Campus Capers target profs from Coventry to Beersheba
COMPLAINTS by an Israeli post-graduate student, claiming that her dissertation was unfairly down graded, have been escalated into a public campaign against the academic allegedly responsible.
Smadar Bakovic claimed that Professor Nicola Pratt of the University of Warwick had unfairly graded her dissertation. She said the same dissertation was passed with a distinction after being re-marked by a second professor.
The Jewish Chronicle published two reports on its website, on December 22 and 29. Its reporter Marcus Dysch said Smadar Bakovic repeatedly told Warwick University she was uncomfortable with Nicola Pratt overseeing her master's dissertation on Israeli Arab identity.
Professor Pratt, associate professor at Warwick's politics and international studies department, has lived in Egypt, speaks Arabic and is an expert on women and gender in the Middle East. As Dysch tells us she " is a vocal anti-Israel campaigner who was refused entry to the West Bank by Israeli authorities in 2009. Following Operation Cast Lead she was one of more than 100 academics who wrote to the Guardian saying "Israel must lose", and calling for the UK to implement boycott, divestment and sanctions".
Ms.Bakovic's dissertation originally received a mark of 60%. After she complained and was allowed to resubmit it to another, unnamed supervisor, it scored 71% , a distinction. Both submissions also involved an external examiner.
Warwick University has denied that Ms.Bakovic complained more than once about Nicola Pratt as a supervisor. The university says it had bent over backward to meet the Israeli postgrad's complaint over her marks. It said she was allowed to resubmit because of her strength of feeling, but the higher mark could be attributed to the fact the dissertation was "substantially different" when it was re-submitted.The JC report claims to have seen e-mails indicating the paper had only been "tweaked" slightly.
Whatever the truth of that, it seems the marks were neither the beginning nor the end of the matter. The JC quotes Ms Bakovic as saying: "I knew Prof Pratt because whenever there was an anti-Israel event at the university I went along and she was often there. She moderated a Jews for Justice for Palestinians event, so I knew her stance. As soon as I saw her name a red light came on."
The JC reports that an online petition calling for Professor Pratt to be sacked has been signed by more than 300 people. It states: "Professor Pratt must go now. There must be zero tolerance of bigoted academics who do not have the wit to separate their prejudices from their academic objectivity."
Board of Deputies senior vice-president, Jonathan Arkush, has written to Warwick vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift asking for an inquiry.
While telling us who Nicola Pratt is, and illustrating its articles with a picture of the professor, supplied by the university, the Jewish Chronicle was less forthcoming about the background of its main source, the 35-year old student Smadar Bakovic, who told it "After a year of battling, I'm absolutely delighted. I feel vindicated. I did it for Israel."
It has been left to Asa Winstanley, a journalist contributing to the Electronic Intifada website, to reveal that Bakovic is listed as the media services coordinator on the website of MediaCentral, an agency in Jerusalem that aims to immerse foreign journalists in Israeli perspectives.The group is a project of HonestReporting, which once described itself on its website as “an organization dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media” (“Our Mission”).
Its managing editor, Simon Plosker, is a reservist soldier in the Israeli army’s press office. He previously worked for the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) and NGO Monitor, another Israel lobby group (“Meet the editors”).
Professor Pratt was one of many academic signatories to a seminal letter in The Guardian during the 2008-09 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, which asserted that “if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides … against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank” (“Growing outrage at the killing in Gaza,” 15 January 2009).
The Reut Institute, an influential think tank, issued a report in 2010 on how to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and “sabotage” the movement of solidarity with Palestine. To this end it spoke of “Mobilizing and training civil society partners … for example students and faculty in academia” (“The Delegitimization Challenge: Creating a Political Firewall, March 2010, p. 71).
How fortuitous that someone like Smadar Bakovic should happen to have chosen Warwick and found a professor like Nicola Pratt whose extracurricular meetings she could keep an eye on.
Meanwhile back in the Land ...
In Israel the campaign against civil rights groups and their funding, and against university lecturers regarded as insufficiently loyal to Zionism, has been led by an extra-parliamentary right-wing group called Im Tirzu which seems to be increasingly influencing government moves.
So it is interesting to see where Im Tirzu gets its money, and, particularly after a year when so many young Israelis took to the streets over issues like housing and social justice, criticising the country's richest families, to read that big business has quadrupled its funding for the far-Right group. Coincidence, or what? No wonder Uri Avneri, who arrived with his parents from Germany in 1933 keeps saying he is reminded of Weimar.
An article by Uri Blau in Haaretz says that Leo Schachter, Israel’s second-largest exporter of processed diamonds, donated NIS 74,000 to Im Tirtzu last year.
- "That same year, the company, which is headed by Elliot Tannenbaum, who immigrated from the United States in the early 1980s, exported $359 million worth of diamonds. Sources in the company say that Tannenbaum decides with his wife Debbie on the donations made by the company. Tannenbaum’s office said in his name that they are not interested in commenting on the matter".
- "According to Im Tirtzu’s most recent financial report, in 2010 it spent NIS 1.14 million on hasbara (PR) and advertising (more than 10 times what it spent in 2009). The report also reveals that last year it received donations totaling NIS 1.66 million, almost four times as much as in 2009, when they amounted to NIS 456,000. In 2010 the organization spent NIS 68,000 on “events and activities,” and under the heading “salaries and related expenses” reported spending approximately NIS 250,000. Incidentally, the cost of fundraising efforts in 2010 was close to NIS 70,000 (nearly nine times the sum from the previous year).
- "Aside from the Azrieli Group and Leo Schachter Diamonds, the group mentions three other bodies from which it received donations in 2010 exceeding NIS 20,000, the maximum amount for a donation whose source needn’t be listed. Keren Segal Leyisrael − a fund whose declared objective is “to establish, develop and manage educational and cultural projects about Israel’s heritage and the Jewish community in Jerusalem and Israel,” and which is headed by Jerusalem businessman Yotam Bar-Hama − donated NIS 77,000 to Im Tirtzu last year. In 2008, it donated NIS 190,000 to Im Tirtzu. Bar-Hama declined to explain the motives behind the donation, and said only that the fund’s money comes from his family abroad".
- Another organization called The Forum for Religious Zionism donated NIS 74,000 to the movement last year. This is a new organization that was registered in 2010 in the name of Zvi Soibel, former director of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva in Kfar Haroeh. (Bnei Akiva is the religious Zionist youth movement linked with the National Religious Party. Major Peter Lerner, the Israeli army spokesman who joked about the killing of Mustafa Tamimi in Nebi Saleh, is a graduate of its UK section).
- Since its founding, Im Tirtzu has also been supported by the Central Israel Fund, a U.S.-based NPO. The fund, which according to its latest U.S. income tax return, raised nearly $10.5 million in 2010, says that it aids the needy and supports various educational and community projects. Central Israel, which transferred NIS 95,000 to Im Tirtzu last year, raises money for strongly right-wing organizations like Women in Green, and the Hananu organization, which provides legal aid to rightists and in the past even gave money to Yigal Amir. (Amir is the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin)
- "Some of the contributors to Im Tirtzu have been revealed in the past. In 2008, the organization received a donation of NIS 374,000 from the American organization Christians United for Israel, and in 2009 it received the same sum from them. This organization is headed by Father John Hagee, who once said that “God sent Hitler as a hunter to force the Jews to move to Israel in anticipation of Judgment Day.” This money, by the way, was not transferred directly to Im Tirtzu, but rather via the Jewish Agency.
It is not just money that is being mobilised from abroad to boost Israel's academic witch hunt. In November we heard how the head of Bar Ilan university was telling the Zionist Organisation of America about the "Bolshevik post-Zionists" who needed to be routed from other institutions, and how some academics at the Ben Gurion University(BGU) of the Negev were coming under fire.
Now a London-born academic at the Beersheba based BGU has had to refute allegations that he compared Israel to the Nazi regime, after he cited Pastor Niemoller's well-known poem about those who stood by when others were taken away during the Holocaust.
Professor David Newman, dean of BGU's faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences was accused by King's College London Professor Efraim Karsh of being anti-Israel and a "pseudo-academic" following an article that he wrote in the Jerusalem Post under the headline Speaking out against the threat.
Karsh, who has written that militancy is inherant in Islam, and not a response to western colonialism, is head of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at Kings College. He accuses Newman of sticking to a "colonial paradigm" about Zionism rather than recognising it as a legitimate movement for self determination.
A strong critic of the "new historians" in Israel who acknowledged responsibility for the Palestinian Nakba, Prof.Karsh has been characterised as the academic voice of Revisionist (right-wing) Zionism. Writing for the US conservative think tank, Middle East Forum, of which he is director, Karsh said that BGU had become a "hotbed of anti-Israel propaganda". Maybe other staff, and students, at Kings ought to look at what their college is becoming a hotbed for.
Earlier posting on universities in Israel: