Cherryl Smith

MLA Guidelines for Opposing Resolutions Against Israel

Whether it fails or passes, the Modern Language Association’s resolution urging the US State Department to contest Israel’s denials of entry to the West Bank by United States academics” has prompted a valuable response from its opponents.

In their fact-sheet identifying what’s wrong with this resolution, MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights appears also to have identified what’s wrong with all the academic resolutions against Israel and calls for boycott I have seen.

The next time a faction of your university council or professional academic organization offers up Israel as the one country of the world most needing to be contested, censured or boycotted, these four points can help guide your opposition. For, it is likely the resolution you are facing:

1. mischaracterizes

2. “overlooks key facts and context”

3. “is based on minimal, weak and unconvincing evidence”

4. “is biased and discriminatory.”

Likely too, Israel has little to do with the mission of your student government or academic group. In this case, given the many problems directly affecting the Modern Language Association–the ever growing use of part-time faculty and the diminishing funding for and status of the Humanities are examples–one would expect a resolution on other topics to address some dire situation.

Yet only because the issue of travel restrictions has been mischaracterized is it even on the table. Israel simply has border policies consistent with other democratic countries.  And in the past year, for instance, only .023% of visa applications from US scholars were turned down by Israel.  A considerably larger percentage of Israeli scholars, 5.4%, were turned down when they applied for US visas. Larger contexts are overlooked in the resolution such as Israel’s security needs. And according to MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights, the minimal evidence for the resolution included only “four named cases of denied entry.”

But what most defines resolutions like this one, as well as the more sweeping condemnations, is that they are biased and discriminatory. Though the Scholars’ Rights fact sheet notes “politically motivated state-sanctioned disruptions of travel in the United Arab Emirates, China, Bahrain, and United Kingdom, among others,” the only country criticized in the resolution is Israel, and with little evidence.

Likewise, Israel is the only country of the world threatened with academic boycott. The comments of the many MLA members who have signed a petition publicly opposing the current resolution are well worth reading.



About the Author
Cherryl Smith's new book is FRAMING ISRAEL, A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric. She is professor emerita of rhetoric and composition at California State University, Sacramento. She has lived in Tel Aviv since 2016.