On 22 March 2022, the voting membership of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) passed a resolution (768 votes in favor, 167 votes against) endorsing the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society for the boycott, divestment, and sanction of Israel.
Below are some commonly asked questions about this resolution, how it came about, and what it means for MESA.
What does the resolution actually do?
While the first eight clauses of the resolution’s text assert basic facts and the rationale for the resolution (i.e., those starting with “Whereas), it is the ninth and final clause of the resolution that contains new policy directives for the organization (i.e., that which starts with “Resolved”). Therein, the resolution states that the majority of the MESA membership (1) “endorse the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society for BDS against Israel” and (2) “directs the MESA Board of Directors to work in consultation with Committee of Academic Freedom to give effect to the spirit and intent of this resolution, in a manner consistent with MESA’s bylaws as well as relevant US federal, state, and local laws.”
With the passage of this resolution, the majority of the MESA membership has endorsed the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. What this means in terms of potentially new policies or practice is yet to be determined by the Board of Directors, in consultation with MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom, as the resolution itself stipulates. Whatever new policies and practices will be adopted by MESA as an organization in relation to this resolution will be consistent with MESA’s bylaws as well as relevant US federal, state, and local laws, as the resolution itself states, and as the Board of Directors would be required to do given their fiduciary responsibilities toward the organization.
What procedures governed the introduction and passage of this resolution?
Resolutions and referenda are conducted according to MESA’s organizational bylaws. Article III, Section 4 outlines and governs the procedures for the introduction and passage of resolutions. Once introduced and satisfying the bylaws, a resolution is incorporated into the agenda of the Annual Members Meeting, and subsequently discussed and voted on in accordance with the rules of order that govern the Annual Members Meeting. If this vote at the Annual Members Meeting passes, the resolution is then put up for a membership-wide vote, otherwise referred to as a referendum, per Article III, Section 5 of MESA’s bylaws.
Does this mean that current or future MESA members are required to abide personally or individually by the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS?
No. This resolution is binding on MESA as an organization, shaping its policies as an organization. It neither requires individual members to hold a particular viewpoint on BDS nor does it require individual members to conduct their personal or professional relationships in a particular manner.
Does the resolution apply to Institutional Members of MESA or to other affiliates?
No. This resolution is non-binding on any MESA member, and is thus in no way binding on institutional members or affiliated organizations (just as it is non-binding on individual members). Per MESA bylaws, only individual full members were eligible to vote on this resolution. Neither institutional members nor affiliated organizations are eligible to vote on membership resolutions (or in MESA elections). Institutional members and affiliated organizations are therefore not party to the resolution, and the resolution should not have any impact on their operations.
What does the passage of the resolution mean for how MESA conducts its business as an organization?
As the resolution states, the Board of Directors will find ways to “give effect to the spirit and intent of the resolution,” in consultation with the Committee on Academic Freedom, and in a manner “consistent with MESA’s bylaws and relevant US federal, state, and local laws.” As such, the Board of Directors will explore all these matters before recommending or implement new policies or practices for the organization.
Does passage of this resolution violate MESA’s bylaws?
No. This resolution was introduced, discussed, and voted on at the 2021 Annual Members Meeting and then voted on in a subsequent referendum in precisely the manner outlined in MESA’s bylaws. Furthermore, the resolution instructs the Board to implement the spirit and intent of the resolution “in a manner consistent with MESA’s bylaws.”
As a 501(c)3 organization, isn’t MESA prohibited from as explicit a political stance as endorsing the BDS campaign?
No. MESA’s 501(c)3 status under the Internal Revenue Code prohibits the organization from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” It does not prevent MESA from adopting a viewpoint about a particular “political” topic or bringing its policies in line with such a viewpoint. In addition, MESA’s bylaws require the organization to conduct itself in accordance with its 501(c)3 status. Finally, the resolution itself instructs the Board to implement the spirit and intent of the resolution “in a manner consistent with MESA’s bylaws.”
Has the MESA membership passed any other resolutions and has MESA expressed viewpoints on any other topics?
The MESA membership has introduced a range of resolutions since its establishment in 1966. You can view other resolutions passed in the “Resolutions” section of the MESA website (click here). MESA as an organization has expressed a wide variety of viewpoints through statements by the Board of Directors (click here), letters by MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom (click here), and communications by MESA’s Task Force on Civil and Human Rights (click here).
Have other US-based academic associations voted on or endorsed the BDS campaign?
Yes. To date, the following US-based academic associations have voted on whether or not to endorse part or all of the BDS campaign: American Anthropological Association (AAA), American Studies Association (ASA), Asian American Studies Association (AASA), Modern Languages Association (MLA), National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA), Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). All but the AAA and MLA passed resolutions endorsing the BDS campaign in part or in full.
What is the 2005 Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS?
In July 2005, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued a call to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. According to the Palestinian BDS National Committee, the boycott component of this call refers to “complicit Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions” as well as “Israeli and international companies engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights.” The divestment component of this call urges “banks, local councils, churches, pension funds and universities to withdraw investments from the State of Israel and all Israeli and international companies that sustain Israeli apartheid.” The sanctions component seeks to “pressure governments to fulfil their legal obligations to end Israeli apartheid, and not aid or assist in maintenance, by banning business with illegal Israeli settlements, ending military trade and free-trade agreements, as well as suspending Israel’s membership in international forums such as UN bodies and FIFA.”
Will individuals critical of this resolution be able to continue being members of MESA?
Yes. As far as the organization is concerned, an individual person’s views about BDS or MESA’s resolution concerning BDS have no bearing on the organization’s membership procedures. This resolution is not binding on individual members, but rather binding on MESA as an organization. Previous resolutions, CAF letters, and Board statements have expressed a range of viewpoints that, while communicated in the name of the organization, have never imposed a requirement or expectation that any member agree with or not criticize said view.
Will MESA continue to accept Israeli scholars as members of the organization?
Yes. Individual Israeli scholars will be able to continue to initiate, maintain, renew their individual memberships with MESA. Nothing in this resolution calls on MESA to expel or otherwise bar individual Israeli scholars from membership in the organization. In fact, one of the “Whereas” clauses specifically recalls that the BDS campaign endorsed by the resolution is “one that targets institutions and not individuals.”
Will MESA continue to accept paper, panel, and/or roundtable proposals by Israeli scholars?
Yes. Individual Israeli scholars who are members of MESA will be able to fully participate in presenting papers, organizing panels and roundtables, and attending/voting in MESA business matters as they have been before this resolution’s passage. Nothing in this resolution calls on MESA to restrict individual Israeli scholars from membership in the organization, including participation in the annual meeting through presenting papers and organizing panels and roundtables. The resolution specifically “targets institutions and not individuals.”
Will MESA continue to accept papers, panels, and/or roundtables that focus on the Israeli state, Israeli society, or Israeli history?
Yes. Nothing in this resolution changes the parameters of what constitutes the field of Middle East studies, or attempts to impose what constitutes legitimate viewpoints about specific topics in the field of Middle East studies. This includes research, analysis, and scholarship on the Israeli state, Israeli society, and/or Israeli history.
Will passage of this resolution subject MESA to any legal liability?
We believe the passage of this resolution in general, and the endorsement of the viewpoints expressed therein, are protected by the First Amendment. Any change in MESA policies and practice resulting from this resolution will be in keeping with MESA’s bylaws and relevant federal, state, and local laws. As such, we do not believe we create any legal liability by the membership’s passage of this resolution or its eventual implementation; however, we also recognize that there are certain parties whose very goal is to punish support for the BDS campaign or suppress speech about Palestine through smearing organizations or their members as well as filing frivolous law suits or otherwise attempting to legally challenge a resolution’s passage, on procedural or other grounds We are prepared for these possibilities and confident in our ability to counter such claims when and if necessary, whether publicly or in a court of law.
What should I do as a MESA member if contacted by an outside party about this resolution?
Individual members are free to express their personal views in their individual capacities. They are also free to refrain from commenting if they choose to not express their views. Members are welcome to refer any media or other inquiries to the MESA Secretariat. Only official communication by MESA represents the viewpoints of the organization.
[This FAQ was issued by the Middle East Studies Association on 23 March 2022.]