Academics from the elite Modern Language Association (MLA) voted by a significant margin on Wednesday to reject a boycott of Israeli universities.
MLA members voted 1,954 to 885 to “refrain from endorsing the boycott” of Israeli academic institutions advocated by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. MLA has a total of 18,279 eligible voters and 1,828 votes were required to ratify the resolution, wrote Anna Chang on the MLA website blog.
The resolution’s anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) language stated: “Whereas endorsing the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research on language and literature; Whereas the boycott’s prohibition of the evaluation of work of individual Israeli scholars conflicts with Resolution 2002-1, which condemns boycotts against scholars; and Whereas endorsing the boycott could curtail debates with representatives of Israeli universities, such as faculty members, department chairs, and deans, thereby blocking possible dialogue and general scholarly exchange; Be it resolved that the MLA refrain from endorsing the boycott.”
Writing on the website of Legal Insurrection, the Cornell Law professor William A Jacobson, said, “This represents a staggering defeat for the boycotters. MLA has almost 5 times the membership of the American Studies Association, the largest academic group in the US to have adopted academic BDS.” He added, “Needless to say, supporters of the boycott are very unhappy with the vote result and again threatening to engineer mass resignations.”
Jacobson, an expert in BDS who has written extensively on academic BDS, wrote the key takeaways from the MLA row over BDS are: “One lesson is persistence. The key to BDS efforts is to wear good people down. At MLA and elsewhere, the boycott push is a multi-year, ongoing effort.
“Another lesson is to educate people. BDS, as all hate, prevails where propaganda is unchallenged. MMFSR [MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights] members produced fact sheets and other factual information to counter the false narratives and ahistorical arguments of BDS. A third lesson is not to be passive.”
He added, “The boycotters, whose entire identities revolve around boycotting Israeli Jews, cannot let go of the issue and seek to insert it into unrelated organizations.”
The pro-BDS group MLA Members for Justice in Palestine, which advocates within the Modern Language Association for “international solidarity with Palestinians” and the boycott of Israeli academic institutions – tweeted on Wednesday: “Principled resignations and principled continuance both good responses to ratification of anti-boycott res. MLA will support BDS eventually.”
Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), told The Jerusalem Post, “MLA’s latest vote rejecting BDS is very encouraging and positive proving that there are those who see the intellectual dishonesty of the BDS movement and how it would have damaged the MLA. Above all it shows that there is an understanding that scholars boycotting other scholars goes against everything a university stands for.”