SPME Statements: Modern Language Association's (MLA)...

Posted: 6/4/2014 9:04:00 PM
Author: SPME

Note from Librarians for Fairness: A number of our members also belong to Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)...an excellent organization of academics. This posting was just issued by SPME re: the defeat of an anti-Israel resolution in the Modern Language Association. We commend the members of the Modern Language Association who spoke out against the unfair demonizing of Israel.

SPME Statements: Modern Language Association’s (MLA) anti-Israel resolution fails to pass
by SPME June 4, 2014 Source: Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME)

At the January meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in Chicago this year, a resolution was proposed that would censure Israel for applying visa restrictions to academics whom it regarded as a security threat, promoted by some radical MLA members who claimed to be motivated by their passionate support for the free exchange of ideas. The anti-Israel measure barely passed the MLA’s Delegate Assembly at that time, and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

(SPME) has previously criticized both the process by which the MLA’s Resolution 2014-1 was introduced and debated, and the intent of the resolution itself. On June 4th, the entire MLA membership voted on the resolution and it failed to pass,with only 6% of members voting for it. SPME congratulates those MLA members who chose not to approve this resolution.

As academics, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East strongly supports the principle of unencumbered scholarly travel. Unfortunately, the MLA’s Resolution 2014-1 engaged this topic in a lopsided way, focusing exclusively on Israel. Critiquing only Israel among all the nations on earth—many countries where academics are denied even the ability to study, attend classes, or travel—is both counter-productive and disingenuous, since Israel guarantees individual and human rights of its own citizens and visitors. Over the past months, the resolution has been considered by the MLA’s 28,000 members, who began voting with on-line balloting set to this week. In order to provide an opportunity for its members to debate the resolution, the MLA set up a members-only listserv on which opinions for and against the resolution could be posted and argued. The postings on that listserv have now been made public, and SPME is extremely concerned about some of the statements made there, specifically those which seem to expose values and opinions which are contrary to academic debate, conspiratorial, and even some which seem on their face to be virulently anti-Israel and some which echo anti-Semitic tropes. One commenter alluded to “Zionist attack dogs” who apply pressure “on universities by Zionist funders and lobby groups to quell any dissent,” presumably suggesting that these MLA members do not wish to have their anti-Israel ideology, and this resolution, even questioned or debated by anyone having contrary opinions. A similar conspiratorial comment on the listserv was laced with the traditional anti-Semitic trope that Jews control media, government, and academia, and then use that influence to suppress criticism of Israel. The individual who posted pointed to the “humongous influence that Jewish scholars have in the decision-making process of Academia in general,” presumably suggesting that those academics—both within the MLA and elsewhere in academia—who have spoken out against the MLA’s resolution did so, not because there was another side to this debate, but because they wanted to use their enormous influence to suppress the ideas and speech of others with different views.

It never apparently occurred to these radical individuals within the MLA that it may be the weakness of their argument that is the issue, not the tactics of their ideological opponents. And by accusing those who opposed the resolution of being motivated by sinister, rather than sincere, values, some MLA commenters on the listserv revealed a characteristic anti-Semitic libel. As Professor Cary Nelson, an MLA member and former president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), suggested in opposing Resolution 2014-1, the revelation of some of these comments, and their tone, reveal “. . . what has been the most troubling aspect of the MLA’s effort to delegitimate the Israeli state—its clear component of anti-Semitism. All the countries that restrict faculty travel need to be pressed to improve access for research and teaching, but a rag tag group of English and foreign language professors is ill-equipped to judge how any country’s security needs shape its visa policies.

What is clear from the anti-Semitic comments scattered through the MLA debate is that some of those promoting the MLA resolution singling out Israel are doing so for reprehensible motives. All who support the resolution are now tarnished as a result.” Gabriel Brahm, another MLA members and an SPME Fellow, said that the “minority-inspired anti-Israel resolution reveal[ed] three things that should make voting for it off-limits to fair-minded individuals who care about the MLA as an institution. (1), there manifestly is anti-Semitism in evidence; (2), the underlying aims of the backers of resolution 2014-1 [went] further than explicitly stated; (3), the hardcore realpolitikers behind the proposal [knew] all this, and [were] untroubled by it.”

All and all, the results of the vote prove that there are enough academics who are willing to speak out against radical fringe voices. Scholars for Peace in the Middle East commends it colleagues within the MLA, and the membership at large, for standing up for true exchange of ideas and legitimate public discourse, hopes that these voices will continue to prevail, and is pleased that there are positive trends in both the MLA and academia where scholars are willing to stand up for academic integrity and true academic discours

Read more at: http://spme.org/spme-statements/modern-language-associations-mla-failed-attempt-to-pass-an-anti-israel-resolution/17783/?utm_source=wysija&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=statement | SPME