Bruce W. Robbins posted an update on MLA Commons 6 years, 3 months ago
As many of you will have heard, Resolution 2014-1 got 60% of the votes cast but did not reach the minimum of 10% of the total membership required (by a recent rule) in order to be officially adopted. Thank you to all who voted. I attach an op-ed by David Lloyd that to my mind gives a good sense of the meaning of the event:
Academics Vote for Freedom of Movement for Palestinian Scholars
North America’s largest association of scholars in the humanities, the Modern Language Association, has announced the results of its membership ballot on Resolution 2014-1, which calls on the US Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the Palestinian West Bank to United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities. The resolution gained the support of an overwhelming majority, 1500 of the 2500 votes cast. A recent constitutional amendment, however, requires that any MLA resolution receive the endorsement of no less than 10% of the Association’s members, which would have required around 2500 positive votes. As a result, the resolution did not pass.
This will, of course be spun by opponents of the resolution as a defeat for the cause of Palestinian solidarity. But the fact remains that of those who voted, a large majority supported the resolution. If further comment needs to be made, it is about the apparent apathy of American scholars rather than about the merits of this quite modest and far from radical resolution. Notoriously, it is almost impossible to get 10% of the members to vote even on issues that affect them far more directly. If the framers of the constitutional amendment intended to paralyze political process in the Association, they knew what they were doing.
Yet the substantial majority that voted in favor of the resolution is striking. Its opponents have expended enormous energy in the effort to delegitimize it, even before the Delegate Assembly deliberated at an unusually turbulent meeting last January. A handful of scholars formed an ad-hoc lobby group, misleadingly named MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, which took the unusual step of circulating an email to the whole membership urging them to vote against it. The pro-Zionist and right-wing commentators had a field day accusing the MLA of politicizing and discrediting itself for even contemplating such a resolution. The shadow of the American Studies Association’s recent passage of a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions and the campaign of legal recrimination and punitive measures that followed it clearly hung over the whole debate.
Despite this furious response to a resolution that simply confirms a previous MLA statement on the right of scholars to freedom of movement, but in the context of Israel’s long-standing and systematic denial of such rights to Palestinian scholars, 60% of members who voted supported the resolution. This is an unexpected and remarkable outcome, given the traditional conservatism of this venerable association. What it strongly suggests is that on the battleground of ideas, Israel and its supporters are continuing to lose ground.