Tag Archives: Israel

Brooklyn College Stifles Pro-Israel Voices

A few weeks ago, the David Horowitz Freedom Center caused a stir at Brooklyn College by placing posters on campus labeling two of the college’s professors “terrorist supporters.” The college’s president, Michelle Anderson, issued a statement condemning the posters as “targeted intimidation” designed to “defame and silence specific individuals,” claiming those targeted were “at risk for further harassment and abuse.” She further noted that “robust discourse” on public policy issues is central to the college’s mission and, thus, that those in the college community have a right to express opinions in an atmosphere “free from hate.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

But the charge leveled by the Freedom Center is arguably true. In 2014, both of the accused professors, Samir Chopra and Corey Robin, were arrested outside the Israeli mission in New York for protesting the Israeli bombing of Gaza. The Israeli bombing at issue was the culmination of a series of events: Hamas members kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. During its operation to find the teens, Israel arrested a number of Hamas leaders. Hamas retaliated by launching 80 rockets from Gaza into Israel, and that prompted Israel to launch a major military operation into Gaza. The two professors were arrested protesting this operation.

By demonstrating against the Israeli bombing of Gaza, but not the rocket attacks against Israel that prompted that bombing, Professors Robin and Chopra clearly sided with the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Hamas has long been designated as a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the United States. Thus, a reasonable person could conclude that by publicly siding with Hamas, the two professors are indeed supporting terrorists.

Because the Freedom Center’s accusation against the two professors is arguably true, it is not “defamatory,” as President Anderson alleges. Indeed, labeling those who support the Hamas-led government as terrorists could catalyze useful discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among the questions to be debated are: do rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel constitute terrorism, and at what point does Israel’s defense against these attacks become disproportionate and therefore unjustified?

Thus, the Freedom Center’s posters – provocative as they were – were not defamatory, and they might promote healthy debate. As such, they fall well within the realm of constitutionally protected speech

Related: How Colleges Promote Censorship and Undermine Free Speech

Further, President Anderson’s use of the term “hate” to describe the posters stifles the “robust discourse” she claims as central to the college’s mission. Opposing the strongly held view of the head of a college isn’t easy under any circumstance, but it would be especially risky in this case. Why would a student or faculty member even bother to seriously examine a college-condemned viewpoint if coming to accept its validity might get you shunned as a “hater.” Simply put, President Anderson’s argument is a rhetorical ruse designed to chill speech with which she disagrees.

Unfortunately, this incident is not an aberration: Brooklyn College has a history of suppressing the voices of Israel’s supporters. In 2013, Brooklyn College security officers removed four pro-Israel students from a campus forum featuring opponents of Israel, claiming later to the press that “official reports” had indicated that the students were disruptive. In fact, a subsequent independent investigation proved (based on audio tapes) that there was no disruption and, thus, no justification for removing the students. The so-called official report of that disruption was based on a false account of the incident given by a college vice president. That the college apologized to the students – over a year after the event – is small compensation for stifling their voices and defaming them to the press.

Our AntI-Israel American Universities

The foundations of American Jewish life are under assault today in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago. Academia is ground zero of the onslaught. The protest movements on campuses are primarily anti-Jewish movements.

For the past decade or so, Jewish communal leaders and activists have focused on just one aspect of this anti-Jewish campaign. Jewish leaders have devoted themselves to helping Jewish students combat the direct anti-Semitism inherent to the anti-Israel student movements.

Despite the substantial funds that have been devoted to fighting anti-Israel forces on campuses, they have not been diminished. To the contrary, with each passing year they have grown more powerful and menacing.

Consider a sampling of the anti-Jewish incidents that took place over the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago, Daniel Bernstein, a Jewish student at University of California Santa Cruz and a member of the university’s student government was ordered not to vote on a resolution calling for the university to divest from four companies, which do business with Israel.

Bernstein represents UCSC’s Stevenson College at the university student government. He is also vice president of his college’s Jewish Student Union. Ahead of the anti-Israel vote, Bernstein received a message from a member of his college’s student council ordering him to abstain from the vote on Israel divestment.

The student council, Bernstein was informed, had determined that he was motivated by “a Jewish agenda,” and therefore couldn’t be trusted to view the resolution fairly.

In the same message, Bernstein’s correspondent gave him a friendly “heads up” that his fellow students are considering removing him from office because he is a Jew supported by the Jewish community.

To his credit, Bernstein ignored his orders. He voted to oppose the anti-Israel resolution.

Following the incident Bernstein published a statement decrying the anti-Jewish discrimination and hatred now rampant on his campus.

Among other things, he wrote, “I wish that [my] being subjected to anti-Semitism was a shocking new occurrence. But the truth is that I’m not shocked. I’m not shocked because this hatred and ignorance has followed me everywhere. I’m not shocked because Jewish students have been targeted with this vile racism all over the [University of California] UC system for years, and especially since BDS became a major issue of discussion. Anti-Semitism … has … become an inseparable part of campus politics right here at UC Santa Cruz and across the UC system.”

Then there is the growing movement of professional associations that boycott Israel.

Last week the National Women’s Studies Association passed a resolution to join the BDS movement. The resolution, written in turgid, incomprehensible prose, proclaimed that the only state in the Middle East that provides full and equal rights to women is so evil that it must be singled out and boycotted, sanctioned and the university must divest from it.

Whereas Bernstein was personally targeted, and the NWSA criminalizes Israel, at CUNY, on November 12, a group of protesters targeted the Jewish community as a whole.

That day, as part of a national “million student march,” where students demanded free tuition, anti-Jewish students at CUNY rallied at Hunter College and introduced a new demand: the expulsion of all Israel supporters from campus.

Congregating in the center of the campus, some 50 students chanted in unison, “Zionists out of CUNY!”

Aside from an anodyne statement in favor of “freedom of expression,” CUNY administrators had nothing to say about the affair.

For their part, Hunter’s administrators issued a statement “condemning the anti-Semitic comments,” made by the rally participants.

But no disciplinary measures were taken against any of them.

Speaking to the Algemeiner, StandWithUs’s northeast regional director Shahar Azani said that the Hunter incident “is another example of the hijacking of various social causes by the anti-Israel movement.”

In making this claim, Azani was merely repeating the position taken by Jewish communal leaders and activists involved in the fight to defend Jews and Israel on university campuses. Unfortunately, this position is incorrect.

According to the prevailing wisdom guiding Jewish communal responses to the onslaught against Jewish students on campuses, the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish movements are distinct from the wider anti-liberal forces now disrupting campus life throughout the US. As Jewish leaders see things, there is no inherent connection between the protesters embracing victimhood and demanding constraints on freedom of expression, inquiry and assembly (and free tuition), and those who seek to drive Jews out of the public sphere on college campuses.

In other words, they believe that Zionists can be crybullies too.

But they can’t.

The crybully movement, which demands that universities constrain freedom to cater to victim groups, is necessarily hostile to Jews. This is the reason that at the same time that “victims” from blacks to transgenders are coddled and caressed; Jews have emerged as the only group that is not protected. Indeed, the BDS movement requires universities to discriminate against Jewish students.

 

The inherent conflict between the tenets of the “progressive” movement and Jewish rights is exposed in a guide to racial “microaggressions” published earlier this year by the University of California. Students and faculty must avoid committing these “microagressions” if they want to stay on the right side of campus authorities and the law.

The UC defines “microagressions” as, “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her group membership (such as race, gender, age or socio-economic status).”

Transgressors can expect to be accused of engendering a “hostile learning environment,” an act that can get you expelled, fired and subjected to criminal probes.

As law professor Eugene Voloch reported in The Washington Post last June, among other things, the list of offenses includes embracing merit as a means of advancing in society. A statement along the lines of “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” can destroy a person’s academic career.

So too, statements rejecting race as a significant factor in judging a person’s competence are now deemed racist. For instance statements to the effect of, “There is only one race, the human race,” “America is a melting pot” or “I don’t believe in race” can land a student or instructor in hot water.

In a column last week, Dennis Prager noted that the list castigates as racism all the pillars of liberal society in America. The list, he wrote, shows that “the American university is now closer to fascism than to traditional liberty.”

Prager is right, of course. But the fascist takeover of American academia will not affect all Americans equally.

Jews are the greatest victims of this state of affairs.

For the better part of the past hundred years, the upward mobility of American Jewry has been directly correlated with America’s embrace of meritocratic values. The more Americans have looked past race and ethnicity and judged people by their talents, characters and professional competence, the higher Jews have risen. Conversely, where qualities other than competence, talent and professionalism have determined social and professional status, Jews have suffered. They have faced discrimination and their opportunities to advance have been limited.

Academia is but a small component of American society. But to earn a place in America’s middle, upper-middle and upper classes, you need at least an undergraduate degree. Moreover, university graduates go on to populate and head the state and federal governing bureaucracies, the business world, the entertainment sector and every other major area of human endeavor in American society.

Academia’s simultaneous rejection of core liberal principles and legitimization of anti-Semitic forces is not a coincidence. Jews are a constant reminder that human agency – rather than race and other group identities – has everything to do with a person’s ability to excel in academics and beyond. For fascist principles to hold, Jews must be demonized and hated.

The intrinsic link between anti-Semitism and fascism and their simultaneous embrace by a key American institution means that the equal rights and freedoms of Jews are far more threatened in America today than most Jewish leaders and activists have realized. The Jewish community’s failure to date to defeat the anti-Semitic forces on campuses owes at least in part to its failure to recognize or contend with the dual nature of the problem.

Reprinted with permission from the Jerusalem Post


 

Caroline B. Glick, an American-born Israeli, is  deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post. She served as assistant foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from 1997 to1998 and is author of the 2008 book, Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad.

The Campus War over Israel

No issue on American college campuses today is more toxic and divisive than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For a decade now, “Israeli Apartheid Weeks,” which posit Israel as another South Africa, have featured extreme anti-Zionist events. Guest speakers friendly to Israel have been shouted down and silenced. At UCLA, candidates for student government were asked to pledge not to go on trips abroad sponsored by certain pro-Israel Jewish groups, but were not asked to avoid trips sponsored by pro-Palestinian or other organizations. At Ohio State, the police had to break up a student government meeting days after one undergraduate doused herself in blood (spoofing the “ice bucket challenge”) to protest Israel’s policies. At Temple University, a pro-Israel student was assaulted at a Students for Justice in Palestine leafleting booth.

Almost as regrettably, those who most fervently resist the anti-Israel activists tend to hail from the hard-line pro-Israel right and use Fox News-style rhetoric that inflames the situation. Faculty supporters of Israel, especially if they’re untenured, tread lightly. Belief in a two-state solution—coupled with mandatory denunciations of the occupation of the West Bank—constitutes the outer edge of acceptable opinion. (Taking extreme anti-Israel positions can also be professionally risky.) In the political arena, liberal Zionism is far from dead (contrary to public perception), but in campus debates it’s too often missing or muted.

The intense anti-Israel sentiment on campuses may surprise those who don’t keep up with the academic or Jewish press. When pollsters ask Americans about Israel, the results are what you’d expect: majority support for Israel, a U.S. ally; notable concern about Israel’s use of force during military conflicts like last summer’s Gaza incursion; the wish for the United States to be even-handed in negotiations for a two-state solution; and creeping frustration with Israel since 2009, when Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power as prime minister, a position he first held in the late 1990s.

But the relative stability of American public opinion conceals a worsening polarization in academia—a development to which non-academics should be paying much more attention, as The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, edited by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm, drives home. As Samuel and Carol Edelman write in one essay in this authoritative volume, campuses lately have been experiencing “a barrage of anti-Israel films, speakers, panels, editorials, and faculty presentations portraying Israel as . . . a racist nation” and often championing a policy of boycotts, divestments, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. Within scholarly professional societies, such as the American Studies Association (ASA) and the Modern Language Association (MLA), activists have mounted campaigns to pass boycotts and related resolutions, including efforts to shun travel to Israeli conferences, bar intellectual collaborations with Israeli researchers, exclude Israeli academics from scholarly activities, and so on. According to Eric Fingerhut, the former Democratic congressman from Ohio who now heads the national Hillel organization, the last year witnessed “the most organized campaign to demonize Israel and attack pro-Israel students we have ever seen.” Even allowing for fundraising-letter hyperbole, it is hard to disagree.

It can be difficult to know how threatening the BDS movement really is. On one level, it can be dismissed as a fringe crusade. No universities have divested from Israel. The movement’s few victories have been met with immediate and overwhelming condemnation. When a University of California graduate student union endorsed BDS last year, the United Auto Workers, the union’s parent body, rebuffed it. When the ASA announced its own boycott of Israeli universities, college presidents lined up to denounce the move. At one point BDS claimed it got Sabra hummus removed from the Wesleyan University dining halls, but the decision to switch to Cedar’s hummus turned out to have been driven by other factors—sustainability and the fact that Cedar’s is a local brand. After the outcry, the dining halls pledged to stock both brands, ensuring Sabra business in perpetuity, since any change in the contract would now be seen as capitulation to pressure.

In other respects, however, real harm is being done. The first notorious example occurred in Great Britain in 2002, when Mona Baker, an editor of two small journals in the field of translation studies, fired two Israeli academics, Miriam Shlesinger and Gideon Toury, from journals she ran because of their affiliations with Israeli universities. The next year, Andrew Wilkie, an Oxford pathologist, refused to take on a graduate student because he was Israeli. Some boycotters have refused to write external assessment letters—the key element in evaluating the case for a scholar’s tenure—for Israeli academics seeking promotion.

Even more important than these individual injustices, BDS has made strides in shifting the nature of the debate in academia, normalizing the notion of Israel as a pariah nation. Student government bodies, which rarely exert real power at universities but can reflect and shape undergraduate thinking, are sponsoring and backing BDS resolutions, most recently at Stanford University, hitherto seen as a bastion of moderation. At UCLA, BDS supporters on a student government council went so far as to question whether a prospective appointee to their judicial board, Rachel Beyda, could govern fairly simply because she belonged to Jewish campus organizations. The line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has always been fuzzy and debatable, but cases like Beyda’s suggest that the rising anti-Zionism on campuses is eroding longstanding taboos against anti-Semitism. Two Trinity College professors recently found, in a survey of more than 1,000 Jewish college students, that more than half had personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism within the past half year. In contrast to Washington, the campus debate now centers not on which steps both antagonists might take to reach peace but on how Israel alone should be sanctioned.

Almost all the energy, too, now resides with BDS supporters. A few years ago, Jon Stewart, explaining why the Tea Party was mobilizing while ordinary Americans were quiescent, quipped that most of us “have lives.” Although a silent majority of students and faculty surely see both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most of them don’t have the time or inclination to organize, or to subsume their studies or scholarship or teaching to activism. Because of this imbalance, there has emerged a small library of BDS advocacy books—by the likes of Omar Barghouti, a Qatari-born academic who received his Ph.D. at Tel Aviv University, and Judith Butler, primarily known as a scholar of gender theory—but no book-length scholarly criticism of BDS. Until now.

The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel grew out of recent fights at the ASA and MLA over BDS-related resolutions. Nelson, a distinguished literary scholar and a former president of the American Association of University Professors, and Brahm, also a professor of literature and theory, have assembled an omnibus of arguments against the academic boycott in particular. The book also includes inquiries into related subjects like academic freedom and the history of Israel, as well as key documents from the ASA and MLA fights. Hefty, endnoted, and at times abstruse, the book is scholarly in tone, with the inevitable shot of polemic here and there. (I’ve never met Brahm, but I have worked with Nelson in the Alliance for Academic Freedom, a liberal group devoted to promoting academic freedom on campus in relation to this issue, and have sometimes agreed with him, sometimes disagreed. I also read one of the book’s essays before publication but don’t discuss it in this essay.)

The book encompasses a broad range of opinions, with left-leaning contributors (Michael Bérubé, Martha Nussbaum, Mitchell Cohen) nestled alongside right-leaning ones (Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Richard Landes). The contributors’ differences suggest a raucous seminar more than a manifesto, and the diversity of opinion stands as a refreshing counterpoint to the propagandistic nature of so much literature on both the BDS left and the chauvinistic pro-Israel right. Indeed, the book tackles too many topics to cover here, but as a historian, I found particular value in its historical treatments of the boycott movement—though here, too, contributors offer slightly different interpretations. Paul Berman, in a preface, describes the current movement as part of “the oldest continuous-running boycott in the history of the world,” with its origins in the Arab boycotts of Jewish businesses in the Levant in the decades preceding the birth of Israel in 1948. In this view, the economic war against Israel continued through the longstanding Arab League boycott of Israel; ebbed after the 1978 Camp David Accords (which led Egypt to withdraw from those sanctions) and the 1993 Oslo Accords (after which Jordan and the Palestinian Authority followed suit); and then revived in the wake of the failed Camp David effort of 2000 and the ensuing Second Intifada.

On the other hand, Kenneth Marcus, of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, cautions against viewing BDS as “nothing more than a continuation of its Arab League and Nazi predecessors,” noting discontinuities as well as continuities. He sees these different boycotts as “a repetitive series of incidents that serve the same underlying function.” Still, he explains how in September 2001, not long after the Clinton peace talks collapsed, a conference of NGOs in Durban, South Africa—devoted, ironically, to the subject of racism and intolerance—yielded a call for Israel’s “complete and total isolation” from the world community. This call spurred the boycott’s revival. Richard Landes suggests that the terrorist attacks of September 11 (which occurred days after the Durban conference) also fueled the new surge. The attacks fed conspiracy theories centered on Jews and, especially after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, shored up far-left worldviews that depicted a militarily aggressive American imperialism rooted in U.S. support for Israel.

This recent history, since Durban, is taken up by several contributors, including Sabah Salih, a scholar of post-colonial literature and thought at Bloomsburg University. Looking at larger ideological developments, Salih argues that BDS “owes its rise in the West” to an “ideological transformation” on the left, which now imagines that the United States and Israel “are out to impose their hegemony on the world.” This ideology, Salih argues, typified by Edward Said’s influential 1978 tract Orientalism, holds that criticism of Arab or Muslim political leaders or political culture—even if it arises organically from within Arab or Muslim societies (such as from the Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya), even if it is leveled in the name of liberalism and human rights (such as from Christopher Hitchens)—is misguided, because it inevitably amounts to a kind of complicity with Western imperialism. Once under this spell, proponents of this ideology can shrug off arguments that might otherwise disturb their settled understandings. What of the terrible human rights conditions (on speech, religion, women, and gays) in the Arab world, compared to Israel? What of the eliminationist anti-Semitism and terrorism of Hamas and Hezbollah? If one begins with not just sympathy for but active solidarity with the Palestinian cause, these questions become red herrings, distractions from the overriding issue of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Salih cites Martin Amis, who, returning to England in 2006 after two years abroad, was mortified to see “middle-class white demonstrators waddling around under placards saying, ‘We Are All Hezbollah Now.’ ” But given the trajectory of recent times, asks Salih, “Why are we not surprised?”

Yet the questions don’t go away. The most delicate matter addressed in the book is that of anti-Semitism. BDS opponents sometimes shrink from broaching it, because they’re accused of using the charge scurrilously, to deflect criticism. In my experience, however, the charge is rarely if ever made tactically; rather, it’s born of a genuine and deep fear that anti-Semitism is being normalized—and that calling someone anti-Semitic is now regarded as worse than being anti-Semitic. Nelson and Brahm deal with the subject forthrightly and with nuance.

The relationship of anti-Semitism to BDS might be likened to the relationship of racism to the Tea Party. Most Tea Party members insist they harbor no personal animus toward blacks, and at a conscious level that’s probably true. The same is surely true for many BDS supporters regarding Jews. The pro-BDS “scholars known to me personally,” writes Michael Bérubé, a professor at Penn State, “are people of principle and integrity, many of whom have been persuaded to their current position, in part, by pleas from the Israeli left.” To be sure, Bérubé may not have had in mind someone like the writer Rania Khalek, who, as recounted by Stanford humanities professor Russell Berman, totted up the number of Jews—not Israel supporters, but Jews—writing for The Nation (hardly a pro-Israel magazine) in 2013 and judged their influence excessive. But in most cases personal animus toward Jews isn’t the issue. As other contributors to the book point out, there’s much more to understanding anti-Semitism—just as there’s more to racism and sexism—than calling out conscious intentional bigotry.

One latent form of anti-Semitism consists in the witting or unwitting traffic in hoary anti-Jewish tropes. Most of us have no trouble seeing the racist content in a cartoon that fashions President Obama as a monkey, even if the cartoonist swears he didn’t mean to draw on stereotypes of blacks as sub-human. But BDSers are loath to recognize how much their own literature is rife with portraits of Jews as child-murderers (the ancient “blood libel” held that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzo); as people prone to using their allegedly outsized power and money for parochial ends (AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, looms large in the BDS demonology); and even as vermin (“I’ve had a horrible influx of Zio-trolls today. It’s like getting a case of the scabies. They burrow in and you want to rip off your skin,” tweeted Steven Salaita, an Arab-American academic whose candidacy for a tenure-track position at the University of Illinois failed to win approval from the university’s trustees because of his history of extreme and unprofessional anti-Israel rhetoric). This form of anti-Semitism may not always be conscious; it is shaped, as the philosopher Bernard Harrison has written, by a “climate of opinion” that is formed by “a multitude of spoken and written items—books, articles, news items . . . lectures, stories, in-jokes, stray remarks.” Yet when a movement’s rhetoric is so thoroughly suffused with these conceits and assumptions, it is normal that members of a long-persecuted group will discern bigotry between the lines. As Mitchell Cohen, editor emeritus of Dissent, writes, “If you are anti-Zionist and not anti-Semitic, then don’t use the categories, allusions, and smug hiss that are all too familiar to any student of prejudice.”

Beyond the realm of stereotypes and attitudes, there is the realm of outcomes. Larry Summers’s oft-quoted formulation that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic “in effect” if not always in intent has rankled the kind of good leftists Bérubé writes about, who don’t consider themselves anti-Jewish. But there’s no getting around the reality that the victims of these boycotts are overwhelmingly Jewish (Palestinians affiliated with Israeli universities, of course, will suffer too). Again, to make an analogy with racism: Most liberals have no trouble seeing that while Republicans who try to tightly regulate voting may not hate blacks, they know that their preferred policies would disenfranchise blacks more than whites. Similarly, the British sociologist David Hirsh points to a UK court decision forestalling the closure of a particular university department because it had a lot of black employees, on the grounds that closing it would disproportionately hurt members of one race. The concept of “racism without racists” is not hard to understand. Yet the fact that a boycott of Israel would, in effect, target Jews seems not to trouble its advocates.

Finally, there is anti-Zionism itself. BDS advocates typically claim that they’re not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist. This assertion requires, as my fellow academics would say, some unpacking. Just as the word feminism, which as a simple belief in women’s equality should be easy to endorse yet now to some connotes militancy or radicalism, so the word Zionism, which simply posits the Jewish right to a homeland (and, post-1948, Israel’s right to continue existing), has assumed negative and even demonic overtones in certain circles. This shift in Zionism’s functional meaning is worrisome, because it implies that Israel’s very existence is illegitimate: If Zionism is wrong, then Israel is wrong.

Now, pretty much everyone to the left of Avigdor Lieberman agrees thatcriticism of Israel isn’t necessarily, or even usually, anti-Semitic. And it’s hardly controversial to assert that Israel’s occupation of the territories, its expansion of its settlements there, and many of the restrictions it imposes on its Arab citizens deserve condemnation. But what about the negation of Israel—not mere criticism of its policies or of the current government, but the belief that it should no longer exist? To deny to the Jewish people (who have always been a nation as much as a religion) a claim to self-determination at least raises the questions of why they alone should lose this fundamental right, and of what lies behind the wish to single them out for this deprival. It’s perfectly fair to ask BDSers for answers to these questions. It’s also fair to ask if the desire to strip the right of self-determination from the Jewish people might be informed, consciously or unconsciously, by an animus toward Jews or an absorption of longstanding, prevalent anti-Jewish attitudes. Finally, even if we don’t ultimately judge the goal of dissolving the state of Israel to be anti-Semitic, it is nonetheless deeply discriminatory. For this reason, write Brahm and the Middle East scholar and activist Asaf Romirowsky, “the stigma that properly attaches to anti-Semitism should adhere as well to anti-Zionism” (italics in original).

Apart from the question of anti-Semitism, this volume also provides less controversial reasons to oppose an academic boycott of Israel. Several essays take pains to show how the BDSers’ claim that the boycotts target only institutions, not individuals, amounts to a distinction without a difference. In practice, any boycott with teeth amounts to a blacklist, which is anathema to all supporters of academic freedom. What Nelson makes clear in one of his essays is that to some BDS supporters, the sacrifice of academic freedom is not a problem. One pro-BDS Harvard undergraduate, Sandra Korn, was naïve enough to write in The Crimsonthat academics should jettison our “obsessive reliance” on academic freedom and instead pursue what she called “academic justice.” Whether such “justice” would permit the ostracism of a whole people, or who would determine the nature of that justice, was left unsaid.

Another powerful argument against an academic boycott is that it would foreclose the very channels for fostering the dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis that might promote mutual understanding and ultimately peace. One bright spot in the Middle East in the last two decades has been the number of cultural exchanges, projects involving students from both peoples, and other efforts to surmount the cultural assumptions that produce hostility and distrust. These range from Seeds of Peace, a well-known camp for Israeli, Egyptian, and Palestinian teenagers, to a new Israeli-Palestinian youth soccer league. Unfortunately, these essays reveal that any rapprochement between the warring parties through such programs is inimical to the goals of the BDS movement.

The radical logic of BDS is carefully explored by Emily Budick, professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who points out that unlike professional peace processors, who know that only a token number of Palestinian families dispossessed in 1948 will be able to return to their homes (though others would receive compensation), BDS insists on a complete “right of return” for all Palestinians. Such maximalism would mean the end of Israel as the Jewish homeland. BDS thus shares the position not of Mahmoud Abbas, who opposes BDS and who has conceded the need to compromise on the right of return, but rather of Hamas, which holds all of Israel to be illegitimate. As contributor Nancy Koppelman further notes, for BDS advocates, the thwarting of academic and cultural exchanges is not a regrettable side effect of the boycott but its very purpose. Increased contact between Palestinians and Israelis, especially in a scholarly setting, could encourage mutual understanding, which might mean that more Palestinians would grant legitimacy to Israel’s claims to nationhood. It must therefore be avoided.

In the near future, the academic boycott seems unlikely to gain much traction in the United States. But the essays in this book are still an important wake-up call to academics and non-academics alike. Among other things, they make clear that these campaigns have as their purpose something bigger than the boycott itself. They aim not simply to shift opinion but to delegitimize Israel. That effort is already making headway, especially among college students, younger voters, and people on the left.

There are good reasons for liberals and small-d democrats to fear this development. Most immediately, it will damage the prospects for peace by encouraging extremism on both sides, at an hour when both Israel and the Palestinians desperately need to demonstrate greater flexibility in negotiating. It may also alter the discourse in Washington, and in our public debate generally; the current pragmatic focus on how both sides can make concessions for peace could soon give way to a polarized dynamic, in which neither side allows any merit in the other’s position. Netanyahu’s cynical pre-election assertion in March that he wouldn’t allow a Palestinian state under current conditions—although “clarified” immediately after the election to mean that he still supported a two-state solution, just not at the moment—has already dashed hopes of progress until the next Israeli election. Meanwhile, Obama’s unstatesmanlike displays of contempt for Netanyahu have rendered it impossible to envision new peace talks until the next American election as well. At this moment of despair, the academy needs to be generating ideas that point to constructive compromise, not dogmatism.

With BDS gaining strength, the rancor between Netanyahu and Obama—and more generally between the Likud leadership and other Democratic officials—is bad news in another respect, too. Historically, the Democratic Party has been the single best vehicle for upholding a liberalism that embraces Zionism—for preserving a middle ground between the anti-imperial left, which questions Israel’s legitimacy altogether, and the illiberal right, in whose company Israel’s defenders hope not to have to take refuge. But Obama’s newfound rigidity toward Israel suggests a declining concern on his part with those pro-Israel liberals who supported him; seen alongside the increasingly anti-Israel tenor of left-liberal punditry, it makes one wonder how long the Democratic Party will remain committed to liberal Zionism. Here is where the BDS movement may have a long-term effect. Should the demonic picture of Israel now being propagated in the academy continue to be preached without significant rebuttal from liberal leaders, it could, within a generation, change the character of the Democratic Party. If so, the consequences would be baleful, for the party itself and for the elusive but necessary dream of peace in the Middle East.

Reprinted with Permission from Democracy Journal.


David Greenberg is a political historian at Rutgers University. He is a member of the Alliance for Academic Freedom, a liberal group of scholars devoted to protecting academic freedom and open discourse on all sides of the Israel-Palestine debate.

Two Controversial Professors

The AAUP—the American Association of University Professors—held its annual Conference on the State of Higher Education at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. June 10-14.  A few subway stops away, the Heartland Institute held its tenth International Conference on Climate Change at the Washington Court Hotel, June 11-12.  I suspect that I am the only person to attend both.

Both events dealt with the issues of academic and intellectual freedom.  Both focused on current threats to such freedoms.  Both pictured a world in which politically-motivated foes of free expression are using their wealth and power to silence legitimate dissent.

But, of course, these events were polar opposites.  The AAUP was gearing up to pass a resolution to censure the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for rescinding its offer of an academic appointment to Steven Salaita.  The Heartland Institute was championing the work of Dr. Willie Soon, the solar physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who came under attack by Greenpeace and the New York Times after he published an important article in Science Bulletin.

Both controversies have received ample coverage, though I think it is quite possible, even likely, that people who know a lot about one may not know a lot about the other.  A primer:

Steven Salaita. He was a tenured associate professor of English at Virginia Tech who in October 2013 received an offer for a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, contingent on the board of trustees’ approval.  On August 1, 2014, the university’s vice president of academic affairs and its chancellor wrote to Salaita informing him that they were not proceeding with the appointment.  Salaita appealed to the trustees who on September 10, 2014, voted 8 to 1 not to reconsider his appointment.  Salaita soon after filed a lawsuit which is on-going.

The reason that the university gave for withdrawing its offer of an academic appointment was that Salaita’s inflammatory public statements about Israel would hamper his ability to teach and the university’s ability to attract students, faculty and staff.  The president of the University of Illinois Robert Easter summarized this view when he asked the board not to approve Salaita’s appointment:

“Professor Salaita’s approach indicates that he would be incapable of fostering a classroom environment where conflicting opinions could be given equal consideration, regardless of the issue being discussed…I am also concerned that his irresponsible public statements would make it more difficult for the university … to attract the best and brightest students, faculty and staff.”

The decision created a furor and quickly drew the attention of the AAUP.

Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon. A plasma physicist, he has served as a non-tenured employee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics since 1991, where he previously did his post-doctoral work.  In 2003 Soon published a paper in Climate Research in which he argued that the 20th century was not the warmest in the last millennium.  The paper occasioned much controversy, and in 2011 Greenpeace using documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests attacked Soon for receiving over $1 million in funding from petroleum and coal interests.

In January 2014, Soon was the co-author on another paper, “Why Models Run Hot: Results from an Irreducibly Simple Climate Model,” which takes exception to the “consensus” climate models that predict significant global warming because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.  In February, directly following the publication of this paper, the Guardian and The New York Times making use of material provided by Greenpeace and “an allied group,” Climate Investigations Center, ran attacks on Soon for supposedly failing to disclose his sources of funding and for “conflicts of interest.”

Wishing Settlers Get Lost

The speech that gave rise to the University of Illinois’ action against Salaita consisted of his numerous statements on Twitter in 2014 that were, as Inside Higher Education put it, “deeply critical of Israel” to the point of striking some “as crossing the line into uncivil behavior.”  Perhaps the most famous of these was Salaita’s comment on June 19, after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped (but before they were found murdered), “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not:  I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”  Salaita’s rants have struck many readers as anti-Semitic, but he stoutly denies this. Salaita’s caustic and often extremely uncivil tone is not limited to his tweets.  Many of his reviews and his other academic writings are in a similar vein.

The scholarly paper that landed Soon on the front page of The New York Times and in many follow-up stories in the liberal media contains nothing rhetorical or demeaning.  It is a straightforward scientific argument. The abstract runs in part:

Between the pre-final and published drafts of the Fifth Assessment Report, IPCC cut its near-term warming projection substantially, substituting “expert assessment” for models’ near-term predictions. Yet its long-range predictions remain unaltered. The model indicates that IPCC’s reduction of the feedback sum from 1.9 to 1.5 W m−2 K−1 mandates a reduction from 3.2 to 2.2 K in its central climate-sensitivity estimate; that, since feedbacks are likely to be net-negative, a better estimate is 1.0 K; that there is no unrealized global warming in the pipeline; that global warming this century will be <1 K; and that combustion of all recoverable fossil fuels will cause <2.2 K global warming to equilibrium.

The text of the article itself continues in this vein.

One might think the effort to drum a senior physicist out of the academy through a campaign of public smears and innuendo would concern the AAUP at least as much as the decision by a university not to proceed with the appointment of an ardent polemicist. But that is not the case.

I was at the AAUP conference for two sessions devoted to the topic of academic freedom. Salaita was a major theme in one of the sessions—on “Social Media, Civility, and Free Expression on Campus”—and a secondary theme as the second session on “Versions of Academic Freedom.” Willie Soon was never mentioned, although at the end of the second session some audience members edged towards the topic.  A professor from Florida State University complained that the Koch Foundation is violating academic freedom by paying for some faculty positions in the economics department there.  And another member of the audience followed up by avowing that the Koch brothers are terrible people whose fossil-fuel riches are used in part to deny climate change!

‘Consensus’ Science

Climate Change conferees likewise had nothing to say about the travails of Steven Salaita, though here the parallel breaks down.  The Climate Change conference was not aimed at an all-embracing view of academic freedom.  It was focused on the specific contentions that a self-interested establishment is impeding the publication of accurate climate data, well-designed scientific research, and scrupulous economic analysis.  It was also focused on the ways in which reasoned debate and criticism of “consensus” science and regulation are being stymied.  Salaita was not relevant.

The Role of Civility

I have tried to strike a non-partisan tone in these descriptions but I don’t mean to imply that I am a neutral party.  I was invited to the AAUP event by my friend John K. Wilson, who has regularly asked me to AAUP events that I might enrich the conversation with some views that would probably otherwise go unvoiced.  This year my NAS colleague, Executive Director Ashley Thorne, also gave a talk in which she defended the ideal of “civility” as part of what we should expect in academic discourse.  Her fellow panelists and the audience were unpersuaded.

Civility to them is one of the masks that the powerful use to suppress free, creative, dissenting, and unorthodox ideas and speech.  For my part, I urged the idea that academic freedom is to be valued as the means by which the university encourages the pursuit of truth, and that the attempt to deploy the rhetoric of academic freedom as a cover for engaging in political advocacy is a misuse of the concept.  My fellow panelists and the audience also found little attraction in that approach. Pursuit of truth, it seems, is another mask that the powerful wear when they set out to suppress dissent.

At the Conference on Climate Change, the National Association of Scholars was the recipient of several enthusiastic endorsements from speakers who drew attention to our report, Sustainability:  Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism.  Our table full of handouts was emptied of everything we brought on the first morning.  And the Heartland Institute included a 12-page summary of our 260-page report in the bag of materials that all conferees received. Given that our report takes no stand at all on climate change,” this was a remarkably warm reception. All we did was call for universities to allow open debate that included skeptics of the climate “consensus.”

I find it hard not to be moved by the plight of Willie Soon and other scientists who have become, in effect, “enemies of the people,” for their determination to pursue research that runs against what the climate consensus establishment prefers. The canard that “97 percent” of climate scientists agree with the so-called consensus has been shown up as an artifact of shameless manipulation of the research record.  But no matter: it is repeated endlessly in an effort to make these non-conforming scientists look ignorant, silly, or corrupt.  They are, to the contrary, serious and seriously smart people who have also shown a certain measure of courage.

Science or Politics?

Whether their dissents are accurate will be determined in time to come.  If they are right, the climate consensus is a house of cards built more on political aspirations than on good science.  But, right or wrong, they deserved to be heard and do not deserve to be subject to the sort of ad hominin attack exemplified by what happened to Willie Soon.

So what are academic and intellectual freedom?  They aren’t quite the same thing.  Academic freedom is germane to the university where the disciplined pursuit of truth by rational inquiry and scrupulous examination of the evidence needs to prevail over all orthodoxies of opinion.  Academic freedom can only persist within a community that enforces on itself some degree of compunction about how things are said, including deference to the reality that no matter how strongly we believe in the validity of our own opinions, we may be mistaken and it behooves us to listen with respect to other views.  Intellectual freedom is broader than academic freedom.

It is germane to a free society where every individual ought to enjoy the right to make up his own mind about important questions and where manifestly false opinion or eccentric belief enjoys a wide zone of toleration.  We need not fall silent when confronted with views with which we disagree.  Neither academic freedom nor intellectual freedom entails indulging folly by saying nothing.  But we should never expect to throw someone in jail for an errant opinion or preempt their right to have their say.  If we choose to answer folly, we should do so with our own speech—which just may turn out to involve even greater folly.

The AAUP is celebrating the hundredth year of its founding declaration, its Statement of Principles, which remains one of the great documents in higher education.  Ironically, the AAUP has long since repudiated most of the Statement of Principles, which said all too much about the responsibilities of professors, the need for a scholarly spirit, temperate language, and staying within the guardrails of the professor’s actual expertise.  But no matter, the founding principles of the AAUP are still alive.  In D.C. last week, they were to be found just a few subway stops away.

A Setback for BDS

The movement to impose a boycott on Israeli universities, to get colleges to divest from Israeli companies, and to impose other sanctions on Israel—the BDS movement (boycott, divest and sanction)—was launched in 2005 by a collection of Palestinian organizations.  Over the last decade it has gathered significant support in American higher education, but the enthusiasm of some American academics for the cause didn’t attract much attention outside the academy until the vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) in December 2013 to join the boycott.

That vote shocked many who had not yet heard of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel.  The National Association of Scholars called on the ASA not to join the boycott.  And when the ASA went ahead with it, some colleges and universities responded by dropping their institutional memberships in it.  One consequence of the furor was a series of decisions by other scholarly associations, including the Modern Language Association, to reject proposals that they also join the boycott.

Since then, the BDS movement has been less prominent in American higher education but it has not gone away.  Last week the New School held a two-day conference, “Sanctions and Divestments:  Economic Weapons of Political and Social Change.”  Nimer Sultany, lecturer in public law at the University of London, who is Palestinian and one of the international leaders of the BDS movement, argued that BDS is a promising tool to advance the goal of returning “all Palestinian lands” to Palestinians and to “reverse Israeli colonization.”  Todd Gitlin, the 60s radical who is now the chairman of the Ph.D. program in Communications at Columbia University, opposed BDS on the grounds that its stated goal is “too broad.”

Vagueness generally helps the proponents of BDS.  At the New School event, Sultany refused to be pinned down as to what exactly its goal might be.  The eradication of Israel?  He wasn’t ruling it out, but neither did he own it.

This reticence about goals may help proponents of the movement to draw in supporters who feel sympathy with dispossessed Palestinians but haven’t thought very much about the implications of the movement’s broad claims.  When those claims come into sharper focus, campus support dwindles.

That lesson was displayed on May 2, when students at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine voted down a proposal to support the boycott. With 1,619 students voting, only 228 voted in favor of the boycott, and 1,144 voted against it. (247 abstained.)  The students showed collective wisdom, and in this case they were influenced by Bowdoin’s out-going president, Barry Mills, who in 2014 issued a strong statement rejecting the boycott movement.

The National Association of Scholars pays special attention to Bowdoin College.  Our 2013 study, What Does Bowdoin Teach?  How a Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students, picked out Bowdoin to serve as a representative institution—one that was small enough to study in depth, but also one whose strengths and weaknesses are widely shared by other elite liberal arts colleges.  In that vein, we took a critical view of the readiness of the Bowdoin administration and the students to embrace fashionable progressive causes.

In this case, however, Bowdoin has demonstrated a more thoughtful and deliberative side.

The idea of getting Bowdoin to boycott Israel had come up before.  Mills’s 2014 statement was a response to an earlier round of advocacy.  A new round began this spring and eventuated in a petition circulated in April by the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).   According to one of the group leaders, the goal wasto isolate parts of the Israeli state apparatus that are normalizing the maltreatment of Palestinians and abuses of their human rights.” The petition got enough student signatures for a student-body-wide referendum.  The success of the petition drive, however, alarmed other students who organized a counter campaign.

The Bowdoin Orient, the student newspaper, quoted students as saying that they didn’t know enough about the conflict in order to vote with a clear conscience.  This is noteworthy in that it means that students did not take the boycott as the default position.  They did not just assume that the case for the BDS movement was right.  Other students voiced more particular objections such as their preference for a two-state option.  Still others complained that the boycott “threatens academic freedom,” especially the “free exchange of ideas” about the conflict itself.

All of this is encouraging—encouraging that a college community that has often fallen into lockstep conformity on political issues and shown very little interest in allowing a diversity of opinions to flourish re-discovered the value of open debate.

It is especially encouraging because we are in a strange moment in American higher education:  a moment in which intellectual freedom seems terribly imperiled.  The rhetoric of “rape crisis”; the insistence that there is a “climate consensus” that obviates the need to hear from skeptics; the post-Ferguson hyping of the idea that America uses violence to maintain a racial hierarchy—these and many more pronouncements have fostered a campus climate across the country in which students congratulate themselves for shutting down discussion, dis-inviting speakers who might disagree with prevailing opinions, and attacking those few students who stray from the new orthodoxies. Intimidation is the hottest campus trend.

Bowdoin is far from immune to these disorders. It is not a place where intellectual freedom generally flourishes. But as we showed in What Does Bowdoin Teach? there is another, older, and better Bowdoin.  It is reassuring to see the college in this instance find its better self.  And if Bowdoin is indeed representative of elite higher education, perhaps the vote on May 2 is a sign of a broader recovery in American higher education. The BDS movement is an ugly retreat from academic and intellectual freedom. It is heartening to see it beaten back so decisively in a place where its proponents might well have expected an easy win.

The Education of Rachel Corrie

To predictable outrage among anti-Israel activists worldwide, a
Haifa court ruled Tuesday that former U.S. college student Rachel Corrie’s 2003
death was an accident. Corrie, a member of the fanatic International Solidarity
Movement, was in Gaza at the time, trying to obstruct the work of the Israeli
Defense Force; she was killed as she tried to act as a “human shield” by an IDF
bulldozer whose driver couldn’t see her. The judge used common sense, noting
that as the bulldozer moved toward her, “she did not move away as any
reasonable person would have done. But she chose to endanger herself . . . and
thus found her death.”

Corrie’s story subsequently became lionized by those eager to
demonize Israel; see Jamie Kirchick’s scathing review of the
one-person play based on Corrie’s writings as both a little girl and as a
college student. As Kirchick noted, the play’s attempt to tug at the audience’s
heartstrings unwittingly undermined its argument, since it showed that “Corrie never outgrew the naïve little schoolgirl. Corrie at
23 was just like Corrie at ten.”

This simple-mindedness was reflected in Corrie’s e-mails to her
family. A note that she sent to her mother at the time confirmed her ignorance
of international affairs; after accusing Israel of genocide, she wrote home to ask her mother to “look up the definition of
genocide according to international law,” whose meaning she admitted that she
could not recall. (“I really value words,” she added–though apparently not
enough to worry about whether what she said about Israel was accurate.)

If nothing else, sending such a poorly-trained student into a war
zone would constitute an indictment of the education that Corrie received,
especially since she was in Gaza while on break from Evergreen College. Evergreen,
however, seems to revel in the fact that its students will receive (at best) a
one-sided education on matters relating to Middle East international relations.
The college sponsors a “Rachel
Corrie Memorial Scholarship”
(to memorialize Corrie, the “community
activist”), which awards $2000 to an Evergreen
student “dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the Middle East and to
working locally or internationally to further Middle East peace.” Applicants,
according to the college, “must show how they will use their studies to promote
human rights and social justice through community activism and/or political
advocacy.”

What academic training does a Corrie Scholarship applicant
need? Work in such “areas of interest related to the Middle East” as “Arab
culture and Arabic language, US Policy in the Middle East, and peace, justice
and conflict resolution studies.” At Evergreen, learning about Israel
apparently isn’t essential to gain “a better understanding of the Middle East.”

Given what Evergreen does teach
about the Middle East, perhaps it’s better for its students simply to remain
ignorant about Israel. While she was at the college, Corrie could learn about Israel
through such one-sided offerings as “Seeking Justice:
Reclamation, Equality, and Restitution,” which contrasted Palestinian sources
with what the syllabus termed “Zionist/Israeli” documents; Israel, in this
sense, was recognized not as a sovereign state but merely a “Zionist” entity.
And
after her death, an Evergreen professor who had worked with Corrie named
Steve Niva published an op-ed
charging that his former student was “killed” as a foreseeable result of
Israeli security policies (in this instance, building a security barrier to
guard against Gaza smugglers). Niva, who shortly before Corrie’s death penned a
Counterpunch article implying
that former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon bore responsibility for the
Palestinians’ embrace of suicide-murder tactics, has made something of a career
in Corrie Studies; the Evergreen website notes that he served as a featured
speaker
at Oregon State during a “week-long run of the play ‘My Name is
Rachel Corrie,’ where he gave a talk entitled ‘Unlikely Icons: Rachel Corrie,
Palestine and the New Internationalism.'”

This past semester, Niva taught a course
on U.S. foreign policy
and the roots of terrorism, which purported to
ensure that students would “obtain a thorough
knowledge of current events” and “develop a thorough understanding of the
history of United States foreign policy in the Middle East.”

Evergreen, alas, has stopped
putting course syllabi on-line, so outsiders have to trust that Niva’s reading
list and course topics are fair.

“Pinkwashing” Comes to CUNY

In a region in which the laws of many countries punish homosexuality with lengthy criminal sentences or even death, Israel’s laws and history stand out. Indeed, by virtually any measurement, Israel’s gay rights record far exceeds that of the United States. Decades before the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, Israel had decriminalized homosexuality. During the nearly 20 years in which Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell led to the United States kicking thousands of homosexuals out of the armed services, gays and lesbians served openly in the Israel Defense Forces. In contrast to the laws of several U.S. states, Israel allows gay or lesbian couples to jointly adopt children. Same-sex couples can’t marry in Israel, but the state does extend legal recognition to marriages performed in other countries, something that DOMA prevents the federal government from doing even for U.S. couples married in states like Massachusetts.

Continue reading “Pinkwashing” Comes to CUNY

Defending Israel Creates a Hostile Environment on Campus?

In late February, student groups at UC San Diego, led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), introduced, for the third time, an initiative aimed at divesting university funds from “U.S. companies that profit from violent conflict and occupation.” This year, the divestment call was aimed specifically at General Electric and Northrop Grumman, firms that “produce parts of Apache helicopters used by the Israeli Defense Forces against Palestinians,” with the empty ambition that “by removing investments from companies who assist in perpetuating the violence in the area [supporters would be instrumental in] setting up a forum where peace is achievable.”
Like the two earlier divestment initiatives, the proposal was roundly defeated, this time in a 20-13 vote, stunning its supporters. These divestment campaigns are part of the ongoing effort by some activist members of the academic Left, joined happily by Islamists and other ideological enemies of Israel, to prolong and enhance the demonization–and eventually the elimination–of the Jewish state.

Continue reading Defending Israel Creates a Hostile Environment on Campus?

Addressing Anti-Israel Attitudes on Campus

The Kennedy School’s “One-State” conference provided only the latest reminder of the hostile on-campus attitude toward Israel. (Imagine the likelihood of any major campus hosting an allegedly academic conference ruminating about the destruction as a state of Iran, or Egypt, or Mexico.) In light of the conference and its controversy, it’s worth reviewing an excellent Tablet symposium, asking pro-Israel figures–mostly students, but also the David Project’s David Bernstein–along with a student representative of J Street about how to respond to the campus climate.

The symposium can be read in full here; I recommend it strongly. Two themes emerged the most strongly.

Continue reading Addressing Anti-Israel Attitudes on Campus

Unexpected Common Sense Erupts in Academe

The case of Julio Pino, the Kent State professor who shouted “death to Israel” at an address by an Israeli diplomat, has received a good deal of attention. In a rare, if commendable, instance of administrative courage, Kent State president Lester Lefton issued a statement condemning Pino’s behavior as “reprehensible, and an embarrassment to our university.” Lefton also noted that “we hope that our faculty will always model how best to combine passion for one’s position with respect for those with whom we disagree. Calling for the destruction of the state from which our guest comes (as do some of our students, faculty and community members) is a grotesque failure to model these values.”

Continue reading Unexpected Common Sense Erupts in Academe

Facing Down Anti-Semitism on Campus

At long last an attempt is bring made to curtail blatant anti-Semitic commentary on American campuses. The Israel Law Center warns that colleges and universities “may be liable for massive damage” if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism. The center sent hundreds of letters to university presidents drawing a line in the sand. This Israel civil rights center is carrying out this campaign in response to an alarming number of incidents against Jewish and Israeli students at U.S. universities.

A center’s lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said, “Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews.” A student at Rutgers, to cite one example, said he was called “a racist Zionist pig” in a Facebook posting. That comment was made when the student questioned a Student Assembly decision to donate money to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization with ties to the Holy Land Foundation, a foundation that has funded Hamas.

Continue reading Facing Down Anti-Semitism on Campus

Yale’s New, Neutered, Anti-Semitism Program

A few weeks ago, Yale announced that it had terminated the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-semitism (YIISA). The official version of events, according to university spokespersons, cited two reasons: (1) an alleged failure by Yale professors affiliated with the institute to produce a sufficient level of scholarship; and (2) an alleged lack of interest from Yale students in courses related to anti-Semitism. This official version always seemed a little dubious, since Yale refused to release the evaluation report on which it allegedly based its decision. Yale’s action drew condemnation from a host of Jewish groups, most prominently the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Very quickly, beginning with an op-ed from Abby Wisse Schachter, an alternative explanation emerged: that Yale had shuttered the program because YIISA events had explored anti-Semitism in the contemporary Arab world, a line of inquiry that runs perilously close to offending the campus politically correct (and potential Middle Eastern donors to Yale).

This alternative theory was (unintentionally) confirmed by Yale professor Jeffrey Alexander, a sociologist with no apparent research interest in anti-Semitism who nonetheless was appointed to the center’s faculty-governance committee. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Alexander believed that YIISA’s 2010 conference was insufficiently scholarly, and instead featured too many speakers eager “to dismiss public concerns with the Israeli government’s behavior,” especially “Israel’s military and settlement policies.” He urged closing the program immediately, rather than giving it a chance to reform.

Monday brought news that all but confirmed that Yale had acted against YIISA for political rather than scholarly reasons. Despite the alleged poor production of Yale scholars interested in anti-Semitism, and despite the alleged lack of interest of Yale students in courses on the topic, Yale announced that while YIISA would not rise again, the university had decided to establish a new interdisciplinary institute dealing with anti-Semitism. The Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism will begin work this fall, under the leadership of Maurice Samuels, a professor of French and author of Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France.

So what’s the difference between YIISA and the Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism? The New Yale Program, Samuels strongly implied, will avoid anything resembling the pro-Israel positions that so offended Alexander and like-minded colleagues. “Contemporary anti-Semitism,” he wrote in a statement supplied by Yale’s public-affairs office to the Chronicle, is best studied through an approach of placing “current events into historical context.” Yale’s official announcement also steered the new program heavily away from anything that might offend campus left-wingers eager to demonize Israel or to minimize the linkage between anti-Semitism and contemporary anti-Israel attitudes: “Professor Samuels and his colleagues have Yale’s remarkable library resources at their disposal, including the Fortunoff Video Archives of Holocaust Testimonies and the 95,000-volume Judaica collection of the Yale Library.”

Samuels’ program, of course, is better than nothing, especially if it is able to increase course offerings and research support to Yale students. But Yale’s handling of this affair, from start to finish, gives the lie to any claim of freedom of thought on the New Haven campus.

Yale Professor Deems Anti-Semitism Initiative Too Pro-Israel

Decisions about academic programs  rarely appear as the subject of op-eds in major newspapers. But  In today’s Washington Post, Walter Reich, a George Washington University professor and a member of the international academic board of advisors of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA), denounced Yale’s controversial decision to terminate the initiative.

Reich noted that quite beyond the importance of the topic–and the fact that only one other U.S. university (Indiana) has a similar interdisciplinary program–“the quality and output of the Yale institute have been superb and wide-ranging. The institute has attracted scholars from around the world to study anti-Semitism and to present papers; has numerous governance committees, most of them composed of eminent Yale faculty; and has an international academic board of advisers . . . from other universities.”

He suggested that outcry over YIISA’s 2010 conference–which was denounced for focusing on anti-Semitism in the Arab world–accounted for Yale’s decision.

Continue reading Yale Professor Deems Anti-Semitism Initiative Too Pro-Israel

Yale Eliminates Its Initiative Studying Anti-Semitism

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was established nearly five years ago, the fourth  university center  in the world devoted to the subject ( after the Technical University of Berlin, and Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University ) and the first in the United States. Now, in a surprise announcement, Yale is eliminating the center because it “failed to meet high standards for research and instruction,”  according to an official statement.

If so, why terminate the program, rather than give it a chance to improve? The decision followed what was deemed a negative review report, a document Yale has so far declined to release.”Yale is strongly committed to freedom of speech, which gives rise to a rich diversity of views on campus.” So spoke Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, rationalizing the university’s decision .Yet, as the disgraceful  OCR/DKE affair reveals, Yale is not “committed to freedom of speech,” strongly or otherwise. Why, then, did Rosenbluth elect to justify the YIISA decision by painting a misleading picture of the campus climate?

The decision has prompted an outcry from national Jewish organizations. The ADL’s Abraham Foxman correctly noted that “especially at a time when anti-Semitism continues to be virulent and anti-Israel parties treat any effort to address issues relating to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as illegitimate, Yale’s decision is particularly unfortunate and dismaying.” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris added that his organization “has been impressed by the level of scholarly discourse, the involvement of key faculty, and the initiative’s ability, through conferences and other programs, to bring a wide range of voices to the Yale campus,” and worried that “if Yale now leaves the field, it will create a very regrettable void.” Indeed, Rosenbluth herself had said, just last year, that YIISA was “guided by an outstanding group of scholars from all over the university representing many different disciplines.”

Continue reading Yale Eliminates Its Initiative Studying Anti-Semitism

The Elites Handle the Kushner Controversy

The controversy over Tony Kushner’s honorary degree is yet another reminder of how far from mainstream America our cultural elites are.  Support for Israel is extraordinarily high across the country (The American people sympathize more with Israel than with the Palestinians by 63 percent to 17 percent, according to Gallup) but that is not the case on our campuses, among the arts community or in the heavily PC mainstream media. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, thinks Kushner’s anti-Israel views “appear to have worked mostly as a condiment” in attracting honorary degrees:

Honoring him at commencement is a kind of PC trifecta: a prominent gay playwright; a writer who embodies a general disdain for traditional American values; and someone who reviles Israel–or who at least appears to, since Kushner now says he is “proudly identified as a Jew” and maintains “a passionate support for the continuous existence of the State of Israel.”
A single negative remark about Muslims, perhaps one uttered long ago, would likely eliminate anyone’s chances of getting an honorary degree from most colleges. But Kushner’s incendiary rhetoric about Israel is a non-factor that brings only yawns.
 
Stanley Fish makes the point that nothing much is at stake here. Despite all the declaiming about freedom of speech and dangerous McCarthyism, this is just an arbitrary honor by the criminal justice division (John Jay College) of The City University of New York. And as Fish says, in trustee discussions of honorary degrees, it is perfectly normal to consider political opinions of the potential honoree (“I remember political and ideological objections to some candidates, and in such cases the wisdom of consensus was invoked and contested candidacies were put to one side, perhaps to be revisited in another year.”) The trustees followed all the proper procedures. They just came to a conclusion that elite opinion didn’t like, so they had to be reversed. 
 
Unfortunately, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, the anti-Kushner trustee, has not been very articulate, but what seemed to disturb him most was a college honor for an anti-Israel celebrity at a time when anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) opinion seems to be rising on campuses around the country.
 
Maybe having a big mouth and some brutal opinions should not be enough to deny Kushner the award, but our elites were almost silent about the quotes cited in the flap–not even a few “Yes, buts”–as in, “yes, some of his opinions are crude and rank, but he can write,” for instance. Almost no one was ready to dissociate himself from the Kushner opinions, or even to discuss them.
 
The mainstream media apparently thought their primary task was to gang-tackle Wiesenfeld. The “About New York” column in the Times called him a “fixer” and strongly hinted that he had made money selling paroles. It’s hard to recall the Times working another interviewee over that way.  Wiesenfeld’s verbal stumbles were carefully detailed, including the insult to Palestinians, “People who worship death for their children are not human” (this drew the obvious “gotcha” comment from a New York Times reporter: “Did he mean the Palestinians aren’t human?”)  But the more startling Kushner insults were only hazily referred to. (Here are a few of the best: Israel is engaged in “a deliberate destruction of Palestinian culture and a systematic attempt to destroy the identity of the Palestinian people.” /”The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community and Israel itself has got this disgraceful record…Israel is a creation of the U.S., bought and paid for.”/And after the Matthew  Shepard murder: “Trent Lott endorses murder, of course, his party endorses murder, his party endorses discrimination against homosexuals and in doing so, it endorses the ritual slaughter of homosexuals.”)
 
Wiesenfeld apparently imagined that Kushner would distance himself from a few inflammatory opinions so the award could be approved. But he read the man incorrectly. Kushner seems proud of those opinions and the elites, officially very concerned about “hate speech,” don’t mind them at all.

CUNY Trustees Stand Up Against Faculty’s Anti-Israel Sentiments

Over the past year, it seems as if faculty at the City University of New York have done everything they can to make it seem as if hostility to Israel is the institutions official policy. First came Brooklyn Colleges decision to assign as the one and only required book for all incoming students a book penned by boycott-divestment-sanctions advocate Moustafa Bayoumi. The work contained such preposterous (and wholly unsupported) arguments as between 1987 and 2001, the U.S. government approach toward “Arab Americans” was “more often used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Then, to open spring term, Brooklyns Political Science Department assigned an M.A. class a graduate student who hadnt even passed his qualifying exams–but did possess the requisite wildly anti-Israel views. Then, to complete the trifecta, John Jays faculty wanted to confer an honorary degree on BDS backer Tony Kushner, who has remarked that “I can unambivalently say that I think that it’s a terrible historical problem that modern Israel came into existence.”

At this point, the CUNY trustees finally stepped in to put a stop to the nonsense. At the urging of Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who has a long record both of supporting excellence at the institution and of standing up to extremist voices among the faculty, the Trustees exercised their authority and overrode John Jays ill-considered decision.

As Wiesenfeld subsequently explained, I would no differently oppose a racist for an honorary degree who personifies himself by calumny against a people . . . An honorary degree is wholly within the absolute discretion of the board to grant. It identifies the University with accomplished, generous citizens or public figures. It is also a tool which highlights the University and enhances its image in the educational marketplace. Every year, there are candidates that some trustees may not particularly favor. We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right . . . No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any University — from far left or far right. Honorary degrees are public declarations of esteem by the university community conveyed to the honoree; for the university, they are image-building, advertising and publicity as well. The denial of the honorary degree to Mr. Kushner, despite his protestations, was a reflection of his long-held radical sentiments, which are a matter of indisputable and contextual public record. CUNY should remain a place of comfort and welcome for all of our students, faculty and administrators – including supporters of the Jewish State.

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Faculty Groupthink and Contempt for Israel

The hiring of former Brooklyn College adjunct Kristofer Petersen-Overton was quite extraordinary. Even though New York’s fiscal problems have led to a slashing of the adjunct budget for required, undergraduate Core classes, Brooklyn’s Political Science Department chose to assign an adjunct to teach a Masters’-level elective course, on Middle Eastern politics. And then, even though graduate-level classes in the humanities and social sciences are almost always taught by full-time faculty, the department inexplicably hired to teach the class a second -year Ph.D. student (at the CUNY Graduate Center, Ph.D. students generally take their oral exams in their third year, so the student almost certainly hadn’t even completed his required coursework).

It’s hard to escape the likelihood that a department known for its close ties to the anti-Israel leadership of the CUNY faculty union hired Petersen-Overton because of his extremist views on Israel-related matters (he has, for instance, accused Israel of “colonial genocide,” and his website boasts of his close ties to “activists” in the West Bank and Gaza). Petersen-Overton certainly wasn’t assigned to teach an M.A. course because he possessed the educational credentials to do so.

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Anti-Apartheid Week – 1

How About A Real Campaign Against Abuses?
IAW_2010poster_Toronto.jpgEvery year at about this time, radical Islamic students—aided by radical anti-Israel professors—hold an event they call “Israel Apartheid Week.” During this week, they try to persuade students on campuses around the world to demonize Israel as an apartheid regime. Most students seem to ignore the rantings of these extremists, but some naive students seem to take them seriously. Some pro-Israel and Jewish students claim that they are intimidated when they try to respond to these untruths. As one who strongly opposes any censorship, my solution is to fight bad speech with good speech, lies with truth and educational malpractice with real education.
Accordingly, I support a “Middle East Apartheid Education Week” to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first.” In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.
Under this principle, the first country studied would be Saudi Arabia. That tyrannical kingdom practices gender apartheid to an extreme, relegating women to an extremely low status. Indeed, a prominent Saudi Imam recently issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who advocates women working alongside men or otherwise compromises with absolute gender apartheid is subject to execution. The Saudis also practice apartheid based on sexual orientation, executing and imprisoning gay and lesbian Saudis. Finally, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid. It has special roads for “Muslims only.” It discriminates against Christians, refusing them the right to practice their religion openly. And needless to say, it doesn’t allow Jews the right to live in Saudi Arabia, to own property or even (with limited exceptions) to enter the country. Now that’s apartheid with a vengeance.

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How Is Yiddish Doing?

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On 2 December 2009 the curtain of Harvard’s famed Agassiz Theater rose on a production of Avrom Goldfaden’s Shulamis, one of the most famous plays in the Yiddish repertoire. An operetta set in the Land of Israel in late biblical times, it was last performed in Warsaw in 1939, and forcibly shut down by the German invasion of September 1. To stage the current production its co-directors, Debra Caplan, a Harvard graduate student of Yiddish and Cecilia Raker, an undergraduate concentrator in drama, assembled a cast willing to learn their parts in a language most of them had never heard. The directors kept all the musical numbers in the original Yiddish and used a new English translation for the dialogue, adding dancers to the production to compensate for the verbal delights an English audience would miss.
Of the dozen plays I had studied with these students in a course on Yiddish drama, Shulamis was by no means the most obviously appealing to contemporary taste. Its theme is trustworthiness: a young man Absolom neglects the vow of marriage he made to the rustic Shulamis, who endures bitter years of waiting until he repents the alliance he made instead and returns to her. Beneath the intricacies of the love story throbs the Jewish national motif of keeping faith with covenant. What most intrigued the student-directors was the moral and psychological fallout of such faithfulness: How do we account for the suffering of the woman Absolom marries, and for the death of their two infant children in apparent retribution for his sin? When Absolom leaves his wife and fulfils his promise, can an audience forgive him as fully as Shulamis does, and is the reconciliation at the final curtain really meant to erase the effects of those intervening years? The excitement generated by such questions among cast, musicians, technical crew, and among scholars and graduate students invited to participate in an intercollegiate symposium on the play seemed to bear out the website’s claim for “a resurgence of interest in Yiddish among young people.”
Much of that interest is currently stimulated by institutions of higher learning, like Columbia, NYU, the Jewish Theological Seminary, Stanford, Emory, Brandeis, and universities of Indiana, Michigan, Albany, and Texas, all of which offer programs in Yiddish. Harvard’s current cohort of eight PhD candidates in Yiddish is its largest and liveliest since the inception of the program in 1993. Yet the field of Yiddish is hardly stable. The University of Maryland has just announced that it may drop its Yiddish position as a cost-saving device, sacrificing an apparently marginal subject—one unlikely to figure prominently in the college ratings of US News and World Report. The news from Baltimore generated anxiety in what had until recently been the expanding sphere of Yiddish studies. Comings and goings of faculty sometimes determine the status of the language, since many university positions in Jewish Studies are open ended, and shift their priorities according to the specialty of the person hired.

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An Anti-Israel Campus Conference?

Every now and then an American university sponsors a conference on Israel and Palestine that appears to be an open and fair-minded event, but turns out to be a one-sided anti-Israel rally. Wesleyan University, for example, sponsored one such conference in 2004, with much anti-Semitic commentary and some printed material covered in swastikas.
The Toronto Globe & Mail reported today that a government minister has been called on to resign for challenging the public funding of an Israel-Palestine conference in Toronto last June sponsored by York and Queens Universities. After a peer review approved the meeting, science minister Gary Goodyear called for a second review in response to Jewish complaints. The minister’s chief of staff warned the agency that funds social-science research that it could lose a chance to increase its federal funding if the conference went on. That comment was attacked by the Canadian Association of University Teachers as a violation of academic freedom. Jim Turk, head of the CAUT, called for the minister’s resignation.
Two Jewish groups saw the matter differently. “The conference devoted virtually no time to suggestions about a reinvigorated peace process and concentrated instead on Israel as a military machine determined to dominate the Palestinians,” said a statement by the UJA Federation and the Canada-Israel Committee. “There were no speakers who presented an Israeli centre-left or centre-right perspective… Speakers who defended Zionism were often jeered and hackled and virtually all of the publicly available material was anti-Israel.” If the conference was in effect a government-funded anti-Israel rally, an appeal based on the principle of academic freedom seems unusually lame.

Massad Got Tenure (Don’t Tell Anyone)

Fourteen Columbia professors are protesting the university’s apparent decision to award tenure to Joseph A. Massad, a controversial anti-Israel professor of Arab studies.
The professors are from the schools of law, business and public health. They expressed their concern in a five-page letter to the incoming Provost, Claude M. Steele. The letter asserts that the university’s decision to guarantee Massad a life-time teaching post “appears to have violated” Columbia’s own rules, thus raising profound questions about the university’s academic integrity. The university’s administration, weirdly, still refuses to confirm or deny that Massad won tenure, but yesterday the Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department let the cat out of the bag—it announced a beginning-of-term party next week congratulating Massad on gaining tenure.
This week Provost Steele belatedly issued a polite, noncommittal response. In a four-paragraph “Dear Colleagues” letter to the fourteen professors, Steele, a former Stanford psychologist, says he would “welcome” a meeting to discuss their concerns. After he learns more about Columbia’s tenure process, Steele writes, he may “want to make some changes in our procedures.” But nowhere does he state that Massad has, in fact, been awarded tenure. Nor does he acknowledge that the professors raise deeply troubling concerns, that if true, go to the heart of what many regard as the core of a university’s integrity.

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Erasing Israel At York University

Those who suspect that “Middle Eastern studies” is actually a code word for anti-Israel advocacy have some new evidence to support their position: an entire academic conference scheduled for this week at York University in Toronto that appears to be entirely devoted to the idea of erasing the state of Israel from the map. The conference, scheduled to run from June 22 through June 24, is titled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Prospects for Peace.”
Yet the overwhelming majority of the 44 speakers scheduled to read papers, many of whom are not professional scholars (and of those who are, many are not experts in the Middle East but rather in law, film, medicine, and other fields) have only one “model of statehood” in mind for the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean: a single, putatively secular political entity that would encompass all of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights and in which Jews would be vastly outnumbered by Muslim Arabs and the Jewish identity of the land in which they live would be annihilated. The conference is jointly sponsored by York, Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and a Canadian government entity, the Social Sciences and Humanities Council, which helped fund the conference with a grant of nearly $20,000.
To get an idea of the one-sided ideological thrust of the conference, you need only click to its website, which prominently features two maps, on neither of which the state of Israel (or any other political entity west of the Jordan) is demarcated or otherwise identified. One of the maps features a zipper, presumably a symbol of a successful effort to stitch up the boundaries of the various contested lands, but it functions visually in a different way: to portray Israel as visually swallowed up.

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Moderating The AAUP And MLA?

At its annual meeting, the American Association of University Professors declined to vote to criticize Israel, yet voted to condemn Iran. In December, the MLA rejected a statement defending critics of Israel and replaced it with a much-milder statement defending contentious Middle East research. They also resisted condemning Ward Churchill’s firing, and instead only objected to the manner in which his investigation was carried out. What’s next? An admission that David Horowitz might occasionally have a point?

No, something more nuanced seems underway, at least in the AAUP—a prudential retrenchment away from outre pronouncements to focus on more practical, yet still contentious, and undoubtedly political work.

The AAUP vote on Iran condemned the government’s policy of denying higher education to those of the Baha’i faith. A resolution condemning Israeli policies that have prevented students in Gaza from leaving to attend to their studies was returned to the AAUP committee for review. Critics questioned why Israel was being targeted when countless states have similar restrictions on travel and education in place.

The AAUP also voted to oppose loyalty oaths and state proposals that equated intelligent design with traditional science—understandable in each case. Another vote opposed state efforts to permit the extension of concealed carry permits to university campuses.

Now, on balance this all does seem consciously more moderate than we’ve come to expect, but when the AAUP begins to congratulate itself for its foreign policy heterodoxy it’s difficult not to grow suspicious. Inside Higher Ed reported “When the AAUP ventured into foreign policy, its votes could prove surprising for association critic David Horowitz, as Cary Nelson, the AAUP president noted.” The Iran vote, centered on Baha’i students, isn’t especially surprising, nor, in fact, is their delayed action on the Israel question. After all, in 2005, the AAUP condemned the British Association of University Teachers’ academic boycott of Israel. Yet it seems undeniable that there’s a new awareness within the organization, and others, of the harm that nakedly political declarations can provide.

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Columbia’s Mistake of the Week

Columbia University enhanced its Israel-hating reputation by naming John Coatsworth as the new dean of its School of International and Public Affairs. The university has so many full-time detractors of Israel on its payroll that one would think an opportunity to name at least a moderate to the deanship would be overwhelming.

Coatsworth signed a petition in 2002 calling on Harvard and MIT to divest from Israel and from American companies selling arms to Israel. Columbia’s disappointing president, Lee Bollinger, called the divestment movement “grotesque,” but apparently he does not regard it as grotesque enough to appoint a better dean than Coatsworth. It was Coatsworth who played the major role in inviting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia, a move that Bollinger supported and then finessed by delivering a coarse attack on the Iranian before he had a chance to speak. This allowed Bollinger to place himself where he very much likes to be – on both sides of a controversial issue. Coatsworth, on the other hand, bulls straight ahead whenever he can. Defending the invitation to Ahmadinejad, he foolishly went on television to announce that he would have invited Hitler to speak at Columbia too.

Like most America-hating Americans, Coatsworth has been a strong fan of Fidel Castro, insisting that Cuba has been a mostly benign nation under his leadership, although it “prosecutes and harasses some dissenters.” That would include journalists, librarians and more than 100,000 others. Columbia gets worse and worse under its weak president.

One More Disaster At Columbia

Does a radical and viciously anti-Semitic professor deserve to get an award named for the great Lionel Trilling? Columbia University apparently thinks so. Its 2008 Trilling award will go to associate professor Joseph Massad for his book, Desiring Arabs. Trilling was an outstanding scholar known for his humanity and his liberalism. Massad is a hater who once claimed in class, according to a student witness, that the slaughter of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics had been perpetrated by the Israelis.

The prize, bestowed by the Columbia College student council and the Academic Awards Committee, honors a book “deemed to best exhibit the standards of intellect and scholarship found in Lionel Trilling’s work.” Like many awards, this one is a very political act aimed at restoring some lost luster to an idolized radical who has come under justified fire.

Nat Hentoff called Massad “one of the more fervently biased professors in the Middle East studies department,” a keenly competed for designation at Columbia. Massad is one of the professors accused of demanding of one Israeli student, “How many Palestinians did you kill today?” At a Columbia forum in 2005, he used the phrase “racist Israeli state” more than two dozen times and argued that Arafat was in effect an Israeli collaborator for even talking about compromise. Massad was the central figure in the 2005 controversy over student charges of anti-Israel bias and intimidation by pro-Palestinian professors in their classes. The students produced Columbia Unbecoming, a film about the behavior of middle eastern professors. Makers of the film said individual professors were “using their positions to promote a narrow political agenda that clashes with free and open inquiry.” A committee named to investigate the charges turned out a bland report hailed as “thoughtful and comprehensive” by Columbia president Lee Bollinger, but dismissed as a political whitewash by Hentoff, among others. This prize is yet another setback for seriousness at Columbia.