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From ASA to MLA: The Israel boycott debate persists

The Modern Language Association convention held in Chicago this year has a special session about the academic boycott, and an alternate session.
The Modern Language Association convention held in Chicago this year has a special session about the academic boycott, and an alternate session.
Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

Late last year, the American Studies Association (ASA) decided to take a stand against Israel by boycotting its academic institutions. This was quickly condemned at many American universities, who, in response, stood for academic freedom. Currently this debate carries on at the Modern Language Association (MLA) convention taking place in Chicago this year (January 9-12).

The MLA, another academic professional association, has always been a popular place for academics (faculty, students, scholars) and job seekers and a forum where ideas and opinions are discussed. The international reach of the MLA (all modern languages and foreign cultures taught at university are represented), make it all the more conducive to the Israel discussion.

One session in particular, out of 800, caught the attention of the press as it targeted the topic of the current debate: session 48, entitled "Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine". A Harvard University graduate student who was registered, covered the panel for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The scholars on this panel proved to be quite critical of Israel and in favor of the boycott. The need for a counter discussion resulted in a second panel that met after the session at another hotel.

Beyond the required courtesy among the dissenting academics, it seemed quite clear that the academic war set in motion by the ASA was following its course at session 48--and alternative session 48--of this year's MLA.

Source: Inside Higher Ed

Suggested readings:

The Jerusalem Post

Duke Chronicle

JTA

The Washington Post

Examiner