MLA Delegates Condemn Israel

January 16, 2014
BY By Alina Dain Sharon, JNS.org
Controversial resolution passes after BDS panels
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Cary Nelson, a Modern Language Association (MLA) member and University of Illinois professor, spoke on a panel across the street from the MLA convention on academic freedom in Israel. The panel was arranged as an alternative to an MLA convention session that included supporters but no opponents of the BDS movement against Israel.
(Sage Ross via Wikimedia Commons)

CHICAGO — The Modern Language Association (MLA) delegate committee on Saturday passed Resolution 2014-1, which condemns Israel for denying entry to U.S. academics into the West Bank, in a 60-53 vote. The MLA executive committee will now need to approve the resolution before it goes to a vote among MLA members.

The original text of the resolution condemned Israel for “arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer or do research at Palestinian universities,” but the words “Gaza” and “arbitrary” were removed before the vote.

A day earlier, an MLA caucus introduced an Emergency Resolution in Support of the American Studies Association, which had already voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. The MLA delegate assembly declined to consider that resolution Saturday. Three-quarters of MLA convention delegates needed to approve the resolution before it could be debated and voted on, and only 41 percent did. The issue, however, may be referred to the executive committee for consideration.

Both votes come in the wake of the MLA’s much-anticipated “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” round table on Jan. 9 as part of its 2014 convention in Chicago. MLA members expressed their opposition to academic boycotts of Israel during an alternative session offsite the same day.

“The MLA supports the right of its members to organize sessions on topics of interest to the profession and to propose resolutions addressing issues of professional concern,” Rosemary Feal, executive director of the MLA said in an email.

The official convention panel on Jan. 9, which JNS.org could not attend after being denied a press credential by MLA to cover the convention, featured supporters but no opponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

“In our view the BDS panel should never have been accepted in the first place. It was accepted under the pretext of opening up discussion when it, in fact, doesn’t do that,” said Jacob Baime, executive director of the Israel on Campus Coalition. After being denied an MLA convention meeting room to present an alternative session to the BDS round table, Hillel International and ICC organized a panel on academic freedom in Israel across the street from the convention.

Supporting materials to the MLA resolution from the Campaign for the Right to Enter Occupied Palestinian Territory allege that Palestinian universities and departments are unable to engage quality staff due to entry restrictions by Israel. In 2009, Rima Merriman, an American citizen of Palestinian descent, reported being denied re-entry to Palestinian-controlled territory and was unable to resume her post at the Arab American University-Jenin. She said that through the help of an attorney, the U.S. Consulate and several independent organizations, she was eventually able to re-enter. Several similar cases were cited in the resolution’s supporting materials.

But a report issued by MLA members opposing the convention’s Resolution 2014-1 states that in 2012, only 142 Americans were denied entry to Israel and the disputed territories out of 626,000 who wanted to enter, a refusal rate of about 0.023 percent. The U.S. restricts entry to its own borders at a much higher rate — 5.4 percent in 2012 for Israeli applications for “B” visas, as reported by both the Israeli embassy in the U.S. and the U.S. State Department.

“The chance of an Israeli wanting to come to America and being refused by the American authorities for getting a visa is 200 times greater than that of an American trying to enter Israel,” said Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University and a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Troen was a panelist on the alternative session organized by Hillel and ICC.

The opposing report also notes that for approval, MLA resolutions must be accompanied by “material that provides evidence in support of the [resolution’s] claims,” according to the MLA constitution. In fact, before the language on Gaza was removed, Resolution 2014-1’s supporting documents and the cases mentioned by the documents did not include any examples of a failed re-entry to Gaza but rather only of failed re-entries to the West Bank. The resolution also did not mention that Gaza since 2006 has been under the control of Hamas, not under Israeli control.

The official MLA session’s panel on Jan. 9 included BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti and University of Texas professor Barbara Jane Harlow, who has stated her support for the ASA boycott of Israel. The panel also included University of Southern California professor David Lloyd, a well-known BDS activist, and Wesleyan University professor Richard Ohmann, who signed a 2009 letter that described Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.”

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