Eric W. Kaler
President, Case Western Reserve University
10900 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106
Dear President Kaler:
We write on behalf of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) and its Committee on Academic Freedom to express our grave concern over your 9 November 2022 statement to the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) community that equates criticism of policies and actions of the State of Israel with anti-Semitism. We are, of course, deeply disturbed by the rising tide of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism in the United States, and we firmly believe that combatting anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism, bigotry and discrimination is an essential duty for colleges and universities. However, we regard your statement as a threat to academic freedom and to the constitutionally protected right of free speech.
MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 2,400 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.
Your statement to the CWRU community was issued in response to the 8 November 2022 passage by the university’s Undergraduate Student Government of a resolution supported by fourteen student organizations that called on the university to divest from investments in corporations involved in perpetuating Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. Your message asserts that “the foundation of this resolution is profoundly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic,” that “undoubtedly it promotes anti-Semitism” and fosters hate, and that it constitutes “aggression toward the Jewish members of our community.” These allegations are clearly based on an egregious and unacceptable conflation of criticism of the State of Israel with anti-Semitism. Moreover, as an editorial dated 11 November 2022 in the CWRU student newspaper pointed out, your allegations about the resolution are factually incorrect.
Though in your statement you claim to welcome and encourage vigorous political debate, your public response to this resolution constitutes a betrayal of your responsibility as the leader of an academic community to defend academic freedom and the right to free speech. In so doing you have undermined the mission of CWRU and other institutions of higher education to foster the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions. We also note that your intervention in this matter is likely to contribute to ongoing efforts by advocacy organizations and governmental bodies to silence debate about an issue of public concern by deploying allegations of anti-Semitism.
We therefore call upon you to publicly reaffirm your belief that all political speech, including criticism of any government, country or ideology, as well as advocacy for any group’s rights, is constitutionally protected. We further call on you to reaffirm that at CWRU this constitutional protection will always be accompanied by rigorous adherence to the standards and traditions of academic freedom and the rejection of all efforts to weaponize allegations of anti-Semitism in order to advance a political agenda or suppress freedom of expression.
We look forward to your response.
Eve Troutt Powell
Professor, University of Pennsylvania
Chair, Committee on Academic Freedom
Professor Emerita, University of Southern California
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