A top academic group has passed an “emergency motion” advocating for the protection of college faculty who condemn Israel.
The Modern Language Association, considered America’s top professional association for language scholars, passed the motion at its annual convention held last week in Philadelphia.
The motion calls on the MLA to “take immediate steps to urge university administrations to defend from threats, harassment and violence” language department faculty members, students, and staff who have “condemned the Israeli government for its massive bombardment of the Gaza Strip.”
It further advocates the protection of faculty who have “argued that recent events in Israel-Palestine must be viewed in the context of the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, Israel’s 56-year-long illegal occupation of the West Bank, and Israel’s 16-year long land, sea, and air blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
Introduced by MLA’s “Radical Caucus,” the motion was supported by various organizations including the MLA-affiliated Marxist Literary Group.
MLA spokesperson Anna Chang declined to comment to The College Fix on its approval.
“This motion is a matter of life and death—and academic freedom,” Huda Fakhreddine, a professor of Arabic literature at the University of Pennsylvania, reportedly said while advocating for the resolution, which passed with overwhelming support.
An alternative motion was introduced urging the MLA to defend faculty members “regardless of their positions on the conflict of the Middle East.” That motion was voted down, with just 35 attendees voting for and 80 voting against.
Authored by University of Illinois-Champaign Professor Cary Nelson and former MLA president and Stanford University Professor Russell Berman, the alternative motion advocated for the protection of those in language departments with both pro-Israel and anti-Israel views.
“Disagreements about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have a long history in English and foreign language departments. MLA’s Delegate Assembly itself has a long history of debating relevant motions and resolutions as well,” the failed alternative motion stated.
“Rather than press the DA to take sides in these debates, we are urging MLA’s Executive Council to help preserve an educational environment where all feel free to voice their positions and concerns,” it continued.
Nelson told The College Fix his motion’s failure speaks to the politicization of the MLA.
“Enraged at Israel, the MLA has decided to discount the attacks on its Jewish members and their students. With this vote, the MLA allies itself decisively with anti-Zionism. Worse still, by considering Jewish students unworthy of equal protection, it crosses the line into antisemitism,” he said.
“Whether the MLA Executive Council, on which I once served, will decide instead to treat pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli students equally remains to be seen,” Nelson said.
Before voting it down, convention attendees such as Queens College assistant professor Leila Walker argued the alternative emergency motion was the equivalent of saying “All Lives Matter” amid Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020, Inside Higher Ed reported.
The MLA’s approval of the emergency motion comes amid rising anti-Israel sentiment at universities nationwide in recent months.
In October, student groups at Harvard faced intense backlash after blaming Israel for the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks that killed more than 1,200 Israeli civilians, including women and children.
In December, University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill resigned her position after she refused to say calls for Jewish genocide violated UPenn’s code of conduct while testifying before the House of Representatives.
Magill’s ouster was followed by the resignation of Harvard President Claudine Gay in January after her similarly controversial House testimony and a subsequent plagiarism scandal.