MESA responds to Alan Luxenberg: We take defending academic freedom seriously





HNN received an email from Laurie Brand, Chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom for the Middle East Studies Association, responding directly to an article published on August 13 by Alan Luxenberg, director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, that criticized a perceived anti-Israeli bias within the organization, specifically at its 2011 conference. Read the original article here.

Dear Mr. Luxenberg,

I am writing in response to the e-mail message dated August 19, 2012 that you sent to members of the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) and that included the text of an article you published on the History News Network on August 13, 2012. In that article you expressed concerns about: (1) a problem that arose with regard to participation on a panel at the Middle East Studies Association’s annual meeting in December 2011; (2) what you claim is CAF’s disproportionate focus on violations of academic freedom by Israel; and (3) MESA’s position with regard to the public campaign advocating the academic boycott of Israel.

(1) At the 2011 annual meeting, the two Israeli scholars involved, both of them MESA members, complained to MESA’s executive secretary and president about what had transpired at the panel. MESA’s president subsequently issued a letter of apology to the two scholars. As your article indicated, that letter also clarified MESA’s position on the issues involved and conveyed its commitment that what happened with that panel would not be allowed to recur. The two Israeli scholars graciously accepted this apology and promise regarding future panels. Given that the issue was fully addressed and resolved by MESA’s board, there was no reason for further intervention by CAF; nor do we see any reasonable grounds for claiming that MESA’s actions in this case were disingenuous or betrayed its firm and longstanding commitment to academic freedom, as your article alleges.

(2) The members of CAF are scholars who have diverse backgrounds, country and regional expertise and disciplinary training; they volunteer their time and energy out of a common commitment to defending academic freedom, in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in North America. CAF addresses cases as they come to its attention, either through its members’ contacts or by referral from other MESA members or the Middle East studies community more broadly. It is not now, nor has it ever been, CAF’s policy or practice to focus disproportionately on any particular country or set of countries. Examination of the page on MESA’s website at which CAF’s letters are posted (http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/committees/academic-freedom/intervention/index.html) will demonstrate that CAF has protested violations of or threats to academic freedom in a wide range of countries; similarly, MESA has given its annual Academic Freedom Award to individuals and organizations based in many different countries, in the region and beyond (http://www.mesa.arizona.edu/awards/mesa-academic-freedom.html). We therefore reject your allegation that Israel has been unfairly singled out for criticism.

(3) While individual members of MESA are of course free to take whatever stand they feel appropriate with regard to the campaign for the academic boycott of Israel, CAF’s letter of May 13, 2005 continues to reflect that body’s position with regard to this question.

In this connection I would also point out that your HNN article inaccurately conveys what actually happened at the debate on academic boycotts held at MESA’s 2006 annual meeting. As you acknowledge, two of the four panelists vigorously opposed academic boycotts, including the academic boycott of Israel; your subsequent statement that “ALL [sic] four panelists … expressed support for the BDS movement” is, therefore, misleading.

We would appreciate it if you would circulate this letter to all those individuals, organizations and media outlets to whom you circulated your original article, so that they can have our perspective on the issues you raised.

Sincerely,

Laurie A. Brand, CAF Chair

Laurie A. Brand
Robert Grandford Wright Professor
and
Professor of International Relations
USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences
University of Southern California

Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Middle East Studies Association (MESA)


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