The Modern Language Association failed to pass a resolution Wednesday that would have condemned Israel as an “occupying power” after not enough of its members bothered to vote.
The MLA is the country’s primary professional association for literature and language scholars. Ordinarily, it is best known to most Americans for publishing the MLA Handbook, a guide to authoring research papers at the high school and undergraduate level. It also publishes the MLA Style Manual, which is geared more towards graduate students and professional writers.
Last January, the organization became the subject of major controversy after the group’s Delegate Assembly considered a resolution condemning Israel and 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.”
The resolution did not, however, call for an academic boycott of Israel, a move which has been pushed by some activists and endorsed by the American Studies Association last December.
Supporters of the resolution said it would bring needed attention to alleged abuses of academic freedom by the Israeli government. Opponents argued the resolution was singling out Israel while ignoring far more severe abuses in other countries.
The resolution passed the Delegate Assembly 60 to 53, but to be officially approved it had to be endorsed by at least 10 percent of the MLA’s membership in a vote.
In the vote among the MLA’s entire membership, which ended Sunday, the anti-Israel crowd triumphed 1,560 to 1,063. However, at least 2,390 “yes” votes were needed to reach the 10 percent threshold. Nearly 90 percent of the MLA’s member decided this debate was one worth sitting out.
Prior to the announcement of the final results, some of the comments made during the MLA’s internal debate were leaked via the website Pastebin. Some proponents of the resolution had harsh words for opponents of the resolution, with Prof. Elizabeth J. Ordoñez complaining that “Zionist attack dogs” were preventing justice for Palestinians.
Alessio Lerro of Rutgers Comparative Literature Department defended the decision to single out Israel, arguing, “This resolution rightly targets only Israel given the humongous influence that Jewish scholars have in the decision making process of Academia in general.”
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