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Israel Academia Monitor Academic witch-hunt or a digital defence?
Academic witch-hunt or a digital defence? 1

Steven Plaut
Published: 17 December 2004

Does the monitoring of left-wing Israeli scholars help or hinder
democracy? Neve Gordon sees danger, Steven Plaut a watchdog
A new spectre is haunting the far-left fever swamps that fester in certain
corners of Israeli universities. Israel Academia Monitor, like its
American cousin Campus Watch, has begun recording the more outrageous
words of academic extremists.
The US website has long been controversial for publishing some of the
loopier statements of faculty members who pose as Middle East "experts".
Campus Watch has outraged members of the academic left wing, who denounce it for its "McCarthyism". Now the Israeli Academia Monitor
(www.israel-academia-monitor.com) has aroused similar outrage and
Of course, critics of the Israeli academic left have been attacked for
some time. David Newman, professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion
University, complained in The Times Higher in April about right-wing
McCarthyists attempting to suppress academic "diversity". This from a man
whose department does not include one non-leftist.
Free speech is indeed what the hysteria is all about.
The attacks on both the Monitor and Campus Watch come from people who
insist on the right to endorse terrorist attacks against Jews, demand the
annihilation of Israel and use their podiums to impose their extremist
political agenda on their hapless students.
All of this, they claim, is within the rubric of free speech and academic
freedom. But then they try to silence those people who criticise them.
Those being xxxxxxxxed by the website watchdogs complain that it is an
attempt to deny them free speech. Poppycock! These websites are just
collections of direct citations published by the extremists in question.
True, the Monitor expresses the desire for donors to the universities to
review the material and make their views heard regarding the political
misbehaviour of faculty members. What is wrong with donors also having the
freedom of expression?
No one is denying academic freedom to the extremists, even though there
are serious questions as to whether their words always fall within the
bounds of what should be legitimately protected, especially in a time of
war against annihilation by Arab fascism. Oswald Mosley was not granted an
academic lectureship as a celebration of free speech when Winston
Churchill was Prime Minister during the Second World War.
And I doubt there are any European countries in which an open Holocaust
denier could hold a university post.
So academic freedom does seem to have its boundaries.
But this is not even on the agenda in Israel. Despite laws against open
endorsement of terrorist violence and racism, no leftist has ever been
indicted under such legislation.
Many of the left-wing extremists on Israeli campuses have embarrassing
academic records, consisting of little more than political propaganda
misrepresented as scholarly research.
Yet they stay in the system thanks to the political solidarity of other
academic leftists.
Let us be clear. Israeli campus extremists have never had their free
speech curtailed.
But there is a difference between affirming their rights to academic
freedom and insisting that others have to foot the bills for their
Israeli universities are all, with one exception, state financed, with
foreign donors covering what the taxpayer does not.
Both parties have the right to demand accountability and resist being
coerced into financing sedition and radicalism.
Those university departments that wish to functio'n as leftist propaganda
machines are free to secede and operate independently without taxpayer
Steven Plaut is professor of economics at Haifa University. He writes in a
personal capacity.


Academic witch-hunt or a digital defence? 2

Neve Gordon
Published: 17 December 2004

Does the monitoring of left-wing Israeli scholars help or hinder
democracy? Neve Gordon sees danger, Steven Plaut a watchdog
"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 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 such as myself who are
critical of Israel's rights-abusive policies while being inspired by a
deep concern for Israel's population and Palestinians whose homelands are
Apparently, our offence 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 red-baiters of Fifties America.
Indeed, the Monitor's instigators would have failed introductory courses
of both logic and 20th-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 criticise state policies while at the same time denouncing
those who favour a boycott of Israeli institutions.
But in reality, those behind the Monitor are accusing Israeli academics of
McCarthyism 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 US university academics who criticised
their country's policies in the Middle East and Israel's occupation.
It dedicates a page to each major Israeli university, listing "extremist
professors" who promote "insurrection and lawbreaking" and collaborate
with "anti-Semites and enemies of Israel".
An innocent reader could be forgiven for thinking that Hamas terrorist
cells led by rogue professors were 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, to purge
Israeli universities of those who dare question the state.
This assault, however, is aimed not only 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-20th 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
Neve Gordon is professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University and is a
visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley.

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