We congratulate the Modern Language Association (MLA) for becoming the latest in the line of idiots as described by Liel Leibovitz in the article he wrote for Tablet and we reprinted with permission in this issue. Their leadership is politically blinder than a bat, and they have no business, really, sticking their noses into power politics in the Middle East. They are supposed to be an organization of English/Humanties professors concerned with literary criticism, the use of language and the like and finding jobs for graduate students and adjuncts that could lead to tenure. Instead they are sticking their noses where they don’t belong, and they will yelp in pain when a blackbird pinches them off.
That’s not a threat. That’s what will happen if they do what the American Studies Association (ASA) did recently—vote for BDS. As a result, ASA is no longer considered a credible academic institution and has been excoriated and condemned by just about every major university in America and even by a bi-partisan group in Congress.
The MLA was founded in 1883 to provide opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences, and to discuss trends in the academy with colleagues. Its website claims “members have worked to strengthen the study and teaching of language and literature” for more than 100 years. Maybe they should stick to what they know.
Now, for the first time in 131 years, a small group within their ranks has organized a panel to promote an academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. The MLA might have designed some plausible deniability about this and claim that was an oversight, but then they also spit on the Fourth Estate They closed their convention to Jewish journalists and newspapers that want to cover it, claiming that the only media allowed is academic media. At the same time, they do not bother to deal with issues that face their own membership—like the deplorable way in which adjunct professors are treated in academe.
The situation is so bad, a shadow conference is being held in Chicago to address the needs of those grad students and professors who have not been able to finds jobs in more than five years. As Rebecca Shuman, the education editor for Slate.com put it: “The MLA is also where first-stage academic interviewing gets done—the conference uneasily mixes self-professed Marxists in $1,200 suits, complaining that the suite their university secured at the W is too drafty, with the teeming unemployed, wondering how they’ll pay off the plane ticket and room at Motel 6 they just charged—all for a 1-in-20 shot at a job.”
So in more ways than one, the MLA is playing with fire. They claim academic freedom and freedom of speech, but they don’t believe in freedom of the press. They believe in scholarship and truth, but not when it applies to the State of Israel—or to the plight of their own unemployed members.
While a BDS resolution will not be brought to the floor of the convention for a vote, there will be an attempt to condemn the State of Israel for preventing academics from going to the West Bank and Gaza. This is seen as taking a baby step toward a BDS resolution to be brought to the floor in the future, and the BDS crowd is overjoyed. David Lloyd, a Californian academic who is part of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel will be on the panel. He crowed about the MLA allowing the panel to participate and said because the panel was organized by MLA members, who he claims are not affiliated with formal groups who support BDS. He say that “means that there’s been a real public shift,”—meaning that the new “Big Lie” is taking hold, the lie claiming Israel is the worst human rights offender on the planet…
If the MLA continues down this road, the same thing that happened to the ASA will happen to it. They have 30,000 members, many of them people devoted to a strong Israel, but who don’t bother to go to MLA conferences, because they are expensive, stuffy and where panelists often outnumber the people attending their seminars.
If the MLA keeps doing what it is doing, a hundred universities will denounce it. Funders will leave them, members will walk away. Its prestige, which took more than 100 years to develop, will go down the drain along with its moral clarity. For an organization to do that, it has to be run by idiots.