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Anti-Israel Bias in Academia on Campus

September 11, 2016 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

Academics are increasingly calling for the end of the Jewish state with impunity.

One of the latest offerings at the University of California, Berkeley, is a course on dismantling Israel.

In autumn 2016, students interested in learning about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict will be able to take “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis”. Positing that Israel is a “colony”, the course description promises to “explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine”. In other words: a land in which Israel has somehow been erased.

This student-sponsored class is being led by Dr. Hatem Bazian, who’s well known for inciting anti-Israel hatred. “He’s an anti-Israel activist and he uses academia to further his agenda,” says Nonie Darwish, founder of Arabs for Israel and a human rights advocate.

Dr. Bazian, who cofounded an Islamic college in Berkeley, also co-founded the anti-Israel campus group Students for Justice in Palestine. A group he worked for was shut down by the US Government in 2006 for having ties to the terrorist group Hamas. Two years before that, in a rally in San Francisco, Dr. Bazian publicly called for a violent intifada in the US.

How did such a radical figure, espousing violence, get invited to teach a course on the destruction of Israel at a major university? Tragically, the anti-Zionist sentiment that has infected Berkeley is sweeping across other universities as well. While it would be, rightly, unthinkable to call for the destruction of any other country, universities and academics are increasingly calling for the end of the Jewish state with impunity.

In the past two years, over 200 professors worldwide have signed petitions promising to boycott the Jewish state. With such declarations becoming increasingly common, it’s no surprise that some campuses are offering classes that are highly biased or downright dangerous as they incite hatred and call for violence against Israel and its supporters.

Here are just a few recent examples of the trend to demonize Israel and even call for its destruction in classes and lectures on campus.

One-Sided Claims

A 2015-2016 academic year course at University of California, Riverside, claimed to study Israel, but assigned readings from ardent critics of the Jewish state only.

“Palestine & Israel: Settler-Colonialism and Apartheid,” presented the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the (incorrect) assumption that Israel practices Apartheid, and is an illegitimate state. The course was taught by undergraduate Tina Matar, a leader in Riverside’s branch of the hardline anti-Israel Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group. The course’s faculty sponsor, Prof. David Lloyd, is a vocal proponent of boycotting and singling out Israel for opprobrium.

Despite numerous complaints, university officials defended the course, seemingly implying that normal academic norms didn’t apply as it was “a student led course".

Teaching Blood Libels

“Stunting” and “maiming” a population. Experimenting on Palestinians. Extracting organs from Palestinians for medical research. An echo of classic blood libels that Jews somehow seek to harm others.

Such were the stunning accusations leveled by a respected professor, Prof. Jasbir Puar, Associate Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies at Rutgers University, when she spoke at Dartmouth College on February 3, 2016. Her talk, “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters,” reached a “new low” according to former University of California President Mark Yudof and Ken Waltzer, Executive Director of the Academic Engagement Network, who penned a sharply worded critique of Prof. Puar’s lecture in The Wall Street Journal.

In response to this criticism, over 1,000 academics and supporters signed an “open letter” in defense of Prof. Puar, asserting her work “is of the highest professional and scholarly rigor…. grounded in serious scholarship and thorough research".

Poisonous Atmosphere

Following that controversial speech at Vassar, Michaela Pohl, a non-Jewish history professor, penned an open letter describing the chilling effects of anti-Israel speech at her campus and at campuses around the world that are increasingly hosting ever more virulent levels of anti-Israel discourse.

“The atmosphere at Vassar College, where I’ve been teaching Russian history since 1999, is troubled,” Prof. Pohl explained. “I am not Jewish, but even I have experienced an increase in hostility and strained silences among students and colleagues… I have been called a (expletive) fascist,’ ‘Zionist’ and ‘idiot’ for speaking out against Vassar’s BDS resolution and speaking up for Israel and for U.S. policy. I have seen Jewish students profiled and singled out at a BDS meeting. I have felt the icy silence that reigns in some departments. Many professors have signed very visible and public petitions but don’t acknowledge them in person, instead saying, ‘I have nothing to do with that.’”

Academics who teach incorrect, extreme negative views of Israel are beginning to have a “long term effect” according to Prof. Pohl, causing Jewish students to be uneasy, and even at times fearful for their safety on campus.

Endorsing Conspiracy Theories

For ten years, the HAWK University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hildesheim, in Germany, offered a course on “The Middle East conflict and social work” that was, in the words on one German legislator, Volker Beck of the Green Party, “unscientific, one-sided and hair-raisingly anti-Israel.” The course taught, incorrectly, that Israel ethnically cleansed Palestinians and robbed them of their organs and presented suicide bombers in a sympathetic light.

The class’ extremism was uncovered only after a Jewish academic, Dr. Rebecca Seidler, was asked to teach a course elsewhere in the university and saw a list of reading material. Much of the syllabus appeared to have been taken from anti-Semitic websites that promote conspiracy theories, she pointed out. Although Dr. Seidler’s complaints were initially dismissed as “oversensitivity,” after her concerns gained attention in the press, the university finally cancelled the long-running course.

Laughing at Students

A 2013 letter from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) to Dr. Joseph E. Aoun, President of Northeastern University in Boston, catalogued a litany of student complaints about anti-Israel professors classroom behavior, and asked the university to respond.

According to students, Prof. Denis Sullivan, the Director of the university's Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, made a habit of mocking students who questioned his extreme one-sided attacks on Israel, ridiculing and encouraging students to ridicule those who questioned his assertions. One student reported breaking down in tears and changing her major after being mocked in class.

Another student reported being mocked after she questioned the assertions of another professor about honor killings. Facing relentless ridicule, the student stopped wearing her Jewish star to class, then dropped the class altogether. Northeastern University Economics Professor Dr. M. Shahid Alam, after being criticized for attacking Israel in class, was quoted as saying “you know you should really laugh away accusations of anti-Semitism. It has now become laughable. And there may come a time when you wear that label as a mark of distinction.”

According to media reports, the university declined to respond to the ZOA’s letter or concerns.

Combatting Hate

Some campuses have been successful at cancelling anti-Israel courses and preventing professors spreading anti-Israel hatred in class.

In 2015, the University of Missouri announced it was cancelling a planned course, “Perspectives on Zionism”, that was to be taught by George P. Smith, a biology professor with no background in political science, history, or Middle Eastern studies, who is known for his extreme anti-Israel views and for heckling pro-Israel speakers on campus. The course was scrapped after concerned students, faculty and alumni contacted the university.

That same year, concerned members of the academic community at the University of Southampton in England succeed in dissuading the university to go ahead with a planned conference that was to debate the legality of Israel’s very existence. The conference, “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism,” was organized by academics with well-known biases against the Jewish state. Jewish community leaders and academics noted that the conference would "surpass the acceptable,” and, based on title and advertised speakers, “it sets out explicitly to question the very legitimacy of a member state of the UN.”

It’s not easy to stand up to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric in class. But with Israel coming under ever more extreme and virulent attack, it’s more important than ever to insist on rational academic discourse about the Jewish state.

Whether as students, parents of students, alumni, or concerned members of the community, we all have the right and the obligation to insist on fair treatment when it comes to the Jewish state.



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