Delegates at the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention in Chicago passed a measure criticizing Israel’s denial of entries to academics invited to Palestinian universities, a blow to pro-Israel groups who sought to halt the resolution. At the same time, a last-minute resolution that condemned attacks on the American Studies Association (ASA) failed to pass the delegate assembly, the body that votes on measures before it goes to the MLA’s executive council for approval.
60 members of the assembly voted to criticize Israel denying entry to academics, with 53 voting against after a debate that the New York Times characterized as “fractious.” The original resolution condemned Israel’s “arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U. S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” But last-minute changes removed the reference to the Gaza Strip, which supporters said was done to clarify the resolution, according to Inside Higher Ed‘s Scott Jaschik.
A number of cases in recent years have brought attention to how Israel sometimes denies entry to Arab- and Palestinian-Americans, as well as those who support the Palestinian cause. Documentary evidence submitted in support of the resolution pointed to Israel denying entry to people like Palestinian-American teacher Nour Joudah and American academic Julie Dylan.
The success of the resolution was slammed by those who said that it singled out Israel. “The proposed resolution was based on false information and misrepresented facts refuted by opponents. Israel does not violate academic freedom and implements reasonable security measures that would be expected by any other country in the world,” Geri Palast, the Israel Action Network’s managing director, said in a statement.
While the passage of the denial of entry measure dismayed supporters of Israel, they were pleased that a last-minute resolution concerning the ASA, an academic group that voted to support a boycott of Israel, was voted down. That measure, which affirmed the ASA’s right “to take positions in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against racism,” needed 75 percent of delegates’ support. It lost by a 59-41 margin. Still, the executive committee of the MLA will consider the ASA resolution as well.
The MLA also played host to a panel on the academic boycott of Israel on Friday. The panel was harshly criticized by pro-Israel groups for not including avowed opponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.