De­bate rages across US on aca­demic free­dom

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY JEMIMAH STEINFELD

AMER­I­CAN UNI­VER­SI­TIES are en­gaged in a fu­ri­ous de­bate over whether anti-Zion­ist aca­demics should be al­lowed to teach Mid­dle East courses.

In the most re­cent case, Na­dia Abu El-Haj, pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at Barnard Uni­ver­sity, a sub­sidiary of New York’s Columbia Uni­ver­sity, won a bat­tle for ten­ure in the face of fierce lob­by­ing from sev­eral pro-Is­rael groups.

They had ar­gued that Prof Abu ElHaj’s 2002 book Facts on the Ground — which claimed that Pales­tinian his­tory had been de­stroyed by Jewish ar­chae­ol­o­gists — was aca­dem­i­cally flawed and dis­qual­i­fied her from a se­nior po­si­tion.

The in­ci­dent fol­lows the dis­missal of Rashid Kha­lidi as di­rec­tor of Columbia Uni­ver­sity’s Mid­dle East In­sti­tute in 2005, fol­low­ing a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle claim­ing he had de­nounced Is­rael as “a racist state”.

Else­where, anti-Zion­ist his­to­rian Nor­man Finkel­stein, whose work al­leges that Is­rael has ex­ploited the Holo­caust, ac­cused a Jewish lobby this Septem­ber of de­rail­ing his at­tempts to find ten­ure at Chicago’s DePaul Uni­ver­sity.

Speak­ing to the JC, his prom­i­nent critic, Har­vard law pro­fes­sor Alan Der­showitz, al­leged that Dr Finkel­stein had mis­rep­re­sented facts to make his case. “He has no cred­i­bil­ity ex­cept in Europe, and any­one who re­gards him as re­spected in his field is a ram­pant an­ti­semite,” he claimed.

At the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan, a vo­cal pro-Is­rael lobby is cam­paign­ing to pre­vent the uni­ver­sity’s pub­lish­ing house from re­sum­ing dis­tri­bu­tion of Over­com­ing Zion­ism, by Joel Kovel, an au­thor and anti-war ac­tivist.

Sup­port­ing the ban, Betsy Kell­man, di­rec­tor of the Michi­gan re­gional chap­ter of the Anti-Defama­tion League, said: “This book is hold­ing Is­rael to a very dif­fer­ent stan­dard than other coun­tries.”

How­ever, oth­ers fear a grow­ing as­sault on aca­demic free­dom. Prof Kha­lidi warned the JC of “ex­ter­nally driven, par­ti­san cam­paigns char­ac­terised by bad faith and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion. They dis­tort what the Mid­dle East fac­ulty do and find cre­dence among the gullible.”

Avi Sh­laim, pro­fes­sor of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions at St Antony’s Col­lege, Ox­ford, told the JC that he be­lieved that Mr Der­showitz was one of the “many prom­i­nent Amer­i­can Jews [who] de­fend Is­rael [with] an atavis­tic at­ti­tude of ‘my coun­try, right or wrong’.”


Controversy: Nor­man Finkel­stein

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