The Vigilante Thought Police
by Will Youmans
A Philadelphia-based pro-Israeli organization with the seemingly innocuous name, the Middle East Forum, began a website to monitor US college campuses for academic pro-Palestinian bias and happenings. Campus-Watch (http://www.campus-watch.org) publishes dossiers on professors, as well as some examples of their writings.
It describes itself as a group of "highly qualified American academics that have banded together in defense of US interests on campus, which includes the continued support of Israel." This statement is misleading since all the content of the website centers on criticism of Israel and concerns no other supposed "US interest." That would be like the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC stating as its mission "to bring more American support for the countries of the world, including Israel."
Part of "the problem" they are confronting is that sectors of academia "reject the enduring policies of the U.S. government." How odd, professors disagreeing with the government? I thought academics were supposed to be hired based on the extent of their agreement with the government!
While the website dresses their monitoring as a purely academic exercise, it generates hostile phone calls and e-mails to listed professors and their families, as a profiled academic told me. Not only is this website inflammatory, but it clearly seeks to bring political pressure to bear on the professors and institutions. Under the guise of keeping the public informed, they are trying to force professors who do not share their unquestioning support for Israel to be silent.
It does not engage their views in an attempt to change their minds; it merely offers a public file on individuals and institutions. The Middle East Forum seeks to create such a backlash that will force them into keeping their opinions to themselves.
Campus-Watch encourages students to snitch on their professors. It has a whole section dedicated to student reports. Campus-Watch is essentially forming a paramilitary thought police, a private TIPS program for pro-Israeli advocates.
What the site omits is more interesting than its transparent goal to quiet public expression of support for the Palestinian cause. .
Oddly, it only has 8 professors and 14 institutions profiled right now. This is a miniscule proportion given that over 400 faculty members have signed petitions calling for divestment from Israel at the University of California, Princeton, Harvard, and M.I.T. Even one of the founders, Martin Kramer, admitted to the Chronicle of Higher Education that "the list [of professors] is actually too short."
The brevity of the list of dossiers is intentional in order to isolate the few chosen ones and depict them as anomalies. The list is not short because each dossier requires difficult research. These are essentially Google dossiers, and would involve about 15 minutes of labor. The point is not to substantiate criticism of the given professor's work, but to lay out the targets for pressure. If they find that Campus-Watch is successful, they will be strategic and calculating about who and when they add dossiers.
After Snehal Shingavi announced his class on "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," the University received several thousand calls, e-mails and letters. Donors also withheld their contributions. What Campus-Watch seeks to do is to arm and direct similar campaigns. A list of even half of the Palestinian sympathizers on campuses would present academic institution lobbyists with too broad of a base to start with.
Interestingly, none of the featured professors are recognizably Jewish, while some of the most prominent critics of Israel are. The majority of the faculty they aim to expose are of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. I suspect that Campus-Watch is engaging in a bit of race-baiting. This complements the stereotype that critics of Israel are foreigners and anti-Semitic, and that support for Israel is in "US interests." Including dossiers on Jewish professors such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelsetin, and Joel Beinin would be inconsistent with the site's insinuations.
Despite the fear the targeted professors and their families now have to face from the organized hostility this site invites, there is something I like about it. It proves that academic freedom and debate are not particularly valued at the Middle East Forum and by the pro-Israeli zealots who are accustomed to their opponents having no institutionalized avenues of expression in this country. They are responding like the spoiled child whose candy has been taken away.
Why are they so afraid of differing opinions that they must file and chronicle those who hold them? This is a response to their insecurity in the midst of a gradual withering away of the efficacy of Israel's propaganda. I feel bad for the crusading defenders of Israel, they have no factual basis for their positions, so they have to resort to these kind of low tactics.
What can activists do about this cyber-idiocy?
Activists should inundate the site with reports. Our goal should be to have more information, more professors, more institutions. Every utterance of criticism of Israel should be sent to them. First, they may not be able to handle to flow of information logistically speaking. Second, if they actually add more information it will undermine their project. If many professors are on there, it may actually become apparent that there are some independent logical and moral bases for their positions, despite the dismissive tone of the website.
Professors should send dossier information to them and ask to be included. It not only will show solidarity with those who are profiled, but it will give proof that they are trying to focus pressure on certain targets rather than do what their mission states.
For now, I am pursuing my own activism against it. I decided to infiltrate this program. I am going to submit several reports to Campus-Watch, under different aliases, that show how stupid and uninformed their efforts are (I am using fake names since one day I hope to have my own dossier).
"I agree wholeheartedly with the fact that bias in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a huge problem in the academy. Even worse, many outrageously one-sided academics have worked their way through the revolving doors that connect campuses, think-tanks, and the government. I want to report several individuals whose unflinching partisanship, combined with their positions of influence, make them detrimental to the prospects of Middle East Peace:
Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, is a former professor at Johns Hopkins University. He spoke last April at a pro-Israeli rally in Washington DC. There he declared that "we stand with you (Israel) in this time of trial." He is publicly and privately in the hands of the pro-Israeli lobby.
Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's third-highest official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy and Richard Perle, Chief of the Defense Policy Board are also ardently pro-Israeli. In 1996, Richard Perle was an Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration, Feith was his Special Counsel. They wrote a paper suggesting that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu 'break from the peace process.' They argued that Israel has a right to all of the land. This position interestingly, was more extreme than that of most Israelis.
This is the truly dangerous academic bias because it affects directly US policy. It is essential to note that since there are no countervailing voices in the government; there is no meaningful debate. That cannot possibly be in the US's interest, which according to your website, is what you really care about, right?
Michael Francisco, New York"
"I want to report several professors dead and alive who are virulent haters of Israel. Something must be done to combat their legacy and counter their stupidity and academic dishonesty:
Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein wrote in an op-ed in 1948 that condemned one of the pre-cursors to the Likud party, which current Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon belongs to. They wrote, That this party is "closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties. It was formed out of the membership and following of the former Irgun Zvai Leumi, a terrorist, right-wing, chauvinist organization in Palestine." They accused then future Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin's party of committing a massacre at Deir Yassin where allegedly 240 civilians died.
Noam Chomsky, the world famous Linguist and professor at M.I.T. is an outspoken of American policies, including its unending support for Israel.
Though Gandhi was not technically a professor, he had much input into the formation of Indian universities. In 1938, he wrote that "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs... Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home." Need I say more?
Ahad Ha'am, the founder of Hebrew University, criticized the ideological progenitors of Israel, the Zionists. They wanted exclusively Jewish political control and power over the land of Palestine. He wanted a Jewish cultural presence only. While they said Palestine is a "land without people for a people without land," he noted that there were indeed native inhabitants. Thus, according to that crazy old man, it was already a land with people. As a result, he wanted to "prepare the people for the land, not the land for the people." Campus-Watch should create a dossier for an anti-Israeli fanatic for this anti-Israeli fanatic without a dossier.
In 1949, the famed Philosopher Martin Buber told Israel's first Prime Minister that "we will have to face the reality that Israel is neither innocent, nor redemptive. And that in its creation, and expansion; we as Jews, have caused what we historically have suffered; a refugee population in Diaspora.
We must address anti-Israeli bias in the past as well as the present since the intellectual legacies of these so-called academics is very much alive. Can you believe we actually study some of these people's work and lives?
Thank you, Stan Carbunkle, Youngstown, Ohio"
"Today in my sociology class Professor Nick Johnson said that there are 'two-sides to every issue, including the Israel-Palestinian conflict.' This rejects the position of the government and most reasonable Americans, who know there is only one-side, Israel's, and it is the right one. I did a search for Professor Johnson in Google and found a letter to the editor he published in the Boise Daily Bugle in 1997. He wrote that 'the Arabs have a long and proud history.' These disturbingly anti-Israeli statements must be reported.
Fred Russell, Boise State University"
Will Youmans is a 3rd year law student at UC-Berkeley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org