MLA: No Boycott, But Censure of Israel for Alleged Curbs on U.S. Scholars

Resolution Decrying West Bank Policies Wins, Narrowly

Before the Vote: Professor Samer Ali moderates a panel supportive of BDS at the Modern Language Association conference on Jan. 10, 2014, one day before the organization voted on a resolution on Israel.
Menachem Wecker
Before the Vote: Professor Samer Ali moderates a panel supportive of BDS at the Modern Language Association conference on Jan. 10, 2014, one day before the organization voted on a resolution on Israel.

By Menachem Wecker

Published January 14, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

But Russell Berman, a past president of the MLA, noted that many resolutions fail to pass the full membership simply because the required 10% threshold for voter participation is not reached. “I think a lot of the members don’t have particularly a dog in this fight,” he said.

The divide opened up by the MLA’s decision to engage the Israel-Palestinian issue was also on display at the panel discussion on BDS moderated by Ali and stacked with panelists sympathetic to this movement.

The session, one of more than 800 held during the four-day conference, drew about 150 people, ten times the number who came to a handful of other sessions the Forward attended. The panelists included Omar Barghouti, a founder of the international boycott movement against Israel, and David Lloyd, a leader of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. No one on the panel was opposed to BDS.

By comparison, a counter-panel held by supporters of Israel across street from the MLA session and outside the MLA’s auspices drew about 60 people.

At the MLA panel, among audience members who rose to offer comments or pose questions, five voice their opposition to BDS and four were in favor.

One surprise critic of BDS at the session, albeit a conflicted one, was Ali, the panel moderator. “I believe that the lessons of the Holocaust call on us to reject any ideology that privileges one group of people over another, which Zionism unfortunately does,” said Ali. Nevertheless, he said he could support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian problem, if one was reached, or a binational state and described himself as “agnostic” of the question of using BDS as a tactic against Israel. “I find it bizarre to boycott Israeli universities when so many of our colleagues there eloquently and bravely criticize Israel’s occupation, and some have been forced to leave,” he said.

The MLA drew strong condemnation from several Jewish groups, including B’nai B’rith International and Stand With Us, for permitting the panel under its auspices. But MLA officials explained that any member can submit a proposal for the conference, provided he or she does so by the April deadline.

Two Jewish groups, Hillel and the Israel on Campus Coalition, learned in December that the panel on Israel and BDS would be held at the conference. They then tried to submit a proposal for a counter-panel — some eight months after the April deadline — but were told that would be impossible.

Jacob Baime, the executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition, said just before the convention that MLA members opposed to the resolution and to BDS felt like they were “being shut out.”

“They want a chance to participate in this discussion. The conversation should be far broader than the panel as it stands,” he said.

But Feal, the MLA’s executive director, contested this charge. “Our convention is a meeting by and for members. We do not give space to outside groups to organize panels,” she said. “If an MLA member had submitted a special session proposal by the deadline, the Program Committee would have, of course, considered it. In fairness to members who submit proposals in a timely fashion, we do not accept late proposals, no matter what controversies may exist.”

Both the BDS panel and the debate and vote on the Israel resolution took place on the heels of a vote by the much smaller American Studies Association in December to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The ASA vote, also meant to protest Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, received wide publicity and put a high-profile spotlight on MLA conference’s Israel resolution.

Michael Kotzin, senior counselor to the president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, said it was noteworthy that the Israel resolution was “narrowly drafted” when compared to the ASA’s boycott measure. He suggested that the supporters of the resolution avoided calling for a boycott because they felt they wouldn’t be able to marshal enough support for such a call.

“I think our community needs to be careful in how we think about ourselves and talk about ourselves,” he said. “We are not victims. [So] let’s not talk about it that way. I don’t think it’s healthy, and it’s not effective in terms of what we want to do.”


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!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • 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.