Universities bow to right wing pressure, censor scholarship, cut off debate
By: Rebecca Mahfouz
Michigan Journal 10/9/07
The fact that universities often stifle scholarship and squelch debate to appease wealthy alumni is hardly news. Adjusting policy to suit the points of view of powerful donors and university regents is a practice of long standing and our own university is not immune, however often were told that open debate and academic freedom are the very foundation of any institution of higher learning.
Although academics are often intimidated into silence by the very institutions that purport to value academic freedom and diversity of opinion, some are courageous enough to publish their unpopular findings, even without the blessings of their employers. These scholars are either blackballed or ignored.
Some brief media attention was paid to the University of St. Thomas in Minnesotas banning of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu after he criticized Israeli human rights violations. To criticize Israel is, of course, somehow anti-Semitic and will not be tolerated, no matter how many people die as a result of Israels murderous policies. St. Thomas caved to pressure from the Zionist Organization of America and the increasingly hysterical Anti-Defamation League. Doug Hennes, St. Thomas vice president for university and government relations issued a statement saying, in part, We had heard some things he said that some people judged to be anti-Semitic and against Israeli policy. Against Israeli policy? Universities in the United States now choose their speakers according to Israeli policy, rather than making decisions based on the best interests of their students intellectual growth.
Political scientist Norman G. Finkelstein, a widely respected scholar on the Palestine-Israel conflict, was forced out of his job at DePaul University after publishing his most recent work, the meticulously researched Beyond Chutzpa: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, wherein he exposes the shoddy scholarship and intellectual dishonesty of Harvard Law Professor and rabid Zionist Alan Dershowitz. After a bitter struggle with the university, Finkelstein resigned last month.
Last year, well before Tutu was accused of anti-Semitism and Finkelstein out of a job, political scientists Stephen Walt, of Harvard, and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, co-wrote a paper entitled The Israel Lobby. As established scholars, Mearsheimer and Walt must have known that to even acknowledge that such an entity as the Israel Lobby even exists is to put their reputations in jeopardy. And it did. The outcry from Zionist organizations was deafening. Alan Dershowitz and his paranoid minions called for the heads of the two scholars on a single pike, or, failing that, their careers. Harvard immediately distanced itself from the work and it received little attention in the U.S.
Lest students get the impression that this kind of academic censorship only happens elsewhere, they should direct their attention to the case of Wadie Said, who last year was offered a position at Wayne State University Law School. A Zionist group called StandWithUs, in concert with other Zionist organizations, orchestrated a smear campaign against Said. The appointment of the son of renowned scholar, the late Edward Said, was of itself anti-Semitic they claimed. Wayne State didnt hire Said.
And closer to home, the University of Michigan Press halted distribution of Bard Professor Joel Kovels Overcoming Zionism after the very same right-wing Israeli organization set up a protest. The university later resumed distribution, but issued a statement distancing itself from the work, expressing deep reservations over the books criticism of Israel.
And finally, right here at the University of Michigan-Dearborn faculty, staff and students interested in an open dialogue examining the universitys investments in Israeli companies have been ignored at best and curtly dismissed at worst. No discussion or criticism of Israel is allowed, lest someone be accused of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, which is exactly what happens each time anyone dares question the policy of the only democracy in the Middle East (which is a democracy in much the same way that 1980s South Africa and 1930s Germany were democracies). Given the number of students with a direct interest in what goes on in Palestine, one wonders how it is that UM-D hasnt even bothered to stage a Difficult Dialogue on the subject.
Although part of the business of universities is to protect intellectual freedom and encourage debate, most universities, including our own, have abandoned this duty in favor of sucking up to potential donors, even if it means compromising academic freedom.
In a campus-wide e-mail regarding the Republican debate, Chancellor Daniel Little wrote, One of the most important missions of the University of Michigan-Dearborn is to foster an environment that supports the free and open exchange of opinions and information about the most important issues facing our region, our state, the nation and the world.
The chancellor may very well stand behind those words, at least when it comes to economics and electoral politics. Perhaps hes convinced that its his job to foster such exchanges. And so it is. But, chancellor, when are we going to be allowed a free and open exchange of opinions and information on the topic of the universitys turning a blind eye to Israels crimes?
© Copyright 2007 Michigan Journal