Academics vote to be forum on Israel boycotts

AP News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2014 4:34 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A key U.S. organization of Middle East scholars voted Monday to protect the rights of members who support a longstanding Palestinian call for academic boycotts of Israeli institutions but stopped short of taking a stand for or against such activities.

By a vote of 256-79, members at an annual meeting of the Middle East Studies Association in Washington agreed to send the resolution to the general membership for a vote in the coming months.

The organization resolved to remain an open forum for discussion of academic boycotts of Israel and deplored attempts to intimidate those taking part in such activities. The issue arose from the 2005 Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

MESA President Nathan Brown emphasized that the organization was not taking a stand on the moves by many organizations worldwide and in the United States to boycott, disinvest or sanction Israel or Israeli institutions for the failure of Middle East peace talks designed to create a state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza Strip existing side-by-side with Israel.

The so-called BDS movement has gained strength with recent violence that has stemmed from tensions surrounding Jerusalem's hilltop complex that is revered by Muslims and Jews, the collapse of U.S.-brokered peace talks, Israel's war last summer in the Gaza Strip against the Islamic militant group Hamas, and continued Israeli settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

MESA said academic boycotts among its members — 2,700 scholars, more than 60 institutions worldwide and 39 affiliated organizations — are "protected free speech and legitimate forms of non-violent political action."

Ofra Ash, spokeswoman for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said ahead of the vote on Monday that the school "condemns academic boycotts, which directly violate the principle of academic freedom that underpins higher education. Relations between academic organizations or institutions should be based on academic considerations alone."