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...

  • Features World Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Graves of Jewish Pirates in Jamaica Give Caribbean Tourists Taste of Little-Known History

    Tour operators are calling attention to Jamaica’s little-known Jewish heritage by arranging visits to historic Jewish sites on the Caribbean island, including a cemetery where Jewish pirates are buried. A report in Travel and Leisure magazine describes the Hunts Bay Cemetery in Kingston, where there are seven tombstones engraved with Hebrew benedictions and skull and crossbones insignia. According to the report, centuries ago, Jewish pirates sailed the waters of Jamaica and settled in Port Royal. The town, once known as “the wickedest city in the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    Filmmaker Eyal Resh Embraces the Challenge of Telling Israel’s Story (VIDEO)

    JNS.org – Telling Israel’s story. It’s the specific title of a short film that Eyal Resh created last year. It’s also the theme behind the 27-year-old Israeli filmmaker’s broader body of work. The widely viewed “Telling Israel’s Story” film—directed by Resh for a gala event hosted by the Times of Israel online news outlet—seemingly begins as a promotional tourism video, but quickly evolves to offer a multilayered perspective. “I want to tell you a story about a special place for me,” a young woman whispers […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    Israel Geeks Out: Science, Art and Tech Event Embodies Jewish State’s ‘DNA’

    JNS.org – The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience. This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →