Middle East Studies Association members could be threatened by boycott of Israel

Following a vote by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) in favor of BDS, the question arose as to whether its institutional members, mostly colleges and universities, could violate state and federal laws against -discrimination – and in some states, laws specifically discourage BDS.

At MESA’s annual business meeting on December 2, 93% of those in attendance (444 members) voted in favor of a resolution “endorsing the Palestinian call for solidarity in the form of boycotts, divestments and sanctions, or BDS ”. The resolution will be put to a vote of the full members (MESA has more than 2,800 members) in early 2022.

In its resolution, MESA asserted that its call for an academic boycott of Israeli institutions was in line with its “commitment to academic freedom.” However, the Cornell Law School professor and author of Legal insurrection The William Jacobson blog told JNS that institutional members of MESA must “adhere to federal and state non-discrimination laws and their own institutional protections of non-discrimination and academic freedom.”

Legal insurrection contacted the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as Florida State University is an institutional member of MESA. The Florida legislature almost unanimously passed an anti-BDS bill in 2016. The law prevents the state from investing in or doing business with companies that support boycotts against Israel.

“In law and in principle, the State of Florida does not tolerate discrimination against the State of Israel or the people of Israel, including boycotts and divestments targeting Israel (the BDS movement),” the office said. governor in a statement in response to Legal insurrection. The statement was provided to JNS by Christina Pushaw, press secretary in the governor’s office.

While admitting that the anti-BDS law “does not explicitly apply to public post-secondary institutions,” the statement continued (emphasis in original), “We expect Florida State University will not allow MESA to operate. a boycott of Israel through a public institution, will not accept the academic boycott of Israel, and will not allow university funds to go indirectly or directly to an organization that supports BDS.

Jacobson told JNS the statement did not rule out the possibility that the anti-BDS law could apply to post-secondary institutions. “I think she was referring to a specific law that was used in relation to Ben and Jerry’s. From what I understood from his statement, it did not apply specifically, not that it did not apply. Federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination would still apply, as would institutional protections against discrimination and academic freedoms.

Gerard Filitti, senior advisor to The Lawfare Project, a litigation fund that protects the human and civil rights of Jewish and pro-Israel communities, told JNS: “Florida’s response to MESA’s BDS resolution sends a clear message that the government is ready and willing to act against this insidious form of bigotry and discrimination.

“Proselytizing for BDS is not illegal, but its supporters often peddle it in a way that includes targeted harassment of the Jewish community and incites or provokes violence. This is subject to legal action, as is engaging in discriminatory behavior in connection with a BDS resolution. Institutional members – schools – who adopt and promulgate BDS resolutions at MESA’s request bear enormous responsibility for doing so, ”Filitti added.

JNS has contacted the Florida State University System’s legislative and communications coordinator for comment, but has not received a response.

Not only its institutional members, but MESA itself can be subject to legal action. Jacobson said. “MESA is bound by the same non-discrimination laws and policies and the same protections of academic freedom, to which any other group operating on campus or through a university must adhere,” he said. declared.

Individual MESA members are also not exempt, Jacobson noted.

“Individual MESA members, to the extent that they engage in on-campus behavior in violation of federal, state, and institutional protections for non-discrimination and academic freedom, have no more and no less responsibility than for any other prohibited discrimination in which they have engaged, ”he said.

Ida M. Morgan