Middle East Studies Association Fights a Rising Tide of Critics

Historians in the News
tags: Middle East Studies Association

With tensions between Israelis and Palestinians escalating after this week’s terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue, one scholarly group, the Middle East Studies Association, appears unlikely to escape conflict anytime soon.

Yet, after a year in which many of its members have been publicly accused of anti-Israel bias or even outright anti-Semitism, the group, known as Mesa, is not showing any signs of shying away from controversy. In addition to having published strongly worded attacks on its members’ accusers and lodged protests against Israel’s shelling of Palestinian educational institutions, the association plans to wade right into hot-button debates related to Israel at its annual conference, which begins here on Saturday.

Steven G. Salaita, the scholar who became a cause célèbre among academe’s critics of Israel last summer, will headline a panel discussion of "new assaults on academic freedom." The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign responded to Mr. Salaita’s inflammatory social-media posts denouncing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians by withdrawing an offer to hire him as a tenured professor. Many academics protested that decision.

Campus Watch, which was established by the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank, and monitors Middle East studies programs for speech it deems hostile to Israel, last month denounced the planned panel as stacked with critics of that nation.

But Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University who will be completing a two-year term as Mesa’s president, argued this week in an email that the planned panel discussion was "about the Salaita case, not about Israel." He added, "I am not clear why anybody would care to check the balance of political positions represented on what is at most an issue of tangential relevance to the discussion." ...

Read entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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