During the Cultural Revolution in China, Mao Zedong declared that “bourgeois intellectuals” could not be trusted as educators; “politically correct” students and teachers should be in charge. Thousands of high school students were sent to camps to be re-educated and embrace communist ideology. Tuition was free.
In America today, parents fork as much as tens of thousands of dollars annually for the same kind of campus re-education, including the communist ideology.
When it comes to Middle East Departments, re-education has been startlingly successful thanks to MESA (the Middle East Studies Association), which could be described as an education cartel that controls what is taught regarding Israel.
If you don’t belong to MESA it is extremely difficult to get employment or tenure in Middle East Study departments in all American colleges and universities, but it is equally difficult to join MESA if you don’t promote their narrative about Israel.
Currently, even the diminishing number of students who have a friendly attitude to Israel with some knowledge of its religious roots and historical and legitimate sovereignty, are quickly disabused of that and indoctrinated with the false narrative that Israel is a colonialist state which dispossessed an indigenous Arab population and now conducts oppression and “apartheid,” justifying Arab resentment. Their success in promoting this fake history is evident in the pro-Hamas rallies ignited on so many campuses recently.
In 1966, Bernard Lewis was a founding member of MESA, but in 2007 he withdrew when it increasingly adopted an anti-Israel bias. If one goes to their website, Lewis is not even mentioned as a founding member.
MESA’s Mission Statement sounds benign enough:
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a non-profit association that fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom in accordance with its status as a 501(c)(3) scientific, educational, literary, and charitable organization.
In 2023 about 14.2 million students are enrolled in an undergraduate program. MESA itself does not reach an overwhelming number of students but their professors do and they get their marching orders from the annual meetings. And they influence students in many departments.
Their 57th annual meeting was held at the Palais des Congrès in Montréal, Québec, Canada from November 2-5, 2023. The conference was the largest of its kind, with an estimated 2,200 attendees, 370 sessions, and nearly 50 exhibitors.
On November 2 there was a round-table discussion on “Palestine and the Rhetoric of Human Rights.” The presenter was Professor Karim Mattar, who teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
They all decried:
“the Palestine exception” to international law when it comes to the State of Israel’s policies and practices towards Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. While IGOs such as the UNSC and NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and B’Tselem have identified Israel’s policies as in violation of international humanitarian law as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), military occupation, settlement construction, forced displacement, the destruction of private property, and Apartheid have only accelerated since the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995.
Then in the late afternoon they moved on to a discussion of Iran: “Etched in Mistrust: Continuity and Change in U.S.-Iran Nuclear Negotiations (1969–1978).” Reza H. Akbari disclosed,
Based on my analysis of the sources, it is unlikely that Iran’s nuclear program was born with an aim toward weaponization. The major driving force behind Iran’s approach at the time appears to have been three-pronged: the nuclear pursuit as a means for gaining domestic and international legitimacy; as an eventual alternative for fossil fuels; and regional competition with countries such as Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, and India.
Bright and early the next day they attended “Teaching 9/11 and the Global War on Terror at the Undergraduate Level.” Professor Pheroze Unwalla, who teaches in the Department of History at the University of British Columbia, declared:
In this vein, the emphasis on historical empathy aims also to trouble students’ conceptions of History as a discipline and the GWOT’s problematic fields of study, provoking the student-as-historian to grapple with the difficulties of attempting to honestly and ethically historicize and thus humanize figures such as Osama bin Laden and Dick Cheney, the ‘jihadi’ and soldier, the victim/survivor and their torturer/oppressor. Blurred lines between understanding and justifying, evidenced analysis and personal prejudice, trouble students’ sense of self and scholarship in addition to the place of moral judgment in our work.
They must have been torn between attending the former event and and “Colonization and Decolonization in Israel / Palestine” at the same time. So much to learn, so little time to buttress your bigotry.
One of the presenters, Assistant Professor Aisha Mershani, who teaches at Gettysburg College Occupation, celebrated in “Decolonizing Resistance: Stone Throwing and Palestine Solidarity Activism” that in June 2022,
Israel began constructing the Apartheid Wall in the West Bank, another feature of its colonial expansion. As a result, the longstanding Palestinian resistance movement, known locally as the popular struggle (muqawameh sha’abiyeh in Arabic), was immediately revived. This moment in Palestinian popular resistance lasted for several years, featuring numerous unarmed tactics, many of which fit under the umbrella of what is often referred to as “pragmatic nonviolence,” expect for stone throwing, a tactic Palestinians have deployed for decades.
Professor Lamees Fadl, who teaches at the City University of New York, stressed at a discussion of “Demystifying the Middle East in the Classroom through Literature and Film,”
This course aims to trace the themes of social justice in Arabic literature and films and to explore the multiculturalism and intersectionality in the different Arab-spoken countries. In addition, it focuses on topics such as understanding moral rights such as human rights, labor rights, and freedom of speech in the modern Arab world.
By Friday members were treated to: “Teaching Palestine: Resistance Memories, Living Archives & Pedagogical Praxis”:
We appeal to the MESA program committee to support our unorthodox approaches that we expect to be tantalizing and sizzling. Starting with the Crusades’ battles for Jerusalem and Nablus, focusing on 1948 Nakba and 1967 Naksa and 1960s/1970s resistance to conventional education accounts, and critically arguing for the potential of a pedagogy (of the oppressed) praxis that radically transforms the academy if it were not for successful intervention of neoliberal academic political-economy that rolled back the 1960s achievements. Panelists will draw on the short lived Experimental College at SFSU during the 1968-69 longest US student strike led by the Back Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front, Ocean Hill-Brownsville Black-Brown parents’ fight for community control and Zionist intervention to undermine this grassroots struggle through false accusations of Zionism that resonate with current day well-funded attacks by Israel lobby groups, white supremacist Christian-Zionists and complicit neoliberal university administrations.
Among the presenters was professor Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University and fellow SFSU lecturer Tomomi Kinukawa, who also teaches Queer/LGBT Studies and Gender/Women’s Studies.
That is just a sampling; there are dozens of other discussions, movies, books, and an Undergraduate Research Poster Session — for using graphics in indoctrination. An example is one from 2021 by Maha Abadi, who claims to stand in solidarity with oppressed women and marginalized refugees as well as in opposition to Zionist Militias Occupying Palestine with Professor Ibtesam Al-Atiyat who teaches at St. Olaf’s College in Minnesota.
MESA also partners with the American Association of Teachers of Arabic (AATA), whose president is Ahmed Idrissi Alami, a cosignatory of an October 26, 2023 petition titled “Sociologists in Solidarity with Gaza and the Palestinian People” which states in solidarity with 1900 others that Israel
has unconscionably demanded that 1.1 million residents relocate from Northern to Southern Gaza in 24 hours, while simultaneously bombing caravans of those attempting to evacuate, and continuing to bomb the Southern part of Gaza. Calls for “evacuation” parallel the military offenses of 1948 and 1967, when Palestinians were forced to leave their homes and never allowed to return. The majority of people in Gaza are long-term refugees, and now again face genocide and ethnic cleansing. At the same time, Israeli settlers across the West Bank, recently armed by the Israeli government with 10,000 assault rifles, have targeted Palestinian civilians, with over 50 already murdered and two villages depopulated in the last week. We are witnessing internationally supported genocide. This latest siege comes as a continuation and escalation of the daily violence Palestinians faced for decades from Israeli colonization; an apartheid regime whose occupation is in clear violation of international law, but persists with the support of powerful governments globally.
Finally, here is MESA’s lukewarm response to the Hamas atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th:
MESA’s Board of Directors has previously addressed the broader context, emphasizing how the decades-long Israeli military and government attacks on Palestinian students, teachers, and educational facilities are part of a broader political, administrative, and legal system of racial discrimination and domination—regularly enforced through violence—that has defined the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinian people. MESA’s Board of Directors and its Committee on Academic Freedom have also repeatedly affirmed the need to protect academic freedom in the study, analysis, and debate about what happens in Israel/Palestine.
MESA’s hate-fest ended with a MESA Stand Up and Showcase Dance Party on the evening of November 4th, because anti-Israel bigotry shouldn’t be all work and no play.