Open Letter To MESA Members: In Protest of CAFMENAs Letter to the Association of University Teachers (UK) sign now

OPEN LETTER TO MESA MEMBERS
In Protest of CAFMENAs Letter to the Association of University Teachers (UK), May 13, 2005
May 20, 2005

We the undersigned, members of MESA and friends, are profoundly dismayed by MESAs Committee for Academic Freedom on the Middle East and North Africas letter to the Association of University Teachers (AUT, UK) urging the Association to withdraw or rescind [its] resolution to boycott these universities [Haifa and Bar Ilan] and blacklist their faculty at the very earliest opportunity. The letter, dated May 13, 2005 and signed by MESA President, Ali Banuazizi, not only exceeds the terms of CAFMENAs written protocol (mandate), but it also misrepresents the academic boycott campaign and commits factual errors, especially regarding the issue of faculty blacklisting. (See below under Factual Errors, Second)

Protocol. Through CAFMENA, MESA monitors infringements on academic freedom in the Middle East and North Africa. Such infringements include governmental refusal to allow scholars to conduct scholarly research, publish their findings, deliver academic lectures, and travel to international scholarly meetings. (http://fp.arizona.edu/mesassoc/cafmena.htm

First. CAFMENAs protocol aptly defines the situation of Palestinian scholars and students under Israeli occupation. There is nothing in the AUT boycott resolution that calls upon the Government of Israel to infringe on the academic freedom of Israeli scholars in the two named universities regarding any of the above named activities, and the AUT neither wants nor has the power of a state to do so. Israeli Government infringements on Palestinian rights to education, their freedom of movement and residence and a host of other rights guaranteed under international law are violations of Palestinian human rights.

Second. CAFMENA was formed to deal with violations of academic freedom, considered a human right. The AUT resolution does not call for voiding the academic freedom of Israeli academics. The CAFMENA letter to AUT constitutes a violation of its protocol, i.e., it is a policy shift outside of CAFMENAs mandate. More serious is the fact that the MESA Board of Directors and the President have seemingly allowed this violation. Such changes in policy should have the memberships authorization.

Factual Errors. The AUT resolution was based on the statement and guidelines of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). (http://right2edu.birzeit.edu/news/article178) The letter misrepresents the content of the statement and guidelines.

First. The CAFMENA letter acknowledges that Israel restricts in a systematic manner academic freedom and the right to education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as noting that the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law. The letter failed to recognize important principles in the PACBI statement and their legitimacy.

Boycott is clearly among the clearest and least violent tactics in resisting occupation and injustice at an international level.

From our perspective, all forms of international intervention have until now failed to force Israel to comply with international law or to end its repression of the Palestinians, which has manifested itself in the brutal suppression of academic freedom, siege, indiscriminate killing wanton destruction and the racist colonial wall. And in view of the fact that people of conscience in the international community of scholars and intellectuals have historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in their struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott [including academic boycott], we call upon you, our colleagues in the international community, to comprehensively and consistently boycott all Israeli academic and cultural institutions in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistence and resistance to oppression.

MESA members are directed to UNGA Resolution 2787 (XXVI) of 6 December 1971 Confirming the
Legitimacy of Struggle for Self-Determination by Peoples Under Colonial and Foreign Domination, Including the People of Palestine. Members are also directed to revisit the internationally supported South African anti-apartheid boycott and sanctions regime on which the Palestinian campaign is modeled

Second. The letter also includes a false statement that the AUT boycott resolution includes blacklisting the faculty at the two universities. (See opening paragraph above) This is utter misrepresentation. The PACBI campaign statement and call for support on which the AUT resolution is based does not call for blacklisting in any fashion. The Palestinian campaign organizers point to their track record. As stated by one of them:

Our whole fight with many in the UK and Israel boiled down to whether PACBI advocates blacklisting or doesnt. We simply dont. We never did. Our record for more than one year attests to that. Blindly lifting this term from wild Zionist propaganda is shameful, to say the least. (May 19, 2005)

Third. The CAFMENA letter, states that initiatives by scholars and academics urging the administration of Bar Ilan University to end its institutional complicity with such violations [identified earlier in the letter and noted above under Protocol, First] are appropriate. However, the letter goes on to say but these should not be initiatives that themselves constitute breaches with important principles of the right to receive and impart information and ideas, or that represent forms of collective punishment against individual academics who find themselves in that university. (emphasis added). The PACBI campaign statement and call for support after noting actions recommended to international colleagues, actions focused on boycotting joint relations with Israeli institutions and academics whose work contributes to serving the occupation regime by providing research supporting ethnic cleansing, extra-judicial killings, etc., acquiescing in faculty serving in the army reserve forces, committing or witnessing crimes in silence, among other things calls for supporters to:

Exclude from the above actions against Israeli institutions any conscientious Israeli academics and intellectuals opposed to their states colonial and racist policies.

The AUT resolution does not prevent Israeli academics from receiving and imparting information and ideas. The issue is not academic freedom. The AUT resolution does not constitute as the CAFMENA letter claims, punishment against individual academics who find themselves in that [Bar Ilan] university. Rather, the resolution is an integral part of the growing international support for this form of Palestinian resistance, as the boycott/sanctions regime was before in South Africa. The Palestinian Campaign received the endorsement of the South African Council of Churches and more than 100 South African academics. Major South African organizations and unions endorsed an earlier Palestinian call for a comprehensive boycott of Israel. Today, there is a growing campaign to divest from companies whose products sold to Israel are used to bring harm to Palestinians. This is especially true among Christian dioceses and educational institutions. The effort to convince Caterpillar shareholders to vote against sales of its destructive bulldozers to Israel has failed to date, but it has raised the ethical and human rights issues to a high level of visibility, especially after one such bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie.


Conclusion. Tanya Reinhart (Where Is Israeli Academy Protest Against Occupation? in Yediot Aharonot, 4 May 2005, translated from Hebrew by Mark Marshall) makes the following statement, a statement which makes clear the why of the academic boycott:

In the eyes of the world, the question is what can be done when the relevant institutions do not succeed in enforcing international law? The boycott model is drawn from the past: South Africa

In the eyes of the international community, the relevant question is whether the Israeli Academy is entitled, on the basis of its actions, to be exempt from this general boycott. Many in the Israeli Academy oppose the occupation as individuals, but in practice no Israeli university senate has ever passed a resolution condemning, for example, the closure of Palestinian universities. Even now, when the wall cuts off students and lecturers from their universities, the protest of the Academy is not heard. The British boycott is selective. Two universities were selected to signal to the Israeli Academy that it is being watched. But the Israeli Academy still has the option of removing itself from the cycle of passive support of the occupation.


We, the undersigned MESA members and friends, opposed to the CAFMENA letter to the AUT President, register our strongest opposition on the basis of principle and procedure. We do not believe that the aforementioned committee has any right to formulate foreign policy stances on behalf of MESA members who entrusted CAFMENA with a specific mandate regarding the defense of academic freedoms. We are not swayed by the token reference in the letter to past MESA support for victims of Israeli oppression. We call on MESA members to express in unqualified terms a call to rescind CAFMENAs letter and acknowledge that this is a matter for MESA members to decide. It is not acceptable for CAFMENA to issue foreign policy statements in its letter to AUT on behalf of the members.

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Ophelia ValenciaBy:
International PolicyIn:
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The Middle East Studies Association

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