Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The MLA’s Top Five BDS Blunders This Week

January 9, 2014 8:08 am 4 comments

The MLA logo. Photo: Screenshot.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) has blundered repeatedly over its treatment of Israel in the run-up to its annual conference this week.  Technically the 30,000 member association is not contemplating a resolution to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel (BDS) per se at this week’s upcoming confab. Instead it is debating a halfway measure that insiders observe is intended to be a stepping-stone to worse actions. But it is doing so in a way that should embarrass every one of its members. This is not just a mistake. This is five blunders rolled into one.

1.     Introducing a Polarizing Anti-Israel Resolution

Despite the backlash against last month’s BDS resolution at the American Studies Association, the MLA is considering a resolution that would urge the U.S. State Department to oppose the allegedly “arbitrary denials of entry” to American academics seeking to teach or conduct research at West Bank and Gaza universities. This half-way measure is, as former American Association of University Professors Presidents Cary Nelson explains, a step along the way towards a formal BDS resolution:  “They proposed the travel resolution as a fallback,” said Nelson. “They’re trying something else as a step toward a boycott resolution the next time. If they can win this, they will move onto the next one.” So BDS advocates stepped back from advancing a full-fledge BDS resolution that they clearly knew would fail, but they are using the MLA as a political tool to achieve the next best thing.

2.     Substituting Politics for Scholarship

Worse than the resolution itself is the MLA’s process for considering it.  This week, the convention features only a one-sided roundtable discussion on “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” which includes only BDS supporters but no opponents. There is nothing remotely academic about the panel, which does not purport to advance or disseminate modern language scholarship but only to politicize it in polarizing fashion. The panel’s supporters of the BDS movement are: BDS leader Omar Barghouti, the University of Texas at Austin’s Barbara Jane Harlow, the University of California at Riverside’s David C. Lloyd, and Wesleyan University’s Richard M. Ohmann. This is a politically biased, unscholarly approach, and it has nothing to do with the association’s mission. The MLA’s resolution may land them in hot water with the Internal Revenue Service, but the entire process is also a disservice to those of their members who expect the association to pursue the mission for which it was established and for which it has received tax-exempt status.

3.     Suppressing Dissenting Voices

Worse, the MLA is barring those on the other side of the debate from making their own presentations at the conference. Specifically, the MLA rejected a counter-panel featuring former MLA President Russell Berman, Brandeis University Israel Studies Chair Ilan Troen, and cultural theorist Gabriel Noah Brahm, Jr. This silencing of one side of the debate brings no credit to the BDS movement, which is constantly trying to defend itself against arguments that it violates the academic freedom of Israeli professors, and certainly none to the MLA. In this case, of course, it is also American professors, including Israel’s supporters within the MLA, whom the MLA would silence.

4.     Blocking Media Transparency

To make matters worse, the MLA went so far as to deny press credentials to reporters who could be expected to report on the MLA’s flaws. First, the association denied credentials to a reporter from the conservative Daily Caller web service, which had been interested in covering the MLA’s BDS controversy. In fairness to the MLA, the Daily Caller hardly demonstrated the association’s misjudgment when it decried the association as “fascist douchebags.” But the MLA did not limit itself to banning the Daily Caller.  Next the association went so far as to bar the mainstream Jewish JNS.org news service. An MLA spokesperson reportedly JNS.org that the convention “reserves media credentials for outlets and journalists that are substantively focused on academic issues” – even though JNS.org had sent the MLA no fewer than nine examples of publications that they had produced on academic issues. The MLA may think itself clever for banning Jewish and conservative journalists who might otherwise cover embarrassing aspects of the MLA’s proceedings. In fact, the MLA’s actions only demonstrate their awareness that their annual convention will be a source of some disgrace.

5.     Inviting Hatred and Bigotry

The worst aspect of such anti-Israel resolutions is neither their unscholarly character, nor their politicization, nor their polarization, nor their hostility to academic freedom, nor their non-transparency. Rather, BDS resolutions and their bedfellows are at best invitations to bigotry and at worst carriers of hate. The point is not that their exponents are all anti-Semitic. Empirical research shows that anti-Zionist attitudes correlate positively with Jew-hatred. That is to say, those who dislike Israel are much more likely to dislike Jews. The more they fiercely hate Israel, the more fiercely they are likely to hate Jews. But some of Israel’s critics are not anti-Semitic, as far as the best available research has been able to ascertain. Even where particular anti-Israel activists are not personally motivated by anti-Semitism, however, they invariably give voice to traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes and defamations. It is not impossible to support BDS for anti-Semitic reasons, just as it is not impossible to support the poll tax for non-racist reasons.  In both cases, those accused of bigotry have provided race-neutral justifications for their actions. Nevertheless, it is rarely disputed nowadays that the poll tax was used as a central device in racist efforts to disenfranchise African Americans. It was a racist institution even if some non-racists were duped into using it. In the same way, BDS has become a central weapon in anti-Semitic efforts to delegitimize both Israel and the Jewish people. In providing a forum for BDS supporters – indeed giving BDS supporters privileges denied to BDS opponents – the MLA is a using its tax-exempt contributions to advance an essentially hate-motivated enterprise. No wonder they do not want reporters to cover this.

4 Comments

  • I challenge each one of these so called Professors to give up their cushy tenure, resign and get a job in the real world like the rest of us.

    We would see how long they would last, when they will have no real life experience. The entire Middle East is becoming failed states and all they care about is Israel building settlements?

  • For academic institutions to display such a total level of ignorance makes me wonder just what type of students do they turn out.

    Probably just as bigotted with a lack of ability to discern truth from fiction.

  • It is preposterous that MLA chose to focus its anger on the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East. Where is the outrage towards totalitarian China, Cuba, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and hundreds others? The answer is obvious: They are not Jewish, why bother.

  • Dr. Gunther Jikeli

    Dear Sir,

    The avant-garde of anti-Jewish hatred in Germany’s Weimar Republic came from universities. Student groups initiated the book burnings in 1933. Boycotting Jews and Jewish institutions is inevitably associated with antisemitism. It is my hope that MLA members will come to their senses and take responsible positions against hatred.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Middle East Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Larry King Asks Saudi Arabian Fan If Taking Pictures With Jews Is Permitted

    Jewish former CNN host Larry King asked a Saudi Arabian fan if taking pictures with Jews is allowed in his country, before agreeing to pose for a photo with the man, The New York Times reported on Wednesday. The world-famous interviewer was leaving the Ritz Carlton hotel in Washington, D.C. with a New York Times reporter when a “dark-skinned man” approached and asked to take a picture with him, according to the publication. Whereupon, King asked the fan where he was from. When the man said Saudi […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    Britain’s Lord Sugar Says Synagogues Will Be Empty With Yom Kippur Matchup of Jewish-Supported Soccer Teams

    British-Jewish business tycoon Lord Alan Sugar joked on Wednesday that London synagogues will likely be empty during Yom Kippur with congregants fleeing to watch the match-up of two leading English soccer teams known for having hordes of Jewish fans. “Spurs V Arsenal cup game drawn on most important Jewish festival,” Lord Sugar pointed out on Twitter. “Both teams have loads of Jewish fans. Conclusion Synagogues will be empty.” North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC will go head-to-head in the Capital One Cup third-round […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Jewish Men Pass Jimmy Kimmel Social Experiment, Rescuing ‘Spongebob’ in Distress (VIDEO)

    Two Jewish men were the only unwitting participants in a social experiment conducted by Jimmy Kimmel, for his popular TV show. As part of a candid-camera-like sketch featured Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the host devised different street scenes to observe human behavior — in particular, to see how long it would take people walking down California’s bustling Hollywood Boulevard to notice and interact with others in distress. One scene involved a man in a Spongebob Squarepants costume who had “fallen down” on the sidewalk and needed help […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    International Jewish Organization Blasts Israeli-Born Star Natalie Portman for Comments on Holocaust Education

    A major Jewish organization rebuked actress Natalie Portman on Monday for saying in a recent interview that Jews put too much emphasis on teaching about the Holocaust relative to other genocides. The Israeli-born movie star told the U.K.’s Independent that the Jewish community needs to examine how much focus it puts on Holocaust education over other issues. She said she was shocked when she learned that a genocide was taking place in Rwanda while she was in school learning only about the horrors of the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    Book Draws Parallels Between Holocaust and Palestinian Nakba, Sparks Outrage

    JNS.org – A new book that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba (the Arabic term for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel’s War of Independence) has sparked outrage ahead of an official book launch, to be hosted by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on Sept. 7. The Zionist organization Im Tirtzu wrote a letter to the institute demanding that it cancel an event it planned in honor of the book’s authors, under the title The Holocaust and […]

    Read more →
  • Education US & Canada Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Natalie Portman Says Holocaust Education Shouldn’t be Used for ‘Fearmongering’

    Famed actress Natalie Portman warned on Friday against the use of Holocaust education to evoke fear and paranoia. In an interview with the U.K. Independent she added that the trauma should make Jews more empathetic to others who have also experienced hatred. “Sometimes it can be subverted to fearmongering and like ‘Another Holocaust is going to happen,’” the Israeli-American star said. “We need to, of course, be aware that hatred exists, antisemitism exists against all sorts of people, not in the same way. I […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Commentary A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    A Righteous Gentile Navigates the Sharkpool of Washington’s Middle East Correspondents (REVIEW)

    The Tribalist, by Louis Marano, is ostensibly a work of fiction but at its core a kind of love song by a gentile journalist for the State of Israel, and especially its secular Zionist core. (Because of the relentless attacks by left-wing polemicists on Israel’s allegedly “messianic” fringe, it’s often forgotten that most of Israel’s founders and all its leaders have been secular Zionists.) The author, the product of an Italian-American family in Buffalo, served two tours of duty in […]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    Rugelach Roundtable: Does Beloved Pastry Need Dairy to Taste Good?

    JNS.org – Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved traditional Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer—author of the books “The Kosher Baker: Over 160 Dairy-free Recipes from Traditional to Trendy” and […]

    Read more →