Setting The Record Straight
Campus Watch corrects false allegations made against it.
Motzira-Making on the Right
by Eric Alterman
May 5, 2008
False allegations of attacking professors who criticize Israel
False allegations of being a Zionist organization
Eric Alterman made several mischaracterizations of Campus Watch in his article in the May 5 issue of the Nation. Here, first, is an excerpt of the offending text:
In a recent New Yorker article, Jane Kramer recounts an audacious attempt by a coterie of right-wing Jews to interfere with the tenure process at Columbia's Barnard College. The case concerned anthropologist Nadia Abu El-Haj, the daughter of a Long Island Episcopalian mother and a secular Palestinian Muslim father, whose 2001 book, Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago), examined the role of archaeology in alleged biblical validation of the Jewish claim to Israel/Palestine. The tenure question proved a purely academic one in every sense of the word. ...In addition, El-Haj had been approved by three separate tenure committees before reaching the final one.
That's when a group led by an American-born West Bank settler named Paula Stern, who owned a small technical writing business, emulating campaigns by the likes of David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes and their organizations Campus Watch and FrontPage magazine, started making motzira. She created an Internet petition calling on Columbia to reject El-Haj, insisting that her scholarship was substandard and corrupted by an alleged hatred of Israel. Denying El-Haj tenure became a cause célèbre among this community of right-wing Jews, neoconservative adventurers and pseudoscholars, much as preventing Yale from hiring the much-admired Middle East historian (and blogger) Juan Cole had galvanized a similar group in 2006. The targets this time were Columbia alumni, in particular, large donors.
(Like Horowitz's various tentacles, his organization Campus Watch offers its kosher seal of approval for ideologically kosher academics while attacking all others.)
Below is the full text of my letter to the editor of the Nation, written in response to Alterman's article.
Eric Alterman mischaracterizes Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum, in "Motzira-Making on the Right" (May 5, 2008).
Drawing on a conspiracy theory spun by Larry Cohler-Esses, Alterman implies that Campus Watch worked with Paula Stern to hatch a scheme that would deny tenure to Nadia Abu El-Haj. He is wrong here on two counts: First, Campus Watch has never coordinated our work with Stern. We operate independently of any external party, be it Stern or David Horowitz. Second, Campus Watch does not take positions on questions of tenure. We insist on our right to critique professors at any stage of their careers, but we did not call for the denial of tenure to Abu El-Haj.
Alterman also charges that Campus Watch "offers its kosher seal of approval for ideologically kosher academics while attacking all others." In fact, Campus Watch has no litmus test for professors, whatever their religion. Rather, we critique scholars for analytical failures, politicized scholarship, intolerance of alternate views, and abuse of power over students.