(JNS.org) As part of its 129th annual convention from Jan. 9-12 in Chicago, the Modern Language Association (MLA) is holding a roundtable discussion titled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine.” The discussion—to feature supporters but no opponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement—is a possible precursor to an MLA academic boycott of Israel that would mirror recent boycotts by the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association.
The MLA session’s speakers will include BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti; University of Texas professor Barbara Jane Harlow, who has stated her support for the ASA boycott of Israel, University of Southern California professor of English David Lloyd , a well-known BDS activist; and Wesleyan University professor Richard Ohmann, who signed a 2009 letter that described Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times.” University of Texas professor Samer M. Ali, who publicly defended the ASA boycott, organized the roundtable.
“Once the roundtable, whose audience will no doubt be packed with boycott supporters, has come off, a boycott resolution will be proposed [by the MLA] for next year, justified in part by the strength of support evident at the roundtable. Many members will be caught by surprise, just as members of the ASA were, because few academics pay attention to what their professional associations are doing,” Jonathan Marks wrote for Commentary magazine.
Ali told The Chronicle of Higher Education that the roundtable assumes that Israel violates the rights of Palestinians, and that the debate will center on what to do about it.
“If people want to come and debate occupation, I think it will be a waste of their time, because that’s not what the roundtable is about,” Ali said.
Roz Rothstein, CEO of the pro-Israel education group StandWithUs, said, “It is extremely disturbing that an academic association like the MLA has not asked other scholars to present different points of view or a more serious analysis. Unfortunately, this is the tactic that the small group of anti-Israel members uses to pave the way for their scholarly associations to single out and punish Israel. We certainly hope that the MLA does not consider a one-sided punitive resolution against Israel like the one adopted by the American Studies Association.”