- “Be it Resolved …”:Referenda on Recent Scholarship in the Israel–Palestine Conflict
Be it resolved that the MLA urge the United States Department of State to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics who have been invited to teach, confer, or do research at Palestinian universities.—MLA Resolution 2014-1
Resolution 2014-1 of the Modern Language Association (MLA), calling for relief from Israel’s rigidly discriminatory restrictions on the “right to entry” for U.S. academics into Israel and its occupied Palestinian territories, following contentious debate in the weeks preceding, was passed by the organization’s Delegate Assembly at its annual meeting in January 2014.1 Six months later, in June, the resolution was ultimately not ratified in a referendum put, according to MLA procedure,2 to the full membership of the influential academic association [End Page 190] representing faculty and students involved nationally and internationally in modern language studies. While differing significantly from the even more vociferously debated resolutions passed by related organizations in the previous year (2013) that called for a full academic boycott of Israeli institutions of higher education on the grounds of their complicity—both direct and indirect—in Israel’s “apartheid” policies of occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza and systemic discrimination against Israeli Arabs, the MLA resolution on the “right to entry” nonetheless engaged the same pressing questions of academic freedom and the legitimacy—and legality—of boycott as a political tactic in the popular struggle against colonialism, both neo- and settler, and on behalf of international human rights. Unlike the boycott resolutions of the Association for Asian American Studies, the American Studies Association and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association, the MLA resolution had focused most specifically on a right to movement—the right, that is, of academics to travel to destinations in Israeli-occupied Palestine for the purposes of teaching, conferring, and/or conducting research in collaboration with Palestinian and other international colleagues. Such purposes necessarily entailed, however, other rights—such as the civil and political rights to freedom of expression and of association as well as the economic and social right to education, all enshrined in international rights covenants—and their recognition, as well as an acknowledgement of their abridgement under Israeli law for Palestinians and their supporters.
The acrimonious public debates and vituperative intellectual skirmishes—in print, online, and before and behind the scenes of sponsored panel discussions—occasioned by these resolutions and their eventual consideration and passage and/or defeat by important U.S. academic organizations were not without a specific context, historic and political, that provided both substance and subterfuge to the critical exchanges among and between scholars, colleagues, and solidarity activists involved in academic protocols, international human rights, and research imperatives, with regard in particular to the “question of Palestine.” Four recent books—among numerous other similar contributions to a growing library—suggest but some of the fault lines that complicate and riddle this persistent question—the “question of Palestine,” in other words—as it challenges the very grounds of academic pursuits, intellectual exchange, and educational priorities. Informed [End Page 191] by diverse disciplinary and professional commitments, including journalism and sociology, the works testify variously to the partisan disputation that continues to characterize—and even at times to character assassinate—participation in the historico-cultural colloquy. The Case for Sanctions against Israel, edited by Audrea Lim, offers a collection of essays by critics from multiple backgrounds discussing the exigencies of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement and its call for collective international—and interdisciplinary—action against Israel’s occupation policies, as part of a Palestinian-initiated movement that has especially riled both pro-Israel spokespersons and putative defenders of academic freedom. The very title—The Case for—indicates, however, the polemical position assumed by the contributors to the volume, but nonetheless allows for...