The Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) of the University of Texas in Austin can hardly be seen as a conservative institute. However, despite its “long history of academic focus on the Middle East” and promoting Arab and Iranian civilizations in the US, it fell victim to an Arab boycott last week.
Its director was trying to publish an anthology on his late colleague, professor of comparative literature and Middle Eastern Studies Dr. Elizabeth Warnock Fernea. Dr. Fernea was an ardent supporter of Middle Eastern culture; she co-created “Symbolizing Roles: Behind the Veil”, and produced “Reformers and Revolutionaries: Middle Eastern Women” among other documentaries. Originally, 29 authors were supposed to have their writings published in the anthology — until one author realized that two authors were Israelis. That author, Palestinian writer Huzama Habayeb, tried to blackmail the center to bar the Israeli contributors, threatening that if her demands weren’t met, she would withdraw her work.
When CMES refused, she quickly organized a boycott of the book and convinced all the other Arab contributors to follow suit. To its credit, the center held firm and decided to cancel the book rather than exclude the Israeli authors. Gulf News praised Habayeb for the cancellation of the anthology.