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January 3, 2017 8:33 am

Prominent Scholars Slam Modern Language Association for Entertaining ‘Shameful’ BDS Resolution, Politicizing Academia

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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Jubilee Professor Cary Nelson (R) and Academic Engagement Network Executive Director Kenneth Waltzer. Photos: Cary Nelson/ Michigan State University.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Jubilee Professor Cary Nelson (L) and Academic Engagement Network Executive Director Kenneth Waltzer. Photos: Cary Nelson/ Michigan State University.

Two American scholars called an anti-Israel motion being brought before the upcoming conference of the Modern Language Association (MLA) a “shameful maneuver” that highlights the worrisome politicization of academia.

Referring to a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution that is being put to a vote at this week’s MLA 2017 Convention, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Jubilee Professor Cary Nelson — one of many academics opposing the bill — told The Algemeiner that it reveals “deep and increasing corruption” in the humanities and social sciences.

“The [hard] sciences and professional schools remain strong supporters of Israel,” he said. “Faculty members in those fields collaborate with their Israeli counterparts and are not about to boycott them. But some departments are becoming anti-Israel propaganda machines.”

Echoing Nelson’s sentiments, Kenneth Waltzer, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network — a group of anti-BDS professors — told The Algemeiner that the MLA campaign is “designed to take hold of institutions of scholarly reputation to increase the megaphone effect in the broad-scale delegitimization war on Israel.”

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Both Nelson and Waltzer said that what is most dangerous about the phenomenon is that a prominent academic body is providing a veil of credibility to lies about Israel.

The MLA’s BDS movement, spearheaded by its “Members for Justice in Palestine,” has garnered the support of hundreds of academics. Close to 500 have signed an open letter calling on the MLA to pass the resolution, which states that Israel is guilty of “ongoing violations of human rights and international law,” and insists that faculty and students be permitted to advocate for BDS “without retaliation.”

Waltzer said that the resolution’s contents “are without merit and are stated by pro-boycott elements absent any truly serious attention to context or facts. The main threats to academic freedom in the West Bank are the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The record of Palestinian integration is positive and improving in Israeli higher education.”

Nelson said: “The resolution is filled with malicious and ignorant statements. It is not only anti-Israel but, in its unqualified hostility to Israel’s six million Jews, is fundamentally antisemitic. One of its biggest dangers lies in its potential to persuade American and Canadian students and faculty to believe the falsehoods being disseminated.”

The MLA has come under considerable fire for the proposed BDS motion, including, as The Algemeiner reported, from a Jewish civil rights organization threatening the academic body with legal action, on the grounds that the resolution violates the group’s founding principals and tax-exempt status.

A similar lawsuit was filed against the American Studies Association in April, for its passage of a boycott resolution in December 2013.

The MLA 2017 Convention is taking place January 5-8 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with the BDS vote scheduled for January 7. The MLA did not respond to The Algemeiner’s request for comment by press time.

Watch Israeli literature scholars speak out against the MLA academic boycott resolution below:

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