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January 8, 2017 2:16 pm

The Modern Language Association and BDS

avatar by Shira Wolosky

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The Modern Language Association. Photo: Facebook.

The Modern Language Association. Photo: Facebook.

In the Department of English at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — where I teach — approximately one third of my students are Arab women. I try to make my classroom a public sphere. Whatever the subject, I teach my students to voice their own views, to participate in the debate that shapes the discourses of their culture and society, and to claim their rights and equality.

Luckily, the Modern Language Association just rejected a boycott of Israel.

But if the BDS supporters in the MLA had gotten their way, they would have been boycotting me — someone who has dedicated her career to helping and empowering Arab women.

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I would have been boycotted by professors who have far less contact, involvement and commitment to the lives of Arab women in Israel than me.

One of the major commitments in my teaching is feminism. Yet many “feminist” professors wanted to boycott me simply because I am an Israeli — and a Jew. To me, the betrayal of Arab women by women studies professors in the MLA is especially painful.

The condemnation of Israel, a country so advanced in its treatment of women and that is also struggling to improve their status and opportunities, is a disgrace — especially since the MLA has said nothing about the oppressive conditions under which many Arab women live in the rest of the Middle East. When will the MLA pass a resolution condemning genital mutilation, honor killings and other crimes against Arab women?

For this reason, I reject intersectionality. Intersectionality absorbs all groups and cultures into two categories: “oppressed” and “oppressors.” But this stigmatization just recirculates essentialist, fixed categories. The difference between women is erased, leaving a generalized group that blurs all histories, societies, cultures and politics into a stark and reductive binary opposition.

That Israel is the focus of this effort to protect difference and otherness is an utmost irony. Jews have been, and apparently remain, the “other” for centuries. The current anti-Judaism of the boycott movement — which calls for a boycott rather than pressuring both Israel and Palestinians to negotiate an agreement of mutual recognition — despicably tries to turn the Jew into the oppressor.

A much more powerful ethic would allow all voices to be heard — and recognize the difference and otherness of all groups — rather than attempting to erase one particular community through a boycott movement.

Shira Wolosky is a faculty member of Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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  • Carolina

    Excellent article! This needs to be widely disseminated.

  • One of the arguments made at MLA last week was that boycotting Israeli academics would have meant shunning liberal, critical intellectuals like Wolosky. I think that message is getting across. Voices like hers are incredibly important in educating about the true nature of Israeli academia and the humanities in particular. Excellent post, I could not agree more!

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