Middle East Studies Association Is Political: Vote “Yes” to Bylaw Revision

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is currently conducting a membership vote on important bylaw revision that allow the organization to bring into alignment its legal grounding and its de facto political character. screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-12-07-02-pm

Here is the current language of Article I of the MESA bylaws, which is followed by the  proposed new language, striking non-political and inserting a phrase emphasizing the 501 (c)(3) status of the association:

Current Language

Section 2. Nature and Objectives. THE MIDDLE EAST STUDIES ASSOCIATION is a non-profit, non-political association that fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom.

Proposed New Language

Section 2. Nature and Objectives. THE MIDDLE EAST STUDIES ASSOCIATION is a non-profit, non-political association that fosters the study of the Middle East, promotes high standards of scholarship and teaching, and encourages public understanding of the region and its peoples through programs, publications and services that enhance education, further intellectual exchange, recognize professional distinction, and defend academic freedom in accordance with its status as a 501(c)(3) scientific, educational, literary, and charitable organization.

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Exposing Liberal Hypocrisy: The Importance of the Academic Boycott Movement Now

As Israel, with the support of the Trump administration, increases its assaults on Palestinians–expanding settlement construction and an escalascreen-shot-2017-02-09-at-11-39-54-amtion of attacks on Gaza and the West Bank–the case for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in general, and the academic boycott of Israel in particular has never been more obvious.

Chemi Shalev reported in Haaretz (1/29/2017) that Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and his proposal to build a wall on the US-Mexico border are inspired by Israel and received praise from Netanyahu:

the Israeli prime minister applauded Trump’s decision to set up a wall with Mexico, with the disputable claim, phrased in Trump-style syntax, “I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea.” Netanyahu’s intervention on a topic that is in sharp political dispute in the U.S. is questionable enough, but the timing of his decision to identify so strongly with Trump, just after the president issued his executive order on Syrian refugees and Muslim immigrants – a move viewed widely as a declaration of hate against Muslims – is a reckless gamble.

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The Media and the 2017 MLA Vote on Academic Boycott

The MLA, like other academic associations, wants to be covered by the national media, but it generally gets very little screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-1-57-46-am press coverage for its achievements, which are of little interest to most people outside of the association. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Education report on the highlights of the annual MLA convention in summary fashion, but the meeting does not tend to generate big news. As much as the MLA leadership wants good press, it does not relish the media attention associated with controversy, particularly controversy having to do with the academic boycott of Israel.

Rosemary Feal, the outgoing Executive Director of the MLA, did not want to deal with the issue of academic boycott, which divided the association. Had the boycott resolution passed, Feal and her staff in their posh New York offices would have had to contend with a deluge of virtual assaults from supporters of Israel, as was the case in 2014 when the Delegate Assembly voted in favor of the rather mild Resolution 2014-1: “the MLA urges the U.S. Department of State to contest Israel’s arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U. S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities” (See DA Minutes for debate of resolution 2014-1). No doubt Feal and other MLA employees were relieved that the academic boycott resolution was voted down at the 2017 Convention.

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Israel and the Campaign Against Academic Boycott at the 2017 MLA Delegate Assembly Meeting

Source: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4904499,00.html

The MLA has an inconsistent record of taking positions on international affairs and academic rights. In the 1980s, the MLA did not join the boycott of apartheid South Africa, but the association’s Executive Council  issued a 2016 “Statement of Support for Turkish Academics.” In that statement, the MLA “condemns Turkish state violence in Kurdish-dominated Southeast Anatolia and asks the government to observe national and international law and to initiate a peace process.” In connection with support for  academic freedom in the Palestinian context, the MLA membership ratified a resolution in 2008 that endorses “teaching and scholarship about Palestinian culture, support[ing] members who come under attack for pursuing such work, and express[ing] solidarity with scholars of Palestinian culture” (2008-1).  And in the 2015 Delegate Assembly straw poll on boycotts, the members voted that boycotts are not a violation of academic freedom, but rather help to protect it. David Lloyd reported at the time on the straw poll for Mondoweiss: “the Modern Language Association’s Delegate Assembly affirmed in a straw poll by 48 votes to 26 that boycotts help to protect academic freedom.  By 66 to 0, they also endorsed the idea that the MLA should roundly condemn retaliation against scholars who speak out publicly on matters concerning Palestine and Israel.”

In regards to the MLA decision, the fight was conducted within the Association itself, led by Prof. Neslon from the University of Illinois, and Prof. Berman from Stanford University. They were assisted by various Jewish organizations, along with The Committee of University Heads in Israel.

— Professor Ziegler, Head of the The Committee of University Heads in Israel

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Jasbir Puar Protests MLA Anti-Boycott Vote and Donates Award Money to PACBI

Below is the statement that Jasbir Puar, Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers, wrote protesting the MLA Delegate Assembly vote against academic boycott. Puar donated her MLA Crompton-Noll award money tjasbir-puar-300x200o the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) in light of the despicable outcomes of the Delegate Assembly meeting on January 7, 2017. Karen Jaime read the statement at the MLA award gathering for the GL/Q Caucus. 

Puar is the author of Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Duke University Press 2007), which won the 2007 Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American  Studies. Puar’s edited volumes include “Queer Tourism: Geographies of Globalization” (GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies); and co­edited volumes “Sexuality and Space” (Society and Space), “Interspecies” (Social Text), and “Viral” (Women’s Studies Quarterly).

Thank you very much to the GL/Q Caucus of the MLA for this award. As a former recipient of the Michael Lynch Service Award from the Caucus, specifically given to recognize my activist and organizing work on Palestine, I feel it is imperative for me to comment on today’s outcome on the Boycott Resolution. It is infuriating but not entirely surprising that the Delegate Assembly voted against the Boycott Resolution. The MLA is, after all, a fairly conservative academic association closely aligned with and reflective of the institutional structures of power that form the U.S. academy (unlike, for example, the American Studies Association and the National Women’s Studies Association). The defeat of the proposal is not by any means a major setback, a tragic loss, or the end of the story. More disconcerting however are the two additional resolutions debated: one condemning the boycott, and the other condemning Hamas and the Palestinian Authority for violating academic freedom–in other words, supporting the academic freedom of Palestinian scholars only when curtailed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Continue reading

Press Release on MLA Delegate Assembly Vote

January 9, 2017

Media Contact:
David Lloyd | dclloyd@ucr.edu

In Keeping with Conservative History,

MLA Votes Down Resolution to Boycott Israeli Institutions

At the annual convention of the Delegate Assembly of the Modern Language Association [MLA], a resolution to endorse the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions for their involvement in violations of international law was voted down by 113-78.  The Delegate Assembly is the representative body of the Association, and the resolution will not now move forward for consideration by the full membership, comprised of over 25,00 scholars and teachers.
The MLA Delegate Assembly’s vote differs from that of a growing number of academic associations that have previously endorsed the boycott for Palestinian freedom, justice and equality. In recent years over twelve associations and faculty unions have voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli institutions including the American Studies Association, Native and Indigenous Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, and the National Women’s Studies Association.
Professor Rebecca Comay, one of the resolution’s sponsors remarked, “The defeat of the boycott resolution is disappointing, of course, but it’s notable that 40 percent of the Delegate Assembly actually voted in support of the boycott. To put this in context: the MLA voted against the boycott of South African universities in the 1980s  — a movement that is now almost universally recognized as having been one of the contributing forces in bringing down the apartheid regime.”
“Associations that have endorsed the boycott have tended to represent scholars whose mission includes the study of race, colonialism and culture. The MLA remains a conservative body that has shown itself over many years to be reluctant to take strong public stands on issues of justice and human rights,” said David Palumbo-Liu, MLA member and professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University University. “Nevertheless, the impact advocates of the boycott resolution have had on discourse in such a short period of time emphasizes the growing public support for the non-violent strategy of BDS.”
Unlike the boycott of South African academia during the divestment campaigns of the 1980s, which targeted all South African scholars, the Palestinian boycott exempts individual scholars and focuses on Israeli universities as institutions that have a documented track record of complicity in the Israeli government’s soon-to-be 50 years of occupation. Endorsing an academic boycott resolution does not prevent Israeli scholars from teaching, researching, traveling or attending conferences such as the MLA Convention.
“Palestinian scholars and students suffer under daily restrictions on their right to education, from campus closures and detainment without charge to denial of visas to travel and restrictions on the import of books and materials.  These restrictions affect them as individuals and institutionally,” says Salah Hassan, a professor of English at Michigan State University.
The resolution had been in front of the MLA for over two years, having originally been submitted, along with an opposing resolution, in October 2014, for consideration at the January 2015 Convention.  It was then agreed to suspend both resolutions to allow the Association’s membership to hear a full debate on the topic of academic boycott.  Since then there have been three Town Hall sessions, several panels on the issue, and an unprecedented number of panels dealing with Palestinian literature and culture that have done much to advance understanding of the conditions of Palestinians in Palestine and globally.
“While the resolution was not approved by the Delegate Assembly, it is notable that support for the boycott resolution grew incrementally over the period of debate and discussion. A broad segment of MLA members in almost every disciplinary area of the modern languages have expressed support for the resolution,” said Comay. “The resolution found strong and outspoken support among graduate students and contingent faculty, despite the documented possibility of retaliation against those who speak out for the equality and freedom of Palestinians. There’s a rising generation of scholars whose understanding of the humanities and of academic freedom embraces a commitment to honoring fundamental human rights everywhere.”
A counter resolution against boycotting Israeli institutions passed by a narrow margin of eight votes. The resolution must now receive 10 percent of the MLA membership vote this Spring in order to pass.
Noting the context of intimidation and retaliation that has dogged advocates of BDS, Cynthia Franklin, professor at the University of Hawai’I, noted that passage of the anti-boycott resolution “provides support for groups like Canary Mission and legislation criminalizing boycott.” Canary Mission is an anonymous website that posts personal information on professors or students who advocate for BDS.
Following the debate on these resolutions, the Delegate Assembly voted on an “emergency resolution” that expressed concern that the incoming Trump administration might threaten the academic freedom of US scholars.  As David Lloyd, another sponsor of the boycott resolution, remarked during debate, “It is hard not to feel the hypocrisy of passing a resolution like this while denying our support to Palestinians who not only face a potential threat, but actually suffer the denials of academic and every other freedom that we are privileged to enjoy.”

MLA Convention Update: Academic Boycott Resolution at the Town Hall Meeting and Open Hearing

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-11-51-27-pmOn Thursday January 5, approximately 200 people attended the MLA Town Hall Meeting on academic boycott that was convened by the MLA and chaired by the current President Anthony Appiah. The Town Hall Meeting was the first of a two of sessions that focused on the Delegate Assembly vote on a resolution to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

The actual debate and vote on the resolutions will begin on Saturday January 7, in the early afternoon between 12:00-1:00 and is likely to last most of the afternoon. If you are attending the MLA, come to the Delegate Assembly meeting in Grand Ballroom Salon G-H of the Marriott Philadelphia and speak out in favor of the boycott resolution.

At the Town Hall Meeting, which was in many ways a test run for the arguments of both sides, MLA Convention organizers had three lines for members who wished to address the following question: “Should the MLA endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” The first line was ostensibly for members who do not hold a position on the question–there were virtually no members who stood in this line that could legitimately claim to be neutral, but that did not prevent several opponents of the boycott resolution from taking their turn in the first line. The second line was for supporters of the resolutions. The third line was for opponents. Professor Appiah with the support of MLA officials and staff tried to limit speakers to 1 minute, often resorting to using the gavel to call the speakers to order.  In the course of the one hour and forty-five minute meeting, which began at 5:15, opponents to the resolution regularly spoke over the 1 minute allowed and were on one occasion shouted down by Professor Appiah for refusing to cede the microphone to the next speaker. And as just noted, several times opponents of the boycott resolution used the neutral line to make statements against the resolution. Despite these breaches in procedure by the anti-boycott side–signs of desperation on the part of a limited and strident pro-Israel contingent–as the meeting progressed, it became increasing evident that supporters of the academic boycott were more numerous, more varied in their arguments, more informed on the issues, and more diverse in terms of their institutional, cultural and disciplinary identities. Continue reading