Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
If you haven’t been following the recent story surrounding accusations of anti-Semitism against a Jewish professor at UC Santa Barbara, here’s a quick recap:
William I. Robinson, a sociology professor, sent an email to students at the height of Israel’s war in Gaza; it’s subject was “Parallel Images of Nazis and Israelis.” Pushed by the ADL, Simon Wiesenthal Center and StandWithUs, the university launched an academic investigation into Robinson, who backed away from directly comparing Nazis and Israelis but also defended his actions as protected by academic freedom.
Robinson’s email has generated quite the uproar, and it demonstrates the difficulty of balancing a free and open university with strong sensitivities. Case in point: Blogging for The New Republic, which has never accused of being a anti-Israel rag, Alan Wolfe comes to Robinson’s defense with a post titled “Enough With the Campus Inquisitions!”
For me, this is an open and shut case. Neither Robinson’s leftist kind of sociology nor his activist kind of politics are mine. Yet the idea of investigating him is appalling and the ADL should be ashamed of itself. Precedents are being set in this case that could have serious ramifications for everyone teaching in public universities—and perhaps even private ones.
We ought to want professors in our universities who teach about controversial subjects to provoke, and even outrage, their students. We should be pleased that they care enough about the issues of the day and about what students believe to send emails to them when things happen in the world that bear on the major issues of the day. Academic apathy is a serious problem. No one could ever accuse William Robinson of that.
At the same time, we should be wary of anyone who views the university not as a place for the exchange of ideas, but as an environment for therapeutic self-affirmation. “This professor should be stopped immediately from continuing to disseminate this information and be punished because his damage is irreversible,” one unnamed UCSB student argued. Nonsense. Whatever damage words and pictures can do is out-weighed by the arguments and discussion they provoke. This student was angry. That was the point. The idea that Robinson caused some kind of irreversible damage here is preposterous. Seeking to punish him is even worse.
The ADL operates at the same level of this confused student. The director of its Santa Barbara office described Robinson’s comparisons as “offensive” and claimed that writing to students is “intimidating.” But there can be little doubt who is trying to intimidate here. The ADL’s mission is to protect us against the hatred of anti-Semitism. Once upon it time it believed that the best way to do so was to call for open discussion on the grounds that minorities subject to majority stereotyping benefit most when the intellectual air is free. Now it has become part and parcel of the thought police, monitoring campuses for any sign of what it considers offensive speech and putting pressure to bear on university administrators to stop it. We now have a world in which Catholics try to prevent Barack Obama from receiving an honorary degree at Notre Dame while the ADL leads similar campaigns against Desmond Tutu speaking at North Carolina. This is the kind of ecumenicalism we do not need.
A Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB has been formed and it includes a protest against Robinson’s treatment from Noam Chomsky. I almost never find myself in agreement with my fellow alum of Philadelphia’s Central High School. But I would be dismayed if only those protesting the ADL’s actions in the Robinson case were those who shared his political views.
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May 1, 2009 | 1:04 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Prosecutors today asked a federal judge to drop the charges against two former top AIPAC staffers accused of conspiring to obtain, and then disclosing, classified information. JTA reports:
In a statement Friday, the acting U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia said restrictions on the government’s case imposed by Judge T.S. Ellis III made conviction unlikely.
“Given the diminished likelihood the government will prevail at trial under the additional intent requirements imposed by the court and the inevitable disclosure of classified information that would occur at any trial in this matter, we have asked the court to dismiss the indictment,” Dana Boente said.
The motion all but guarantees a dismissal.
“Intent requirements” refers to an earlier Ellis ruling that the government must prove that Keith Weissman, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s former Iran analyst, and Steve Rosen, its former foreign policy chief, intended not only to assist Israel but to harm the United States.
Weissman and Rosen were charged under a rarely used section of the 1917 Espionage Act that makes it a crime for civilians to receive and distribute closely held defense information. Both men were later dismissed by AIPAC, with the organization claiming the two had violated its rules; Rosen has filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against AIPAC.
Reached by phone, Rosen told JTA he was “ecstatic” and was “still absorbing a life-changing moment.” He said he had been on the phone Friday morning nonstop with family and friends.
“There was a great injustice here, but thank God we live in a country where the courts can correct this kind of injustice,” he said.
I wonder what this means for Rep. Jane Harman.
Jeff Stein, the CQ columnist who broke the Harman story, just wrote that “the Justice Department’s decision to drop espionage charges against two pro-Israel lobbyists will certainlypour jet fuel on conspiracy theories burning up the blogosphere.” And I’m sure he’s right. Jews and conspiracy theories have a storied, albeit painful, history.
May 1, 2009 | 10:52 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Speaking of torture, a new survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that more than half of the Americans who attend religious services at least once a week found some justification for torture. More from CNN:
More than half of people who attend services at least once a week—54 percent—said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified—more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.
You can see how answers vary by denomination here.
May 1, 2009 | 12:38 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
At 69, Souter is nowhere near the oldest member of the court. In fact, he is in the younger half of the court’s age range, with five justices older and just three younger. So far as anyone knows, he is in good health. But he has made clear to friends for some time that he wanted to leave Washington, a city he has never liked, and return to his native New Hampshire. Now, according to reliable sources, he has decided to take the plunge and has informed the White House of his decision.
Factors in his decision no doubt include the election of President Obama, who would be more likely to appoint a successor attuned to the principles Souter has followed as a moderate-to-liberal member of the court’s more liberal bloc over the past two decades.
In addition, Souter was apparently satisfied that neither the court’s oldest member, 89-year-old John Paul Stevens, nor its lone woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had cancer surgery over the winter, wanted to retire at the end of this term. Not wanting to cause a second vacancy, Souter apparently had waited to learn his colleagues’ plans before deciding his own.
Given his first appointment to the high court, most observers expect Obama will appoint a woman, since the court currently has only one female justice and Obama was elected with strong support from women. But an Obama pick would be unlikely to change the ideological makeup of the court.
Point-setters are already betting on Elana Kagan, who was the dean of Harvard Law School and was chosen by Obama to be solicitor general, to be among the front-runners. Like two current Supreme Court justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, and an unfathomable number of attorneys, Kagan is Jewish.