The Constitution of the MLA states that its purpose is “to promote study, criticism, and research in the more and less commonly taught modern languages and their literatures and to further the common interests of teachers of these subjects.” We therefore have an obligation, as scholars, to pursue political goals that address “our common interests as teachers,” such as advocating against the casualization of the academic workforce. We should not however subordinate scholarly institutions, be it our classrooms or the MLA, to partisan political goals to which any of us, individually, may be devoted: we should pursue such goals as members of the civic community, not as scholars in a professional association. Those who would impose a sectarian political platform on the MLA will harm it and weaken its ability to act on behalf of the profession. Those who misuse the classroom for advocacy invite censorship or risk censoring their students. Those who insist on boycotts will exclude their opponents from the association. Those who seek to punish or silence colleagues for their political positions violate the principle of free speech and undermine the moral and intellectual power of the academy.
This MLA Commons group welcomes civil conversation about scholarship and politics, censorship of alternative viewpoints, and the aspiration by boycott advocates to purge the scholarly community of institutions and individuals they deem undesirable.
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 MLA Members for Justice in Palestine.
[Avatar licensed CC BY-NC-ND by Flickr user JAM Project.]
The long planned MLA Pogrom 2017 is proceeding apace. No amount of reasoning seems to curtail its obsession with Israel–as if there weren’t more relevant topics for our organization to deal with, or more pressing issues to think about around the world.
(You can also read this piece here.)
Academic Boycotts and Professional Responsibility
Delivered at the Annual Convention of the
American Philosophical Association,
San Francisco, March 31, 2016
Russell A. Berman
I was invited to speak on this panel, having been reassured that it would be devoted to academic boycotts, in general, but I cannot…[Read more]
The Ten Worst Things About the BDS Movement
1. BDS demonizes, antagonizes, and delegitimizes one of the two parties who have to negotiate a solution to the conflict by working together and uncritically idealizes the other.
Proponents of BDS (currently) argue that they are (only) proposing a boycott of institutions (only Israeli universities) and that this will not harm individuals. In Inside Higher Education, David Hirsh dismantles this myth. Boycotts of institutions harm the individuals in those institutions.
Attacking Israeli universities is an attack on un…[Read more]
In this brilliant article written in 2003, Ellen Willis considers the the arguments America’s left has deployed in turning from Zionism. She suggests that for her, as a leftist and as a feminist, such arguments ultimately ring hollow.
Russell A. Berman started the topic The "Institutional Boycott" and the MLA Bibliography in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 8 months ago
BDS proponents claim only an “institutional boycott” is at stake that will not be directed against individuals. That distinction between institution and individual is untenable, as has been argued elsewhere.
But let’s assume–just for the sake of argument in this post–that one could have an exclusively “institutional boycott” that somehow s…[Read more]
BDS proponents downplay the likely practical consequences of the boycott. They claim it will only prohibit the institution (e.g. the MLA) from collaborating with Israeli universities and will not impinge on the scholarly life of individuals. Let us leave aside here the ambiguity of individual vs. institution (would the chair of a literature…[Read more]
Salah D. Hassan replied to the topic Palestinian Human Rights Leader Attacks the Boycott in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 9 months ago
Invoking Bassem Eid to challenge BDS is akin to citing Max Naumann to critique the 1933 Jewish Boycott of Germany: “Tell the Jews abroad, I beg of you, not to boycott German goods,” Dr. Naumann one day pleaded in his offices in Franzoischstrasse. “Tell them that the Jews in Germany are not so badly off as press reports would indicate. Tell the…[Read more]
Yael Halevi-Wise started the topic What (if any) are the recommended consequences for scholars who encourage " in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 10 months ago
What (if any) are the recommended consequences for scholars who encourage “the boycott”of Israel?
No consequences whatsoever: we are living in a climate where bullying Israel is popular and acceptable. Reference to the historical context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the history of antisemitism, or to the situation of citizens today ar…[Read more]
Russell A. Berman started the topic Censorship, Self-Censorship and Half-Hearted "Justice in Palestine" in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 10 months ago
Those advocating that the MLA boycott Israeli academic institutions are rallying under the banner of “Justice for Palestine.” Everyone in fact should support justice, and not only in Palestine. Agreed? Unfortunately the slogan “Justice for Palestine” is just that, a slogan; it is a vehicle to attack Israel and is only concerned with “justice” when…[Read more]
Russell A. Berman started the topic Palestinian Human Rights Leader Attacks the Boycott in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 10 months ago
Bassem Eid is the founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. He has also become a strident critic of the Palestinian Authority–given the threat that the PA poses to human rights. Hence his dismissal of the boycott.
The question in our discussion is whether those who call for “justice in Palestine” are able to see any injustice…[Read more]
Russell A. Berman started the topic Where BDS Lost: Thinking Through the Vancouver Numbers in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 11 months ago
The series of votes at the Delegate Assembly at the MLA convention in Vancouver showed some significant weaknesses to BDS and limits to its support. It’s important to look at the results closely and draw some conclusions.
Five votes deserve scrutiny: the initial vote to adopt the Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee (DAOC) two-year moratorium…[Read more]
Russell A. Berman started the topic Correction to the Record on the Delegate Assembly Vote in the discussion Scholarship, Censorship, Exclusion on MLA Commons 2 years, 11 months ago
The recent Delegate Assembly meeting in Vancouver included a robust discussion on a set of issues, prompted by the clash of two different proposed resolutions–one supporting academic boycotts, one opposing them. The Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee has wisely created space for discussion of these matters (an agreement that included a…[Read more]
Individual MLA members willing to help promote a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be interested in joining the One Voice Movement: http://www.onevoicemovement.org
This is “an international grassroots movement that amplifies the voice of mainstream Israelis and Palestinians, empowering them to propel their elected re…[Read more]
The DAOC program involves an extended, two-year discussion of topics relevant to the boycott–in order to explore their complexity and in order to inform the membership. These would seem to be desirable goals.
A disheartening outcome of the DA was that, in the initial vote as to whether to accept the DAOC proposal, about one third of the DA…[Read more]
There’s a useful description of the DA discussion at:
The Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee has initiated a series of venues (including this commons group) to discuss issues around BDS. In particular, it dedicated much of the open discussion section of the DA meeting to this: these are opportunities to get insight into the various opinions at stake.
One key take-away for me from the DA…[Read more]
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