[News] Academic Witchhunts in Israel

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 16 12:13:02 EST 2009


November 16, 2009

Academic Witchhunts in Israel

Campus Watch Copy Cats


in Nazareth.

Right-wing groups in Israel want to create a 
climate of fear among left-wing scholars at 
Israeli universities by emulating the 
“witch-hunt” tactics of the US academic 
monitoring group Campus Watch, Israeli professors warn.

The watchdog groups IsraCampus and Israel 
Academia Monitor are believed to be stepping up 
their campaigns after the recent publication in a 
US newspaper of an Israeli professor’s call to boycott Israel.

Both groups have been alerting the universities’ 
external donors, mostly US Jews, to what they 
describe as “subversive” professors as a way to 
bring pressure to bear on university 
administrations to sanction faculty staff who are critical of Israeli policies.

“I have no hesitation in calling this a 
McCarthyite campaign,” said David Newman, a 
politics professor at Ben Gurion University, in 
Israel’s southern city of Beersheva. “What they are doing is very dangerous.”

Last month, in what appeared to be a new tactic, 
IsraCampus placed a full-page advertisement in an 
official diary issued to students at Haifa 
University, urging them to visit its website to 
see a “rogues’ gallery” of 100 Israeli scholars 
the group deems an “academic fifth column”.

“The goal is to transform our students into spies 
in the classroom to gather 
information and intimidate us,” a senior Israeli 
lecturer said. “It’s a model of ‘policing’ 
faculty staff that has been very successful in 
stifling academic freedom in the US.”

Both Israel Academia Monitor, established in 
2004, and the later IsraCampus, model themselves 
on Campus Watch, a US organisation founded by 
Daniel Pipes, an academic closely identified with 
the US neoconservative movement.

Campus Watch has been widely accused of 
intimidating US scholars who have expressed views 
critical of US and Israeli policies in the Middle 
East. The organisation’s goal, according to 
critics, is to pressure US universities to avoid 
hiring left-wing lecturers or awarding them tenure.

The advertisement placed by IsraCampus, and seen 
by Haifa University students as they returned 
from their summer break, warned that a number of 
their professors “openly support terrorist 
attacks against Jews, initiate an international 
boycott of Israel, exploit their status in the 
classroom for anti-Israeli incitement and 
anti-Zionist brainwashing, collaborate with known 
 who publicly call for Israel’s destruction”.

Publication of the advert was supported by the 
head of Haifa’s student union, Felix Koritney: 
“Students who study here need to know who their 
lecturers are, and if there are lecturers who 
oppose the state of Israel it is important to publish their names.”

In a statement, Haifa University officials also 
defended the advetisement – after receiving a 
complaint from a student who called the 
advertisement incitement – justifying it on the grounds of “freedom of speech”.

IsraCampus is associated with Steven Plaut, an 
economics professor at Haifa University, who was 
reported to have paid for the advertisement. On 
the group’s site and on his personal blog, Mr 
Plaut has lambasted many Israeli left-wing academics.

IsraCampus and Israel Academia Monitor have 
targeted professors for criticising the 
occupation, joining protests against Israel’s 
separation wall, signing petitions or attending 
conferences critical of Israel, defending the UN 
report of Judge Richard Goldstone on last 
winter’s attack on Gaza, or calling for a boycott of Israel.

Both groups have focused their efforts on the 
staff at Ben Gurion and Haifa universities, two 
regional campuses that have attracted more outspoken dissidents.

Ilan Pappe, a former history professor at Haifa 
University and the author of The Ethnic Cleansing 
of Palestine, admitted he abandoned his academic 
career in Israel and relocated to the UK after a campaign of vilification.

But, according to Mr Newman, Ben Gurion 
University had become the groups’ “public enemy 
No 1” after publication by Neve Gordon, a 
colleague of Mr Newman, of an article in the Los 
Angeles Times calling for a boycott of Israel.

Despite having tenure, observers say, Mr Gordon 
has come under increasing pressure from the 
university to resign his position as chair of the 
university’s politics department over his published views.

Rivka Carmi, president of Ben Gurion University, 
issued a statement shortly after Mr Gordon’s 
article was printed, condemning his opinions as 
“morally repugnant” and warning that he was 
“welcome to search for a personal and professional home elsewhere”.

Dana Barnett, founder of Israel Academia Monitor, 
has launched a petition demanding that Mr Gordon 
be sacked from his position as chair, that his 
courses be treated as elective rather than 
compulsory for his students, and that he be denied travel and research funding.

Mr Newman said decisions about hiring and 
retaining staff at Ben Gurion were still being 
taken on academic grounds but that the monitoring 
groups were seeking to change that by calling for 
donor boycotts of universities seen to be harbouring anti-Zionist professors.

Yaakov Dayan, the Israeli consul in Los Angeles, 
sent a letter to Ben Gurion University after 
publication of Mr Gordon’s article, warning that 
private benefactors “were unanimous in 
threatening to withhold their donations to your institution”.

Although the universities are chiefly backed by 
government money, external donations account for 
about five per cent of their funding. With 
universities struggling with large debts, 
donations can be seen as leverage over the universities.

Mr Newman said the monitoring groups hoped to 
redirect donations to right-wing academic 
institutions and think tanks, such as the Shalem 
Centre in Jerusalem, whose founding president is 
the US neoconservative scholar Martin Kramer, and 
Ariel College, located in a West Bank settlement near Nablus.

On his website, Mr Plaut credited IsraCampus with 
forcing Tel Aviv University last week to 
investigate claims by one of its professors, Nira 
Hativa, that some right-wing students were afraid 
to speak out in class because of fears that they 
would be penalised by their lecturers.

Under questioning from the Haaretz newspaper, Ms 
Hativa admitted that her allegations were based 
only on “intuition and personal impressions”.

Both IsraCampus and Israel Academia Monitor have 
been incensed by the support offered to Mr 
Gordon’s call for a boycott of Israel by a small number of Israeli academics.

One such professor, Anat Matar, who teaches 
philosophy at Tel Aviv University, said the 
atmosphere both within the universities and more 
widely in Israeli society was changing rapidly 
and becoming increasingly “intolerant” of 
dissent. “We’ve become a little more fascistic as a society,” she said.

Mr Plaut has been at the centre of a libel battle 
with Mr Gordon since 2002 after he called him a 
“Judenrat wannabe” – a reference to Jewish collaborators with the Nazis.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in 
Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and 
the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair” 
(Zed Books). His website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in 
The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

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