Monday, May 4, 2009
Gaza Compared With Warsaw's Nazi Concentration Camp
"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide," says sociology professor William I. Robinson of University of California at Santa Barbara.
As is the norm at universities in America, any criticism of Israel is immediately followed by an orchestrated campaign of attacks and intimidation against the critic. In this case, there has been swift condemnation of professor Robinson, who is Jewish, as being an anti-Semite. Beyond verbal attacks, he is being actively harassed by the well-known actors usually involved in curbing any freedom of expression that involves criticism of the Jewish state.
In addition to its powerful presence in Washington, the Israel lobby has moved into the university campuses in America to ‘take back the campuses’, according to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt of Harvard university, who have written as follows:
(Following criticism of Israel on campuses after Oslo’s collapse and Sharon’s access to power in 2002) The Lobby moved immediately to ‘take back the campuses’. New groups sprang up, like the Caravan for Democracy, which brought Israeli speakers to US colleges. Established groups like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Hillel joined in, and a new group, the Israel on Campus Coalition, was formed to co-ordinate the many bodies that now sought to put Israel’s case. Finally, AIPAC more than tripled its spending on programmes to monitor university activities and to train young advocates, in order to ‘vastly expand the number of students involved on campus . . . in the national pro-Israel effort’.
The Lobby also monitors what professors write and teach. In September 2002, Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, two passionately pro-Israel neo-conservatives, established a website (Campus Watch) that posted dossiers on suspect academics and encouraged students to report remarks or behaviour that might be considered hostile to Israel. This transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars provoked a harsh reaction and Pipes and Kramer later removed the dossiers, but the website still invites students to report ‘anti-Israel’ activity.
Groups within the Lobby put pressure on particular academics and universities. Columbia has been a frequent target, no doubt because of the presence of the late Edward Said on its faculty. ‘One can be sure that any public statement in support of the Palestinian people by the pre-eminent literary critic Edward Said will elicit hundreds of emails, letters and journalistic accounts that call on us to denounce Said and to either sanction or fire him,’ Jonathan Cole, its former provost, reported. When Columbia recruited the historian Rashid Khalidi from Chicago, the same thing happened. It was a problem Princeton also faced a few years later when it considered wooing Khalidi away from Columbia.
A classic illustration of the effort to police academia occurred towards the end of 2004, when the David Project produced a film alleging that faculty members of Columbia’s Middle East Studies programme were anti-semitic and were intimidating Jewish students who stood up for Israel. Columbia was hauled over the coals, but a faculty committee which was assigned to investigate the charges found no evidence of anti-semitism and the only incident possibly worth noting was that one professor had ‘responded heatedly’ to a student’s question. The committee also discovered that the academics in question had themselves been the target of an overt campaign of intimidation.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is the efforts Jewish groups have made to push Congress into establishing mechanisms to monitor what professors say. If they manage to get this passed, universities judged to have an anti-Israel bias would be denied federal funding. Their efforts have not yet succeeded, but they are an indication of the importance placed on controlling debate.
A number of Jewish philanthropists have recently established Israel Studies programmes (in addition to the roughly 130 Jewish Studies programmes already in existence) so as to increase the number of Israel-friendly scholars on campus. In May 2003, NYU announced the establishment of the Taub Center for Israel Studies; similar programmes have been set up at Berkeley, Brandeis and Emory. Academic administrators emphasise their pedagogical value, but the truth is that they are intended in large part to promote Israel’s image. Fred Laffer, the head of the Taub Foundation, makes it clear that his foundation funded the NYU centre to help counter the ‘Arabic [sic] point of view’ that he thinks is prevalent in NYU’s Middle East programmes.
Here is the text of the email sent by Professor Robinson:
Subject: [socforum] parallel images of Nazis and Israelis
From: “William I. Robinson” …
Date: Mon, 19 Jan 2009 21:00:05
If Martin Luther King were alive on this day of January 19, 2009, there is no doubt that he would be condemning the Israeli aggression against Gaza along with U.S. military and political support for Israeli war crimes, or that he would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians. I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. Perhaps the most frightening are not those providing a graphic depiction of the carnage but that which shows Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children.
Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw - a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group”), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.
The Israeli army is the fifth most potent military machine in the world and one that is backed by a propaganda machine that rivals and may well surpass that of the U.S., a machine that dares to make the ludicrous and obnoxious claim that opposition to the policies and practices of the Israeli state is anti-Semitism. It should be no surprise that a state founded on the negation of a people was one of the principal backers of the apartheid South African state not to mention of the Latin American military dictatorships until those regimes collapsed under mass protest, and today arms, trains, and advises military and paramilitary forces in Colombia, one of the world’s worst human rights violators.
Here is the latest story about Professor Robinson as reported by Los Angles Times recently:
Controversy has erupted at UC Santa Barbara over a professor's decision to send his students an e-mail in which he compared graphic images of Jews in the Holocaust to pictures of Palestinians caught up in Israel's recent Gaza offensive.
The e-mail by tenured sociology professor William I. Robinson has triggered a campus investigation and drawn accusations of anti-Semitism from two national Jewish groups, even as many students and faculty members have voiced support for him.
The uproar began in January when Robinson sent his message -- titled "parallel images of Nazis and Israelis" -- to the 80 students in his sociology of globalization class.
The e-mail contained more than two dozen photographs of Jewish victims of the Nazis, including those of dead children, juxtaposed with nearly identical images from the Gaza Strip. It also included an article critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and a note from Robinson.
"Gaza is Israel's Warsaw -- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians," the professor wrote. "We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide."
Two Jewish students dropped the class, saying they felt intimidated by the professor's message. They contacted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which advised them to file formal complaints with the university.
In their letters, senior Rebecca Joseph and junior Tova Hausman accused Robinson of violating the campus' faculty code of conduct by disseminating personal, political material unrelated to his course.
"I was shocked," said Joseph, 22. "He overstepped his boundaries as a professor. He has his own freedom of speech, but he doesn't have the freedom to send his students his own opinion that is so strong."
Robinson, 50, who is Jewish, called the accusations and the campus investigation an attack on academic freedom. He said his former students, the Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League had all confused his criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism.
"That's like saying if I condemn the U.S. government for the invasion of Iraq, I'm anti-American," he said. "It's the most absurd, baseless argument."
Robinson said he regularly sends his students voluntary reading material about current events for the global affairs course, and that no one raised questions when he subsequently discussed his e-mail.
"The whole nature of academic freedom is to introduce students to controversial material, to provoke students to think and make students uncomfortable," said Robinson, a UC Santa Barbara professor for nine years.
As the dispute over his e-mail plays out, UC Santa Barbara has become the most recent U.S. university to confront campus unrest over issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In recent years, Jewish and Muslim groups have quarreled repeatedly at UC Irvine about the Holocaust and Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Professors and students at Columbia University have also argued over issues of intimidation and academic freedom amid debates on the Mideast.
In Robinson's case, reaction has been strong -- on both sides.
Shortly after hearing from the two students in January, the Wiesenthal Center produced a YouTube video titled "Jewish Students Under Siege from Professor at UC Santa Barbara." The clip shows one of Robinson's former students, her face obscured to protect her identity, reading from his e-mail.
The head of the ADL's Santa Barbara region sent Robinson a letter in February calling on him to repudiate his statements about Israel. Last month, the ADL's national director, Abraham Foxman, in a meeting with faculty members at the campus, urged the university to conduct an investigation into Robinson. He was told that an inquiry was already underway.
"You can criticize Israel; you can criticize the war in Gaza," Foxman said. "But to compare what the Israelis are doing in defense of their citizens to what the Nazis did to the Jews is clearly anti-Semitism."
Robinson's supporters say the professor is being maligned for exercising his right to challenge his students to think critically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Students on campus have formed a group, the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB, which is chronicling the saga on its website.
Letters of support also have arrived from academics across the country, including one from California Scholars for Academic Freedom, which says it represents 100 professors at 20 college campuses. The group argues that the allegations have been raised against Robinson to "silence criticism of Israeli policies and practices."
Some UC Santa Barbara faculty members also are speaking up for Robinson. History professor Harold Marcuse, who attended the March meeting with the ADL's Foxman, said the pictures e-mailed by Robinson were "well within the bounds of appropriateness on campus. It's something I could have used in a course."
Marcuse, who is Jewish and teaches about the Holocaust in his world history and German history classes, said he would not have injected his own views into such a message to students, but added: "I don't think Bill Robinson's e-mail is anti-Semitic in any way. I think criticism of Israel is OK."
One UC Santa Barbara official has already looked into the allegations against Robinson, and a faculty committee is being formed to decide whether to forward the case to UC Santa Barbara Chancellor Henry Yang. A university spokesman declined to comment on the case.
Robinson has hired an attorney, and the student committee supporting him has scheduled a May 14 campus forum on the matter. Joseph and Hausman, the students who filed the original complaints, said they plan to attend. So do Hausman's parents from Los Angeles and Rabbi Aron Hier, director of campus outreach for the Wiesenthal Center.
"I just want to bring awareness," said Hausman, 20. "I want people to know that educators shouldn't be sending out something that is so disturbing."
Pictorial Review of Young Gaza Victims
Israel's Gaza Attack is Criminal, Not Defensive
Is Obama True Friend of Israel?
Who Rules America?