“Essay on being accused of being an anti-Israel professor” | Inside Higher Ed

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.

Essay on being accused of being an anti-Israel professor | InsideHigherEd.

 academic freedom

History News Network | Conservatives go after UCLA’s historian James Gelvin

Does anyone else find this disturbing? An organization called Campus Watch audits the courses of professors who teach in the area of Middle Eastern studies to ensure that they align with their pro-Israeli perspective. On their website they claim that their organization “reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. The project mainly addresses five problems: analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics, and the abuse of power over students. Campus Watch fully respects the freedom of speech of those it debates while insisting on its own freedom to comment on their words and deeds.” A review of their activities show that they are only perpetuating the “problems” they profess to be fighting against. While they do have the right to free speech their efforts to harass professors with views that are different from their own goes beyond their right to criticize those they disagree with. It is a very dangerous trend that I believe does not actually serve their real purpose (promote Israel as innocent of all wrong doing). James Gelvin, professor of history at ACLU, is their latest victim. One of Campus Watch’s representatives, Cinnamon Stillwell, attacked Gelvin in an article entitled “UCLA Prof Assigns Pro-Israel Book in Order to Trash It.” In one of his courses, Gelvin had required his students to read Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel in order to critique it. Stillwell claims that this critique was not extended to other assigned material. But Gelvin pointed out that he also assigned a book with the opposite perspective and that “the assignment explicitly states that significant errors from both books must be cited, critiqued, and corrected.” For the full debate go to:

History News Network | Conservatives go after UCLA’s historian James Gelvin.

The goals and practices of Campus Watch go beyond the right to free speech, it amounts to harassment with the goal of stamping out all view points on campuses across America that do not conform to their ideological viewpoint. I believe that this trend is dangerous to not only to academic freedom but also to the prospects of peace in the Middle East. It serves only to perpetuate hatred and undermines any real attempts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

palistinian isreali conflict