It is said that when a dog bites a man, that isn’t news, but when a man bites a dog … well, that’s a story.
Last weekend’s decisive vote by the Modern Language Association’s governing Delegate Assembly rejecting a resolution calling for an academic boycott of Israel is just such a moment. In fact, given the MLA’s history of promoting anti-Israel measures, it was like anti-Israel forces losing a vote in Gaza City.
The MLA boasts 25,000 members — academics in literature and language. At its annual meeting two years ago in Chicago, the pro-boycott side, working in tandem with MLA leadership, used tactics right out of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s machine playbook to narrowly win Delegate Assembly approval of an anti-Israel resolution. Boycott opponents were blocked from making their case to members either in person or even by distributing informational materials to them.
But when the resolution then went to the full MLA membership for ratification, it failed to garner the necessary votes.
Now buoyed by the Obama administration’s tacit endorsement of a UN resolution targeting Israel, and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s broadside days later, the boycott leaders at last Saturday’s annual MLA meeting had reason to believe they would expand their margin of victory at the Delegate Assembly, and sail on to passage by the full membership. It didn’t happen.
A group called MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, backed by a dozen former MLA presidents, successfully argued that boycotting Israel was not only morally wrong but “will damage the reputation of the MLA and will do nothing to solve conflict in the Mideast.”
In a stinging rebuke to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, crowd, whose raison d’etre is to delegitimize Israel and thus bring it to its knees, the MLA Delegate Assembly rejected the boycott resolution 113 to 79, a margin that may have surprised even its opponents.
Not only did that kill the resolution, it may also mean that some in academia are finally beginning to gag on the stew of social bullying and intellectual dishonesty that BDS promoters on American campuses regularly force-feed them.
For Israel and its supporters, however, it is a poor time for hubris. A country that has recently had an ex-president jailed for sexual harassment and an ex-prime minister imprisoned for corruption now finds its current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, under criminal investigation on suspicion of graft. In a bad news/good news/worse news story that is Israel’s specialty, one of its soldiers was just convicted by an Israeli court for manslaughter for shooting to death a Palestinian terrorist who lay wounded and immobilized after completing his attack.
The episode was properly regarded as a disgrace by an Israeli Defense Forces that prides itself on its moral standards, and the rapid criminal conviction is a tribute to Israel’s judiciary. But the Israeli far right, increasingly unhinged, now demands that the convicted soldier be pardoned. This would be a foul move that would be all but indistinguishable from the Palestinians’ penchant for honoring the murderers of Israeli civilians, and would generate justified disgust even among Israel’s backers.
As for the elation in certain pro-Israel quarters at Donald Trump’s election, there is a failure to understand that the president-elect’s support for Israel represents a poison kiss among Democratic Party constituencies, which loathe him. They have already been abandoning Israel in droves. Mr. Trump’s embrace of Israel is going to accelerate that into a race for the exits.
The victory at the MLA is good news for those who care about Israel. But they would be wise to spend very little time savoring the win before turning to the formidable work ahead.
Originally published in The Boston Herald