Israel on Trial at the MLA Conference: An Insider’s View and a Perspective on the Trends

  • by:
    • Mark Onofrio
  • January 21, 2014

The Modern Language Association (MLA), a group comprised of nearly 30,000 humanities scholars, held their annual conference in Chicago, January 9th-12th.  ADL and other pro-Israel organizations were concerned by two items on the MLA agenda:  a roundtable discussion entitled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” which was comprised solely of those supportive of an academic boycott of Israel (including academic boycott/BDS front-man Omar Barghouti); and a flaw-filled resolution condemning Israel for allegedly denying Palestinian American academics access to the West Bank.

Left to Right: Professors Cary Nelson, Russell Berman and Ilan Troen at a panel discussion on the sidelines of the MLA Conference

ADL condemned the one-sided panel, saying that the MLA had “given its de facto imprimatur of legitimacy to the campaign to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions.”

In a heated session, the resolution passed by a vote of 60-53, and it now moves on to the MLA executive committee to determine if it goes to the full membership for a vote.   Fortunately, the delegates declined to consider an “emergency resolution” of support for the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Amy Schwartz, an associate director in ADL’s Chicago office and a member of the MLA, writes in the JTA of her first-person account from the conference, Rampaging Minority Politicized MLA Conference, that the outcomes of the conference compel us to “ continue to educate and inform the MLA membership and initiate outreach to other academic organizations to promote responsibility, academic freedom and integrity.

Writing of those activists behind the roundtable and resolution at the MLA conference, and who pushed forward the vote by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions, Abraham H. Foxman writes in Exposing the Israel Bashers: Opinions Without Facts, Facts Without Context :  “This is group which is devoted 24/7/365 to finding ways to exploit a lack of awareness, naïveté and general disinterest to advance a corrosive, divisive and prejudiced perspective of the highly complex dynamic of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The silver lining of these developments remains the forceful reaction by over 200 university presidents from across the United States, who, every day, have come forward to speak out and denounce the academic boycott of Israel.