Middle East studies in the News
Yale's Next Tenured Radical?
by Eliana Johnson and Mitch Webber
Yale University is on the verge of offering a faculty appointment to the University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole. That is the word around the campus here in New Haven. If Yale proceeds with the appointment, it will bring in one of the few professors in the United States, perhaps the only one, who has publicly endorsed the recent paper warning against American support of Israel by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.
A professor of modern Middle East and South Asian history at the University of Michigan, Mr. Cole rose to national prominence in the wake of September 11 when reporters and journalists began seeking him out as an authority on the modern Middle East. It is on similar grounds - seeking a scholar of the contemporary Middle East - that the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale History Department have sought out Mr. Cole.
The prospect of Mr. Cole joining the Yale faculty is disturbing for many reasons. His "scholarship" in this area consists entirely of crude polemics, and his outlook is colored by a conspiratorial view of history. Mr. Cole has used his modicum of fame not to participate in the realm of respectable scholarly debate but to express his deep and abiding hatred of Israel and to opine about the influence of a Zionist cabal on American foreign policy.
Mr. Cole's most frequent public statements and writing - many of which appear on his blog, Informed Comment - have deviated considerably from his areas of expertise. He rarely misses an opportunity to inveigh against Israel. If it were up to Mr. Cole, the country wouldn't exist at all. It would have been preferable, he claims, for the British to have accepted Jewish refugees "rather than saddling a small, poor peasant country with 500,000 immigrants hungry to make the place their own." Today's Israel, Mr. Cole contends, is "the most dangerous regime in the Middle East" and the primary instigator of the terrorist threat against America.
According to Mr. Cole, American Jews both inside and out of government are primarily loyal to Israel and subvert American interests for those of the Jewish State. He believes that American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the American pro-Israel lobby group that is one of the targets of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper, has Congress in its back pocket. "This level of the control of congress by what is essentially the agent of a foreign government has deeply distorted US foreign policy and made the US a dishonest broker." He has written that "pro-Likud intellectuals" "use the Pentagon as Israel's Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel-Aviv." Mr. Cole has even hypothesized that "powerful Likudniks inside the US government are deliberately engineering a diplomatic rift in NATO, so as to ensure that Paris and Moscow cannot position themselves to influence Washington's position (usually supine) toward Sharon's excesses." According to Cole, these same Likudniks launched the war in Iraq in order to "defang" the country "as a favor to Ariel Sharon." In a 2004 article entitled "Dual Loyalties," Mr. Cole wrote, "I simply think that we deserve to have American public servants who are centrally commited [sic] to the interests of the United States, rather than to the interests of a foreign political party."
Only last month, Mr. Cole made headlines for effusively praising the Walt/Mearsheimer paper. The paper essentially charges Jewish government employees with loyalty to Israel over America; it accuses Jews of stifling public dialogue through control of the press, think tanks, and government; and it alleges that Jews dupe non-Jews into "fighting, dying ... and paying" for causes that are "not in the American national interest."
Others academics defended Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer's right to express their views, while expressing horror at the paper's falsehoods and conspiratorial worldview. Even Noam Chomsky found the paper's thesis "[n]ot very [convincing], in my opinion." So far as we know, Mr. Cole is the only professor who has publicly endorsed the paper's scholarship and findings.
Mr. Cole takes pains to demonstrate that he harbors no ill will against Jews per se. It's "Likudniks" (or as Mr. Cole says, "Jewish American Likudniks," or simply, "the American Likud") that he despises. For example, Mr. Cole writes that the "real roots" of the Likud party lie in a "kind of fascism" and that Likud "isn't morally superior in most respects to the Syrian Baath ... it treats at least 3 million people no better than and possibly worse than the Syrian Baath treats its 17 million."
Academic freedom does not entitle anyone to a Yale professorship. Yale rightfully prides itself on the devotion of its graduates to public service. Why would Yale ever want to hire a professor best known for disparaging the participation of prominent American Jews in government? Mr. Cole has made himself a disgrace. Why would Yale want to make his disgrace its own?
Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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