Why should we have our own ‘foreign policy’?
The Modern Language Association may soon follow in the footsteps of the American Studies Association, National Women’s Studies Association and other academic groups in boycotting Israeli academic institutions.
It has been flirting with an anti-Israel agenda for the past three years, and this Saturday the MLA’s Delegate Assembly could make it official by approving a formal boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) resolution, Inside Higher Ed reports.
It’s not the only Israel-related resolution under consideration: There’s another opposing a boycott and a third asking the MLA to “condemn attacks on academic freedom in Palestinian universities, whether they are perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority or by Hamas.”
University of Toronto Prof. Rebecca Comay calls it “a matter of urgency” for the MLA to approve the BDS resolution she has proposed:
How can we turn a deaf ear to the appeal of our Palestinian colleagues whose academic rights are being so flagrantly and systematically violated (along with so many other fundamental human rights that are being trampled on a daily basis)? This is a moment where our actions might actually make a difference.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Prof. Rachel Harris, who is circulating the opposing resolution, says the BDS resolution would actually hurt the Arabs who are educated at Israeli institutions.
It’s also a huge distraction from more pressing issues for MLA members, such as “adjunctification” and attacks on tenure in Wisconsin, she told Inside Higher Ed:
[T]hese topics are not being addressed because all of the oxygen in the room is being sucked out to engage in this one topic, which does not directly affect the teaching and instruction of languages and literatures and cultures.
Her UIUC colleague Cary Nelson agrees that it’s ludicrous for the MLA to create its own “foreign policy” and thus “divide the membership,” while former MLA President Russell Berman – an anti-boycott cosponsor at Stanford – said the group would be in “breach of contract” if it approved BDS:
I believe that if we were to endorse a boycott, we would be acting specifically against the constitution of the MLA, because the universities we would be boycotting are themselves pursuing the goals of the MLA — that is, the study and teaching and research of modern languages.
Even an approved BDS resolution can be shot down by the MLA executive council if it concludes the resolution violates the “constitutional, legal and fiduciary” obligations of the group. If it sails through the council, the full MLA membership would vote on it.
IMAGE: Alex Chis/Flickr