After months of tumult and advocacy among concerned members, the Modern Language Association (MLA) announced that a resolution critical of Israel had failed in its all-members vote. While the failure to ratify the resolution is a success for its opponents – led by the ad hoc group MLA Members for Scholar Rights – the real news of the vote is the overwhelming lack of interest by the MLA membership to even engage on this issue.
Fewer than the required threshold of 10% of the almost 24,000 MLA membership voted in favor of the resolution, with 1,560 members voting in support, and 1,063 members voting against.
The deeply flawed resolution criticized Israel for denying U.S. academics of Palestinian origin entry into the West Bank for scholarly work. As with other similar efforts, it was promoted by a small group of highly politicized activists, who, in the words of one attendee at the MLA’s annual conference in February (which included a panel discussion in favor of the boycott of Israeli academic institutions), were “intent on politicizing the event and taking advantage of the membership’s general lack of awareness to foist a wholly non-academic issue to the forefront of the conference.”
The refusal of the vast majority of the MLA membership to get engaged on the contrived issue of Israel obstructing academic access into the West Bank reflects the general unwillingness of members of other academic and professional associations who have been asked to pick a side on resolutions critical of Israel or calling for boycotts of Israeli colleagues and institutions. Even the American Studies Association (ASA), an organization known for its political activism, could only muster about 1/5 of its membership to vote on a (successful) resolution supporting a boycott of Israel academic institutions in December 2013.
For anti-Israel activists, every one-sided resolution, every biased panel discussion at an esteemed associations’ conference, is seen as an opportunity to tar perceptions about Israel, even among the many who refrain from getting engaged. The ongoing challenge for supporters of Israel is to effectively counteract the extreme vilification of Israel promoted by vocal individuals within these professional and academic associations, while positively shaping opinions among the uninformed and largely uninterested majority.