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BDS Falls Flat in Modern Language Association Vote

Major US academic association rejects anti-Israel resolution in landmark vote.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 6/6/2014, 9:29 AM

Anti-Israel boycott movement
Anti-Israel boycott movement
Reuters

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement failed on the grand scale earlier this week, after an anti-Israel proposal presented to the Modern Language Association (MLA) fell flat in an organization-wide vote. 

The MLA is one of the US's major academic associations, boasting nearly 30,000 members and setting the definitive standards for college-level academic writing in English-language institutions worldwide.

The organization's prominence in the anti-Israel rife world of academia also made it a prime target for BDS activity, and concerns were raised that an adoption of a resolution boycotting Israeli academics would set a precedent for anti-Israel activity in the academic sphere on a multinational scale.

Pro-BDS scholars presented a resolution for the MLA vote earlier this year, asking “the United States Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”

The resolution also asked the MLA to declare that: 

Whereas Israel has denied academics of Palestinian ethnicity entry into the West Bank;

Whereas these restrictions violate international conventions on an occupying power’s obligation to protect the right to education;

Whereas the United States Department of State acknowledges on its Web site that Israel restricts the movements of American citizens of Palestinian descent;

Whereas the denials have disrupted instruction, research, and planning at Palestinian universities;

Whereas the denials have restricted the academic freedom of scholars and teachers who are United States citizens;

Be it resolved that the MLA urge the United States Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.

On Wednesday, the MLA summarily rejected this bid for academic boycotts.

"Resolution 2014-1 was not ratified by the membership and therefore does not represent a position taken by the MLA," the organization said, in a statement. "Resolutions forwarded to the membership must be ratified by a majority vote in which the number of those voting for ratification equals at least ten percent of the association’s membership, which was 2,390 votes this year."

"There were 1,560 votes in favor of ratification and 1,063 votes against ratification," it noted. "The vote therefore fell short of ratification by 830 votes."

The failure of the BDS resolution is attributed, in part, to the activist work of the MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, a group of roughly 400 professors who campaigned strongly against the resolution. The campaign included the distribution of a fact sheet on life and academia in Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), a petition, and a letter-writing campaign. 

The MLA has not shied from political controversy before.

In January, the MLA's annual convention featured a talk from pro-Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti, entitled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine." Barghouti is an avid member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. 

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a harsh statement against the talk, warning that the MLA was giving "its de facto imprimatur of legitimacy" to the BDS campaign shortly after a similarly controversial vote by the American Studies Association.

The ADL also slammed the association for "providing a platform to a panel of ideologues who addressed a largely partisan group which applauded their biased perspectives" and noted that it contradicted the MLA's own policy of condemning "boycotts and blacklists against scholars or students on the basis of nationality, ethnic origins, and religious background."