Modern Language Association Israel Vote – No, Non, Nyet

First off, apologies for yesterday’s outage.  Apparently, an over-eager shoe and pants salesman tried to sell their wares in the site’s comment section to the tune of tens of thousands of messages, all of which were snagged by an alert spam blocker.  But an equally alert web host decided to shut things down to give me time to see what the hell was going on.

Anyway, all is well although I added a new Captcha facility to the commenting section that should prevent non-humans from spamming the site again.  And, in hope that this will be enough to keep away the robots, I also put the name and e-mail requirement for commenters on hold in hope we can attract a few of those Anonymous critics who have kind of made themselves scarce since Divest This was updated a while back.  We’ll see how it goes and I’ll keep you posted on any other comment-related policy changes.

Back to business, during last week’s Alinsky-fest, I wasn’t able to keep up with some of the latest BDS news which I’d like to cover between now and when the Presbyterians gather in Detroit at the end of the week.

Topping off the list was the failure of BDS advocates to get the Modern Language Association (MLA) to condemn the Jewish state over Israel’s “crime” of failing to get BDS advocates to stop spamming civic organizations in order to try to speak in other people’s names.

Even if you’re not familiar with how things worked out at the Modern Language Association Israel debate this year, the details will sound all-to-familiar to long-time BDSwatchers.

As usual, the 30,000 person academic organization took up the issue because a noisy minority within their ranks insisted that they do so back in January.  And, following a playbook written by other BDSers posing as academics who lead the American Studies Association, the boycotters within MLA ranks decided to hold a panel discussion on a resolution to criticize Israel for this or that imagined crime that consisted solely of proponents for the measure.

While Israel-dislikers (including the decidedly non-MLA members like Omar Barghouti) were given all the seats on this panel, critics of the proposal – deciding to do more than accept scraps from the table (i.e., sitting in the audience while their opponents controlled all the microphones) – held their own “unofficial” panel after MLA leaders refused to allow their voices to be included in any official program.  And once a watered-down version of the measure was sent to members (after a disgraceful and embarrassing committee vote described here), critics of the vote organized their own communication system to provide members factual rebuttals after those same MLA leaders refused to allow any official communication on the matter that didn’t measure up to the “scholarly” standards of Electronic Intifada.

Now the rules for the organization required 10% of the membership to vote “Yes” in order for the condemnation of Israel to become official policy  And when all the votes were tallied, the total  number of “Yes” and “No” votes did not meet this threshold and so the attempted hijacking of MLA failed due to lack of interest.

Needless to say, spin has been in the air since the vote with pro-BDS voices declaring victory since about 500 more people voted “Yes” than “No,” with anti-boycott proponents highlighting the fact that 94% of the organization either said “No” or expressed indifference or hostility to the whole sordid affair by avoiding the vote altogether.

Generally, I’m of a mind to say that a win is a win and a loss is a loss based on the reigning rules of an organization.  So while I might be appalled that only 16% of the membership of ASA can implement a boycott policy for the entire association, I would not claim that such a vote was inherently illegitimate since rules are rules.  Thus, given the 10% threshold MLA required for victory, categorizing last week’s vote as a #BDSFail is equally legitimate.

That said, I’ve always been troubled by votes made up of a majority of a minority on measures that claim to speak on behalf of an organization as a whole.

For example, the ASA boycott was presented to the world as not just the policy of an academic organization voted in by 16% of the membership, but as the “landslide” official position of the American Studies Association taken up in the name of the every ASA member (if not the entire field of American Studies).  But, as we’ve seen since that vote was taken (with not one American Studies department in the country signing on to the policy and many departments – as well as ASA’s largest chapter organizations – vocally opposing it), the policy does not represent the view of a most of the members in whose name the boycott was instituted.

Now we live in an age of representative (vs. Athenian) democracy, so I understand that decisions will invariably be made by less than 100% of citizens/members/participants/voters in most institutions.

I suppose that fail-safes (like the 10% threshold used for the Modern Language Association Israel vote) can prevent minorities from hijacking an organization and forcing it to say things that either a large minority or even a majority find offensive.  But I think the reason we don’t run into ASA/MLA-style problems on each and every controversial issue of the day is that partisan who believe strongly in most political causes understand that they have outlets for their political activism that do not require dragging their professional colleagues (or fellow members of another civic organization such as a food co-op) into a fight that will undoubtedly cause harm to innocents.

But as has been made all too clear over the last decade, the BDSers have no such respect for others, and no concern for groups like MLA and ASA beyond their usefulness (i.e., their serving as mere means to an end) in a propaganda war most people want no part of.

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