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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.

 

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January 21, 2014 1

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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