Criticism of academics is not McCarthyism

The presentation of factual evidence by concerned citizens about the activities of those who advocate sanctions against their own universities is the diametric opposite of the ideology.

By
August 25, 2010 23:54
3 minute read.
bgu 224.88

bgu 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Ron Friedman’s article “McCarthy vs. Voltaire in Beersheba” (August 20) and his interview with Ben-Gurion University president Rivka Carmi shed some interesting sidelights on the university’s ugly spat with the Im Tirtzu organization.

While eye catching, the headline is hardly appropriate, though typical of the manner in which words that are frequently used, like apartheid and occupation, are misunderstood. The reference to McCarthy is inappropriate in this context because the brouhaha about the abuse of academic freedom in Israeli universities bears no resemblance whatsoever to McCarthyism, which is defined in The American Heritage Dictionary as “the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence.”

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In fact, the presentation of factual evidence by concerned citizens about the activities of academics who advocate sanctions against their own universities is the diametric opposite of McCarthyism. These concerns are expressed not only by Im Tirtzu but also by other organizations and large numbers of university faculty members, students and the public. While I am not in complete agreement with all of Im Tirtzu’s actions, its efforts to bring truthful information about the disloyal behavior of some academics to the notice of donors and the general public is to be highly commended.

WHO WILL disagree that publicizing true facts is an essential right, if not a duty in a democratic society? In view of her achievements as a geneticist, her work among the country’s Beduin population and her position as the first woman president of an Israeli university, I criticize Rivka Carmi with great respect and constructively.

And it is with great sadness that I view the public dispute between her and the Im Tirtzu group, as I respect the sincerity and idealism of both sides.

After all, Im Tirtzu and other critics of errant academics are expressing much the same thoughts that Carmi expressed in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times when she wrote that she strongly believes a call for a worldwide boycott of Israel by BGU faculty member Neve Gordon in the Times oversteps the boundaries of academic freedom.

And more to the point, her views coincided with those of Im Tirtzu when she went even further in a letter she sent to BGU faculty members in which she implied that Gordon’s words may even amount to treason.

In the circumstances, Carmi’s statement that Im Tirtzu’s letter didn’t deserve the dignity of a response is disturbing. In all seriousness I ask her to reconsider this elitist misjudgment. Neither the public, nor the Knesset nor the Council for Higher Education considers it undignified to respond to it.

More importantly, her rejection of complaints about Gordon’s writings, that she herself described as bordering on treason, contradicts her statement during the Jerusalem Post interview that she considers it important that students be critical and express their opinions, and that critical thought is a cornerstone of academic scholarship.

Very significantly, she said during the interview that there are people who do and say things she abhors, but like Voltaire, she would defend to the death their right to say it. If this statement of Carmi’s is to have any meaning at all, then surely she should defend the rights of Im Tirtzu, Israel Academia Monitor, Isracampus and concerned members of her own board of governors to express their sincere concerns.

The writer is a commentator on current affairs. His web site is http ://www.2nd-thoughts.org


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