Modern Language Association Approves Anti-BDS Motion; Members Welcome Rejection of ‘Radical Fringe’
With the principal humanities academic organization in the US voting overwhelmingly to formally reject the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a leading member of the anti-BDS effort welcomed the rejection of a “radical fringe” who had “hijacked the organization for partisan politics.”
After the Modern Language Association (MLA) announced on Wednesday that an anti-BDS motion had passed by a 1,954-885 margin, Rachel Harris — who sits on the MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights executive committee — told The Algemeiner the vote “clearly stated the members’ will that BDS should no longer be the dominant conversation.”
Harris said she had been hopeful going into the voting period, which ran over a number of weeks, as she “felt very strongly that MLA members were tired” by the years-long campaign by an anti-Israel faction to empower their stance in the organization. Those efforts included a failed attempt to pass a pro-BDS motion at January’s national conference.
But Martin Shichtman — another executive committee member of the anti-BDS group — warned this was “absolutely not the end” to the efforts of anti-Israel activists.
Shichtman is certain the BDS agenda will “morph, and we’ll see it again,” though he noted that “for the good and health of the institution, it’d be good if it went away for a while.”
“If it doesn’t, more and more people will grow disgusted with a group that is beaten 2 to 1 and still can’t recognize that the membership wants to talk about something else,” Shichtman noted.
Harris explained that she believed MLA members were turned off by the “many erroneous claims of the narrative of BDS.”
“We are in a business of fact and information, and BDS undermined that,” she said, adding that the issue was particularly personal for her, as she has focused her scholarship on the Middle East region.
In a statement on the MLA pro-boycott faction’s website, University of Minnesota’s Timothy Brennan called the vote result “[a]n outrage and a betrayal.”
Brennan wrote that it was reflective of a “more general rightward turn” in US politics, and “the very faux-patriotically American desire to support Israel whatever it does.”
Brennan also raised the question of whether those who support the BDS movement should remain members of the organization.
Kenneth Waltzer, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), a free speech and anti-BDS advocacy group, encouraged them to stay.
“Some people will respond with, ‘Go, good riddance. We’ll pack you lunch,'” said Waltzer. “But we [AEN] really do believe in free and open exchange.”
Waltzer added that the decisive victory “signals the great difficulty BDS has run into in winning majorities in larger organization, in the more serious and scholarly organizations,” like the American Historical Association and the American Anthropological Association, both of which voted down boycott motions in the last twelve months.
Harris and Shichtman both expressed hope that the MLA will now have an opportunity to focus on issues like rising student debt and the widespread downsizing or shuttering of humanities departments.
“I would never say an organization should have no political engagement,” Harris said. “It behooves us to speak out on issues which directly effect our students at the institution we teach.”
Meanwhile, a lawsuit against the American Studies Association‘s 2013 motion to boycott Israel is currently underway.