Israel’s Ideologues

Neve Gordon

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Are you a donor to Israeli universities?” the anonymous writer asks. If yes, you should learn what is happening on Israeli campuses. Be informed about what is being done with your gifts and generosity.”

These are the opening lines of a new Web site called Israel Academia Monitor (israel​-acad​e​mia​-mon​i​tor​.com), a pathetic attempt to copy Campus Watch, which was launched in 2002 to police and discipline American university professors who criticize U.S. Middle East policy and Israel’s occupation. Campus Watch is closely connected to the academic journal Middle East Quarterly and to the Middle East Forum, a right-wing think tank whose members have access to the Bush administration. Numerous donors with deep pockets support this neocon apparatus. 

The Israel Academia Monitor, which may also be an offshoot of the Middle East Forum, is both preposterous and dangerous. Its instigators would have failed introductory courses like Logic and Twentieth-Century History. The law of contradiction — i.e., that antithetical propositions P and not‑P cannot be true simultaneously — ceases to exist in this cyberspace, thus allowing the site’s creators to intimate that donors should boycott all Israeli universities that employ professors who criticize state policies — while at the same time denouncing Israeli professors who favor a boycott of Israeli institutions. 

Moreover, the Monitor presents itself as a human rights group of sorts, which aims to bring to light abuses of academic freedom. Its nameless perpetrators consider themselves not only the defenders of free speech, but an anti-McCarthyist movement. 

The McCarthyists they inveigh against are academic rogues, professors who are critical of Israel’s rights-abusive policies yet at the same time inspired by a deep concern for Israel’s population and the occupied Palestinians. Apparently, their offense against free speech is that they do not enable zealous nationalists to voice their views — an absurd allegation considering that for some years now the balance of power within Israel has been tilted toward the far right.

At first sight, only twisted logic augmented by historical ignorance could draw a parallel between relatively powerless academics and those well-orchestrated, government-sanctioned redbaiters of 50s America. However, this is a feint. In reality the Web inquisitors at Israel Monitor are accusing Israeli professors of McCarthyism in order to deflect criticism from themselves, while at the same time they set about exploiting fear in a McCarthy-like manner. 

The Web site dedicates a page to each major Israeli university, listing extremist professors” who, in the words of the Monitor’s anonymous press release, promote insurrection and lawbreaking” as well as seditious” behavior. These professors also collaborate with anti-Semites and enemies of Israel” and support lawlessness and terror.” An innocent reader could be forgiven for thinking that Hamas terrorist cells led by academics are currently operating within Israeli universities, preparing students for the Jihad. 

Israel Academia Monitor might have been a tasteless joke if the times were not ripe for this kind of witch-hunt — if it were not symptomatic of a more general and ominous mood informed by a nationalistic and sectarian frenzy.

The site’s authors encourage students and scholars to pass on information about suspect professors, promising to publish incriminating material. The goal, it seems, is to purge Israeli universities of those who dare question the state — or, at least, silence them — and to influence hiring and tenure decisions.

This assault, however, is not only aimed at academic freedom but at democracy itself, for the danger confronting contemporary democracy is not some new wave of overt authoritarianism, as it was in the early and mid-twentieth century. It is not even terrorism. Rather, the danger comes from those for whom the freedoms that accompany democracy represent a threat, an obstacle to their uninhibited pursuit of dominance and wealth.

Like its forerunner Campus Watch, Israel Academia Monitor is indicative of the much broader attempt to silence all those who confront the powers that be.

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Neve Gordon teaches in the Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel. One can read about his most recent book, Israel’s Occupation, and more at www​.israel​soc​cu​pa​tion​.info.
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