MESA Academic Freedom Award

Palestine Legal

2017 Recipient

Contact:  Geoffrey Knox: 917 414-1749;

Middle East Scholars Give 2017 Academic Freedom Award to Palestine Legal

(November 19—Washington, DC) The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) has awarded its 2017 Academic Freedom Award to Palestine Legal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of people in the US who engage in advocacy for and academic inquiry about Palestinian rights.

MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom has noted that an increasing number of students and faculty in the US are being aggressively targeted online as well as on US campuses for their research, advocacy, and speech about Palestine.  Palestine Legal, founded in 2012, examines incidents of suppression of advocacy for Palestinian rights and routinely updates and disseminates statistics and summaries of cases they have responded to and documented. Between January 1, 2014 and December 31, 2016, PL responded to 650 incidents in 26 different states in the US, including Washington, D.C.  

The rise in targeting of students and faculty was highlighted in Palestine Legal’s 2015 report, co-published with the Center for Constitutional Rights and entitled “The Palestine Exception to Free Speech:

In 2014, Palestine Legal responded to 152 incidents of censorship, punishment, or other burdening of advocacy for Palestinian rights.

In the first six months of 2015 alone, Palestine Legal responded to 140 such incidents, and by the end of 2015 had dealt with a total of 239.

In 2016, the number of incidents rose to 258. Of those, 88% targeted students and scholars at 74 educational institutions around the country.

Incidents reported in 2017 remain high. (2017 data to be published in January 2018.)

Palestine Legal notes that this data reflects only what is directly reported to it, and therefore is not an exhaustive account of the problem.

Working with organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the National Lawyers Guild, Palestine Legal also engages in advocacy against administrative initiatives that could censor free speech on campus, makes recommendations to administrators, and files lawsuits to defend the constitutional rights of students and faculty.

MESA presented its 2017 Academic Freedom Award on Sunday evening, November 19, 2017, during its 51st annual meeting, in Washington, DC.  Laurie Brand, Chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom, on presenting the award to Palestine Legal, stated:

Our committee has learned of an increasing number of cases regarding students and faculty who have been targeted online as well as on campus for their research, activism, and speech about Palestine.  In this current atmosphere, Palestine Legal’s defense of these members of the academy is particularly important for the protection of academic freedom. 

Dima Khalidi, Director of Palestine Legal, acknowledging receipt of the award, stated:

Many thanks to MESA for this honor. The intensifying attacks on academics whose scholarship and public advocacy touch on the Palestinian experience are part of a larger assault on the movement for Palestinian rights, on the First Amendment and on truth itself in this dystopian political moment. We are proud to defend the right to dissent that is so essential to academia and our free society.

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The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is a non-profit learned society that brings together scholars, educators and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world. From its inception in 1966 with 51 founding members, MESA has increased its membership to 2,700 individuals and serves as an umbrella organization for nearly sixty institutional members and thirty-nine affiliated organizations.

The Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) seeks to foster the free exchange of knowledge as a human right and to inhibit infringements on that right by government restrictions on scholars. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provide the principal standards by which human rights violations are identified today. Those rights include the right to education and work, freedom of movement and residence, and freedom of association and assembly.

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