Documents related to several items on the agenda for the upcoming meeting of the Delegate Assembly, to be held on Saturday, 11 January, during the 2014 MLA Annual Convention in Chicago (session 544), have now been posted in the members-only area at the Web site. MLA members who wish to address the assembly on a particular issue should consult the relevant document(s) in advance.
Agenda for the 2014 Delegate Assembly Meeting
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A friend, professor of history Victor Lieberman, asked me to post this comment for him on the Mideast resolution to be taken up at the January meeting. Here it is:
Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished University Professor of History, Marvin B Becker Collegiate Professor of History and Professor of History, College of Literature, Science and the arts
MLA Anti-Israel Resolution
I write as a colleague with some expertise in international affairs. The MLA since 1982 has
approved three resolutions condemning overseas restrictions on academic freedom. Two of
the three criticized Israel (the third concerned El Salvador). In early 2014 the MLA Delegate
Assembly will consider a fourth resolution. This too criticizes Israel, in this case Israeli
restrictions on the entry of American academics of Palestinian ancestry to the West Bank.
Given that three of four resolutions single out Israel, are we to conclude that Israel represents
the principal threat to academic freedom not only in the Mideast, but in the world at large? Such
a claim would be hard to defend. Systematically and unapologetically, at least fifty African,
Southeast Asian, and South Asian counties prevent the expression of unwelcome opinions in
university classrooms or campuses. Likewise universities in Iran and every Arab country —
including, it should be noted, Palestinian institutions in the West Bank and Gaza — routinely
proscribe academics who question official policy. In China academic freedom has never enjoyed
the slightest degree of legal or social protection (only this month a Shanghai university fired
a professor for daring to criticize President Xi Jinping). In Russia, Belarus, and other ex- Soviet states, disobedient research centers and academics face concerted government attack. By
contrast, in the West Bank and Israel proper Jewish and Arab professors and students frequently
and openly denounce Israeli policy without inhibition or restriction. What possible logic then
could lead the MLA to conclude of 193 UN member states, Israel is the only one deserving
repeated MLA censure?
In truth, of course, this proposed resolution, coming in the wake of of the recent American
Studies Association resolution, is part of a broader critique of Israeli policy. Here too a
comparative view is in order. The Jewish state offered to recognize Arab/Palestinian sovereignty
over the West Bank on five occasions — 1947, 1967, 1968, 2000, 2008 — but in each instance
this offer not only was rejected, but was rejected with violence. A fundamental problem has been
the refusal of a large, generally dominant, sector of Palestinian opinion to accept a Jewish state.
It was that refusal — perfectly understandable, if in the event self-defeating — that spawned the
war of 1947-49 and the Six Day War. The latter in turn produced the defensive occupation of
the West Bank. No thoughtful person can deny that Israeli policy there is ugly and, in the long
run, untenable. But without Palestinian rejectionism, and Israel’s fear that that such rejectionism
will produce a Hamas-run state next to the Jewish heartland, the occupation and settlements
would lose their raison d’etre. To blame Israel exclusively for an occupation which grows out
of a reciprocal dynamic and which Israel in fact has repeatedly sought to end is, once again
therefore, to torture the record.
I teach a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict that is popular with Muslim and Jewish students
because it treats sympathetically the fears of both Palestinian and Jewish communities. Given
a bit of intellectual rigor, it is possible to incorporate these contrary views in an overarching
narrative. But in its odd selectivity and penchant for a priori logic, the proposed MSA resolution
is embarrassingly anti-intellectual. I urge you to oppose its passage.
Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Asian and
University of Michigan
Displaying ASA 3.docx.
I agree with the thoughtful comments posted by Prof. Bornstein for Prof. Lieberman. The ASA boycott of Israeli institutions is wrong and should not be supported by the MLA. It is never right for American scholars to cut off international scholars from research and critical conversation. This is especially true in the case of Israeli universities, which support political debate and freedom of speech.
The president of Indiana University has opposed the boycott and many university presidents have followed suit. I hope the MLA will do the same.
I strongly agree with Prof. Lieberman that the MLA resolution boycotting Israeli scholars is wrong, and urge the members to vote it down.
There is no boycott resolution to be discussed at the MLA Delegate Assembly.
There are 2 points that Professor Lieberman makes that I wish to touch on briefly: (1) That Israel is but one of many countries that in one way or another trample on academic freedoms. This misses the point of the boycott. The Palestinian call for the boycott of Israeli academic institutions (which I support, as do a number of Israeli academics) is because these institutions are complicit in the occupation. They engage in research for the military, some actively support the military and the IDF and in other ways support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its treatment of Gaza. This is the main reason for the boycott call. It does not cover individuals, merely the institutions themselves.
(2) You speak of Palestinian rejectionism. I recommend that you read a slim book on the subject of Israeli rejectionism: ‘Israeli Rejectionism: A Hidden Agenda in the Middle East Peace Process,’ by Zalman Amit and Daphna Levit. Also, it is worth remembering that when the Arab League in 2002 offered Israel recognition by all its members and normalization of relations on the grounds that it return to the 1949 armistice line (also called the “green line”), Israel’s leaders did not so much as bother to respond, even though the offer was made without demanding the Right of Return for Palestinians who had become refugees as a result of the Nakba. Israel repeated its silence when the offer was made again in 2007, and a third time this past year.
The purpose of the boycott is to pressure Israel’s leaders to agree to finding a just solution to ending Israel’s colonization, expansion, and occupation.
I am a proud member of MLA, but I am not an academic. I am a retired lawyer with considerable professional experience in public and private international law; I also consider myself well-versed in the principles of foreign policy. I agree completely with Professor Lieberman (and, by a pleasant coincidence, I was chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Committee of the United States).
My problem is with the empirical basis of the conclusion that Israeli prohibitions on the entry of American academics of Palestinian origin into the West Bank violate some type of unwritten, inherent law applicable to academics. Entry by any alien into any foreign nation is a privilege, not a right. The United States has long excluded individuals and certain classes of persons from entering American territory. Similar laws apply in virtually every nation in the world, including Canada, Britain, and France as well as Iran, North Korea, Libya, and Somalia. Such action is permitted by the law of nations. But now comes the gnashing of teeth by a clique who asserts that Israel alone among the family of nations should be condemned because its government follows that which international law permits. And, incidentally, by what recognized law are academics exempt from laws adopted by a government that it believes is best for its citizens? I’ll bet my dollars to doughnuts that I can identify the true loyalties of the clique behind this proposed resolution, and it ain’t academic freedom.
I, too, endorse Professor Lieberman’s opposition to the resolution and urge those voting to reject it.
“The anti-Semite rejoices at any opportunity to vent his malice. The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the anti-Semite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison. How he must revel in the new masquerade! He does not hate the Jews, he is just ‘anti-Zionist’!
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Professor Liberman’s statement is excellent. He wisey refrains what to some of us is all too apparent, given the facts that Professor Lieberman recounts for us: that is, the opposition to Israel is yet another veiled form of anti-Semitism. If th USA is not to go the way of Nazi Germany, it must keep open ALL forms of academic feedom. The current resolution, like the ASA action, is a worrying step on that cursed road, alas.
I support Professor Lieberman’s comments and I thank Professor Bornstein for posting them. While this particular proposal is more targeted than the ASA’s sweeping boycott resolution, it is in keeping with the MLA’s own pattern of singling out Israel for censure. The continual focus on Israel of all such resolutions and proposed resolutions, including this, gives cause for deep suspicion about the motives behind them. I urge MLA members to reject this resolution.
I have, of course been reading of the ASA resolution to boycott Israeli scholars, and the possible upcoming debate on this issue at the MLA. I am horrified by these ASA, MLA turns of events, and I am sickened, not only because of their ramifications, but by the gross unfairness, even slander, of these allegations and accusations. I live in Israel and go to malls, hospitals, clinics, and there are as many Arabs as Jews shopping, receiving the same – and as prompt – attention in medical facilities. We have been treated by Arab doctors and nurses. Not to mention that during our snow/electricity crisis, Israel sent humanitarian aid and supplies to GAZA – the place from which rockets fly into Israel regularly! I don’t want to go into history, but I could. Isn’t it unbelievable that of all the countries in our “neighborhood” Israel is thought to be the worst? By whom? And where do they get their information? We all know from which segments of world society our greatest threats have come, yet it’s Israel that’s being boycotted. This is insane! The USA isn’t Europe – Europe has become a frightening place in recent years. Surely it is no coincidence that in the last few years I’ve been hearing French being spoken all over Israel. (Just recently, I had a conversation with a young girl who had recently moved to Israel from France. And when I asked what she liked about Israel, she responded without hesitation: ‘here I can be Jewish openly and freely without fear.”) But as an AMERICAN I’m frightened by the corrupt and sinister manipulation that is behind this boycott movement, as huge sums of money are being poured into efforts to delegitimize Israel at every juncture. Words and concepts such as human rights, freedom and democracy have been cheapened and rendered almost meaningless, as they are manipulated to accuse Israel of the worst abuses of human rights even as Israel’s accusers in the Middle East are guilty of the most heinous abuses of the values that any democracy holds dear. And yet, there are Americans who are buying into this polemic. I am appalled that such ugliness is surfacing in my America! I cannot fathom it. I’m as devastated by this as an American as I am as a Jew.
But what is at stake for us all is the undermining of what we in Academia are all about – including our larger goals for our students: the search for truth, and the requisite openness to voices other than our own. Looked at through this lens, academic boycotts represent the very opposite of academic freedom. The fact is that all citizens of Israel, regardless of race or religion, enjoy unprecedented academic freedom, unlike any other university in the Middle East and unlike most universities in the world; that Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, are students at all of Israel’s universities, with special prominence at Ariel University, Hebrew University, Haifa University and Ben Gurion University. Ironically, it was Israel who established five Arab colleges in Judea and Samaria (AKA the West Bank) shortly after Israel liberated the area in 1967. (In 1968, when I visited Israel, Arab children no older than ten were peddling carved wood camels – “Art, lady! Art, lady” – and girls of the same age were carrying babies. All had running sores. My reaction at the time: WHY aren’t these children in school? The exceptions were in the Christian areas) Now, thanks to Israeli initiatives more than 4 decades ago, before there was ever a Palestinian Authority, they are all in school. Although, I must add that since the PA took over control of all schools in this area, we could shudder at the curriculum.
I hope I can count on the majority of our voices speaking out and voting against this travesty of justice and academic freedom.
Professor Emerita of English
Case Western Reserve University
I am sickened by the irrational knee jerk assent of MLA colleagues to the predictable cliche defenses and outright lies of the Israel Lobby in our ranks. It is as though they have been asleep for the past 20 years or turned off their brains when the word “Israel” is uttered! How ironic that Dorothy Naor, herself an Israeli, shod be the line voice of reason and logic here. She alone makes me proud to be a Jew who professes the teaching of language (not its distortion) in this country.
The outrageous lies about the Israeli “offers” of a “state” to Palestinians have been exposed time and time again to the whole world.
Only a small group — the one represented in these comments — believe them. The rest of the world is not a bunch of crazy antisemites. That mythical thinking is unworthy of MLA scholars.
Professor Ferguson is right that there is no boycott resolution on the agenda. Here is the action the proposed resolution calls for:
“Be it resolved that the MLA urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s 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”
There is no boycott there—or anything else like what I objected to in the American Studies Associations resolution. It seems to support free academic exchange, rather than call for restrictions on it.
Brian Abel Ragen
Emeritus Professor of English
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
Regarding the proposed resolution (2014-1). The implied principle of free and unencumbered travel is important and worth defending. However the back-up documentation provided does not make a convincing case that Israel is systematically denying academics entry to the West Bank and Gaza. There are four named cases of alleged entry denial–all have to do with the West Bank, so at the very least the resolution overshoots by including Gaza. Of the four cases, three are about five years old and–if one reads the documents–in two of these, the scholars concerned were in fact able to enter: so at those points, the documents prove the opposite of entry denial. There is one current case (2013) of a high school teacher and she attributes her difficulties to institutional infighting rather than systematic policy. Beyond that, the documents are drawn extensively from clearly activist literature: there is no reporting, for example, by a major newspaper (NYT, Le Monde, the Guardian, etc.). The proposers should have tried to do a better job. Finally, I’m concerned that the Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee apparently chose to break with standard procedure and did not ask for a reply from “named party” in the resolution, i.e. the Israeli government. Such a response might have clarified things–or not–but it would have added some legitimacy to the process.
Thank you Russell Berman for your thoughtful comments. I too am surprised this resolution was approved by the DAOC. It does not meet two of the DAOC’s submission requirements (detailed on http://www.mla.org/prep_resdelegateassembly):
1. For approval, resolutions must be accompanied by “material that provides evidence in support of the resolution[‘s] claims” (MLA constitution, art. 11.C.3.b). The appended material includes no evidence of denial of entry to Gaza. All individuals quoted in the report, and all the case studies appended to it, refer to institutions on the West Bank.
2. Because no evidence is provided in support of the resolution’s claims, the reference to Gaza in the resolution proper is erroneous. Consequently the resolution does not meet the requirement that resolutions “may not contain erroneous, tortious, or possibly libelous statements.”
The MLA has no business bringing such a resolution against Israel. Resolutions like this, which have nothing to do with the teaching of language and literature, can only divide us and weaken the MLA as a professional organization. I would urge the delegate assembly to drop this resolution.
Prof Lieberman has asked me to post this lightly emended version of his original remarks:
MLA Anti-Israel Resolution
I write as a scholar with some expertise in international affairs. The Modern Language Association (MLA) since 1982 has approved three resolutions condemning overseas restrictions on academic freedom. Two of the three criticized Israel (the third concerned El Salvador). In a few days the MLA Delegate Assembly will consider a fourth resolution. This too criticizes Israel, in this case Israeli restrictions on the entry of American academics to Palestinian universities.
Given that three of four resolutions single out Israel, are we to conclude that Israel represents the principal threat to academic freedom not only in the Mideast, but in the world at large? Such a claim would be hard to defend. Systematically and unapologetically, at least fifty African, Southeast Asian, and South Asian counties prevent the expression of unwelcome opinions in university classrooms and on campuses. Likewise universities in Iran and every Arab country — including, it should be noted, Palestinian institutions in the West Bank and Gaza — proscribe any academic who dares to question official policy. In China academic freedom has never enjoyed the slightest degree of legal or social protection (only this month a Shanghai university fired a professor for criticizing President Xi Jinping). In Russia, Cuba, Belarus, and other ex-Soviet states, disobedient academics and research bodies, when they are not closed down entirely, face crippling government attacks. By contrast, in both Israel and the West Bank Jewish and Arab professors and students routinely denounce Israeli policy without inhibition or restriction. What possible logic then could lead the MLA to conclude of 193 UN member states, Israel is the only one deserving repeated MLA censure?
In truth, of course, this proposed resolution, coming in the wake of of the recent American Studies Association resolution, is part of a broader critique of Israeli policy. Here too a comparative view is in order. The Jewish state offered to recognize Arab/Palestinian sovereignty over the West Bank on five occasions — 1947, 1967, 1968, 2000, 2008 — but in each instance this offer not only was rejected, but was rejected with violence. A fundamental problem has been the refusal of a large, generally dominant, sector of Palestinian opinion to accept a Jewish state. It was that refusal — perfectly understandable, if in the event self-defeating — that spawned the war of 1947-49 and the Six Day War. The latter in turn produced Israel’s defensive occupation of the West Bank. No thoughtful person can deny that Israeli policy there is ugly and, in the long run, untenable. But without Palestinian rejectionism, and Israel’s plausible fear that that such rejectionism will produce a Hamas-run state next to the Jewish heartland, the occupation and settlements would lose their raison d’etre. To blame Israel exclusively for an occupation which grows out of a reciprocal dynamic and which Israel in fact has repeatedly sought to end is, once again therefore, to torture the record.
I teach a course on the Arab-Israeli conflict that is popular with Muslim and Jewish students because it treats sympathetically the fears of both Palestinian and Jewish communities. Given a bit of intellectual rigor, it is possible to incorporate these contrary views in an overarching narrative. But in its odd selectivity and penchant for a priori logic, the proposed MLA resolution is embarrassingly anti-intellectual. I urge you to oppose its passage.
Raoul Wallenberg Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of
Asian and Comparative History
University of Michigan
The MLA decision to propose this resolution against an apartheid country, reflects the American values for liberty and justice.
Below, I include a link to the best description of what Israel has been doing. It is a video interview of Eva Bartlett who was in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. She has no relatives in the Middle East. She was reading outside of corporate media and was astonished at not having heard of what was going on before.
With regards to these issues in context, a colleague who is not an MLA member has written to suggest that I take note of a recent Op-Ed by the distinguished humanities scholar, Edward Alexander, and furthermore asks me to post it to this list–as the Emeritus Professor of English’s spirited critique of both academia and anti-semitism might be tonic for those of us who value argument, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/tireless-enemies-israel-america-s-academic-boycotters_771650.html
It is appalling to see so many Israelis, pretending to be Americans, posting messages here against the MLA resolution and the BDS movement in support for their apartheid country. These are the same people who do not share American values and voted for the Likud party, that enforces discriminatory policies against the non-Jews living in Israel.
Most of the US Jewish population uphold American values of justice and freedom. They are for the resolution.
I fully endorse Professor Lieberman’s opposition to the MLA Anti-Israel Resolution and urge other MLA members to do the same. Julia R Lieberman, Professor of Spanish and Jewish Studies (I have no relation to Professor Victor Lieberman)
Of interest to MLA attendees:
An alternative panel discussion:
“Perspectives Against Academic Boycotts”
Distinguished members of the Modern Language Association (MLA) and an outside
scholar, with help from Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) will host “Perspectives
Against Academic Boycotts,” a panel discussion regarding academic freedom,
education in Israel, and the boycott movement.
Panelists for this alternative discussion include:
Tina Price (Introduction)
Board Chair, Israel on Campus Coalition
Russell Berman (Moderator)
MLA member, professor at Stanford University and past president of
Cary Nelson (Panelist)
MLA member, professor at the University of Illinois and past president
of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) “2006-12”
Ilan Troen, (Panelist)
Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis
University and professor at Ben-Gurion University
Gabriel Brahm, (Panelist)
MLA member and professor at Northern Michigan University,
SPME & CAE Fellow
WHERE: Embassy Suites , 511 North Columbus Drive, Chicago (Ohio River Room
located on the ML level) // WHEN: January 9, 2014, 3:30 – 5:15 p.m. Central time //
I’d like to share Cary Nelson’s essay, published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal:
Another Anti-Israel Vote Comes to Academia
One scholar says being denied access to the West Bank violates her ‘rights as an American citizen.’ Huh?
Save for some college students refusing to buy Israeli hummus, the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement against the Jewish state has had very few successes over the past decade. That changed last month when the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Now the Modern Language Association (MLA), a far more prominent group, is poised to condemn Israel at its annual meeting in Chicago. Anyone interested in academic freedom should pay attention.
Scholars at academic conferences are expected to offer original research and analysis in their presentations. That certainly can’t be said of one MLA session this Thursday, called “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine.”
All the scheduled panelists are outspoken supporters of the boycott Israel movement: University of California, Riverside Prof. David Lloyd, Wesleyan Prof. Richard Ohmann, University of Texas Prof. Barbara Harlow, and Omar Barghouti, who has compared Israeli policies to those of Nazi Germany. Even the moderator, University of Texas Prof. Samer Ali, is a boycott supporter. In essays and public statements I have read, their message was clear: Israel, the worst human-rights violator on the planet, deserves to be made a pariah among nations.
On Saturday MLA members will also get to vote on a resolution by Wesleyan’s Mr. Ohmann and Columbia University Prof. Bruce Robbins that “urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s 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.”
One scholar, Rima Merriman, who is quoted in the supporting document for the resolution, declared in 2009 that it was a violation of her “rights as an American citizen” to be denied access to the West Bank. Whether anyone explained to her that the U.S. does not control another nation’s visa rules I cannot say. Apparently some MLA members consider themselves qualified to judge whether a visitor presents a security risk.
There’s a lot at stake for the MLA here. The humanities—increasingly politicized and unserious—are in danger, as seen by plummeting enrollments in majors like English and history. To remain relevant, the MLA needs to be a big tent in which scholars can pursue research without being subjected to political litmus tests. Instead, by only featuring anti-Israel professors, the group seems to be taking a stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Meanwhile, the MLA denied press credentials to two reporters from conservative-leaning outlets, the Daily Caller and the Jewish News Service, who wanted to cover the conference. This shows that the organization, which claims a principled devotion to academic freedom, needs a lesson in press freedom.
Academic freedom certainly isn’t the priority for supporters of the boycott Israel movement. If it were, they would not be so keen on breaking relations with the very Israeli institutions—its universities—that provide a home to many of the sharpest internal critics of Israeli government policy. Despite the claims of boycott advocates that they are all about promoting freedom, an academic boycott will inevitably inhibit interaction between American and Israeli professors. As more than 100 university presidents have argued in rejecting the American Studies Association boycott resolution, academic freedom can only survive if international exchanges are promoted, not curtailed.
Struggling to justify an agenda with no imaginable benefit to the Palestinian people, boycott advocates claim they can move Israeli universities to protest their government’s practices. A less likely outcome could hardly be imagined. If Israel and the Palestinians ever negotiate an agreement, it will not be because American faculty members have indulged their hatred of the Israeli state. By castigating Israel, the boycott movement instead will produce bitterly polarized constituencies here and abroad.
A truer indication of the real goal is the boycott movement’s success at increasing intolerance on American campuses. Junior faculty members sympathetic to Israel fear for their jobs if they make their views known. Established faculty who grasp the complexity of Middle East politics hold their tongues for fear of harassment by those who are more interested in offering lessons in contemporary demonology than in sound history. The politically correct stance in many academic departments is that Palestinians are victims and Israelis are oppressors. Period.
The fundamental goal of the boycott movement is not the peaceful coexistence of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, but rather the elimination of Israel. One nation called Palestine would rule from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Those Jews not exiled or killed in the transition to an Arab-dominated nation would live as second-class citizens without fundamental rights.
There is no political route toward a one-state solution. But some American professors are too blinded by hatred of Israel—or too naive—to see that they are inadvertently advocating for armed conflict.
Mr. Nelson is an English professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was president of the American Association of University Professors from 2006-12.