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January 21, 2014

Israel on Trial at the MLA Conference: An Insider’s View and a Perspective on the Trends

The Modern Language Association (MLA), a group comprised of nearly 30,000 humanities scholars, held their annual conference in Chicago, January 9th-12th.  ADL and other pro-Israel organizations were concerned by two items on the MLA agenda:  a roundtable discussion entitled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” which was comprised solely of those supportive of an academic boycott of Israel (including academic boycott/BDS front-man Omar Barghouti); and a flaw-filled resolution condemning Israel for allegedly denying Palestinian American academics access to the West Bank.

Left to Right: Professors Cary Nelson, Russell Berman and Ilan Troen at a panel discussion on the sidelines of the MLA Conference

ADL condemned the one-sided panel, saying that the MLA had “given its de facto imprimatur of legitimacy to the campaign to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions.”

In a heated session, the resolution passed by a vote of 60-53, and it now moves on to the MLA executive committee to determine if it goes to the full membership for a vote.   Fortunately, the delegates declined to consider an “emergency resolution” of support for the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Amy Schwartz, an associate director in ADL’s Chicago office and a member of the MLA, writes in the JTA of her first-person account from the conference, Rampaging Minority Politicized MLA Conference, that the outcomes of the conference compel us to “ continue to educate and inform the MLA membership and initiate outreach to other academic organizations to promote responsibility, academic freedom and integrity.

Writing of those activists behind the roundtable and resolution at the MLA conference, and who pushed forward the vote by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions, Abraham H. Foxman writes in Exposing the Israel Bashers: Opinions Without Facts, Facts Without Context :  “This is group which is devoted 24/7/365 to finding ways to exploit a lack of awareness, naïveté and general disinterest to advance a corrosive, divisive and prejudiced perspective of the highly complex dynamic of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The silver lining of these developments remains the forceful reaction by over 200 university presidents from across the United States, who, every day, have come forward to speak out and denounce the academic boycott of Israel.


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December 31, 2013

Bigotry Questions About the ASA’s Boycott of Israel

With the flurry of condemnations issued by university officials and academic associations against the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions, much of the focus has, of course, been on how the boycott suppresses basic principles of academic freedom and stifles the free flow of ideas. Less attention, however, has been paid to the other deeply disturbing element of the boycott – – targeting Israel for such unfair and harsh treatment by the ASA.

Jeff Robbins, a former U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission and current Board Chairman of ADL’s New England Region, examines the bigotry embedded in these important aspects of the ASA boycott in an op-ed for the Boston Herald. Mr. Robbins rightly concludes that the resolution was motivated by something other than facts-on-the-ground and a sense of academic moral responsibility, and points out the troubling role that bigotry plays when Israel is singled out for boycotts.

The following is an excerpt from Mr. Robbins’ piece titled “Israel Boycott Raises Bigotry Issues”:

In the case of the American Studies Association boycott of Israel, however, the problem is not unfamiliarity with the facts. It is the disregard of them. For the ASA boycotters, as for those urging that the Modern Language Association endorse a similar boycott, it is not that they are unaware that the Israelis have repeatedly had their offers rejected by the Palestinians, or that acceptance of these offers would have ended the conflict. It is that these facts are quite immaterial to them.

Confronted with the question why his organization has never proposed a boycott of institutions any place other than Israel, yet alone places with human rights records far less admirable than that of Israel, ASA head Curtis Marez offered this disingenuous reply: “One has to start somewhere.”

But Israel is where the boycotters start, and also where they finish.


Mr. Robbins goes on to point out the gross human rights violations by Hamas in Gaza, the restrictions on basic freedoms imposed by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the disturbing human rights infringements in Qatar, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  He notes: “The ASA would never dream of a boycott against the government-run universities in Gaza.  There is no boycott of institutions in the West Bank.  American universities such as Georgetown and George Washington receive significant Saudi Arabian funding. This, too, is apparently undeserving of a boycott.”

He quotes Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University, who called the boycotters “phony progressives.”

He ends with this important observation: “They are that, to be sure. But the singling out of the Jewish state legitimately raises the troubling question of whether they are bigots as well.”

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