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Judith Butler Plans Pro-BDS Presidency of MLA

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By TTN Blog

The following are abridged excerpts from an article in the Jewish Journal (“Judith Butler Plans a Stealth MLA Presidency”) by Cary Nelson, the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a colleague at The Third Narrative and the Alliance for Academic Freedom. We begin with his introduction:

The Modern Language Association (MLA), the largest academic discipline-based faculty organization in the US has been debating resolutions to boycott Israel or its universities since 2007.  . . .  In 2017 this all came to a head, with competing boycott and anti-boycott resolutions up for debate. The resolution recommending boycotting Israeli universities was defeated in January, and a resolution prohibiting future boycott resolutions was overwhelmingly endorsed by the organization’s members in June 2017. But the diehard opponents of a Jewish state have continued to press their cause. . .  . Two of the long-term faculty supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment) movement in the humanities are Judith Butler (Berkeley) and David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford). Butler . . .  is perhaps the most influential  BDS supporter in the US. This essay reports on the effort to resuscitate the BDS movement at the annual MLA meeting this January, focusing on a group planning and strategy meeting falsely promoted as an academic discussion of the issues involved.

After trying to get Prof. Nelson to leave what was advertised as an open and public meeting, the group reluctantly proceeded. Nelson’s article continues:

I hadn’t realized she would be running the meeting, not simply headlining it. She declared that she had several ideas she had wanted to share about how to move the BDS agenda forward in the MLA, but felt it was not safe to do so with me in the room. She clearly understood she would need a neutral persona while serving as MLA president in two years but wanted to strategize with her BDS cohort behind the scenes. She would be posturing as principled in office while quietly working to scuttle the 2017 MLA resolution against academic boycotts. She urged people to contact her after the meeting and told them there would likely be funds to bring some of them out to Berkeley to consult with her.

Although half the hour was spent challenging and berating me, the core strategy Butler and the other senior member there, David Palumbo-Lio of Stanford, were using was nonetheless clear. After more than a decade of debating anti-Israel resolutions, MLA members had their fill. In June 2017 they voted by a 2-1 margin to bar further academic boycott resolutions. MLA’s Executive Director Rosemary Feal immediately pointed out that nothing prevented a vote on a resolution to overturn the 2017 vote, but the BDSers preferred to ignore this option, as it was clear they would lose such a contest. Unwilling to see themselves as a radical fringe group indulging in sour grapes complaints, they were left with one way to explain their loss: as they asserted repeatedly this evening, they were cheated.  . . .

Click here for the entire article.

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