Modern Language Association members condemn Israeli border policies, but vote is not ratified

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 23 Comments
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A sign at Israel’s border with Jordan. (Photo: BolMinistry.org)

After months of debate which at times turned vitriolic, Modern Language Association (MLA) members voted to condemn Israel’s discriminatory border policies.

But the 1,560-1,063 vote on the resolution was not ratified because 10 percent of MLA members have to affirm the vote for a measure to count.  The resolution fell short of ratification by 830 votes.  Only 2,623 members of an association that counts nearly 30,000 people voted.

In an e-mail to Mondoweiss, David Lloyd, an MLA member and English professor at the University of California, Riverside, said the meager turnout was evidence of “the apparent apathy of American scholars rather than about the merits of this quite modest and far from radical resolution.”  But Lloyd, a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel, added that the affirmation of the resolution by those who voted showed that “on the battleground of ideas, Israel and its supporters are continuing to lose ground… The façade of openness and normality that Israel has tried to present to the world continues to crack and it is becoming ever more impossible for liberal-minded individuals to endorse it.”

The first vote on the resolution took place at the MLA’s January convention in Chicago, where the Delegate Assembly voted 60-53 in favor.  The measure criticizes Israel’s denials of entry to academics of Palestinian descent and calls on the State Department to “contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”

Then the resolution went to the full membership.  In the run-up to the vote, a leaked internal discussion revealed a raging debate over Israel’s occupation that included accusations of anti-Semitism and discussion about the influence of the Israel lobby.

Reactions to the full vote came in fast, with pro-Israel groups celebrating that the resolution would not be ratified.  “Reason and truth have triumphed over the hatred and hypocrisy at the core of the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement against Israel,” American Jewish Committee head David Harris told Haaretz.  Opponents of the resolution sought to link it to BDS, though it made no mention of boycotting Israel. Still, some supporters thought a vote in favor could lay the groundwork for a future BDS resolution. 

While the resolution was not ratified, it did turn more attention to Israel’s border policies.  Israel’s denial of entries to Arab- and Palestinian-Americans have been one of the main impediments to the country’s entry into the visa-waiver program with the U.S. In March, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that “the Department of Homeland Security and State remain concerned with the unequal treatment that Palestinian Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern origin experience at Israel’s border and checkpoints, and reciprocity is the most basic condition of the Visa Waiver Program.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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23 Responses

  1. Nevada Ned
    June 4, 2014, 6:03 pm

    The vote was decisive: 59.5% (=1560/2623) of those voting supported the measure.

    The problem was turnout. If turnout were higher, it would have passed, unless those not voting were radically different from those voting, and there’s no evidence of that.

    I expect the supporters to try again next year, but with more attention paid to GOTV (get out the vote).

  2. DaBakr
    June 4, 2014, 6:23 pm

    another ‘victory’ snatched out of the jaws of ‘defeat’ by the standards of BDS. good job. must be doing something right to keep gaining such support.*

    *oh, and to the ‘scholarly english prof., D.Lloyd’, I’d really like to know how he arrived at his conclusion that the 27,000+ members that did not vote were apathetic ? How does he know that they didn’t want to take part in the vote for entirely different reasons? Polling data please? I wouldn’t really belabor the point but if he wants to imply that had members been convinced to vote it would have gone differently he should back this up with some semblance of proof. Otherwise, folks like me will just say he’s a sour grape because he lost. And thats not fair is it?

    • Annie Robbins
      June 4, 2014, 7:08 pm

      another ‘victory’ snatched out of the jaws of ‘defeat’ by the standards of BDS.

      that’s funny because i thought it was team israel who scored a ‘victory’ (resolution was not ratified) even tho they were defeated in the vote count. hmm.

      i am curious, does anyone know if ballots are completely anonymous in this vote?

      I’d really like to know how he arrived at his conclusion that the 27,000+ members that did not vote were apathetic ?

      my hunch would not be apathetic. it does seem clearly if anyone was pro apartheid israeli settlements as opposed to on the fence they would have voted against the resolution. not sure the same could be said for the other side. there could be fear they would be outed.

      • Zach S
        June 4, 2014, 8:43 pm

        it does seem clearly if anyone was pro apartheid israeli settlements as opposed to on the fence they would have voted against the resolution.

        An amazing example of the kind of logic that underpins pro-BDS behavior. If anyone disagrees with you about anything and for any reason it’s because they are “pro apartheid israeli settlements,” and no other explanation would suffice.

        To my knowledge, the MLA has not issued statements condemning the Iraq War (or any US military engagement), the Assad regime (or the behavior of any Arab country), the French intervention in Mali, China’s occupation of Tibet, or Japan’s whaling policies.

        And it isn’t because the members of the MLA are flag-waving Assad supporters. It’s because it’s not the role of the MLA to issue political statements, especially internationally political ones.

        Not that this matters to you or the rest of the BDS. You just seem them as yet another opportunity to shove BDS down unwilling throats, not really caring who you hurt along the way. And you wonder why people don’t like you.

      • Annie Robbins
        June 4, 2014, 8:57 pm

        not really caring who you hurt along the way.

        bwahhh!

        And you wonder why people don’t like you.

        really? what on earth gave you that idea!

        If anyone disagrees with you about anything and for any reason it’s because they are “pro apartheid israeli settlements,” and no other explanation would suffice.

        that’s actually not the case at all. in fact, my sister and i disagree about practically everything, and i would never call her “pro apartheid israeli settlements”. anyway, that was just code. i’m sure it’s very painful for someone such as yourself to have to endure those jewish only settlements and jewish only roads spreading all over palestine. very painful indeed.

        why don’t you tell us how much they hurt your feelings.

      • ritzl
        June 4, 2014, 11:33 pm

        As usual you craft an analogy that is totally irrelevant, if not flat out bizarre.

        The MLA action was/is solely about responding to Israeli restrictions on academic freedom. What in the heck does that have to do with Iraq? Was Saddam’s Iraq, or is the current government, preventing academics from traveling to and participating in international collaborations? Hell no. Israel is/does. That’s the issue.

        Focus on the very real screwed-up fundamentals in Israel for non-Jews and work for change. Don’t blather on about unrelated fictional constructs like they matter, even a little bit. It’s laughable, and you’re not doing your cause any good.

      • Zach S
        June 5, 2014, 2:32 pm

        The MLA action was/is solely about responding to Israeli restrictions on academic freedom. What in the heck does that have to do with Iraq? Was Saddam’s Iraq, or is the current government, preventing academics from traveling to and participating in international collaborations?

        Yes, and there are many other countries in the world that do so as well. North Korea is a prominent example. But the MLA doesn’t condemn North Korea because the South Koreans don’t force their way into other peoples’ institutions demanding that they be allowed to use that institution as a political weapon against their enemies.

      • Ismail
        June 5, 2014, 1:58 am

        “…And you wonder why people don’t like you.”

        What is this, junior high?

        Anyway, I asked my wife, and she says people like me just fine. So there.

      • ohiojoes
        June 5, 2014, 4:45 pm

        Very nice summary of the strategy, Zach.

      • Naftush
        June 5, 2014, 2:39 am

        I’d try a different hunch: MLA members at large don’t see their organization as an arena for the judgment, let alone the prejudgment, of a foreign country’s border policies.

      • James North
        June 5, 2014, 11:54 am

        Shift change at Hasbara Central.

      • RShapiro
        June 5, 2014, 12:19 pm

        I have been off and on a member of the MLA for over twenty years and had I been a member at the time of the vote I would also have declined to vote; that would have an active choice on my part. I would rather have seen a vote supporting academic freedom instead of condemning a policy.

  3. JustJessetr
    June 4, 2014, 9:41 pm

    “But Lloyd, a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel, added that the affirmation of the resolution by those who voted showed that “on the battleground of ideas, Israel and its supporters are continuing to lose ground…”

    With less than 10% of the voting body giving a flying fart? Doesn’t sound like a victory cry.

    “Opponents of the resolution sought to link it to BDS, though it made no mention of boycotting Israel.” Vs. “But Lloyd, a supporter of the academic boycott of Israel…”.

    So the resolution wasn’t an explicit move to boycott, but it’s obvious where the urge comes from. People can read below the surface of words, and conversation amongst members surely brought pro-boycott philosophy up. In the end, my guess is 90%+ didn’t think boycotting was even worth discussing. As my grandmother once said, “Debating someone about nonsense only makes them sound more intelligent than they really are.”

  4. Rooster
    June 4, 2014, 10:12 pm

    Anyone who remembers what it was like to take the anti-discrimination stand wrt Israel even ten short years ago recognizes already the fact this issue even came to VOTE, let alone gathered an outright majority, is a huge victory. At this point, we were really only gauging the DEGREE of victory.

    The days of the fear of being labelled self-hating or antisemitic for simply opposing what is so obviously against human values, Jewish or otherwise, are l-o-o-o-ong gone. The Palestinian narrative is clearly and finally coming out, with a concomitant shifting of which “side” must bear the “lunatic fringe” label relative to the mainstream.

    Great job, MLA, for stoking the fire of debate on a national level – a debate that was unthinkable on this scale all too recently.

  5. ToivoS
    June 5, 2014, 12:17 am

    This outcome is not surprising. It says that over 90% of the membership of MLA do not care enough about the IP issue to vote their opinion. What is interesting of those who do care, the pro-Palestinian position wins 60/40 over pro-Israel one.

    If Israel is going to claim a victory because over 90% do not care what happens to Israel then it seems Israel is in deep doodoo.

    • Naftush
      June 5, 2014, 2:43 am

      Two additional nonsurprises: (1) only 5% of MLA members care to enlist their organization in the BDS war, and (2) your axiomatic assumption that a pro-boycott decision is a pro-Palestinian one and vice versa.

  6. Sycamores
    June 5, 2014, 12:32 am

    i’m not sure what the pro-Israel groups are celebrating their numbers were quite paltry. not making quorum is not really a victory for anyone besides prolonging the inevitable of the eventual passing of the resolution, next time.
    professors like David Lloyd and others will grow in numbers unlike the pro-Israel crowd.

    i enjoyed reading What Threatens Israel Most? Democracy by David Lloyd thanks for providing the link.

  7. ritzl
    June 5, 2014, 1:23 am

    Next year…

    The upcoming PCUSA re-vote will be indicative of what increasing personal awareness means in the moral conflict with the potentially overwhelming external death-grip of pro-Israel, say-anything, background coercion.

    • Naftush
      June 5, 2014, 2:44 am

      Three additional nonsurprises: (1) only 5% of MLA members care to enlist their organization in the BDS war, (2) your axiomatic assumption that a pro-boycott decision is a pro-Palestinian one and vice versa, and (3) your unfounded claim that legitimate criticism of Israel has to surmount a “potentially overwhelming external death-grip of […] background coercion.” A death-grip is applied by a death-gripper, isn’t it? Can you name him?

      • ritzl
        June 6, 2014, 5:04 am

        1) Yeah that’s why I wrote my comment.

        2) Didn’t understand what you were trying to get at, but I learned a new word.

        3) Why does there have to be only one…

        • Sheldon Adelson (forcing potential US President Christie to recant the innocuous use of the word “occupied”)

        • Bob Blumenfield, a pro-Israel Los Angeles City Councilman (for seeking legislation against pointing out conflicts of interest regarding Israel; http://mondoweiss.net/2014/06/denounce-activists-critiquing.html)

        • Maryland legislature: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/02/targeting-boycotters-introduced.html

        • New York legislature: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/01/punishing-israel-boycott.html

        • Mandatory pro-Israel re-education camps/programs: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/08/for-calling-israeli-speaker-a-war-criminal-boca-raton-school-forces-3-students-to-take-reeducation-program-from-zionist-org.html

        …Banners removed w/o equal treatment and/or due process, anti-“intimidation” legislation introduced at the state level, people convicted of felonies for protesting (CA must be really bad), extraordinarily vile and uniquely accepted racist posters directed at Muslims (Geller).

        Etc. Etc. Etc. The list is long and growing. Some of the above are nuisance actions designed to cost people time and money to defend, if they don’t have the time or money they legally can’t pursue the protest. To me that’s what “surmount” means.

        But when you get legislation at the state level designed to punish or prohibit protest for Palestinian justice, that’s an indication of the depth of the problem. Those actions stem from a belief that political speech can and should be narrowly defined and criminalized (thank God we still have a written Constitution), when it comes to protesting Israel. Those efforts (wrt the ASA) failed, but their cost and intimidating effect could not have been lost on the MLA members.

      • ritzl
        June 6, 2014, 2:19 pm

        Naftush- And just from today…

        Houston stadium security detains soccer fan for waving Palestinian flag as ‘racial slur’: http://mondoweiss.net/2014/06/stadium-security-palestinian.html

        If someone being detained for holding a Palestinian national flag up at an international soccer match (no flags there, right?; and ostensibly as a “racial slur”) isn’t a sign of a “death grip” I don’t know what is.

    • JustJessetr
      June 5, 2014, 1:48 pm

      Re: the upcoming PCUSA re-vote:

      I think you’ll be disappointed. Increased personal awareness of the moral conflict has led to statements like this from reverends of the church where boycotters are basically ripped to shreds.

      http://www.icjs.org/featured-articles/open-letter-presbyterian-church-0

      Congregants, Pastors and Commissioners of the Presbyterian Church are really disgusted by the propaganda they see, like “Zionism Unsettled” with it’s eye-popping claims (and right from the beginning of the video) that “…for over one thousand three hundred years, since the very beginning of Islam, Jews and Muslims lived together in an unprecedented religious and cultural harmony: in Palestine, North Africa, and Spain. It all seemed to be going just fine until the 20th century…”, where all violence against Jews is laid at the feet of the Jews. No, I won’t spend my day listing all of the anti-Jewish violence since the 11th century that throw such claims to the dirt.

  8. Sycamores
    June 5, 2014, 12:33 pm

    one extra additional nonsurprise: Israel has been around for 66 years but from it supporters at the MLA they could only muster a measley 1063 votes against the resolution while the called for members to condemn Israeli border policies has only been around for a short while and manage to gain 1560 votes.

    to put an end to apartheid in South Africa didn’t happen over night in took years. i don’t believe it will take as long to end apartheid in Israel.

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