Why Some Israeli Professors Feel They Are the Victims of an Old-Fashioned Witch Hunt





Mr. Gordon teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University and is currently a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley’s Human Rights and Middle East Centers. He is the editor of From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, and can be reached at neve_gordon@yahoo.com

“Are you a donor to Israeli universities?” the anonymous writer asks.

“Learn what is happening on Israeli campuses. Be informed about what is being done with your gifts and generosity.” These are the opening lines to a preposterous and dangerous new website called Israel Academia Monitor.

Presenting itself as a human rights movement of sorts, it declares that its aim is to bring to light abuses of academic freedom. Its nameless perpetrators consider themselves to be not only defenders of free speech but anti-McCarthyist campaigners.

The McCarthyists here are Israeli professors like myself who are critical of Israel’s rights-abusive policies while being inspired by a deep concern for Israel’s population and the occupied Palestinians. Apparently, our offense against free speech is that we do not allow zealous nationalists to voice their views – an absurd allegation considering that for some years now the balance of power within Israel has been tilted firmly towards the right.

At first sight only a twisted logic augmented by historical ignorance could draw a parallel between relatively powerless academics and those well orchestrated, government sanctioned redbaiters of 1950s USA. Indeed, the Monitor’s instigators would have failed introductory courses of both logic and twentieth century history. In this corner of cyberspace, the law of contradiction – that antithetical P and not-P cannot be true simultaneously – ceases to exist, allowing the site to intimate that donors should boycott all universities that employ professors who criticize state policies while at the same time denouncing those who favor a boycott of Israeli institutions.

But in reality, those behind the Monitor are accusing Israeli academics of McCarthyism in order to deflect criticism from the web inquisitors themselves as they set about exploiting fear.

The site is a bathetic attempt to copy Campus Watch, which was launched in 2002 to police and discipline those U.S. university professors who criticize their country’s policies in the Middle East and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Campus Watch is closely connected to the academic journal Middle East Quarterly and to the Middle East Forum, a right-wing think tank whose members have access to the Bush Administration. Supporting this neo-con apparatus are numerous donors with deep pockets.

The Monitor dedicates a page to each major Israeli university, listing “extremist professors” who, in the words of the anonymous press release, promote “insurrection and lawbreaking” as well as “seditious” behavior.

These academics are accused of collaborating with “anti-Semites and enemies of Israel” and supporting “lawlessness and terror.” An innocent reader could be forgiven for thinking that Hamas terrorist cells led by rogue professors are currently operating within Israeli universities, preparing students for the Jihad.

The Monitor might have been just a tasteless joke if the times were not ripe for this kind of witch-hunt, if it were not symptomatic of a more general and ominous mood informed by a nationalistic and sectarian frenzy.

The site’s authors encourage students and scholars to pass on information about suspect professors. They promise to publish incriminating material. The goal, it seems, is to influence hiring and tenure decisions in order to purge Israeli universities of those who dare question the state, or, at least, silence them.

This assault, however, is not only aimed at academic freedom but at democracy itself. For the danger confronting contemporary democracy is not some new wave of overt authoritarianism, as it was in the early and mid-twentieth century. It is not even terrorism. Rather, the danger comes from those for whom the freedoms that accompany democracy represent a threat, an obstacle to their uninhibited pursuit of dominance and wealth.

Like its forerunner Campus Watch, Israel Academia Monitor is indicative of the much broader attempt to silence all those who confront the powers that be.



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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Campus Watch sounds vaguely fascistic, but mainly vague. If they are so honest and straightfoward about their agenda, why the vagueness ? Why not Citizens for a Greater Israel or some more truthful exposition of their position ?


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/14/2005

Don,
With respect, I think what much of this comes down to is that you do not agree with the worldview advanced by CW and therefore are trying to claim that its efforts are somehow illegitimate. If CW resorted to armed violence, or advocated violence against some professor somewhere, than I would join in your condemnation. If its positions were so radical as to include almost any sensible scholar (for example, if it advocated terrorism as a virtue and condemned all professors who disagreed), than I would share in your disgust.

As it stands, from what I have seen, CW is a legitimate attempt to hold professors accountable to views that CW and many others consider to be extreme and unscholarly and unworthy of being taught in an academic environment. You may disagree with the ideological positions of CW, and argue that it has taken certain quotes or interviews, or articles out of context. However, that does not mean that there is anything inappropriate or sinister in their actions.


Don Williams - 1/14/2005

Look at the stated goals of Campus Watch:
(Ref: http://www.campus-watch.org/about.php )
a) Goal 1:
------------------
"Engage in an informed, serious, and constructive critique that will spur professors to make improvements. We look forward to the day when scholars of the Middle East provide studies on relevant topics, an honest appraisal of sensitive issues, a mainstream education of the young, a healthy debate in the classroom, and sensible policy guidance in a time of war. "
<< My translation: Doesn't Campus Watch looks forward to the day when it has browbeaten professors into adopting it's world view and policy positions? If it was serious about a "constructive critique" it would provide something other than screaming ad hominems and cries of outrage that some professors --including Jewish professors -- are trying to inform the US voters about facts that Fox News has largely ignored and failed to report. >>
---------------
B) Goal 2:
"Alert university stakeholders (administrators, alumni, trustees, regents, parents of students, state/provincial and federal legislators) to the problems in Middle East studies and encourage them to address existing problems. We challenge these stakeholders to take back their universities, and not passively to accept the mistakes, extremism, intolerance, apologetics, and abuse when these occur."
<< My translation: Is "extremism" any opinion Campus Watch doesn't agree with? Is "Intolerance" refusal to accept Campus Watch's idea that Campus Watch defines reality? Is "apologetics" is the introduction of major facts that Campus Watch would prefer be kept quiet because such facts shows to the extent to which George Bush and the neocons have lied to the American people?. Does The way to accomplish this goal consist of throwing enough mud at the professors to browbeat them into silence with the threat of suffering damage to their livelihood?

Doesn't Campus Watch --by its own admission --hope to incite university "stakeholders" into exerting financial and employment coercion against those professors it attacks? >>


Brennan Stout - 1/14/2005

"If an organization publishes material that is repeatedly false , misleading, and deceptive; should it be treated with any respect? Does anyone here think that the cited Campus Watch article is an honest depiction of Beinin?"

Is the information published by Campus Watch false? Is it misleading? Is it deceptive?

I think the CW article is an honest depiction. Certainly the full details are more complex and you should read the citations to fully understand. You've probably already done that. I would think you'd have to in order to question its veracity.

"Since when does a university professor have the money to fight a prolonged libel suit against an organization with wealthy allies? Especially since Campus Watch could argue that Beinin's statements make him a public figure?"

Since when does it take a libel suit to defend your viewpoints? If one is an academic I would think it would be easier for them to defend their viewpoints for they probably do it almost every day. The other reason why libel suits are not filed is the discovery period. It's a trap. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the public could learn more about people through the discovery period?


N. Friedman - 1/14/2005

Don,

"There is a difference between a debate based on facts and unfounded slurs -- between McCarthyite progaganda/smears and honest debate."

None of this has anything remotely to do with McCarthy or McCarthism. Recall, McCarthy was a Senator. He used his position as part of the government to ruin people's lives and to scare people.

By contrast, CW includes articles, many from third party sites, that comment on various professors and includes CW's opinions about the merits of various scholars.

In truth, the careers of the professors mentioned are in no way placed in jeopardy by anything CW does. Moreover, the freedom of action of such professors is in no way harmed by CW. And writing by those who are commented about by CW continues unabated.

I suggest you visit the bookstore or look on Amazon.com. There is no shortage of excellent apologia for the Islamic countries, for the Arabs, for the Palestinians, etc., etc.

Lastly, if, in fact, CW commits liable, the legal system is equipped to handle it and, if there were any real harm, there would be sufficient damages for an attorney to take the case on a contingent fee. My bet is that little of the disagreements among scholars (including websites like CW which appear intended to guide the public the best and the worst of this and that topic) amounts to liable.

Much a'do about nothing.


N. Friedman - 1/14/2005

Don,

"There is a difference between a debate based on facts and unfounded slurs -- between McCarthyite progaganda/smears and honest debate."

None of this has anything remotely to do with McCarthy or McCarthism. Recall, McCarthy was a Senator. He used his position as part of the government to ruin people's lives and to scare people.

By contrast, CW includes articles, many from third party sites, that comment on various professors and includes CW's opinions about the merits of various scholars.

In truth, the careers of the professors mentioned are in no way placed in jeopardy by anything CW does. Moreover, the freedom of action of such professors is in no way harmed by CW. And writing by those who are commented about by CW continues unabated.

I suggest you visit the bookstore or look on Amazon.com. There is no shortage of excellent apologia for the Islamic countries, for the Arabs, for the Palestinians, etc., etc.

Lastly, if, in fact, CW commits liable, the legal system is equipped to handle it and, if there were any real harm, there would be sufficient damages for an attorney to take the case on a contingent fee. My bet is that little of the disagreements among scholars (including websites like CW which appear intended to guide the public the best and the worst of this and that topic) amounts to liable.

Much a'do about nothing.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/13/2005

Don,
I took your suggestion and read the CW article. It is clearly hostile to Beinin’s views, and it is written in editorial style, making no effort to engage in neutrality. However, the article itself was well documented, citing 74 footnotes based on Beinin’s research, published articles, interviews he had done, and interviews between the author and his students. Whether the citations are accurate or not, anyone is free to investigate, but assuming they are, I find nothing inherently wrong with the piece, other than its disrespectful tone and obvious use of rather petty insults directed against Beinin.

You say that all you get from the article is that “he has opinions different from” Campus Watch. Of course. Was there anything else the article was trying to suggest? It was an editorial written on a website that does not disguise its intentions. It is not as if the website is claiming neutrality and hides its agenda.

I agree with your statement that “Middle Eastern policy is a major issue for America and there can be many opinions based on the facts. All views, right and left, should be heard.” However, I have not heard any evidence that CW has been “fundamentally dishonest , a scoundrel , and a con artist” (assuming that this was your implication).

I have recently been made aware of a site called http://ratemyprofessor.com and others like it. These sites are no different from CW in their principles. In today’s world os internet and the world wide web, there is a lot of information that people are free to disseminate. Given made web sites out there that rely on factually wrong data, and outright lies, I find little to no harm in something like CW, a site that I had never even heard of before reading about it on HNN.


Don Williams - 1/13/2005

It seems to me that Campus Watch does not discuss facts --but rather engages in prolonged rants and smears with little supporting evidence.

Look at it's profile of Stanford's Joel Beinin at
http://www.campus-watch.org/article/id/1472 . If this is
the way they speak of a Jewish American, I'd hate to see their profile of a Muslim.

Can anyone go through this prolonged attack and point out any real facts provided by Campus Watch??-- other than the info on Beinin's degrees and childhood?

I could understand it if Campus Watch took one of Beinin's articles and critiqued it by showing where Ebinin had made false statements --and supported their critique with citations and facts.

But all I get from this page is that Campus Watch doesn't like Beinin because he has opinions different from theirs. All I see is a lot of extremely negative judgements containing so little content I have a hard time determining what Beinin has actually said.

There is a difference between a debate based on facts and unfounded slurs -- between McCarthyite progaganda/smears and honest debate.

If an organization publishes material that is repeatedly false , misleading, and deceptive; should it be treated with any respect? Does anyone here think that the cited Campus Watch article is an honest depiction of Beinin?

Since when does a university professor have the money to fight a prolonged libel suit against an organization with wealthy allies? Especially since Campus Watch could argue that Beinin's statements make him a public figure?

Middle Eastern policy is a major issue for America and there can be many opinions based on the facts. All views, right and left, should be heard. But there are certain basic rules for honest discourse. If Someone shows themselves to be fundamentally dishonest , a scoundrel , and a con artist ; then they should be denounced and banned from the forum, not humored and tolerated.


Brennan Stout - 1/13/2005

If I subtract the classroom, subtract the students and subtract the publicly financed facilities, what prohibits the academic from expressing their views?

Mr. Gordon's argument rests on the protected status of academia. They, by historical precedence, are elevated as a class above any other group short of the endowed wealthy. What I derive from this article is that Mr. Gordon is comfortable with his current surroundings and wishes they not be amended. If they must, the last variable he wants affecting the solution is his critics.

Life would be a lot easier if I could walk in Mr. Gordon's shoes. At home I am accountable to my family. At work I am accountable to my employer. Everywhere I am accountable to the rule of law. Why would the academic be any different than the waste management worker?

Man has built his own house for centuries to control his own destiny. What is Mr. Gordon's prohibition?


Brennan Stout - 1/13/2005

Yes.

Neve explains everything you need to know in one paragraph.

"This assault, however, is not only aimed at academic freedom but at democracy itself. For the danger confronting contemporary democracy is not some new wave of overt authoritarianism, as it was in the early and mid-twentieth century. It is not even terrorism. Rather, the danger comes from those for whom the freedoms that accompany democracy represent a threat, an obstacle to their uninhibited pursuit of dominance and wealth."

Neve explains that wealth and dominance are the intentions of some, but not all. Campus Watch and Isreali Academic Monitor are two examples of the some. At issue for Neve is that the voices of the opposition may be more formidable than originally imagined.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/12/2005

John,
Excellent points. I would agree with those addendums to me original position.


John H. Lederer - 1/11/2005

Adam,

I agree with two reservations (and the reservations apply to others than academics):

a) That the views be reasonably fairly presented. Anyone who teaches often takes contrary positions for the sake of argument ("Alright, they are nazi martians with unlimited resources and want to build a society of anarchist worms, would you still contend....")

b) The hazy line that protects the personal be protected. A law professor's views on abortion are fair game; his views on his daughter's abortion are not.

With those caveats, let the sun shine.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 1/11/2005

I am not sure who is the “protected minority” in this situation, but the article and others like it raise some important questions about the role of technology in spreading information about college faculty in any country.

The question is, if the information is factually correct (and let us assume for the moment that it is, since if it is not, the solution would be as easy as suing for libel) is it immoral to advertise it on a website in an effort to discredit the academic?

Unfortunately, this debate often descends into a debate over the subject matter (in this case, Israel) rather than the larger moral question.

Those who argue that it is immoral tend to believe that exposing academics views is tantamount to a “witch-hunt” or attempts at “censorship.” I don’t buy it. It does seem fair to say that it is in fact an attempt to influence what teachers actually teach about a particular issue. Is there a reasonable expectation of confidentiality when a professor says something in the classroom? I am of the opinion that the answer is no. While the current rise in these websites that monitor teachers is unfortunate and regrettable in my opinion, and does hinder rather than help the learning environment overall, I believe that there is really no way to seriously challenge or change it. Like obscenity in movies and on television, the cure would be worse than the disease (as well as unenforceable).

So long as academics have an avenue to protest, such as libel laws or counter web-sites, I see nothing in these that would cause me reason to fear free speech or any other freedom, quite the contrary.


William E Shannon - 1/11/2005

...that thou shalt not speak ill of Israel.
Talk about a protected minority! Geez!


John H. Lederer - 1/10/2005

What is the claimed wrong here? That someone disagrees with someone else? That the assertions are wrong? That speech is being used to try to influence people?

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