Jonathan Judaken is just the latest victim in a concerted effort by a well-organized group united in defense of Israel. I have written on this topic several times (Pro-Israeli Groups Continue their Assault on Academic Freedom and Conservatives go after UCLA’s historian James Gelvin). It is a troubling trend that threatens academic freedom and the progress that flows from it.
Judaken opens with an explanation of his situation: “Let me tell you how I ended up on Jihad Watch. This is a tale of the new red scare wending its way across college campuses. More than an account of my own travails, this is an anatomy of how critical thought about Islam and Judaism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim racism is today monitored in the academy with the goal of chilling reflection.”
I noticed a common theme in the comments section. (Of course, going to the comments section of any online forum is a bit like going to the Twilight Zone. You enter at your own risk.) Many of the commenters accused Judaken of being the McCarthyites, not the minions of Campus Watch. The strategy of flipping an argument on its head as a way of taking down your opponent is not new. It has proven to be an effective strategy on the right. Someone calls you a racist, you respond by claiming that they are the real racist. Someone calls you intolerant, you respond by calling them intolerant, and so on.
The problem with their argument is that they fail to make the appropriate distinction between McCarthyism and criticism. What McCarthy did was attempt to silence people that he disagreed with through intimidation and bullying tactics, not debate. Judaken was not trying to silence those associated with the Middle East Forum and Campus Watch, but expose what they were doing. And the analogy is appropriate because they use the tactics of intimidation to bully those in academia whose account of Middle East history does not agree with theirs (the Israeli government is always innocent and anyone who says otherwise is an anti-Semite).
What Caschetta did was not criticism for the purpose of advancing the debate, but an intentional distortion of Judaken’s lecture and intentions. The Middle East Forum was founded to promote a particular ideology. And the way they have chosen to further that ideology is through intimidation, not academic debate. The academic world is built on the principle of debate and criticism. This is what fuels progress in all academic fields of knowledge. If the real goal of Campus Watch was the advancement of knowledge, there are multiple avenues available to critique Judaken’s position in a constructive and professional manner. Every academic has to face criticism as they engage in their own field. This is not the kind of criticism that Caschetta engaged in. He intentionally distorted Judaken’s lecture as a way to intimidate him. This was the way of McCarthy, and therefore the label is apt in the case of Campus Watch, but not the other way around.