Ahead of the consideration this weekend of a resolution on Israel at the Modern Language Association convention in Chicago, the leaders of Hillel International and the Israel on Campus Coalition are organizing pushback. They’ve asked nearly 100 American university presidents, provosts and campus officials who spoke against the American Studies Association’s recent endorsement of an academic boycott of Israel to also publicly oppose the MLA measure.
The MLA resolution condemns Israel for “arbitrary denials of entry to Gaza and the West Bank by U.S. academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.” In a letter to university officials, Hillel President and CEO Eric Fingerhut and ICC Executive Director Jacob Baime stressed the importance of taking pre-emptive action against the MLA resolution.
“Rather than responding after the fact, as we were all forced to do with the ASA resolution, we urge you to make clear, in advance of the MLA resolution, your opposition to it and to any other such efforts to hold Israel to a different standard than any other nation,” wrote Fingerhut and Baime. “In this way, the members of the MLA will fully understand the depths of opposition prior to casting their votes.”
Baime reiterated that point: “I think that the MLA should hear from the academic community loud and clear that this is not something that our colleges and universities support. I think that the same university presidents who spoke out about the ASA boycott should feel comfortable speaking out against the MLA resolution because it holds Israel to the same double standard.”
The letter by Baime and Fingerhut notes that in MLA’s resolution, Israel is “being singled out for actions other Western nations pursue routinely.”
“The United States, Great Britain, France, Canada, and Australia, not to mention Western-leaning nations in the Middle East, such as UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia (which regularly partner with Western universities), all deny entry to individuals, for any number of reasons,” the letter states.
The letter also notes how the resolution is being put to a vote only after an MLA convention roundtable discussion, titled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine,” that will feature supporters but not opponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
Hillel and the ICC asked the 30,000-member MLA for the chance to present what they called an “open discussion featuring MLA members regarding academic freedom in Israel, its territories, and Gaza,” but MLA said the deadline to book a meeting at the convention had passed.
Instead, the two pro-Israel groups organized a Jan. 9 offsite roundtable on academic freedom in Israel.
Baime said that he believes the resolution “prepares MLA members to consider a more ambitious program to isolate Israel.” It is not a “far stretch” to a full academic boycott of Israel from a resolution like MLA’s that condemns the Jewish state in a “misguided and flawed fashion,” he said.
“This resolution has been prepared by individuals who deny Israel the same rights afforded to any other nation-state, and they’ve made it clear that they’ll use any tool available to accomplish their goal,” Baime said.
“Opposing the MLA resolution does not mean agreeing with Israel’s decisions with regard to border entry, administration of disputed territories, or treatment of Palestinian Arabs,” Baime and Fingerhut wrote in their letter to university officials. “We take for granted that on the issue of Israel, there always will be a wide diversity of views — and within our own ranks are many who take umbrage with Israeli security policies. But the MLA does not traditionally weigh into these issues.”