The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), which describes itself as “a private, non-profit learned society that brings together scholars, educators, and those interested in the study of the region from all over the world,” has become increasingly political over the years. Martin Kramer has charted MESA’s evolution from an academic umbrella to a political advocacy group, both in his book Ivory Towers on the Sand and in his various online writings.

President Donald Trump’s election accelerated MESA’s turn toward political advocacy, especially concerning the institution’s efforts to resist Trump’s reassessment of immigration from countries without functioning U.S. Embassies or with inadequate security cooperation from host governments.

There is much to criticize about Trump’s rhetoric and immigration policies, although it is also clear that the unease Trump tapped into reflects at a minimum a disconnect between congressional leaders of both parties and their base voters regarding tolerance for illegal immigration. But, there is also something deeply hypocritical about MESA’s outrage given the support of its president, CUNY professor Beth Baron, for discrimination against Israelis on the basis of national citizenship.

As MESA uses its membership fees to lobby against Trump’s immigration policies and file legal briefs against the so-called “Muslim ban,” it seems to have encountered a problem. While it claims to have more than 2,500 dues-paying members, among whom are scholars with families in or hailing from almost every country in the Middle East or North Africa, it has been hard pressed to find any evidence that Trump’s policies have adversely affected the people it represents.

Earlier this month, Baron sent a letter to MESA members:

Dear MESA members:

The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments this October in the case International Refugee Assistance Project v Trump, which challenges the Muslim ban. As a plaintiff in the case, we are reaching out once again to get an update on the situation of MESA members who are U.S. citizens and permanent residents and are impacted by the executive order. Please let us know if you have family from one of the six banned countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen) and are seeking or plan to seek visas to bring them into the United States to visit or permanently.

Send responses to [email redacted] or by phone to [number redacted]. Amy Newhall, MESA executive director, and I are happy to answer any questions that you may have. If MESA uses the information collected, we will not include personally identifying information without consent. We appreciate your help in strengthening our fight against the Muslim ban.

Let’s put aside the wisdom of an academic organization drifting from its core mission to engage hot button political issues. And let’s put aside the wisdom of other plaintiffs from partnering with an organization like MESA that tolerates national boycotts. Indeed, if the judges hearing the case were to question the contradiction between the plaintiff’s case with regard to Muslims and its position on Israeli Jews, it could be problematic for the plaintiffs’ case given Baron’s support for similar bans. The biggest question, however, is how an organization could launch into legal action without first determining if the policy around which it sought to rally really impacted its constituents. The very fact that they need to troll their members for those directly affected or impacted suggests the Trump policy—however unwise for other reasons—isn’t the problem which polemical blogs and politicized professors say it is.

Indeed, if the judges hearing the case were to question the contradiction between the plaintiff’s case concerning Muslims versus its position on Israeli Jews, it could be problematic for the plaintiffs given Baron’s support for similar bans. The biggest question, however, is how an organization could launch into legal action without first determining if the policy around which it sought to rally really impacted its constituents. The very fact that they need to troll their members for those directly affected or impacted suggests the Trump policy—however unwise for other reasons—isn’t the problem polemical blogs and politicized professors say it is.

There certainly seems to be something fishy about an organization that has to so blatantly fish for victims after it becomes a party to a lawsuit purporting to defend victims. Then again, welcome to 21 Century academe.

MESA
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