Campus Watch in the Media
The Travails of "Leah Bowman"
by Robert David (KC) Johnson
This week's Chronicle published a piece by Dr. "Leah Bowman," which demonstrates, among other things, the shortcomings of anonymous articles. Bowman is, in fact, Assistant Professor Laura Bier, an NYU Ph.D. newly hired in Georgia Tech's History Department, where she is a social and cultural historian of post-colonial Egyptian history whose "research interests include gender and decolonization, the history of sexuality and the family, feminist theory and oral history." Bowman/Bier's article decries the "witchhunt" that she faces as a lonely voice among today's college faculty demanding justice for the Palestinians.
Bowman/Bier alleges that after publication of an article in Frontpage, she received hate e-mails—which, if true, is utterly inexcusable. The rest of her piece, however, makes for interesting reading. Now that the cloak of anonymity has been removed from Bowman/Bier (though not on the HNN homepage, where the Chronicle formally protested the posting of her article under her real name), it's possible to provide some context to her portrayal of events.
Bowman/Bier's problems started when she spoke at a panel on the "Israeli occupation of Palestine," which was, she says, sponsored by "a Palestinian advocacy group for which I am the faculty adviser. The group is a university-approved student organization that aims to educate and raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians living under Israeli rule. Similar organizations are found on many American campuses." It's odd that Bowman/Bier devoted three sentences to describing the group but never identified its name. The group is, in fact, "Students for Justice in Palestine." Bowman/Bier had participated in the NYU branch of the organization, where she signed a petition demanding that NYU divest from Israel.
Could it be that Bowman/Bier didn't mention the group's name because she knew that its rather extreme reputation would make it difficult to claim, as she does in her article, that it supports a "just and peaceful resolution to the conflict for both Jews and Palestinians"? During the spring 2006 semester, the group's primary activity was the construction of a simulated Israeli "apartheid wall" on the Georgia Tech campus, coupled with attendance at a vigil for the late pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie. Bowman/Bier, of course, is fully entitled to argue that this agenda envisions a "just and peaceful resolution to the conflict for both Jews and Palestinians." But, at least according to recent opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of Israelis do not believe that removing the security fence will produce a "just and peaceful resolution" of the conflict—nor, I suspect, would they endorse Rachel Corrie's vision of a "peaceful" single-state, secular Palestine. So Bowman/Bier's description in the Chronicle of Students for Justice in Palestine's concerns for a just and peaceful resolution for both Jews and Palestinians is less than forthcoming. Anonymity can be useful in denying context.
The student president of the Georgia Tech Hillel, Orit Sklar, wrote the Frontpage story. I couldn't find any mention of the event in the Georgia Tech newspaper, so Sklar's account is the only one on record—though Bowman/Bier doesn't claim that Sklar's description had factual inaccuracies. (She strongly disputes Sklar's interpretations.) According to Sklar, the panel was billed as an educational event, but the moderator announced that the organizers tried but couldn't find a pro-Israel faculty member able and willing to appear. Just a hunch—but scheduling the event for a Friday night might have intensified this problem.
"Leah Bowman" contends that her remarks at the Students for Justice in Palestine event were boilerplate, in which she spoke of "the necessity of a just political solution," without any additional details. Hard to see how anyone could object to that. But a petition that Laura Bier signed at NYU gives a sense of her perspective on what constitutes a "just political solution." That statement defined a "just resolution to the conflict" in "Palestine/Israel" as "an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, Israeli recognition and implementation of the Palestinian refugees' right of return, and the attainment of full civic equality and equal citizenship status for Palestinians within Israel." What Bowman/Bier considers a "just political solution," then, others would term a de facto end to the Jewish state. But, writing under the cloak of anonymity, she didn't have to point out this problem, because "Leah Bowman" had never described what she meant by a "just" resolution of the conflict.
The rest of Bowman/Bier's article addresses her concerns of "right-wing" "blacklists" regarding a "liberal bias" in Middle East Studies. (Many people might, not unfairly, describe the views that Professor Bier has publicly taken as demonstrating a leftist—not liberal—bias, though the views of "Leah Bowman" are far more moderate.) "Entire Web sites," Bowman/Bier reveals, "are devoted to exposing academics with expertise on the Middle East as dangerous radicals who pose a threat to the young minds of America . . . The message to those of us who believe there must be room for ethical and reasoned debate on American involvement in Iraq, on the Israeli occupation, and on the war on terror has never been clearer: We are watching you. And we're going to take you down." Bowman/Bier does not identify any of these "entire Web sites" that seek to "take . . . down" the brave few among today's college faculty that oppose the "Israeli occupation"—perhaps because there are, to my knowledge, no such Web sites.
Campus Watch, of course, publicizes the remarks of many Middle East Studies professors. But apparently Laura Bier believes that those on her side of the debate should be free to publicly make their case on Middle Eastern affairs, without the possibility of anyone who disagrees challenging or even mentioning what they said. So much, apparently, for the celebration of "engagement with alternative ideas" that "Leah Bowman" provided to Chronicle readers.Note: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
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