MLA academics condemn, but won’t boycott Israel

MLA upheld resolution accusing Israel of keeping Palestinian academics from entering the West Bank.

Woman in boycott Israel shirt (photo credit: Reuters)
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 Israel.
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 anyway.
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.”
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 Israel.
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 Academic Boycotts.”
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 public shame.”