Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Students stand for academic freedom against victimisation

A HEARTENING piece of news from the United States. Students at De Paul University upset at the denial of tenure to Professors Norman Finkelstein, and Mehrene Larudee have held an over-night sit-in after DePaul President Fr. Dennis Holtschneider refused to listen to their protest. The sit-in is continuing.

Student leaders had presented Fr. Holtschneider with a petition of over 700 signatures calling for a reversal of the decision, made at a secretive top-level meeting, and overturning tenure decisions made at the Departmental and College levels, which had approved Finkelstein's position by votes of 9-3 and 5-0, respectively.

Students were surprised by Larudee's rejection as she was unanimously approved by both the Departmental and University level tenure committees. The student leaders cite Finkelstein and Larudee's positive peer reviewed scholarship and flaws in the tenure process as reasons why they should receive tenure. Denial of tenure to the professors means their employment at DePaul will be terminated.

Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, was the target of a campaign by Zionist Alan Dershowitz and Israel lobbyists, because he had not only denounced the way the Zionist state and institutions cornered reparations payments but condemned them for using memories of Nazi genocide to silence critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, shocked many acdemics by his successful interference in the internal tenure process of another university. Campus Zionists also mobilised, gathering signatures - many of them faked - for an anti-Finkelstein petition, slandering the Jewish professor as a Holocaust denier, and even accusing De Paul, a Catholic university, of being "antisemitic" for hiring him.

The students who have rallied to defend their professor are showing impressive principle, by taking their action despite being in the midst of finals-week and upcoming graduation. They say they will occupy the Executive Offices of DePaul University indefinitely until their demands for the tenure of Professors Finkelstein and Larudee are met.

# # #More information can be found at

This is not the only case of its kind where an academic's career has been hit because of their views on Israel and the Middle East. Juan Cole, described as one of America's top Middle East scholars, was teaching at the University of Michigan when he was approached to teach at Yale. Cole was approved by both the sociology and history departments, the latter the university’s largest.

But Yale's senior appointments committee, also known as the tenure committee, voted down Cole’s nomination. Yale faculty members described the decision to overrule the votes of the individual departments as “highly unusual.” It seems that pressure came from outside, and that what some people objected to was not Cole's academic ability but the views he expressed in a political blog.

The American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin and Washington Times columnist Joel Mowbray wrote attacking Cole in various publications and Mowbray sent a letter to a dozen of Yale’s major donors, many of whom are Jewish, urging them to call the university and protest Cole’s hiring. Cole said there had been a "concerted press campaign by neo-conservatives" against him, using made-up quotes, inaccuracies, and false charges.

“The idea that I am any sort of anti-Jewish racist because I think Israel would be better off without the occupied territories is bizarre, but I fear that a falsehood repeated often enough and in high enough places may begin to lose its air of absurdity.”

Mitchell Webber, a Yale graduate who is now a law student and a research assistant for Alan Dershowitz at Harvard Law School, published an op-ed in the conservative New York Sun.

As a report in the New York Jewish Week pointed out, the critics had little to say about Cole's academic background, focussing on his blog, and "appeared to blur the distinction between American Jews and some Bush administration officials. On Aug. 29, 2004, for example, Cole wrote a blog entry calling several Bush neo-conservatives “pro-Likud intellectuals” who wish 'to use the Pentagon as Israel’s Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel Aviv'.”

In Rubin's version for the Yale Daily News, this became that Cole “accuses Jewish Americans of using the Pentagon as Israel’s Gurkha regiment.” Similarly, Webber claimed that “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.”

“These articles,” said Cole, “attempted to make my critiques of the Likud, on both sides of the Atlantic, look like an attack on American Jewry in general,which is manifestly not the case. For these people, Likud equals Israel equals Jews, so all criticism of revisionist Zionism and Greater Israel expansionism is anti-Semitic.”
(Middle East war flares up at Yale, The Jewish Week)

I doubt whether bodies like the Anti-Defamation League or the Simon Wiesenthal Centre which have been crying "foul" and shouting about alleged "antisemitism" in the University and Colleges Union's decision to discuss an Israel boycott will be at all bothered about cases like those of Professors Cole and Finkelstein, or Larudee. But perhaps Engage, whose spokesperson has been raising the alarm about non-existent calls to exclude Israelis from campus, will raise its voice as loudly about these real cases of victimisation?

Maybe some of the academics who have been stirred to protest with full-page press adverts at what they say is a threat to "academic freedom", will stay awake and protest the real attacks and forms of intimidation? Or will they be helping them?

I would not hold my breath. Instead, full marks and three cheers for the action of the De Paul students!

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home