The Middle East Studies Association Imagines Its Future

The large room at the Marriott Wardman Park was filled to overflowing on Sunday afternoon for a special session billed as “Thinking Palestine Intersectionally.” The seats were occupied and scores of others stood along the walls, sat on the floor in front of the stage, and spilled out into the hallway. For many it was clearly the highlight of The Middle East Studies Association’s November 2017 annual meeting of faculty and graduate students, held in Washington, DC. Perhaps 500 people were present to hear Noura Erakat, Judith Butler, Samera Esmeir, and Angela Davis be hailed as symbolic conquerors of the Jewish state. “The peace process is over,” Erakat began, and then affirmed “the entwinement of our liberation,” offering her own take on intersectionality. The real reason the United States blocked the “Zionism is racism” framework, she declared was “to prevent itself from having to pay reparations for slavery,” a claim that would have surprised the very people who fought against the 1975 UN resolution. The days of progressive advocacy “except for Palestine are over,” she concluded. It is time “to bar supporters of Israel from feminist movements.” Even this last agenda item, a call to cast out the female devils in our midst, met with loud applause.

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Politics in the University

“Incidentally, I notice that our professors, trying to show off to their students, rant and rail against the state and against law and order, while expecting that same state to punctually pay their salaries, pensions, and family allowances, so that they value at least this kind of law and order. Make a fist with the left hand and open the right hand receptively—that is how one gets through life.”
—Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil

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Academic Freedom in Palestinian Universities

Debates about the status of academic freedom in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank have for years focused almost exclusively on claims about the negative impact particular Israeli government and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) policies and practices have had on Palestinian students and faculty. Largely ignored, especially as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) levels accusations against Israel and promotes boycott and divestment resolutions directed against the Jewish state, has been the broader character of academic freedom on Palestinian campuses. Indeed there is little evidence that most students and faculty in the West know what the major threats to academic freedom in Gaza and the West Bank are, let alone who is responsible for carrying them out.

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Politics in the University

“Incidentally, I notice that our professors, trying to show off to their students, rant and rail against the state and against law and order, while expecting that same state to punctually pay their salaries, pensions, and family allowances, so that they value at least this kind of law and order. Make a fist with the left hand and open the right hand receptively—that is how one gets through life.”
—Ernst Jünger, Eumeswil

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Academic Boycotts and Professional Responsibility

I was invited to speak on this panel, having been reassured that it would be devoted to academic boycotts in general, but I cannot say that I was surprised to discover that half of the titles here advocate one and only one boycott target. I will therefore make some remarks concerning academic boycotts in general, to which I object on principle, but also comment on the campaign against Israeli universities in particular. I expect that we will hear boycott proponents denounce the apartheid character of Israeli society or policies of genocide and other such mythologies that the boycott movement has disseminated and which the APA may eventually be asked to endorse. But let’s leave the propaganda for the discussion section.

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When Freedom of Expression Says “No”: The Case against Academic Boycott

It is this article’s assertion that calls for academic boycott contradict with the classic rationales of the right to free expression and with the peculiar features of the right to academic freedom. Freedom of expression is about developing a dialogue between two opposing opinions, wherein each claims to be the right one. Calls for academic boycott promote monologues rather than dialogues, thus creating the illusion that they represent the truth because they are not challenged. Moreover, protecting the right to academic freedom of individual academics is necessary for their fulfillment as researchers who can respect academic standards exclusively rather than institutional mandates. The self-fulfillment for an individual academic is enacted through the ability to convey messages that can compete against other views.

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