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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    A Holistic Look at the Rebbe’s Life and Career (REVIEW)

    Did you know that in the entire Bible, only one birthday is mentioned and it is that of Pharaoh? And did you know that according to some scientists, by accepting Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, it is impossible to prove or disprove that the sun is the gravitational center of our solar system? In his new book, REBBE, best-selling author Joseph Telushkin reveals many surprising and sometimes shocking details as he chronicles the life and teachings of the charismatic Rabbi [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Mitzvos New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    New Jerusalem Eatery’s Uniform Pricing Seeks to ‘Help People Make It’

    JNS.org – Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israel New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Primetime Drama ‘Tyrant’ Filmed Entirely in Israel (VIDEO)

    The new FX Network drama Tyrant was shot entirely in Israel, just 10 miles north of Tel Aviv, Bloomberg News reported last Tuesday. Tyrant follows the life of an Arab dictator’s second son Barry, played by Adam Rayner, who reluctantly returns home to the Middle Eastern nation of his birth to join the family business away from his suburban life in America. The elaborate set production for the primetime drama included a crew of 300 and a reported cost of over $3 million [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture US & Canada Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Supermodel: Jewish Mothers Are Constantly Trying to Set Me Up With Their Sons

    Skokie, Il-born 25-year-old Erin Heatherton (Erin Heather Bubley) is rocking the modeling world. And in a new interview accompanying a cover spread for Miami’s Ocean Drive magazine, she says Jewish moms are “constantly trying to set her up with their sons.” Imagine that – who would have thought? “The moms, they’re doing what they do. It doesn’t matter what country they live in, what city – grandmothers, too,” she admitted. “But I’m probably going to do that too one day.” Heatherton was [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Israel First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    First Ever: Turkish Academics to Visit Israel Holocaust Museum for Seminar

    Some 15 Turkish university professors and lecturers will take part in a first of its kind seminar at Holocaust museum Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies starting next week. The trip is especially significant as Holocaust denial is rampant in the Arab world. A Palestinian professor was recently forced to resign after he led a trip to the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz. Participants in the week-long program at Yad Vashem will experience in-depth tours of the museum’s archives and [...]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Guns N’ Roses Guitarist Rocks Solo Acoustic Version of Israeli National Anthem – Hatikva (VIDEO)

    Ok, fans, question time. What do: Guns ‘n’ Roses shred-meister guitarist, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (aka Ronald Jay Blumenthal), “Hard Rock Hotel”, “Las Vegas” and Israel’s ”Hatikva” (The Hope) national anthem… all have in common? I know, you’re probably thinking, “Hmm, ‘One of these things is not like the other,’ would fit in here,” right? Um, no, turns out. Caught backstage by blogger Darren Garnick at the swanky Vegas gig in early June, Thal, acoustic guitar in hand, fretted out a sweetly melodic [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs David Letterman’s Sidekick on His ‘Dream Job,’ Jewish Upbringing

    David Letterman’s Sidekick on His ‘Dream Job,’ Jewish Upbringing

    JNS.org – A Jewish upbringing taught Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s musical director and sidekick for 32 years, the value of giving back. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Shaffer served as musical director for “The Concert for New York City,” and in 2012 he accompanied Adam Sandler in “12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief,” a fundraiser for people affected by Hurricane Sandy. He was also the national spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada. “My mother taught by example,” Shaffer said in an [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Coach David Blatt’s NBA Hiring Hailed as ‘Incredible’ for Jewish Community

    Coach David Blatt’s NBA Hiring Hailed as ‘Incredible’ for Jewish Community

    JNS.org – The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Cleveland Cavaliers looked near and far during a five-week stretch for a head coach, and they finally found their man—in Israel. David Blatt, who coached Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague and Israeli league basketball championships this year, struck a deal to become the 20th coach in the history of the Cavaliers. The selection was immediately celebrated by basketball players Tamir Goodman and Mark Sack, both from the Cleveland area, and one of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.