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June 6, 2014 0

MLA Votes “Not Interested” on Anti-Israel Resolution

After months of tumult and advo­cacy among con­cerned mem­bers, the Mod­ern Lan­guage Asso­ci­a­tion (MLA) announced that a res­o­lu­tion crit­i­cal of Israel had failed in its all-members vote.   While the fail­ure to rat­ify the res­o­lu­tion is a suc­cess for its oppo­nents – led by the ad hoc group MLA Mem­bers for Scholar Rights – the real news of the vote is the over­whelm­ing lack of inter­est by the MLA mem­ber­ship to even engage on this issue.

Fewer than the required thresh­old of 10% of the almost 24,000 MLA mem­ber­ship voted in favor of the res­o­lu­tion, with 1,560 mem­bers vot­ing  in sup­port, and 1,063 mem­bers vot­ing against.

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The deeply flawed res­o­lu­tion crit­i­cized Israel for deny­ing U.S. aca­d­e­mics of Pales­tin­ian ori­gin entry into the West Bank for schol­arly work.  As with other sim­i­lar efforts, it was pro­moted by a small group of highly politi­cized activists, who, in the words of one attendee at the MLA’s annual con­fer­ence in Feb­ru­ary (which included a panel dis­cus­sion in favor of the boy­cott of Israeli aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions), were “intent on politi­ciz­ing the event and tak­ing advan­tage of the membership’s gen­eral lack of aware­ness to foist a wholly non-academic issue to the fore­front of the conference.”

The refusal of the vast major­ity of the MLA mem­ber­ship to get engaged on the con­trived issue of Israel obstruct­ing aca­d­e­mic access into the West Bank reflects the gen­eral unwill­ing­ness of mem­bers of other aca­d­e­mic and pro­fes­sional asso­ci­a­tions who have been asked to pick a side on res­o­lu­tions crit­i­cal of Israel or call­ing for boy­cotts of Israeli col­leagues and insti­tu­tions.    Even the Amer­i­can Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion (ASA), an orga­ni­za­tion known for its polit­i­cal activism, could only muster about 1/5 of its mem­ber­ship to vote on a (suc­cess­ful) res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ing a boy­cott of Israel aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions in Decem­ber 2013.

For anti-Israel activists, every one-sided res­o­lu­tion, every biased panel dis­cus­sion at an esteemed asso­ci­a­tions’ con­fer­ence, is  seen as an oppor­tu­nity to tar per­cep­tions about Israel, even among the many who refrain from get­ting engaged.  The ongo­ing chal­lenge for sup­port­ers of Israel is to effec­tively coun­ter­act the extreme vil­i­fi­ca­tion of Israel pro­moted by vocal indi­vid­u­als within these pro­fes­sional and aca­d­e­mic asso­ci­a­tions, while pos­i­tively shap­ing opin­ions among the unin­formed and largely unin­ter­ested majority.