For Members of the MLA Delegate Assembly

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to you on behalf of MLA Members for Scholars’ Rights on eve of a critical vote and a dramatic departure from previous MLA practice. Unless the DA rejects Resolution 2014-1 or votes to return it to committee, it faces the possibility of making what we believe to be a grave error—launching the MLA into a new area of foreign policy debate and action without reliable or adequate or information at hand, without appropriate investigatory and reporting procedures, and without full understanding of the consequences of a potential approval of the resolution by the full membership.

We urge you first of all, in the strongest possible terms, to read “Oppose MLA Resolution 2014-1,” an informational flier we have prepared for distribution to you. All DA members share an ethical and professional responsibility to read all background materials and base their vote on an unbiased appraisal of the evidence before them, not on the basis of prior convictions. We realize this is a subject that generates strong passions in many of us, whatever loyalties and sympathies we hold. But trying to judge travel conditions and the status of academic freedom in another country requires sound and fully detailed evidence. Anecdotes and unsubstantiated testimony do not rise to the level of proof that should be required to make a decision and take a public position on an issue of this seriousness and complexity.

We have put together a concise fact sheet that identifies the many flaws of argument and information embodied in “Academia Undermined,” the background paper already distributed by the Resolution’s proponents. All our claims are carefully footnoted with sources, many of them available to you online. To feel confident about the facts you should be undertaking extended study and analysis of three different legal and geographic entities—Gaza, Israel, and the West Bank, along with the different travel regulations in place as you cross borders between them. Many people entering Gaza, for example, enter through Egypt, crossing a border not under Israeli control and with different procedures.

A significant number of foreign faculty have taught at Palestinian universities. Indeed some Palestinian institutions take justified pride in that fact and promote it on their web sites. So it would be a serious error of judgment for you to believe that American faculty are simply unable to teach on the West Bank. A very small number of visas for Americans are turned down, but DA members have no basis other than emotionality to conclude that those decisions are arbitrary.

When American academic associations protest visa denials to faculty seeking to enter the US we ordinarily do so on a case-by-case basis after a full investigation into the facts. An individual expressing dissatisfaction with his or her treatment can trigger such investigations, as it has with the ACLU and the AAUP, but an individual’s complaint is never accepted at face value. We always interview all relevant parties and seek a case-by-case explanation from the State Department. No comparable due diligence has been exercised by the Resolution’s proponents. We are not surprised at that. They did not have the staff or resources available to them to do that work. But that does not justify voting to endorse a Resolution based on embarrassingly inadequate documentation and research.

Martin B. Shichtman
Russell Berman
Cary Nelson

Return to main page