Resolution critical of Israel passes preliminary Modern Language Association vote

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Delegates to the Modern Language Association’s annual convention upheld a resolution accusing Israel of keeping Palestinian academics from entering the West Bank, but rejected another expressing solidarity with academics that boycott Israel.

After an hour or so of acrimonious debate in Chicago on Saturday, the MLA’s delegate assembly in a 60-53 vote approved a resolution calling on the U.S. State Department to “contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by U. S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.”

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The resolution goes to the MLA’s executive committee for consideration next month. If the executive committee approves it, it goes to the full membership.

Another resolution referred to a vote last month by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities, and its aftermath, in which over 180 American universities have rejected any such boycott.

That resolution, defeated 59-41, “condemns the attacks on the ASA and supports the right of academic organizations and individuals, free from intimidation, to take positions in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle against racism.”

The resolution did not specify what intimidation the ASA had suffered as a result of its vote.

“Academic freedom guarantees the right of academics to debate issues with passion,” said Geri Palast, the director of the Israel Action Network, which helped lead pro-Israel activities around the conference. “Statements made in the public sphere attracting public debate and controversy is not the equivalent of attacks and intimidation.”

The MLA convention this year featured, among about 800 events, a panel of scholars who favor the boycott; another panel opposing the boycott, convened too late to be included in the official program, was held in a nearby hotel.

The Israel Action Network and the Israel on Campus Coalition organized the pro-Israel panel.

Ron Kampeas is JTA’s Washington bureau chief, responsible for coordinating coverage in the U.S. capital and analyzing political developments that affect the Jewish world. He comes to JTA from The Associated Press, where he worked for more than a decade in its bureaus in Jerusalem, New York, London and, most recently, Washington. He has reported from Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Bosnia and West Africa. While living in Israel, he also worked for the Jerusalem Post and several Jewish organizations.