Washington Report, December 17, 1984, Page 8
MESA Condemns Blacklisting
By Phebe Marr
The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), the leading American association of scholars and professionals concerned with the Middle East, has condemned activities of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) which MESA ruled could inhibit academic freedom.
MESA's criticism, contained in a resolution approved by voice vote and without dissent at its recent annual meeting in San Francisco, was directed at the New England Regional Office of the ADL for circulating on college campuses a document "listing factually inaccurate and unsubstantiated assertions that defame specific students, teachers, and researchers as 'pro Arab propagandists." AIPAC was criticized for collecting "unbalanced information on students, faculty, and other parties..." through the use of surveys.
The resolution stated: "We deplore and condemn by any individual or organization the creation, storage, or dissemination of blacklists, 'enemy lists,' or surveys which call for boycotting individuals, academic classes, harassment or ostracism which might create an atmosphere of intimidation or prevent scholars from carrying out their teaching, research, or administrative duties." It called on the national offices of the ADL and AIPAC "to disavow and refrain" from such activities and authorized MESA to increase the size of its Ethics Committee to handle complaints arising from them.
An amendment to the resolution affirmed MESA's desire to keep the door open to these groups by encouraging "professional dialogue among all individuals and organizations."
The AIPAC survey was first brought to MESA's attention at last year's annual meeting., when members brought forth copies of a 12 page questionnaire that had been distributed by AIPAC to sympathetic faculty members and students at universities nationwide. The questionnaire which offered no definitions for phrases used asked recipients to identify pro and anti Israel faculty members, students and organizations on campus, and, among other things, to "name any individual faculty who assists anti Israeli groups." Recipients were asked to specify how this assistance was offered, and, if there were a Middle East studies center on campus, "to elaborate on its impact." Similar information was solicited on persons involved in student government and the student newspaper, including guest columnists and those who had written letters to the editor. Recipients also were urged to suggest ways in which it anti-Â¥Israeli" activities could be countered.
The responses to the questionnaire resulted in a 196 page book, The AIPAC College Guide, Exposing the Anti Israel Campaign on Campus, authored by Jonathan Kessler and Jeff Schwaber. It contains profiles of 100 colleges and universities and is intended to demonstrate, according to the authors, "how the anti Israel campaign operates." Claiming to expose a barrage of anti Israel propaganda, the book identified campuses where "pro Arab and PLO" speakers were invited to speak, and cited allegedly anti Israel meetings attended and addressed by faculty members. In almost all cases there was no indication of what these faculty members said.
The criticism of the ADL resulted from similar profiles of organizations and individuals in California, which were contained in a report stamped confidential and circulated to faculty members and students in that state. The introduction to the report said that "many of these propagandists use their anti-Zionism as merely a guise for their deeply felt anti-Semitism."
Like the AIPAC survey, the ADL report also was followed by a booklet, entitled Pro Arab Propaganda in America: Vehicles and Voices, a Handbook, published in a "first edition" in 1983. The book profiled 31 national organizations and 34 individuals identified as "leading individuals and organizations who have mounted ... propaganda campaigns targeted against Israel." The profiles contained selected information about individuals, including their ethnic background, seminars they had attended, and professional associations to which they belonged.
The Joint Committee on the Near and Middle East of the American Council of Learned Societies and the Social Science Research Council also has condemned the ADL and AIPAC activities. At the same time, the Joint Committee spoke out against actions aimed at restricting scholars from pursuing research and travel overseas a reference to countries and groups which make it difficult for U.S. scholars to obtain visas, presumably because of their views.
Phebe Marr, associate professor of History at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been a member of MESA since its founding and attended its recent meeting in San Francisco.