June 8, 2024
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Modern Language Association Heads for Trouble

As JLBC was going to press, members of the Modern Language Association (MLA), an organization of literary scholars and, with what was until a few weeks ago a vaunted reputation, is presenting a workshop designed to convince members of the MLA to ban all official cooperation with Israeli professors, universities and academicians, as the American Studies Association (ASA) did a few weeks ago. The workshop is led by the same people who convinced a fraction of ASA membership to vote against cooperation with Israeli academics, while stating that individuals are free to do as they like and collaborate with individual professors and academics in Israel. The MLA panel is titled Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine.

Hillel International and the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) both pro-Israel campus groups, were denied the right to present a discussion during the MLA convention in Chicago because, they were told, they missed the April 2013 deadline for programs proposals. Their voice and viewpoint will, however, be heard at a “counter panel” titled “Perspectives Against Academic Boycotts,” at a near-by location. The alternative panel members include Russell Berman, a past MLA president, and scholar Ilan Troen, chair of the Brandeis University Israel Studies program and a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

The MLA BDS program, organized by Samer M. Ali of the University of Texas, includes active leaders of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement: Omar Bhargouti, a founder of BDS, and David C. Lloyd, a founder of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. These “academics” call dialogue concerning Israel “spurious … under such asymmetrical conditions of power and violence.” Also participating are Richard Ohmann, who accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, and Barbara Harlow, who accuses Israel of being an apartheid regime that has created “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.” (South Sudan, Eritrea, Uganda, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, China, and other countries perpetrating current genocides and massive violations of human rights do not exist in her frame of reference.)

The debate will not be about the occupation, it will be about how best to “punish” Israeli academics universities via “public relations” that spread untruths about Israel and discuss how the MLA can spread those “truths” and expand the BDS movement to destroy Israeli universities. “Inquiry and dialogue,” says one observer, is “an impediment to their work.”

Calls to the MLA Executive Director Rosemary G. Feal, from JLBC last week precipitated a non-responsive response via email to Jeanette Friedman, JLBC’s editor, who called the MLA a full week before the conference was to begin. Feal refused to speak with Friedman. In an email, she categorized her time as “fully occupied with preparations for our upcoming annual convention” noting that she “thought it best to respond to (an editor’s) inquiry in writing.”

Feal wrote that the 75-minute session is “to provide an opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the BDS movement in general and the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on academic freedom in particular…with at least 30 minutes for audience response…We expect,” she wrote, “a lively discussion with many viewpoints presented.” She has said that the other groups could not participate in the conference because they missed last April’s deadline for programming.

Jacob Kamaras, editor of JNS.org, a Jewish news syndication service wrote that his application for a press credential was rejected. He noted that “Mark Aurigemma, a communications professional representing MLA, wrote in an email to JNS.org that the convention “reserves media credentials for outlets and journalists that are substantively focused on academic issues… In keeping with the convention policies, we cannot grant the credentials requested.” Kamaras writes that Aurigemma “declined to discuss outlets approved for press credentials” saying “MLA policy is we don’t disclose other journalists who are registered for the convention.”

By Maxine Dovere

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