful future includes an academic environment “free of harassment [and] intimidation.” This includes an end to threats on the livelihoods and safety of faculty, staff, and students who speak out for justice in Palestine.

Universities Need to Stand for Academic Freedom

As an organization of mostly professors and research, MESA has stakes in the conversation on academic freedom. Their call to action asks universities in North America to “affirmatively assert and protect the right to academic freedom.” This means ensuring that all members of the intellectual community can express their opinions with freedom from persecution or retribution.

MESA also urges academic spaces to create and cultivate safe spaces on campus. A safe space should be free from “violence, intimidation, and censorship,” for everyone. MESA insists in maintain freedom of speech, especially for students and teachers.

How can you get involved?

To learn more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and how you can get involved,

visit The Promised Land Museum and consider hosting an exhibit to help promote peace.

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