Academic Backers of Boycott Israel Movement Take Aim at Bigger Targets

Modern Language Association Next After ASA Win

thinkstock

By Nathan Guttman

Published December 18, 2013, issue of December 27, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Fresh off their recent success, supporters of an academic boycott against Israel are hoping to parlay their first high-profile American victory into momentum toward wider support for the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the Jewish state.

A December 16 vote by the American Studies Association approving a boycott resolution in protest of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians has drawn dismissive responses from many in the pro-Israel community. Among other things, pro-Israel advocates emphasized the small size of the ASA, which has about 5,000 members.

But partisans on both sides of the battle lines are now gearing up for the annual conference of the 30,000-member Modern Language Association, which meets in Chicago for its annual conference, starting January 9. Both sides agree the stakes then will be much higher.

“The debate at ASA breached a taboo that existed about how people discuss Israel and Palestine,” said David Lloyd, an English professor at the University of California, Riverside and one of the scholars who will speak in favor of an academic boycott at the upcoming MLA meeting. “ASA has paved the way for MLA and other associations.”

Though no boycott resolution is currently on the group’s agenda, the conference will vote on a resolution critical of Israel’s policies regarding freedom of access to Palestinian scholars in the occupied West Bank.

Pro-Israel advocates remain confident about their prospects in such larger settings. “The broad mainstream of academics oppose boycotts,” said Geri Palast, managing director of the Israel Action Network, a joint project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that coordinates communal anti-BDS activity.

But the ASA’s approval of a boycott resolution against Israeli academic institutions — albeit much watered down from the language of the proposal originally presented to it — is driving pro-Israel activists to fine-tune their approach to battling BDS. After gaining support from large academic groups in opposing academic boycott moves, advocates for Israel are now starting to pay special attention to smaller groups whose actions may carry more symbolic importance than practical impact.

The ASA’s vote to adopt a boycott resolution passed with a 66% majority of the 1,252 members who took part in the online referendum. Supporters of the move highlighted the impressive margin of the vote. But those opposed to the move argued that the boycott resolution won affirmative backing from only 16.5% of the group’s total 5,000 members.

The resolution calls on its members only to refuse to “enter formal collaboration with Israeli academic institutions or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions, or on behalf of the Israeli government.” The resolution explicitly exempts “individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange” — a significant dialing-down of the proposal’s original language.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.