October 17, 2002
Watch Necessary on Campus
American Jews have spent a lot of time worrying about the difficulties facing college students in recent years. As a result, American Jews have put their money and ingenuity to work on behalf of programs that would combat assimilation on campus.
We have poured more funds into Hillel-supported organizations, supported the Birthright Israel project, which has brought students to Israel for their first trip to the Jewish state, and philanthropists have endowed Jewish studies and Holocaust-education programs that have proliferated across academia. All of these initiatives have had positive effects on Jewish college life.
But despite this, we have witnessed an upsurge in anti-Israel activity across North American campuses that has mixed traditional anti-Semitism with the vicious protest tactics of the far left.
While academia has long been a stronghold of the left, the main focus of collegiate extremists has rarely been on Israel in the past. But Jewish students, parents and concerned citizens are only just now coming to realize that there is no greater stronghold for hatred of Israel than American colleges and universities.
The core of this anti-Israel cadre is the growing body of academics in the field of Middle Eastern studies. In his authoritative study of this genre published last year, "Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America" (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, $19.95), scholar Martin Kramer detailed the abyss of partisanship into which this discipline has fallen. Far from a bastion of impartial study, Middle East studies is a preserve of those devoted to whitewashing radical Islam, bashing Israeli policies, critiquing and undermining support for Zionism, and supporting the Palestinian Arab war to destroy the Jewish state.
Though you might think this field boasts of scholars with differing sentiments, in Middle East studies, only one point of view is welcome. Scholars sympathetic to Israel and critical of radical Islam are treated as pariahs in Middle East studies and an endangered species elsewhere in the academy. Even worse, much of this so-called scholarship is being funded by the federal government or by donors from Islamic countries.
Muslim and Arab student organizations, aided by their leftist allies, are making campuses hotbeds of anti-Israel protest. In response, the Jewish community can and should devote energy and money to educating Jewish kids to be informed pro-Israel activists.
But no student can expect to hold his or her own against a professor determined to indoctrinate a class with anti-Zionism and hatred for Israel. The issue of what students are being taught in class about Israel may turn out to be far more important than whether or not Jewish students can be effective advocates. The good news is that a Philadelphia-based think tank, the Middle East Forum, which is led by scholar and author Daniel Pipes, is seeking to begin the work of monitoring anti-Israel activity on the campus with a new Web site (www.CampusWatch.org) that has provided a vital store of information on the topic.
Predictably, the response from academia has been swift and vitriolic. Academics and institutions that have been listed on the site, as well as others who share their feelings, have come out swinging, falsely accusing Campus Watch of "McCarthyism" and suppressing academic freedom.
The truth is just the opposite.
It is, in fact, the campus Israel-bashers who have sought to banish any scholar who disagreed with them from the discipline. Having effectively blacklisted a brilliant scholar like Pipes from a major academic post, the academic mafia that controls Middle East studies is now seeking to ensure that any criticism of their work is branded as extremist.
But it is not Pipes, but the pro-Arab and anti-Israel academy that is creating a hostile environment for Jewish students. Bringing their biased work and course offerings to a wide audience, as Campus Watch has done, isn't intimidation. It is merely exposing nefarious activity to the light of day, where donors to universities and taxpayers can properly evaluate it.
The Middle East Forum and the invaluable Pipes are to be commended for taking this initiative, and for braving the vituperation of both the academics and their mindless cheering section in the national press. But, unfortunately, no major Jewish organizations, including Hillel or the Anti Defamation League, has chosen to support Pipes' stand or to criticize those seeking to stigmatize him.
Pipes is taking the heat on this issue, but he and his colleagues at Middle East Forum and Campus Watch should not stand alone. Anyone who values academic integrity, as well as the struggle against the growing scourge of anti-Semitism, needs to stand with him.
i>Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .