Forward Thinking

MLA Panel Is High On Emotion, Low On Facts

By Rachel S. Harris

  • Print
  • Share Share

‘It Impacts People’: Professors and scholars are debating the boycott of Israel at the MLA. // Thinkstock

Vote Your Conscience!

Well, that was certainly the message at session 48 of the MLA, billed as a roundtable discussion of “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine.”

“There is no us and them, only us and us,” claimed the panel organizer and moderator Samer M. Ali, while Omar Bargouti — an independent scholar — appealed to “people of conscience to stop ‘business as usual’” citing scholars’ “profound moral obligation.” Barbara Harlow of the University of Texas at Austin called on “scholars with integrity,” while David Lloyd at the University of California claimed that there was a “moral principle” at stake, which he reiterated in the question period by claiming that scholars have “an ethical responsibility to… colleagues in Palestine.”

So it is clear, if you aren’t supporting the boycott you must be immoral, without integrity, and lacking good conscience. The arguments for and against the boycott are significantly less important to the panelists, and certainly few real facts surfaced in the course of their presentations. Instead, they have decided that an emotional appeal to the scholars of the world is enough to win their case.

When the panelists did turn to their own particular ways of legitimizing the boycott movement, they seemed oblivious to the internal contradictions of their arguments. Lloyd pushed for going as far as possible: “Ideally we could cut off all relations with academic institutions” — because as several panelists reiterated at various points, institutions are not individuals. Except that Bargouti did point out that “we can’t expect Palestinians [in Israel] to boycott their institutions, how can they” and that “nobody in the boycott movement denied that individuals would be affected,” adding “it always impacts people.”

Asked in the question period whether they were delegitimizing the study of Israel by international scholars who would be unable to participate in conferences hosted by Israeli universities, research in archives and libraries in Israel, or purchase books published by Israeli university presses, Harlow argued that now is the time to study Israel, while the other panelists suggested that it was a matter of conscience to choose what you worked on.

Richard Ohmann, a retired Wesleyan professor, stated that it had been wrong of University presidents to call on universities to refuse travel funds to scholars wishing to travel to the ASA, which recently endorsed a boycott of Israeli academia. He failed to note that he was calling for scholars in Israel to travel without funds from their home institutions, to academic conferences overseas, in response to institutional boycotts. Something Bargouti claimed was not against academic freedom in the Israeli context, since infringing “on their privileges” and creating a situation where Israeli scholars will “have lesser resources” is legitimate. It seems it is only in the U.S. context that delimiting scholars’ travel funds is a curtailing of academic freedom.

I should mention, though, that in the final moments of the event Lloyd argued that this legitimate and peaceful “civil society movement doesn’t represent the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.” So perhaps truth was spoken at this panel after all.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.