Palestinian Voices: Statements from Academics and Students in Palestinian Education

Objections to the MLA Boycott resolution uniformly focus on its supposed abridgement of palestinian-voicesacademic freedom to individual scholars in the US or in Israel without any concern for the educational rights of Palestinians.  Purposefully obfuscating the case, critics of the boycott resolution brush past the resolution’s declaration that the boycott is against institutions, not individuals.  Anti-boycott arguments claim that all faculty in Israel-Palestine are tied to state institutions because Israeli universities operate under the aegis of the state.  However, academic boycott guidelines stipulate clearly that only individual scholars who openly identify themselves as representing the State who are, by dint of that identification, subject to the boycott. In making that identification, those scholars are in fact declaring their support of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.  The boycott is an act of non-violent resistance to a situation of global injustice.

A major document has been produced that provides vivid accounts of conditions faced by Palestinians: the voices of Palestinians.  Rather than focusing on the harms that might befall a Jewish Israeli scholar, this dossier of Palestinian accounts documents the actual, existing, and constantly repeated harms to Palestinian scholars—harms that go far beyond not being able to attend a conference. As one of the contributors reminds us, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights describes education to be “both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights.” The Israeli occupation stands in the way of Palestinian rights to education, and it also stands in the way of other fundamental human  rights.

Download Palestinian Voices: mla-palestinian-voices

For over six decades, Palestinians have lived under Israel’s destructive military occupation, an occupation that the UN Security Council recently affirmed is a violation of international law. Whether by means of the inhumane checkpoints, the expansion of settlements, banning of equipment, imprisonments, or random clashes, the occupation undermine the fundamental educational efforts of Palestinian teachers, students, and  teaching facilities. The MLA academic boycott resolution seeks minimally to affirm the Palestinian right to education

As scholars of the humanities, it certainly behooves us to listen to these Palestinian voices carefully, and to honor their call for solidarity.

Shirly Bahar’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Shirly Bahar is a PhD candidate at New York University.

I am often asked: why did you choose to write on Palestinian and Mizrahi cinema jointly? screen-shot-2016-12-30-at-9-23-31-amMatters of representation aside, part of my answer is that politically, I stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle precisely because I am Mizrahi. Similarly, I support the MLA resolution in favor of the boycott of Israeli institutions and the BDS non-violent movement as a whole first of all as a Mizrahi person. That is, as a Middle Eastern Jew whose ancestresses and ancestors have lived amongst Muslims, and whose ideas on Judaism and Jewish identification were nurtured within Islamic cultures of what is today called the Middle East, for almost a millennia prior to the 1948 Palestinian Naqba and foundation of the state of Israel. A daughter of immigrants from Turkey born and raised in Israel and currently based in NYC, I have intimately experienced the discrimination and exclusion of my parents from Jewish-Ashkenazi-dominated Israeli society. As I state in my work after Ella Shohat (and others), the oppressions of Palestinians and Mizrahim are distinct yet inexorably linked: the crumbling of the very fabric of Middle Eastern Jewry occurred vis-à-vis the Palestinian catastrophe, as both were under Zionism and the State of Israel.

Secondly, I support BDS as an Israeli whose Jewish-Israeli citizenship marked on her ID card exempts her from the harsh oppression that Palestinians experience on a daily basis. I am not interested in the special privileges and safety that my Jewish identity mark grants me on the expense of Palestinian lives and basic human rights. Supporting non-violent resistance to occupation and oppression marks a political moral obligation to account for the suffering of others. Supporting BDS and pursuing my academic and curatorial work is in fact the very least I can do in expressing solidarity with Palestinian struggle to end the occupation and live a dignified life as equal citizens in a non-ethnocentric democracy. The people I love the most currently live in Palestine/Israel, and so I must do whatever I can to try and end or at least reduce the perpetual cycle of violence there. My ultimate hope is that the Palestinian, Jewish, and joint non-violent movements will gain more significant achievements, especially in extending protection to the most vulnerable of them – Palestinians, Black Jews and non-Jews, Mizrahim, the working class, women, and LGBTQ folks. Inshallah, one day all people between the river and the sea will be free.

Unfamiliar Canada: What Canadian MLA Members Should Know about the BDS Movement

During its annual conference that will take place January 5-8 2017, the Modern Language screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-6-46-49-pmAssociation will consider and engage in debate regarding two resolutions. One resolution calls for the MLA to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and support the work of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The other resolution asks that the MLA not boycott Israeli institutions. If either of the resolutions passes, the resolution will be voted on by the whole MLA membership in 2017.

Canadian members of the MLA may think that they do not need to be involved in the fight between pro and anti BDS groups, because Canada is not involved in support for Israel to the same extent that the United States is, and because the Canadian government and civil society does not take as a hard a line against BDS activism on university campuses and elsewhere.

Both assumptions are wrong. Continue reading

UN Security Council Resolution 2334 Condemns Israel’s Illegal Settlements, Justifies Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

On December 23, 2016, the UN Security Council passed UN Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s illegal settlements, currently home to over 600,000 Jewish settlers.  The resolution is an affirmation of international law, and the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. Although not legally binding, it is nonetheless important measure. UN 2334 works in tandem with grassroots organizing by the international community supporting the non-violent Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions until Israel complies with international law—a movement MLA Members for Justice in Palestine seek to support with an academic boycott resolution that will be presented foscreen-shot-2016-12-28-at-2-38-39-amr a vote this January at the Delegate Assembly.

The resolution demanding a halt to “all Israeli settlement activities” was put forward at the 15-member council for a vote by New Zealand, Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal. This happened a day after Egypt withdrew the resolution, under pressure from Israel and US president-elect Donald Trump, who called for the US to veto the measure. The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favor, and an abstention from the United States. As reported in Al Jazeera, “The United States’ abstention was the biggest rebuke in recent history to long-standing ally Israel, allowing the Security Council to condemn its settlements and continuing construction in Palestinian territory as a ‘flagrant violation’ of international law.”

In Jadaliyya, Ardi Imseis offers an analysis of the resolution that outlines what it can and cannot do, and its potential importance. In this assessment, Imseis underlines ways the resolution complements the work of BDS: “[T]he resolution offers a first in calling “upon all States . . . to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.” This is important, for it affirms the Council’s view that third States should remain aware that their bilateral relations with Israel—political, civil, economic, social, cultural—cannot continue as usual. For far too long, Israel has been able to weather the occasional diplomatic and public relations fallout from its illegal and immoral policies in the OPT, knowing that this will result in little actual change in bilateral engagement with influential policymakers and business people in third States. This call by the Council therefore signals a shift with potential implications that can theoretically result in more robust legal, economic and political sanction of Israel abroad, including through measures encouraged by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.”

Responses in Israel indicate the power and importance of the resolution. As reported in the Guardian, the move was immediately condemned as “shameful” by the office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.This article also includes responses from those critical of Netanyahu’s “diplomacy,” including columnist Chemi Shalev’s assessment that “Resolution 2334 shatters the [Israeli] government-induced illusion that the settlement project has been normalised, that it passed the point of no return, that it is now a fait accompli that will remain unchallenged.”

In an editorial in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, journalist Gideon Levy calls UN Resolution 2334  “a gust of good news, a breath of hope in the sea of darkness and despair of recent years.” Gideon also states, “Resolution 2334 is meant above all for Israeli ears, like an alarm clock that makes sure to wake you up on time, like a siren that tells you to go down to the bomb shelter.” This wake-up call, like the MLA Boycott resolution, offers a non-violent and powerful way to contest Israel’s human rights violations. As we enter a new year, the MLA Boycott resolution affords MLA members an opportunity to insist that Palestinians be afforded their human rights, including the right to education and academic freedom.


Threat of Legal Action Against MLA

In this article recently published online by Mondoweiss, David Lloyd exposes the cynical screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-10-43-47-pmpolitics of the Brandeis Center, which “has sent a letter to the Modern Language Association threatening a lawsuit if the Association passes the resolution to endorse the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” Lloyd explains that threats of legal action against professional associations by supporters of Israel is a crass form of coercion that aims at intimidating academics and undermines the democratic processes of the associations. He also notes that these threats indicate the growing importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has emerged as a crucial force within progressive politics in the current context. Lloyd concludes that “a [boycott] resolution that seeks to hold Israel accountable for its violations of Palestinian rights is all the more critical as Trump appoints openly Islamophobic, racist extremists to major positions in government.”

Palestine and the Boycott Resolution at MLA 2017

We are gearing up for the MLA 2017 Convention in Philadelphia and the debate on the screen-shot-2016-12-22-at-10-25-32-pmresolution to endorse the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.  There are several sessions at which that resolution will be discussed, culminating in the Delegate Assembly’s annual meeting on Saturday, January 2017.  They are as follows:

53. “Association Presidents’ Perspectives on Boycott”
Thursday, 5 January, 1:45-3:00 p.m., Franklin 8, Philadelphia Marriott

116. Town Hall Meeting for MLA Members
Thursday, 5 January, 5:15–7:00 p.m., Grand Ballroom Salon E, Philadelphia Marriott

245. Open Hearing on Resolutions
Friday, 6 January, 10:15–11:30a.m., Grand Ballroom Salon D, Philadelphia Marriott

277.Open Hearing of the MLA Delegate Assembly
Friday, 6 January, 12:00 noon–1:15 p.m., Grand Ballroom Salon D, Philadelphia Marriott

510. MLA Delegate Assembly
Saturday, 7 January, 11:00 a.m., Grand Ballroom Salon GH, Philadelphia Marriott

Please try to attend as many of these as you can and bring anyone who will join you: we want to create a sense of supportive buzz and swell prior to the Delegate Assembly (DA) meeting. The DA only allows delegates to vote on the resolution, but any member present can speak to the issue, and in other associations the presence of supportive members has proven to be very effective in encouraging a vote in favor of the resolution.


New Video: The MLA and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

The MLA and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

Check out the new MLA Members for Justice in Palestine video.

The MLA and the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

The short documentary (7.5 minutes) makes the case for MLA members to vote in 2017 in support of a resolution to endorse the boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Scholars call on the MLA to make a commitment to Palestinian rights to education and academic freedom. They emphasize the dire conditions of Palestinians living under Israeli rule.

The video includes interviews with numerous prominent literary scholars who support the boycott resolution. Gayatri Spivak, W.J.T.Mitchell, Bruce Robbins, Margaret Ferguson, Rosaura Sanchez, David Lloyd, Malini Schueller,  David Palumbo Liu, Jeffery Sacks, Koritha Mitchell, Kenneth Surin and Kamran Rastegar are among the scholars interviewed. The interviews were conducted at the 2016 MLA Convention in Austin, Texas.

The video ends with reminder that you must renew your MLA membership by January 7, 2017 to be eligible to vote on resolutions passed by the Delegate Assembly in 2017.  Support Palestinian rights to education!