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How to screw up a convention
by Gary Fouse
Conventions are supposed to be fun affairs. Generally, they are boondoggles designed to waste money, eat and drink. Apparently, that was the hope at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association in Philadelphia this past week. No, these are not comprised of the thousand or so Esperanto speakers in the world, though I'm sure a couple were there. These are university teachers of English and other language-related fields.
But there was a skunk at the party. A group of Israel-haters (They are in every university.) were attempting to get the MLA to pass a resolution for an academic boycott of Israel. As many of you may know, Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) is all the rage in academia these days. It attracts virtually all the loopy, left-wing professors like moths to a flame. So it was not surprising that some of the crowd wanted to push this anti-Israel resolution, which has absolutely nothing to do with language teaching.
It appears that the BDS supporters somewhat detracted from the jolly atmosphere of the conference, bringing a degree of tension and angst. (Most attendees still managed to fill up the hotel bar as good convention attendees do.) The blog, Legal Insurrection, run by Cornell law professor William Jacobson (He's on our side), had a source, an MLA member, who was inside the conference and who reported on the sour atmosphere anywhere the BDS folks were gathering. Note that the reporter was afraid to use his/her name.
Fortunately, MLA voted down the measure. That brought expressions of displeasure from the BDS folks. I noted in the LI article that one of the BDS attendees was none other than UC Riverside professor David Lloyd. I had an encounter of sorts with him a couple of years back at UCR when I attended a talk by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, a man of true mystery. The event was arranged by Lloyd and the UCR College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Barghouti claims to be a Palestinian, but ask him where he was born, and he refuses to answer. That's because he was reportedly born in Qatar and reportedly grew up in Egypt prior to showing up in the West Bank and enrolling at Tel Aviv University. When he spoke earlier at UC Irvine, I tried to pry that out of him, but he said it was "irrelevant".
So during the q and a at UC Riverside, I brought that up and asked the school itself if they might bring in a pro-Israel speaker in the future in the interests of balance for their student audience. Lloyd termed the question, "preposterous."
The MLA made the correct choice in rejecting the BDS resolution. Not only is it wrong, it has nothing to do with the MLA mission. The only wrong choice they made was selecting Philadelphia to hold their convention.