This forum has been created to enable full discussion of a resolution calling on the MLA to honor the Palestinian civil society call for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions until Israel respects its obligations towards the Palestinian people under international law and norms of human rights. The resolution will be debated publicly at the MLA conferences in 2015 and 2016 and is scheduled for a Delegate Assembly vote in 2017. This will enable members to inform themselves on the issues and arguments and to engage in exhaustive deliberation on the issue. We encourage free and open discussion on this forum, though expect that the normal rules of etiquette will be respected by all contributors, despite the controversial nature of the topic.
The discussion in the group is open to all readers, but only logged-in MLA members may contribute. Please see also the discussion taking place in the group Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion.
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Response to Delegate Assembly Member’s Queries re Academic Boycott of Israel
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Response to Delegate Assembly Member's Queries re Academic Boycott of Israel
1--What (if any) are the recommended consequences for scholars who violate the boycott if their institution/organization supports it? Absolutely none at the institutional level. As with the policy outlined by the American Studies Association after it passed the resolution, the recommendation is that individual scholars honor the spirit of the boycott. But ultimately it is left up to each member to exercise their conscience to act as they see fit, and no consequences are to be imposed by the MLA. 2--What (if any) are the actual consequences for scholars who have violated the boycott when their institution/organization has supported it? (Have they been fired/denied privileges?) None at the institutional level. Membership privileges are definitely not dependent on the individual’s behaviour vis-à-vis the boycott. Both these questions (1 and 2) assume that those institutions that pass a boycott resolution possess the power either to enforce the boycott coercively or to sanction those who infringe them. On the contrary, boycott is a “weapon of the weak” which seeks to employ ethical persuasion to draw people to endorse and honor the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions, rather than to mandate that each individual absolutely follow in lock step, at the individual level, the institution’s commitment to the boycott. Normalizing collaboration with Israeli institutions is consenting to abetting those institutions’ role in the system of occupation and dispossession. We believe that eventually individual scholars will come to recognize this and act conscientiously. The more publicity is given to the daily injustices committed by Israel against all Palestinians, including serious infringements of human rights and academic freedom, the more individuals, including scholars like ourselves, are obliged to ask if they can conscientiously consent to support such systemic and ongoing oppression. The institutional endorsement of the boycott will empower individuals to honor the boycott, and will also express the association’s commitment to defend its individual members from retaliation suffered as a consequence of doing so. 3--At what level are most of these sanctions being enacted? Most of the opening headers in the PACBI guidelines must be enacted (or refused) by whole universities at the presidential/board level, not at the level of individual scholars. Sanctions are enacted solely at the level of institutional relationships. The resolution would commit the MLA as an organization to desist from institutional collaborations with Israeli universities or governmental organizations and their representatives (e.g., no research center partnerships, no study abroad programs, no co-sponsorship of conferences, etc.). It would also express the belief that individuals should not engage in institutionally supported collaborations. Nevertheless, as explained above, individuals are entirely free to either follow the actions of the MLA, or not. It is up to the individual; there are no consequences for faculty who individually continue to have relationships with Israeli universities. 4--In that context, what is our responsibility as individual scholars? For those of us committed to advancing justice for the Palestinians, our responsibility so far as our institutions is concerned is to assist in building the pressure on university presidents, trustees or regents, research centers, and administrations not to commence, extend or continue institutional collaborations with their Israeli counterparts. Such acts can vary in many ways and to many degrees. Depending on local circumstances, this might involve working with campus chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, joining USACBI or forming a Faculty for Palestine network on campus, inviting Palestinian speakers to campus, teaching the issues in classes, and so forth, all of which help to build public awareness and expand the civil society movement for BDS. This all falls under PACBI’s call: “PACBI urges academics, academic associations/unions, and academic -- as well as other -- institutions around the world, where possible and as relevant, to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation or annulment of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israeli academic institutions or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy, whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and Palestinian rights, or violate the BDS guidelines.” Building from the principle that is at the core of the call for boycott, i.e., working towards severing institutional relations, a number of steps logically follow, all of which are stipulated in PACBI’s guidelines.