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June 6, 2014

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.


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

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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