Another forceful statement from an American academic appalled by the MLA’s push permanently to stifle criticism of Israel. Tim Brennan is a professor of Comparative Literature, English and American Studies at the University of Minnesota, and is affiliated with the Institute for Global Studies and the Institute for Advanced Studies.

Here is an excerpt:

“This effort to censor — and even to render permanently invalid – the richly deserved condemnation of Israel’s violations of international law and its unspeakable treatment of Palestinians, is disgraceful, and would embarrass the organization in the eyes of many here and abroad.”

Source: “An Outrage and a Betrayal”: Tim Brennan Statement against MLA Resolution 2017-1


Some of you might recall a few pieces I posted about the Modern Language Association’s debate about an academic boycott of Israeli institutions. Not only did the resolution fail at the organisation’s conference in January, some MLA members put forward an astonishing ‘counter-resolution’ effectively barring the academic group from ever criticising Israel in the future. Below is a must-read from one of the many critics of that counter-resolution.

Here is an excerpt:

The resolution itself, that we refrain from endorsing “the boycott,” is a nonsense. As things currently stand, the MLA endorses no boycott. Within the framework of the MLA, therefore, there is nothing from which to refrain. Why are we having a vote at all on something non-existent?…

Israel and all too many of its academic institutions proudly participate in such denial of Palestinian rights and academic activities. Does the MLA really wish to go on record as promoting Israeli academics’ freedoms while denying those of Palestinian academics?’

The rest is here: “Misleading or Flatly False”: Tim Reiss’s Statement Against MLA Resolution 2017-1

As the Modern Language Association’s annual conference approaches, members committed to pursuing Palestinians’ academic freedom by pushing for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions are increasing their output of compelling advocacy pieces in support of the organisation’s boycott resolution. This is a brief but strong statement from Shirly Bahar, a Mizrahi Israeli doctoral candidate based in New York.

Here’s a short excerpt:

I support BDS as an Israeli whose Jewish-Israeli citizenship marked on her ID card exempts her from the harsh oppression that Palestinians experience on a daily basis. I am not interested in the special privileges and safety that my Jewish identity mark grants me on [sic] the expense of Palestinian lives and basic human rights. Supporting non-violent resistance to occupation and oppression marks a political moral obligation to account for the suffering of others.

Read more: Shirly Bahar’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

This comes from the Modern Language Association which will vote soon on a resolution to support a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in response to Israel’s ‘systematic denial of academic freedom and education rights for Palestinian scholars and students’. The resolution was submitted by David Lloyd and Rebecca Comay, a philosophy professor at my alma mater, the University of Toronto. (Although I did a minor in philosophy, I never studied under Prof. Comay.) The MLA, which boasts a membership of more than 26,000 in 100 countries, will vote on the resolution at its annual convention on 7th January in Philadelphia.

“On December 23, 2016, the UN Security Council passed UN Resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s illegal settlements, currently home to over 600,000 Jewish settlers. The resolution is an affirmation of international law, and the first resolution the Security Council has adopted on Israel and the Palestinians in nearly eight years. Although not legally binding, it is nonetheless important measure. UN 2334 works in tandem with grassroots organizing by the international community supporting the non-violent Palestinian-led call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions until Israel complies with international law—a movement MLA Members for Justice in Palestine seek to support with an academic boycott resolution that will be presented for a vote this January at the Delegate Assembly.”

The rest is here: UN Security Council Resolution 2334 Condemns Israel’s Illegal Settlements, Justifies Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

This powerful essay by the Ohio State University lecturer Pranav Jani appeared on the microsite of the Modern Language Association group, MLA Members for Justice in Palestine. In the essay Jani asks,

‘[W]hat sorts of rational arguments would it take to convince humanities scholars in the MLA membership, who often express a commitment to human rights and equality, to show solidarity with this anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle?’

The Members for Justice in Palestine group was set up in 2014 to campaign in favour of a resolution calling on the MLA to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The MLA, which boasts more than 26,000 members in 100 countries, will vote on the boycott resolution at its 2017 convention.

Here is an excerpt from Jani’s essay:

‘When you join the boycott of Israel you are responding to a call from Palestinian civil society and saying that no, we, as part of a global community that is committed to human rights, will not be silent while atrocities under a military colonial occupation go on month after month, year after year.

‘You may have questions about organizations, strategies, details, policies, and solutions – but you draw a line against colonialism and racism. If you refuse to see this line, you are also taking a stand: for the status quo.

‘You are free to do so, of course.’

But then please don’t speak to me about your anti-racism. For the image of the Palestinian as always already a terrorist fuels every justification of Israeli violence as “security.”

Please don’t toss around words like “empire” and “colonialism.” For the militarization of Israel (as well as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and other allies) is central to US imperial ambitions today.’

Continue reading: Pranav Jani’s Statement in Support of a Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions

UPDATE (22 Jan): On top of the BDS victories I’ve mentioned below, I’ve just spotted a couple of items worth noting.

First, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) report that more than 200 Brazilian scholars and researchers have released a letter endorsing the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. You can read it here.

Also, this morning I saw a Jerusalem Post piece about Wednesday’s Knesset Science and Technology Committee discussion looking at funds to help stave off the overwhelming ‘tide’ of support for the boycott movement, which is described as a ‘national emergency’. Afterwards the chair of the Israeli Medical Association World Fellowship told the JP that a group of 71 British doctors have written to the World Medical Association asking it to revoke Israel’s membership.

(It goes without saying that demanding that their own government respect international law was not among the options for countering the boycott threatconsidered by these scientists and researchers. And need I mention that attendees were blissfully untroubled by the de facto boycott of their Palestinian colleagues, as well as academics, artists, footballers, etc thanks to Israel’s complete control over Palestinians’ movements?

Thanks to my good friend, the poet Nyla Matuk, I came across this compelling essay by David Lloyd of the University of California at Riverside which makes the case for the Modern Language Association to join a widening academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The MLA is the world’s largest organisation of humanities lecturers, and a vote in favour of the boycott resolution would put it in the company of the American Anthropological Association, the American Studies Association, the Asian American Studies Association, and the National Women’s Studies Association not to mention proponents of the Black Lives Matter movement and groups committed to advancing the rights of indigenous people.

Just last week these academics and activists were joined by the pension board of the United Methodist Church, one of America’s largest with 7-million members, which put five Israeli banks on its human rights blacklist. The news must have perplexed New York Times readers who’ve been weaned on a longstanding pro-Israel diet of denials, omissions and obfuscations and might now wonder what all the fuss is about. In fact, the Methodists were the second major US church to join the boycott movement: last summer, the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly at its synod to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and to boycott settlement goods.

All of this is set against a chorus of voices from the human rights world. First there was the resignation of Makarim Wibisono, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian Territories who quit in early January saying he had not been granted permission to enter the Palestinian Territories even once since his mandate began in 2014. The Israeli government alleged bias on the part of Mr Wibisono. It failed to acknowledge that it hasn’t permitted entry to a single UN Special Rapporteur in close to a decade.

And just yesterday, Human Rights Watch published Occupation, Inc., a report detailing the relationship between Israeli settlement businesses and violations of Palestinian rights, and calling for sanctions against Israel. As Omar Barghouti wrote in Mondoweiss, that’s a far more coherent tactic than the one adopted by the European Union simply to label settlement goods.

In short, a growing number of people have started to think that Palestinian lives matter, too. And by turning those thoughts into deeds they inevitably spotlight the obscene pandering of self-styled leaders like Hillary Clinton, Justin Trudeau and Boris Johnson, who cling desperately to the wrong side of history. For as the abolitionist Theodore Parker said, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’

Besides his critique of Israeli universities over their complicity in denying Palestinian rights and their active participation in developing the high tech weapons and surveillance technologies deployed against Palestinian civilians living under colonial occupation and siege, in his piece Lloyd exposes the racism, cynicism and hypocrisy that underlie the position held by opponents of the the MLA’s boycott resolution. It’s pretty academic but well worth the read.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Zygmunt Baumann once referred to the dehumanization of German Jews prior to their deportation and extermination as requiring their reduction to moral or psychological invisibility. Opponents of the boycott, even as they proclaim their liberal credentials, consistently engage in the moral eviction of the Palestinians. Even Noam Chomsky, who should know better, will happily cite a slew of left-wing Israeli intellectuals while not mentioning a single Palestinian advocate of the boycott. As Saree Makdisi noted on one panel at the MLA, this is the oldest colonial maneuver in the book. And it was amplified by another opponent’s claim that “academic freedom is not a value universally shared” outside societies with liberal values, the implication being that Palestinians value neither academic freedom nor liberal values.

It is an astonishing claim. It is an astonishing denigration of the Palestinians, who enjoyed one of the richest cultural traditions of the Middle East, whose books and archives were stolen along with their lands, and whose campuses were being invaded even as the MLA convention met in the peace and security of Austin, Texas. Palestinian scholars are not fighting only for “academic freedom”, a right that is valued in any case in the advocacy of unpopular causes rather than in its hoarding as a private possession, but for the “right to education”. They know that the ongoing Israeli assault on their institutions and on the simple right to travel freely to those institutions, is a form of “scholasticide” that threatens to destroy their capacity to reproduce and disseminate their intellectual and cultural life. It is what Ngugi wa Thiong’o once described as colonialism’s “cultural bomb”, designed to obliterate not only the creative life but the social cohesion of a dominated population.”

You can read more here: Racism in the Defense of a Racist State: Some Reflections on BDS at the Modern Language Association

The MLA have also published a very useful ‘myths and facts‘ page about the boycott movement.