CUNY Awards Top Faculty Honors to Proponent of BDS Movement

Beth Baron named 'Distinguished Professor,' given nearly $30,000 salary increase

Shepherd Hall at the City College of New York
Shepherd Hall at the City College of New York / Wikimedia Commons
August 24, 2017

The City University of New York (CUNY) system has awarded one of its top faculty honors to a leading proponent of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Beth Baron, co-founder and director of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at the CUNY Graduate Center, has been named a "Distinguished Professor" of City College of New York (CCNY).

According to the nomination guidelines, the title is an "honor … granted solely in recognition of the quality and impact of a nominee's scholarship." The CUNY Board of Trustees bestow the title, which comes with a nearly $30,000 salary increase, on "exceptional individuals" when attempting to "recruit or retain outstanding faculty." Currently, 152 faculty hold the distinction.

Baron—president of the Middle Eastern Studies Association (MESA), the largest professional organization for academics studying the region—promised her personal support in 2014 for the BDS movement, signing a "pledge not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions, not to teach at or to attend conferences and other events at such institutions, and not to publish in academic journals based in Israel."

Under Baron, MESA has issued dozens of letters to Israeli and North American officials protesting anti-BDS legislation; taking issue with the definition of anti-Semitism that includes demonizing, delegitimizing, or holding Israel to a double standard; and arguing against administrative investigations into anti-Israel student groups who have been accused of violating disciplinary codes or anti-Semitic behavior.

Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, said that, under Baron, MESA has "set the groundwork to pass a boycott of Israel at their national conference in November."

"Last year, they voted to take the word 'non-political' out of their bylaws, removing a technicality that would've stopped them from voting for BDS," said Romirowsky.

Romirowsky also said Baron played a role in the Graduate Center's Student Council vote last year to pass a pro-BDS resolution.

Baron, whose scholarly work focuses on Egypt, has also argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a terrorist organization.

Hendel Seif, a junior at CCNY and co-founder and president of the school's chapter of a group called Students Supporting Israel, told the Washington Free Beacon, "It's just very disappointing that someone with such a biased and warped view of Israel has achieved such prominence and recognition from the university."

"BDS and its goal are the exact opposite of CCNY's values and go against what CCNY stands for," continued Seif. "Giving this prominent position to an active supporter of a hateful agenda undermines CCNY's core identity and divides our community."

Yosef Hertz, a recent CCNY graduate who now works for the pro-Israel Hasbara Fellowships organization, said he decided not to pursue a graduate degree at CCNY because Baron heads the Middle Eastern Studies master's program.

"I had a feeling my thesis, which would have been about Israel, would not have been accepted," said Hertz.

On Baron receiving the Distinguished Professor title, Hertz said that he believed "someone who supports BDS, which is discrimination on the basis on a person's country or origin, should be vilified and condemned, not honored."

Martin Kramer, a Middle East scholar at Jerusalem's Shalem College who has argued strongly against BDS, said that regardless of Baron's views on Israel, "as long as she doesn't receive an administrative appointment which would give her the power to implement a boycott, there are no grounds to complain."

When asked about her support for BDS, Baron wrote in an email to the Free Beacon, "As president of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, my position on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement is one of neutrality, and the organization has not taken a position either in favor of or against the BDS Movement. Our organization strongly supports academic freedom and free speech, and our advocacy has been directed toward protecting these rights."