Throughout the month of May, members of the Modern Language Association, the largest professional society of humanities scholars in the United States, will be voting on a resolution which—in contrast to other scholarly associations—seeks to ban the association from endorsing of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The Resolution was passed by the Delegate Assembly, the representative body of the membership, in January 2017, and now goes to the full membership. As many critics of the resolution have noted, it seems odd to put forward a resolution banning endorsement of a boycott resolution that is no longer on the table; it is equally odd to seek to close off debate on the issue in the name of preserving dialogue, as the resolution under consideration does. It is, effectively, an assault on MLA members’ freedom of speech, aimed at silencing the Palestinian struggle for justice and emancipation. During the 1980s, to its undying disgrace, the MLA rejected a resolution that would have supported the divestment and boycott movement against South African apartheid. In this essay, formerly South African scholar and MLA member Derek Attridge affirms the value of academic boycott in that struggle and points to the connections between the South African divestment campaign and the current BDS campaign.
– David Lloyd, Distinguished Professor of English at the University of California, Riverside