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May 19, 2017 2:08 pm

With Modern Language Association Vote Underway, Promoters of Anti-BDS Motion ‘Hopeful’ Of Passage

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A driving force behind a resolution urging the principal humanities academic organization in the US to formally reject the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement told The Algemeiner on Friday that he was “hopeful” the motion would pass.

Cary Nelson — the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — said that he and others in the anti-boycott faction of the Modern Language Association (MLA) have “put a great deal of work into member outreach,” though they have the steep challenge of obtaining the required 10% of total MLA membership voting in favor, or about 2,400 votes, for the position to be ratified.

“Many very good, non-controversial resolutions do not gain a 10% vote, mainly because most members do not consider voting a personal priority,” said Nelson.

The resolution would formally pit the MLA against the attempt to isolate Israeli scholars and academic institutions from the world stage. It states that support for BDS “contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature…[and] could curtail debates with representatives of Israeli universities…thereby blocking possible dialogue and general scholarly exchange.”

As part of the campaign for the motion, Nelson said the group “MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights” created five videos featuring academics “explaining why academic boycotts are destructive and discriminatory.”

“[The faculty in the videos] make it clear how professionally valuable their contacts with Israeli scholars are, and [that] they do not want to MLA to hurt the many Arab and Jewish students in Israel who study literature,” he explained.

Additionally, an open letter published on the “Scholars’ Rights” website has been signed by 224 academics.

This effort follows the failed attempt by a pro-BDS MLA faction to get an anti-Israel motion passed at the group’s annual national conference in January. They succeeded in wrangling only 79 votes in favor, following a years-long campaign.

Ten past presidents of the MLA issued a statement in April urging members to reject the anti-boycott resolution, claiming it would “[close] off dialogue and debate in an unprecedented way.”

The voting period for the anti-BDS resolution ends on June 1.

A number of professional academic associations have considered pro-BDS initiatives, with the American Historical Association rejecting such a resolution for third time in two years in January.

At Dartmouth College, a professor was forced to distance himself from his history of support for BDS after controversy flared on campus over his appointment to the consequential administrative position of dean of faculty.

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