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Anti-Israel Academic Resolutions
Dispute Over BDS Vote: The British Society for Middle Eastern Studies Threatens to Sue University of Durham
In July 2019, IAM reported on cases where professional Middle East associations have been taken over by political activists to promote BDS.
One such case pertains to the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES). The 2019 BRISMES Conference, "Joining the Dots: Interdisciplinarity in Middle East Studies," took place at the University of Leeds between 24-26 of June 2019. At the same time, the BRISMES leadership has held its annual general meeting (AGM) which voted in favor of BDS. However, the BRISMES case had a twist, when, the following day, on Jun 27, 2019, the officers of BRISMES have published a notice on the BRISMES website explaining that BRISMES "has not endorsed the academic boycott of Israeli Institutions as advocated by BDS.” While the AGM has voted in favor of a boycott, “This vote is not binding on the Society."
According to the BRISMES constitution, "The principal aims of the Society shall be to encourage and promote interest and study in the United Kingdom of the Middle Eastern cultural region from the end of classical antiquity to the present day through the dissemination of information and by the encouragement of co-operation amongst persons and organizations concerned with the scholarly study of the region."
Surely, there is no mention of calls for boycott as part of the association's aims. Also, the constitution determines that no amendments may be made to the “aims” provision “without the prior consent in writing of the Charity Commissioners."
Still, BRISMES claims to be changing. It focuses now on Middle East studies, "in ways that recognize the circumstances of, and express solidarity with, our Palestinian colleagues, whose education, research and scholarship are profoundly impacted by Israeli colonization and occupation."
In response to the officers' announcement that the BDS vote is not binding, Laleh Khalili, an Iranian American professor of International Politics at the Queen Mary University of London, declined an invitation to give the annual lecture at BRISMES. She accused BRISMES of an "attempt to circumvent organizational democracy.” Khalili also declared, "I am ashamed... to see that the officers of BRISMES are imperiling the institution. Should their unethical and politically motivated chicanery continue, I will join in with all other current and potential members to boycott the organization." Khalili took it to her social media and wrote, "Friends, if you are members of BRISMES, don't resign yet. You need to stay in to support the activists who are trying to change the organization. If people leave, this will be seen as a victory for the old guard and for their anti-BDS position."
Likewise, Palestinian Nada Elia, an emerita professor of Gender and Global Studies and a member of the Steering Collective of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), described BRISMES move as “underhandedness.” She blamed it on "the norm at large and small universities, public and private, as well as various scholarly associations, from Europe to North America." Still, she was optimistic that "the popular discourse" would shift towards an "embrace of justice for all," and "universities will need to listen to their faculty, students and staff. Academic associations will need to respect the decisions of their membership."
Prof. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli BDS activist and a subject of numerous IAM reports, responded on June 30, 2019, on the Facebook page of BRISMES: "yes this is disappointing on the one hand, and i published the version i received from the people who initiated the motion; but Mai Taha got it right: the members are for BDS, the leadership, as in so other cases, is timid. But it is another important step in the right direction."
Shortly after this BDS attempt, the University of Durham decided to pull out from its' BRISMES membership, because of the "events of this past summer and in particular the resolution put forward by BRISMES members to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions," as well as "the events of the BRISMES Annual General Meeting and the mood of proponents of the resolution."
In response, the BRISMES leadership wrote a fuming letter, threatening the University of Durham with legal action. "We note that there may also be further legal issues arising from breach of contract... By withdrawing administrative services to BRISMES in response to the AGM resolution, the University of Durham may therefore have acted in breach of its legal obligations to uphold freedom of expression and academic freedom." The letter explicitly warned that the "possibly unlawful actions have exposed us to considerable loss and damage." The letter also disclosed how the then-officers resigned from their positions and contacted the Charity Commission for intervention.
Last month, to put more pressure on the University of Durham, the international organization Middle East Studies Association (MESA), wrote the University of Durham a letter, "to express its grave concern," and to argue that the University of Durham withdrawal from BRISMES, "constitutes a violation of their academic freedom." MESA asked the University of Durham to "publicly affirm its commitment" to BRISMES.
The University of Durham has so far not responded to any of these demands. IAM will report on the case as it develops.

American Historical Association Makes the Right Decision
For the second year in a row now, the AHA has resoundingly rejected the proposal of Historians Against War to vote against Israel. Last year they proposed BDS and this year “Protecting the Right to Education in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” by monitoring Israeli actions.
As IAM noted, Historians Against War is a radical neo-Marxist group which uses the colonial paradigm to present Israel as a colonial, apartheid state. The report presented to the AHA was biased on a number of counts, not least because the group violated its mandate to employ objective observers. Instead, most of the task members were either pro-Palestinian activists or faculty whose neo-Marxist, critical scholarship is easy to document.
In its decision, the AHA stated that the report was replete with facts that could not be empirically supported. In plain English, the biases of the authors of the reports led them to create a reality that comported with their view of the conflict.
According to the AHA report below "Opponents responded that academic freedom violations are legion throughout the world and that the AHA is already affiliated with Scholars at Risk, a group that monitors violations of academic freedom globally. Some opponents argued that a “yes” vote would be divisive, to which proponents responded that the Association has taken stands on other controversial matters and survived. Members disagreed over whether the occupation was the signal moral issue of our time, as well as whether the AHA has the capacity to do what the resolution would commit it to."
Opponents noted that the AHA should not get involved in issues outside their field of expertise, and that “We should not turn the AHA into a vehicle for a specific Middle East agenda.”
In voting down the BDS proposal the AHA sent a strong signal that professional associations should not get involved in matters that are well outside the scope of their concerns.

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