: On January 10, 2015, we reported how Modern Language Assoc postpones anti-Israel boycott vote until 2017
. I asked Stanford Professor Russell Berman, a former President of MLA who attended the debate and vote, to provide us with a first-hand account and analysis.]
At the recent Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention in Vancouver, proponents of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement made a concerted effort to score an electoral victory for their anti-Israel campaign.
BDS and its supporters failed
. I was present during the debate and votes at the Delegate Assembly, and the failure was clear.
Nonetheless BDS supporters have rushed to claim success, asserting that straw polls taken
at the Delegate Assembly supported both BDS and Professor Steven Salaita (who is in a dispute with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).
To make such claims requires misrepresentation of the facts of what happened. But facts matter, and a reasonable examination of the series of votes in Vancouver leads to the conclusion that BDS lost.
Boycott Resolution Delayed Two Years
First some background: in the run-up to the convention, two resolutions were submitted to the MLA’s Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee (DAOC). One resolution called for a boycott of Israeli universities, while the other opposed academic boycotts. Because the two resolutions were in direct conflict with each other, the DAOC requested that both proposals be withdrawn during a two-year moratorium on any resolutions concerning Israel. Instead the DAOC proposed a series of discussions about the matter in order to inform the membership. Both sides agreed, and neither resolution was brought to the floor.
However, when the Delegate Assembly convened in Vancouver, the DAOC had to bring its two-year moratorium proposal before the assembly for a vote. BDS supporters attacked it bitterly because they were eager to vote against Israel, and they correctly saw the moratorium as prohibiting such a vote until 2017 at the earliest. The voting showed that they were a distinct minority: the Delegate Assembly adopted the moratorium proposal 95 to 49. This was a victory for the DAOC and a dramatic 2 to 1 loss for BDS.
That first vote was important not only because it rejected the BDS effort to accelerate its anti-Israel campaign but because it took place relatively early in the afternoon when attendance was still high.