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'Zionist Attack Dogs'? The MLA’s Debate on Israel Might Go Viral

7:18 PM, May 22, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
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The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:

Need a break from grading? Head on over here, where someone has posted a partial record of Modern Language Association member comments on resolution 2014-1, urging the “United States Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” It is a spectacle. How often do you get to see scholarly colleagues refer to one another as “Zionist attack dogs?”

In January, the MLA’s Delegate Assembly narrowly passed the controversial resolution at the association’s annual meeting. In March, the Executive Council decided to send it to the full membership for a vote, which began on April 21 and will close on June 1. The debate over the resolution took place from mid-March to mid-April, at a site open only to MLA members. Only part of  it has been posted at the link above, but the rest I found this morning mysteriously lodged in the jaws of my Labrador retriever, to be known hereafter as my Zionist retrieving dog.

The debate focuses on three things. The first concerns whether the resolution’s proponents have offered sufficient evidence that Israel’s visa policy deserves to be condemned by the MLA. The second concerns whether the resolution is tied to the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement. I will not try to sort out the first one. The background documents provided by the resolution’s sponsors are here. MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, who oppose the resolution, make their case here.

As for the second, consider the resolution’s two sponsors. Bruce Robbins, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University, is on record as a supporter of the boycott campaign. Richard Ohmann, a professor of English emeritus at Wesleyan University, has objected to the boycott campaign, but only because it is too soft. A 2009 letter that he signed accuses Israel of “an insidious policy of extermination of a people” and demands a campaign of “divestment and pressure” that will isolate Israel as South Africa was once isolated. It hardly seems likely that Robins and Ohmann think that the MLA should stop at denouncing Israel for limiting academic freedom.

Whole thing here.

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