Lecturer Jack Levin's Tribune Op-Ed on Political Controversy at MLA Convention
Academicians from all over the world will gather in Chicago for the 129th annual convention of the 30,000-member Modern Language Association. The MLA, according to its website, provides opportunities for teachers of English and foreign languages "to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy."
The four-day convention, starting Jan. 9, features exhibitions, opportunities for job interviews — and 810 sessions, all but one of which will address topics connected to the study of language and literature. The one exception is entitled "Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine." "This roundtable," the MLA website explains, "addresses the political movement Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, seen by its defenders as a viable means to end the Palestinian occupation."
That the only political session at the MLA targets Israel must appear strange to the unbiased observer. Anyone familiar with the Middle East will wonder what is meant by ending "the Palestinian occupation." Does it refer to Israel's presence on the West Bank? Israel took control of that area in 1967 in the course of defending itself against an invasion from the army of Jordan, the country which then ruled the West Bank territory. For decades Israel has pursued a series of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority — just as it did, successfully, with Egypt and Jordan — in hopes of reaching a peace deal to end any Israeli presence on the West Bank. The latest phase of those Israeli-Palestinian talks, under U.S. sponsorship, is ongoing even as the MLA prepares to gather in Chicago.