Rattling the Cage: Blacklist at the university
This Jewish movement for academic freedom at the universities is full of surprises. I used to think it was about Jewish students standing up to Arab professors who wouldn't let any but the most rabid, one-sided anti-Israeli remarks be made in their classes. At least that was the impression I got from the way the news of the long-running controversy at Columbia was being reported here.
But this week I read F. David Hornik's op-ed "Radical oasis in the Negev" in the Post, and now I see that the cause isn't just to win freedom of speech for Jewish or pro-Israeli students – it's also to shut left-wing, anti-Zionist professors up.
Hornik attributes several harsh, anti-Israeli quotes to a half-dozen radical Ben-Gurion University professors – incidentally, two of the quotes were later found never to have been made by the people named – and then he urges BGU's donors and prospective students to draw the right conclusions.
"Even if academic freedom is construed as being unbound by minimal notions of truth or loyalty, this should not prevent donors from conditioning their contributions carefully, and potential students and their parents from taking heed."
The Web site he recommends to readers, Israel-Academia-Monitor.com, includes a long list of left-wing professors – including Zionists, even Orthodox Jewish Zionists – not only from BGU, but from all six Israeli universities.
It opens: "ARE YOU A DONOR TO ISRAELI UNIVERSITIES? Learn about what is happening on Israeli campuses. Be informed about what is being done with your gifts and generosity."
Be informed – then condition your contributions carefully.
This is what's called a blacklist.
BGU hasn't lost any contributions yet because of the campaign, which has been going on for over a year on a number of far-Right Jewish Web sites. But it has been put on the defensive, forced to explain to numerous donors, mainly Americans, that Israeli professors range from hard Right to hard Left, and that to freeze out the few anti-Zionists, even those who favor divestment as a tool to end the occupation, would taint the university with the spirit of political correctness.
A couple of years ago about 40 professors at that same "radical oasis in the Negev" signed a petition to bar Yossi Beilin from speaking on campus. A totally anti-democratic, disgraceful attempt – but nobody suggested telling liberal donors to stop their contributions to BGU.
I have no doubt that upwards of 95% of Israeli Jewish professors at this country's universities are Zionists; the Jewish state will not collapse if place is also made at the universities for the handful of anti-Zionists.
But you do have to draw the line on academic freedom somewhere, don't you? Absolutely. I would never want to see anybody teaching in an Israeli university – or in any university anywhere – who had come to propagate a creed of "death to the Jews," for instance, or "death to the Arabs."
But the statements Hornik attributes to the BGU leftists – that Israel is practicing "state terrorism on a scale we have not seen before," or carrying out "symbolic genocide" with the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin – should not get anybody hounded into silence or out of a job.
Such remarks are nothing compared to what any number of Jews (and Christians) publicize all day, every day about the Arabs; has any donor ever cut off his contributions to a university because some Jewish professor there accused Arabs of state terrorism or symbolic genocide – or worse?
ASK YOURSELF: What would we say of an Arab campaign to publicize the strident, anti-Arab political statements of certain professors overseas in the hope of persuading donors to stop giving money to the universities where they teach?
Yet that's the menacing approach the Jewish movement for academic freedom is taking up – and not only in Israel, but, from what I gather, at Columbia too.
The impression in Israel and among American Jewry is that Columbia, as Natan Sharansky put it, is one of many "islands of anti-Semitism" among US campuses. The university's image is that it's filled with Arab professors preaching hatred and violence against Israel and Jews, that Jewish students are being intimidated into silence, and that the fight against this academic al-Qaida cell is yet another front in the "war on terror."
A group of Jewish alumni threatened to cut off their financial support unless "free speech" was restored. Brooklyn Congressman Anthony Weiner demanded that one of the two main "villains" in the piece, Prof. Joseph Massad, be fired.
In recent weeks, though, the situation has gone from unhealthy to toxic. Joel Klein, head of the New York City public school system, announced that the other supposed heavy in the Columbia saga, Prof. Rashid Khalidi, can no longer take part in a lecture series to city school teachers on the Middle East.
Overall, my sense is that there is an element of truth to the charge made by several Columbia Jewish students that some left-wing Arab professors create an atmosphere in class that intimidates students out of saying a word in Israel's favor, lest they be attacked as defenders of brutality, genocide or whatever.
The professors cited have denied the charge, but the students making it aren't all right-wing crazies, and they're backed up by honorable liberals such as Nat Hentoff, so I think there's something there.
But the students' cause has been distorted grotesquely by the Jewish Right, which in this case includes the State of Israel, whose ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon, cancelled out of a conference at Columbia because of all the American Jewish outcry.
The upshot is that some innocent Arab professors are being hurt in this campaign. Guess who Khalidi's chief defender is – Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, America's preeminent liberal Zionist. Hertzberg, who once taught a course in Zionism and Palestinian nationalism with Khalidi, described him in New York's Jewish Week as "a solid and serious academic... his personal politics were no more offensive than mine."
Ari Goldman, the observant Jew who is dean of students at Columbia's School of Journalism, told The New York Times: "In this feeding frenzy for finding culprits, [Khalidi] sort of got lumped in with the others, and it's been unfair to him."
A recent, in-depth article in The Forward titled, "Columbia students say firestorm blurs campus reality," portrays a "paradise" for Jews – a university bearing no resemblance to the one conjured up by eager combatants such as Alan Dershowitz, Daniel Pipes and Sharansky.
"A feeding frenzy to find culprits." It's happening there and it's happening here, too – at Ben-Gurion University and every other university in Israel.
The worst culprits, the biggest heavies in this story, are some very illiberal Jews in the US and Israel. The Jewish "silent majority," meanwhile, is much too ready to believe what they say.
So if there are Jewish liberals out there who have joined that silent majority, and I think there are masses of them, this would be a good time for them to speak up.
Jewish liberals shouldn't be silent when a blacklist has been drawn up, when a feeding frenzy, a witch-hunt is going on.
Comments from Jpost:
Sir, - In his Op-Ed, "The Negev's Radical Oasis," (Feb. 28), David Hornik raised a serious issue, one which author Aharon Megged summed up in his famous letter of June, 1994: that prominent members of Israel's intelligentsia identify morally and emotionally "with people committed to our annihilation; people who openly declare their intention to expel us from this land."
Should the existence of the Jewish state be up for discussion? How certain professors use their academic freedom to delegitimize the State of Israel is a matter of concern. They may express themselves as they please, but those who disagree must challenge them in the free marketplace of ideas.
A discussion of Ben Gurion University's impressive contributions in other fields is beside the point, as is any mention of "McCarthyism."
Freedom to object
Sir, - In his op-ed "Blacklist at the university," Larry Derfner quotes this sentence from my op-ed "Radical oasis in the Negev": "Even if academic freedom is construed as being unbound by minimal notions of truth or loyalty, this should not prevent donors from conditioning their contributions carefully, and potential students and their parents from taking heed."
Much as Derfner resorts to words like "blacklist" and "witch-hunt," there is nothing in that quote, nor anywhere else in my article, that can be construed as attempting to silence academics or limit their freedom. If academics at taxpayer- and donor-supported universities are free to call Israel a fascist, genocidal state, work to have it ostracized and boycotted, and demand that it be dissolved, then taxpayers are free to object publicly, donors are free to get more careful about their donations, and students and their parents are free to question whether they desire such an "education."
The only one with an urge to silence anyone appears to be Derfner, who doesn't like the fact that concerned Israelis and Jews are making others aware of the vicious things being said against the Jewish people and their country at universities like Ben-Gurion and Columbia.
P. DAVID HORNIK