Will the taxpayer-supported Middle East studies centers at five American universities join a boycott of Israeli academic institutions? Or were their directors, who signed a recent letter pledging “not to collaborate on projects and events involving Israeli academic institutions,” engaged in personal protests that won’t affect their schools’ official relations with Israeli universities, as Middle East scholar Martin Kramer asks of the director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute?

The letter, “Middle East Scholars and Librarians Call for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions,” was published at Jadaliyya on August 6, 2014 “in the name of the below signatories,” which an update on the site says totals 550. University of Toronto professor of Arab civilization Jens Hanssen is listed as the media contact.

As heads of U.S. Department of Education Title VI National Resource Centers, the directors are administrators of bodies required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act to give “assurances” that they will “maintain linkages with overseas institutions of higher education and other organizations that may contribute to the teaching and research of the Center.”

If their pledges aren’t simply personal but apply to the centers they lead, they stand in conflict with the assurances they gave in exchange for federal funds.

The six directors (Georgetown boasts two) and their respective centers are:

  • Lila Abu-Lughod, Middle East Institute, Columbia.
  • mirian cooke (no relation to e.e. cummings), Middle East Studies Center, Duke.
  • Osama Abi-Mershed, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown.
  • John Esposito, Prince Alwaleed bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown.
  • Helga Tawil-Souri, Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, New York University.
  • Gabriel Piterberg, Center for Near Eastern Studies, University of California, Los Angeles.

American taxpayers deserve to know the intentions of these six directors: Are their public pledges against Israel merely personal, so that the centers they lead may cooperate with Israeli academic institutions and scholars? Or are they declaring the intention of their centers to engage in an official boycott of Israeli academic institutions despite federal policy?