Academics reject Israel boycott at MLA conference

Academics reject Israel boycott at MLA conference

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Professor Cary Nelson

Opponents of an academic boycott of Israel scored back-to-back victories at a conference of the Modern Language Association (MLA) earlier this month, defeating a pro-boycott resolution while gaining sufficient votes to pass a resolution that calls on the organization to specifically refrain from endorsing a boycott.

The second of the resolutions at the Jan. 5-8 event, which passed by a 101-93 margin, stated that the Palestinian campaign for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel “contradicts the MLA’s purpose to promote teaching and research” and would curtail debates with Israeli academics, “thereby blocking possible dialogue and scholarly exchange.”

The first, pro-boycott resolution, which accused Israeli universities of perpetuating violations of international law while denying academic freedom and educational rights to Palestinians, was defeated by a vote of 113 to 79.

A third resolution, which refers to attacks on Palestinian scholars and students by Palestinian political organizations, was shelved after the first two successful votes, according to Prof. Cary Nelson, an opponent of the academic boycott of Israel.

“We got everything we asked for,” said Nelson, who teaches modern poetry and literary theory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “We weren’t so confident going in.”

READ: BDS MOTION FAILS AT MCGILL AFTER ONLINE VOTE

According to the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, about a dozen academic organizations have endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, including the African Literature Association, the American Studies Association, the Association for Humanist Sociology, National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Annual Conference,  and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.

The MLA was founded in 1883 to strengthen the study and teaching of languages and literatures.

Nelson, author of The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, said he has been fighting boycott-related resolutions at the MLA for 10 years, and he expects similar motions attacking Israel will continue at the next delegate assembly in 2018.

Boycott advocacy at the MLA has been trending up among younger faculty members in the last three years, Nelson said, but opponents also have been recruiting support from younger academics. Most MLA members are agnostic about the issue and would rather the organization stick to matters that concern them, he added.

‘We got everything we asked for… We weren’t so confident going in’

Nelson said opponents of the boycott resolution worked hard on the floor at the convention in Philadelphia to convince delegates to oppose a boycott. “We tried to convince members it’s none of the MLA’s business. It doesn’t need a foreign policy,” he said.

Opponents circulated a 10,000-word report on the issue, outlining the case against boycott and noting factual misrepresentations in the case being presented by its proponents.

Rebecca Comay, a professor of philosophy and comparative literature at the University of Toronto, was one of two co-sponsors of the pro-boycott resolution at the MLA conference.

“After five decades of a brutal military occupation, with the situation only deteriorating, it is time for the international community to act,” she said, explaining why she pushed the boycott resolution. “Given that there is no prospect of significant change happening from within (and as the Israeli leadership moves ever rightward), BDS is the most effective means – at this point the only means – of intervening on behalf of Palestinian human rights.

“Boycott is a non-violent, legal tactic that has historically proved effective in seemingly intractable situations. South Africa is a pertinent example,” she told The CJN via email. Comay said Palestinians have been “dispossessed, disenfranchised, and stripped of the fundamental human rights that we take for granted.  These rights include a basic right to education and academic freedom.”

BDS protesters at McGill
BDS protesters at McGill University FILE PHOTO

Asked why Israel should be singled out, Comay responded, “Israel is susceptible to boycott in a way that other countries (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, etc) simply are not. As the so-called ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ Israel is actually susceptible to global public opinion, as the panicked reaction to the BDS movement clearly demonstrates. Israel has in any case already been ‘singled out’: it receives  an unprecedented amount of U.S. military and economic aid (to the tune of $38 billion over the next 10 years – [President] Obama’s parting gift to Israel – that’s more than to all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined.”

Nelson said the BDS movement is growing within the humanities and social sciences, but less so in the hard sciences. However, much of the propaganda it advances is inaccurate, he said noting that Israel has doubled the number of Palestinian and Arab students in Israeli universities in just the last 10 years. The student body at some schools, like the Technion and the University of Haifa, where he’s an affiliated professor, is more than 25 per cent Arab, he said.

Yael Halevi-Wise, an associate professor in the English department at McGill University, said a small but influential group of leftist academics – “the radical caucus” – have been pushing the boycott proposal for several years.

“If you look at the BDS strategy, it’s a form of bullying. Omar Barghouti takes credit for the BDS and he says he would like to help Israel euthanize itself,” she said.

Halevi-Wise said the boycott effort “is an attempt to isolate and demonize our fellow colleagues in Israel.” Most, she said, are pro-peace and support a two-state solution, and some of the professors who would be affected are Arabs, she said.

“We had to work very hard to get through, because Israel is being maligned so frequently,” she added.

The resolution urging the MLA to refrain from boycotts now goes to the group’s executive council, which will determine if there are legal or constitutional issues posed by its language. From there it will be forwarded to the organization’s membership for ratification.

  • Michael Sherman

    Why does anyone care what overpaid and underemployed university employees think and do. Their
    presence is marginal to the mainstream. They choose to become academics because everything they say and do is irrelevant at best and they get to do this with impunity. University students who are exposed to these welfare bums will never see or hear of them again after three or four years. A passing fancy. Move on and ignore them.They count for nothing. They are legends in their own mind. Mock them. Shun them. Ignore them. They live off the government dole and couldn’t hold a real job in the real world, hence their well deserved reputation as do nothings who collect a handsome paycheck for doing little or nothing. They are at best leeches and parasites who live off the taxpayer entirely.

  • Michael Sherman

    Why does anyone care what overpaid and underemployed university
    employees think and do. Their presence is marginal to the mainstream.
    They choose to become academics because everything they say and do is
    irrelevant at best and they get to do this with impunity. University
    students who are exposed to these welfare bums will never see or hear of
    them again after three or four years. A passing fancy. Move on and
    ignore them.They count for nothing. They are legends in their own mind.
    Mock them. Shun them. Ignore them. Certainly don’t take them seriously. Look at this guy. Other than a synagogue, who is going to hire him. Xmas means temporary part-time employment. These guys are looking for permanent jobs with full tenure and a gold-plated pension. They live off the government dole and couldn’t hold a real job in the real world, hence their well deserved
    reputation as do nothings who collect a handsome paycheck for doing
    little or nothing. They are at best leeches and parasites who live off
    the taxpayer entirely.

  • TerrorIsEvil

    The entire Jew-Hate BDS movement is a fraud and a method used by some academics to ingratiate themselves with evil terrorists.

    Here is a prime example of a simple-minded, uninformed, hateful, punitive and one-sided purveyor of lies: “Comay said Palestinians have been “dispossessed, disenfranchised, and stripped of the
    fundamental human rights that we take for granted. These rights include a basic right to
    education and academic freedom.”

    Every citizen of the world should be so lucky to have the educational opportunities offered to “Palestinians” by Israel. Education, however, must never be any form indoctrination into jihad
    and Intifada as offered in UNRWA schools run by “Palestinians” and the UN.

    Palestinian rights have been most egregiously abused by the Palestinians themselves. Their children have been abused by parents, the PA, the UN and their religious leaders.

    This abuse is prolonged, protected, normalized, and used by the UN, the OIC, the EU and the Social Justice Gestapo as a sledgehammer against the State of Israel.

    If the world wanted to help Palestinians (an artificial grouping of Arabs from the surrounding region, not a people with any historical roots to any former country called “Palestine”)
    then they would be urging the OIC to take them into their own countries. They would
    be urging the EU to not exclude them from the refugees now flooding into Europe
    by invitation.

    If the BDS Gestapo wanted peace, then they would be urging “Palestinians” to stop the violence and to start building their lives (in the terror State of Gaza and in Jewish Judea-Samaria).

    Muslims must be disabused of the notion that Israel is theirs for the taking and that wherever Muslims reside in great enough numbers, that they are entitled to have an Islamic State or
    Caliphate or given the green light to get one through force and terror.

    As always, Arab countries are only in the business of making war (on Israel and on themselves) and then, in the aftermath, dumping their refugees on everyone else.

    The BDS movement is a pro-war, pro-terror, anti-Semitic movement legitimizing terrorists in the eyes of world nations with the express purpose of turning Israel into a wasteland and a terror
    Islamic state (of which there are far too many in the world today).

    In the past we would have laughed at hatemongers and ignoramuses like Rebecca Comay who would have been told to mind her own business, told that her expertise in the topic is woefully
    lacking, that her crazy ideas are both damaging and vengeful, and that her
    quest to gain self-fulfillment through supporting the enemies of Israel and gaining
    kudos from Islamists and leftists is a disgusting example of extreme prejudice.

    As stated in the article, not every leftist and useless leftist studies department needs to have its own foreign policy. These departments need to be dismantled and education returned to the solid
    ground of learning, research and obtaining skills to allow students to make a
    living and help society – the university and other schools must return to
    education rather than indoctrination.

    By the way, if Palestinians are oppressed then a lot of people would exchange their lot in life for the endless welfare, perks, and educational opportunities bestowed on this group of
    people who have it better than most citizens of Israel’s neighbors; nations
    which are really abusing their people in countries run by “kings,” mullahs,
    terrorists and totalitarian fools.