Scholars for Peace in the Middle East is a group that, by all appearances, has laudable intentions: speaking up against the BDS movement and in favor of genuine engagement and peace between all parties in the Middle East. Unfortunately, it looks like there is much less than meets the eye.
My suspicions were originally raised by this review essay they published, which inaccurately labeled J Street and J Call as supporters of the BDS campaign and appeared to lament the "consensus among Israeli intellectuals in favor of a Palestinian state." But I assumed that it was a one-off, not an officially sanctioned position.
Unfortunately, it looks like the group really is going out of its way to pander to the right. They just released a letter urging CUNY to reverse-its-reversal regarding the honorary award to playwright Tony Kushner. One does not have to agree with Kushner to find this difficult to swallow -- particularly given SPME's anti-boycott focus on academic freedom. One also has to note the naked dishonesty of calling Kushner a BDS advocate -- a position he has repeatedly rejected (and whose rejection has become well-known in the wake of this controversy). And I was so excited at how "the system worked".
Worse, SPME also makes a specific point to defend instigating trustee Steve Wiesenfeld -- he who labeled Palestinians "not human", which is perhaps the clearest evidence to date that their concern is not about creating the conditions of mutual respect required for peace, but simply provincial partisanship on behalf of putatively "pro-Israel" speakers. Just as Kushner deserves criticism for his positions on Israel (and he does), Wiesenfeld deserves everything that's come his way as well. Creating space for peace in the middle east means undermining all those who demean the worth and dignity of others -- whether the speakers identify as "left" or "right", "pro-Israel" or "pro-Palestinian".
It is all deeply unfortunate. The center I occupy is holding fine, but it is always frustrating when one finds out someone you thought might make for a suitable ally -- isn't one. Tragically, SPME has come out on the wrong side of this issue -- and done so in a way that seriously damages their credibility as a true force for peace and reconciliation.