Growing Opposition to MLA’s Anti-Free Speech Resolution 2017-1

The MLA membership ratification vote on Resolution 2017-1 opened on April 19 and will close on June 1, 2017. From the very moment that the MLA announced that members will be voting on a resolution calling on the association to “refrain from supporting the boycott” of Israeli academic institutions, many scholars and students expressed Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 4.23.55 PMopposition to what is unabashedly a pre-emptive attempt to protect Israel from future criticism within the MLA.  The Delegate Assembly’s marginal vote in favor of Resolution 2017-1 has caused many scholars and students to question their future membership in a professional association that has been taken over by a group of pro-Israeli ideologues who are prepared to repress members’ rights in the interest of defending Israel.

In an article titled “The Palestine Exception,” which appeared online in Jacobin, David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University,  presented the MLA  membership vote on resolution 2017-1 in these terms:

One of the world’s most important academic organizations [the MLA] has a choice: uphold academic freedom, or provide cover for Israel’s crimes.

Click this link to VOTE NO on Resolution 2017-1.

Voting on MLA Resolutions: April 19-June 1.

Click this link to sign the petition against MLA Resolution 2017-1.

Recognizing the wrong-headed tendency of Resolution 2017-1, ten former presidents of the MLA posted a public statement on the resolution comments site, urging members to vote NO because this resolution “misrepresents the MLA’s mission, defining the Association’s role in an erroneous, narrow way that directly contradicts past and present practice. We also think that this resolution unduly restricts the membership’s ability to act in the future.”

Even the AAUP acknowledged the importance of expressing opposition to Resolution 2017-1, when it published Bill Mullen’s “Against the MLA’s Anti-Boycott Resolution” on the Academe Blog. Mullen, professor of English and American Studies at Purdue University, pointed out that a vote in favor of Resolution 2017-1 must be understood in terms of the broader context of US politics and the repugnant policies of the Trump administration:

[I]n a climate or rabid right-wing suppression of minority rights, of Trumpian chants to ‘build walls’ and ban Muslims, of egregious bigotry and hatred, any gesture curtailing political expression is a political disaster and a gift to reactionary zealots.

Indeed, the MLA would become the first academic organization in the world to declare itself opposed to the constitutionally protected right to boycott Israeli Universities. In so doing, it would align itself with right-wing state legislatures that have attempted to punish academics who support the boycott of Israeli Universities.

The thoughtful and well argued opposition to Resolution 2017-1 is also abundantly evident on the MLA comments site, which closed on April 17, 2017, but provides a remarkable record of perspectives on the issue, illustrating that the YES vote is little more than a bandwagon of apologists for Israel, whereas the NO vote actually presents arguments against the resolution, that address its limiting effect on rights of members,  its irrational character, and its racist implications.

Below is a small sample of the dozens of comments against Resolution 2017-1.

One member noted that the resolution inverts the politics of boycott, in effect establishing within the MLA an unqualified anti-boycott ethos in the name of defending Israel:

I see two issues here. The first is that this would be a curious amount of effort to pass a resolution that cannot stand up to constitutional scrutiny nor any judgment of consistency with organizational precedent, and so cannot finally be ratified.The second is that it is politically reprehensible. Perhaps some were generous enough to believe the disingenuous case that opposition to the BDS resolution was simply in the name of some abstract non-involvement policy. This resolution exposes that case as a misrepresentation of what we now see was an energetic defense of Zionism. There can no longer be any confusion on this score.

Another member explained the absurd character of this resolution, which opposes something that is not being considered:

This resolution is simply Kafkaesque. The MLA is being asked to say that it will not endorse a boycott of Israel–a position the MLA does not currently take and no MLA resolution currently calls for. Indeed, the point of this resolution is to curtail debate. The resolution seeks to pre-emptively make boycott unendorsable, and take such a boycott and indeed any real criticism of Israel out of debate.

And this member underscored the racist hypocrisy between the two resolutions being considered for a ratification vote:

Apparently resolution 2017-1 is meant to hammer in the fact that resolution 2017-4 shall not apply to Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, refugee camps, or diaspora; Arab students and scholars and other scholars of colour; our Jewish sisters and brothers who oppose the occupation, and anyone who advocates or even publicly discusses BDS. All are routinely barred from entering the state of Israel, and Trump’s “Muslim Ban” is modeled quite openly on the Israeli government’s longstanding practice of targeted profiling and harassment at its borders.

For those who oppose the academic boycott of Israel, ratification of resolution 2017-1 will not end the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement; instead, it will simply catalyze opposition toward the MLA, which will become a pariah among professional associations.