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.”