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...

  • Blogs Sports Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    Two Decades Before Cleveland’s First NBA Title, LeBron James Walked Onto a JCC Court

    JNS.org – The seed for the city of Cleveland’s first professional championship in a major sport in 52 years may have been planted at the Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, nearly 20 years ago. That’s when a tall, lanky kid from Akron named LeBron James walked onto the hardwood court and changed the game of basketball forever. Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, conducted those sessions that attracted […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →