Campus Watch in the Media
Web Site Fuels Debate on Campus Anti-Semitism
by Tamar Levin
A Web site started last week by a pro-Israel research and policy group, citing eight professors and 14 universities for their views on Palestinian rights or political Islam, has opened a new chapter in a growing debate over campus anti-Semitism.
In a show of solidarity with those named on the Web site, nearly 100 outraged professors nationwide — Jews and non-Jews, English professors and Middle East specialists — have responded to the site by asking to be added to the list.
The Web site, Campus Watch (www.campus-watch.org), with "dossiers" on individuals and institutions and requests for further submissions, is a project of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, whose director, Daniel Pipes, has long argued that Americans have not paid sufficient attention to the dangers of political Islam.
The professors who were named include two from Columbia, Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Massad, and one each from Berkeley, Georgetown, Northeastern, the University of Michigan, the State University of New York at Binghamton and the University of Chicago. Those named have differing interests, and differing academic status: John Esposito of Georgetown, for example, is interested primarily in political Islam, and considered a leading scholar in the field, whereas some others are young professors known mostly for criticizing Israel.
The appearance of the Web site, just a day after Harvard's president, Lawrence H. Summers, made a widely publicized speech on campus anti-Semitism, is another indication of the tensions on campuses over the developments in the Middle East.
Some of those who asked to be added to the site said they were showing solidarity in opposing what they see as an assault on academic freedom. Others were more interested in showing that mainstream Middle Eastern scholars shared the views criticized on the Web site.
Mr. Pipes said the Web site was no threat to free speech. "We're engaged in a battle over ideas," he said. "To bring in this notion of academic freedom is nonsense. No one is interfering with their right to say anything they want."
The response from Judith Butler, a comparative literature professor at Berkeley, circulated on the Internet, providing boilerplate for many other professors: "I have recently learned that your organization is compiling dossiers on professors at U.S. academic institutions who oppose the Israeli occupation and its brutality, actively support Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as a more informed and intelligent view of Islam than is currently represented in the U.S. media. I would be enormously honored to be counted among those who actively hold these positions and would like to be included in the list of those who are struggling for justice."
Those named on the site said they were heartened by the support.
"It's a new genre springing up, and I'm especially glad that it includes Jewish scholars," said Professor Dabashi, who heads Columbia's department of Middle Eastern and Asian language and cultures. "This is about McCarthyism, freedom of expression. It's very important that it not be made into a Jewish-Muslim kind of thing. I am most concerned for my Jewish students, that they might feel that they shouldn't take my class, that the atmosphere would be intimidating, or that they couldn't express their opinions."
He and others named on the site have been deluged with negative e-mails.
Many academics see Campus Watch as an effort to chill free speech about the Middle East, and are particularly perturbed by the "Keep Us Informed" section, inviting the submission of "reports on Middle East-related scholarship, lectures, classes, demonstrations and other activities" — in other words, they say, inviting students to turn in their professors.
"It's that whole mode of terror by association, with the cold war language of dossiers, and we're watching you," said Ammiel Alcalay, a Hebrew professor at Queens College. "It's not so intimidating for people like me, with tenure, but it makes graduate students and untenured professors very nervous, and makes it even harder to talk about Israel."
Mr. Pipes said he had hoped the Web site would inspire new dialogue on Middle Eastern policy.
"We weren't trying to rile people," he said. "For me, 'dossier' was just a French word for file. Maybe that word could be changed, if it is obscuring our argument, which is that Middle Eastern studies at most universities present only one interpretation, a left-leaning one that offers only groupthink on the subject of terrorism and intolerance."
He said the site was getting 3,500 hits a day, and had received hundreds of negative responses, including about 88 from academics asking to be added to the list — a reaction he took as further evidence that the field of Middle Eastern studies is monopolized by one viewpoint.
Many academics say that Campus Watch has added to a sense that those in the field of Middle East studies are under siege.
"Last year, Martin Kramer wrote a book arguing against federal funding for Middle Eastern studies in universities, and that scared people," said Lisa Anderson, dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, and soon to be head of the Middle East Studies Association. "Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer are part of the same group. Meanwhile, there's concern that the rhetoric around the Arab-Israel conflict is becoming increasingly associated with anti-Semitic sentiments, and that's scaring people too."
The universities on the Campus Watch site include Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, New York University and Berkeley, and others less prominent, where Middle Eastern tensions have erupted, including Concordia College in Montreal, where a recent fracas forced the cancellation of a speech by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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