ALA MW 2015 – Council Actions and Why I Voted Against Condemning Libraries with Weapons Depots

You can now find the write up of actions taken by ALA Council at the 2015 Midwinter Meeting on ALA’s Council Actions page. There is one particular vote that I’d like to explain because I think it will get taken out of context.

In Council III we considered “”ALA CD#32_Revised_2315_act, Resolution on the destruction of Libraries and Schools in Gaza in 2014.”

In the process of ultimately defeating this resolution, Council took the following action – which I supported:

DEFEATED, a motion to insert a new 2nd resolved clause to read: “deplores the use of weapons and other acts that makes libraries, schools, and other cultural resources viable military targets”; and renumber resolved clauses accordingly.”

If ALA Council truly functioned like Congress, this would be fantastic soundbite material. “Councilor Cornwall voted against condemning the use of libraries as ammo dumps!”

If the above statement was a standalone resolution, I would accept the soundbite as accurate. But because it was an amendment, voting no (for me) was all about defeating the main resolution. If it had passed, the amended resolution MIGHT have drawn support from Councilors who had been opposing it one the grounds the resolution was too one sided.  I had no desire to make the overall resolution more palatable, so I voted against this amendment aimed at giving the resolution the appearance of being more evenhanded and thus, giving it a higher chance of passing. In the end, the overall resolution was defeated overwhelmingly.

So much for parliamentary procedure. Now for some words that I think will annoy everyone.

I opposed this resolution and oppose most others (Charlie Hebdo being an exception) that deal with international issues where the American Library Association has little practical influence. Council’s time is limited. ALA’s resources are limited. We have a HUGE plate of US related library issues at home – library funding, intellectual freedom, broadband access, fighting to preserve net neutrality, promotion of library resources, making professional development affordable for ALL library staff, creating a more diverse profession, etc. These are all areas where ALA can have influence or take direct action. I don’t like taking time, resources and large amounts of emotional energy away from these core issues to debate actions overseas. Especially when we not only have ZERO influence over the players in the region, but our actions simultaneously enrage Members of Congress whose support we need to have for our core issues.

That’s the ALA side of me. The personal side of me believes that while the Palestinians have culpability for their actions, so do the Israelis. The Israeli government and most Palestinian factions have been committed to a violent solution to their issues since 1967 and I don’t believe Likud governments have dealt in good faith for quite some time. Even when they say they’re committed to a peace process, they continue to annex land, build walls and bulldoze Palestinian homes and vineyards. If that is what they feel they need to do for their defense, that’s their decision, but I don’t believe that they should be doing that with US dollars. If it were up to me, I’d zero out military aid to both Israel and Egypt. Israel can finance their preferred one-state solution on their own and Egypt can finance its own military dictatorship.

With Hamas’ lack of any meaningful guidance systems on their rockets, they do not pose an existential threat to Israel. I don’t condone their rocket attacks or deny they do damage. I think they’re being stupid as well as hateful, given that their attacks wind up trading 1,000 or so Palestinian lives for one Israeli. Although the disproportional Israeli responses probably do serve Hamas’ interest in keeping the population in line. Israel has been conducting airstrikes over Palenstian territory for decades but has still not learned the lesson known since World War II – bombing civilian areas binds people closer to their government. Hamas’s rocket attacks show they haven’t learned the lesson of World War II either – Their efforts at vengeance only strengthen Likud. Israel and Hamas are at a stalemate – neither can eliminate the other with the means they have. So that’s why the Palestinians are not a mortal threat to Israel that requires us to fund Israel’s settlement policies.

As for threats from other countries, Israel is the strongest military in the region and is very likely nuclear armed. Unless they face a conventional invasion like in 1973, I don’t think they need our military aid. Especially if they’re using it to deny a two state solution.

But none of the above can be influenced by the American Library Association, so we ought to stay out of this conflict and others like it and focus on what we should do best – supporting America’s libraries and library staff while promoting the value of libraries to the American public.

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