The American Studies Association’s decision to boycott Israeli universities has met with mockery and scorn for the most part, but one scholarly guild is feeling inspired. The annual convention of the 30,000-member Modern Language Association held a panel last week called “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine.” It probably seemed satisfyingly cutting-edge to the participants and their admiring audience, but will sound pretty humdrum to anyone familiar with academe: no one who disagrees with the BDS movement against Israel was allowed to speak on the widely-attended panel. Haaretz reports:
The audience consistently applauded the panelists’ calls for boycotts against Israel and harsh condemnation of Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians. Panelists also compared Israel’s actions in the territories to the apartheid government in South Africa and alleged that Israel suppresses Palestinian education and research. [...]
After the session, which ended without disruption, [panel moderator Professor Samer Ali, University of Texas at Austin], said “I think it went really well. People were very respectful. This was MLA at its best.”
He also defended the decision not to include any dissenting voices, saying this was a common approach in academic environments where panelists who agree on a particular model discuss their approaches while the audience raises critiques.
The MLA isn’t boycotting Israel quite yet, but its delegate assembly will vote this weekend on a resolution to condemn the Jewish state for various moral infractions. We’ll venture to guess that the resolution will pass, and that the modern language professors so sensitive to the needs of Palestinians will feel like the Great and Good upholders of ethical norms their university positions clearly entitle them to be.