Woman in boycott Israel shirt.
(photo credit: Reuters)
NEW YORK – The Modern Language Association’s governing body, the Delegate
Assembly, voted on Saturday to approve resolution 2014-1 that would put pressure
on the US government to condemn Israel for alleged arbitrary denials of entry of
US academics into Gaza and the West Bank.
The resolution passed by a vote
of 60 to 53. It will next be reviewed by the MLA’s executive committee, and if
approved, will be passed on to the rest of the 30,000 members of the MLA for an
online vote. The resolution does not call for a boycott of Israeli academic
institutions, but Prof. Cary Nelson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-
Champaign, the immediate past-president of the American Association of
University Professors, told reporters in the days leading up to the conference
that this resolution was most likely a ramp-up to a full vote to boycott
Many detractors from the resolution pointed out that the draft
contained several factual inaccuracies, including conflating entrance to Gaza
with being under Israeli control, not Egyptian, and failing to follow-up on the
end result of several case studies in which academics were allegedly barred from
entering the West Bank.
The Delegate Assembly also struck down another
resolution called the “Emergency Resolution in Support of the American Studies
Association” by a vote of 59 to 41.
However, the presiding officer of the
vote decided to submit the emergency resolution to the MLA’s executive committee
Roz Rothstein, the CEO of StandWithUs, a non-profit pro-Israel
advocacy organization, said in a statement, “It is unfortunate that the MLA
Delegate Assembly has allowed itself to be manipulated by political extremists
whose animus against Israel is so fervent that they are willing to distract
organizations like the ASA and MLA from their missions,” Rothstein said. “This
resolution was a backhanded effort to silence criticism of anti-Israel measures
by denouncing it as intimidation.”
The Israel Action Network similarly
commended the MLA for rejecting the emergency resolution, but deplored the
approval of 2014-1. IAN managing director Geri Palast called the resolution
“discriminatory” and said it “undermined MLA’s long-standing commitment to
scholarship and academic integrity.”
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The MLA’s three-day annual
conference in Chicago also presented a round-table discussion called “Academic
Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” about the merits of an
academic boycott of Israel, which featured four speakers and a moderator who are
all supporters of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement against
The Anti-Defamation League spoke up against this panel, saying in
a statement that merely by holding it the MLA had given the BDS movement a “de
facto imprimatur of legitimacy” to BDS.
“It is particularly disappointing
that the MLA allowed this panel on its program, since the views of all the
panelists directly contravene a 2002 MLA delegate assembly resolution stating
that the ‘MLA condemns boycotts and blacklists against scholars or students on
the basis of nationality, ethnic origins, and religious background as unfair,
divisive, and inconsistent with academic freedom,” national director Abraham
Foxman said in a statement.
Nelson and Stanford Prof. Russell
Berman held an opposing panel directly afterward, called “Perspectives Against
Nelson later expressed his dismay that resolution
2014-1 had passed, despite their efforts.
“I found it shocking that
members I spoke with told me that, despite agreeing we proved our case, that the
resolution was factually incorrect, they still voted for it out of a
single-minded opposition to the State Israel,” said Nelson.
“This is an
unfortunate instance where politics was allowed to trump scholarship and
undermines the credibility of the MLA. To continue down this path warrants
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