I have often been reminded of Marx’s famous dictum that history repeats itself,
first as tragedy then as farce.
In the academic world to which I belong
the latest examples of “history as farce” are recent attempts by some of my
colleagues on the Israeli (radical/anti-/post-) Zionist Left to create a new
bogeyman that they then claim is persecuting them and poses a dire threat to the
freedom of Israeli society, if not to Western civilization.
referring to the recent comical attempts to depict all those who challenge this
movement’s growing strength in the academic world as the heirs to the late
Senator Joseph McCarthy, in particular the mainstream Im Tirtzu student movement
and its purported “blacklist.”
I am not disputing the claim that Im
Tirtzu compiles lists of academics who write and teach against the Zionist Idea
(or Israel as a Jewish State) and even goes so far as to criticize some of them
publicly. Im Tirtzu occasionally even calls for the ouster of an academic whose
salary comes mostly from the government but still calls for international
boycotts of Israel, and even of its universities of which he/she is a
But calling this a “blacklist,” with all the historical
associations involved is, well, ludicrous.
Any list without real
political and economic clout behind it is not even a pale imitation of the one
compiled by the House for Un-American Activities Committee in the United States
in the 1950s.
Many professionals, particularly in the entertainment
industry but including also those in the academic community, whose names made
their way to the Committee’s list as Communist Party members or even
sympathizers, were fired and blackballed from attaining any other
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Many careers were destroyed, families suffered greatly and paranoia
in certain sectors of American society prevailed for a while (though McCarthy
even in his heyday suffered no shortage of prominent detractors).
yesterday’s tragedy becomes today’s farce; I know of no academic criticized by
Im Tirtzu who has lost his/her job as a result, or whose academic career was
jeopardized. In fact, I can testify as an academic insider that Im Tirtzu’s
claims that in a number of academic departments in the social sciences holding
far-left (or “post” Zionistic) positions actually gives one an edge , and
certainly helps in the promotion process, are true.
It is much easier to
publish ideological, anti-Israel articles than more nuanced ones, not only in
the popular press but also in second- rate academic journals. Moreover, there
really is a strong group of anti-Israel academics out there in the world who are
more than happy to write letters of recommendation for fellow travelers in the
Israeli academic community, and over the years I have had occasion to read such
The case of a faculty colleague of mine who is most prominently
featured on Im Tirzu’s “blacklist” is a case in point. Since writing his
(in)famous column in a prominent American newspaper calling for an academic
boycott of Israel his fortunes have certainly taken an interesting turn, far
different than that which one would have expected listening to the lament of the
He has – rightfully – been promoted to associate professor
on the basis of his academic record, his extracurricular political activities –
properly – ignored by all the university committees dealing with his promotion.
He has been elected by his peers to one of the most important committees in the
faculty, and has been appointed faculty chair and financial czar by the
Calls for his dismissal by those outside the university are
dismissed as ludicrous, and certainly counterproductive, by all those in the
academic community (this writer included) and border on virtual zero, the
political grandstanding of some right-wing politicians
In short, we are witnessing an exceptional form of
“martyrdom” for the cause, a point not lost on any of us in the academic
Let me add that the odds that the ideologically far-left oriented
department to which he belongs, Politics and Government, will be closed are also
virtually nil, despite the scathing academic report it has earned from a very
prominent academic committee appointed by the Israeli Council for Higher
Education to examine all political science departments in the country.
fact, the department has grown in student popularity as a result of the report,
will almost definitely grow in number of positions (to meet the academic demands
of the report) and, if history is any guide, the new appointments will share
similar ideological outlooks to those of the older members of the
So much for Im Tirtzu’s “blacklist.” Small wonder that some
of my colleagues are currently signing up on Facebook to try to add their names
to such a list.
Meanwhile those belonging to the Israeli
(radical/anti-/post-) Zionist Left continue to proclaim their ideological views
to their heart’s content in the mainstream Israeli media (not to say Western
media), while lambasting non-existent attempts to curtail their “free speech”
whenever they are criticized.
So why all this posturing? Why the need to
depict oneself as the victim of an imaginary government crackdown? Is it,
perhaps, a result of the mounting pressure to change entrenched old habits, such
as avoiding hiring those not of their camp, of teaching classes and organizing
academic conferences where even mainstream Zionist views receive very little if
any voice, all under the banner of “critical” thought and academic freedom? This
leads us to wonder whether there really are blacklists, and if so who their real
victims are; who is really trying to silence whom.
So to all my
colleagues on the radical Left who complain about threats to free speech and
attempts to curtail academic freedom I can only remind you of the immortal words
of the American comic strip Pogo: “We have met the enemy, and he is
us.”The writer is a professor in the Department of Jewish Thought at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev as well as the chair of the Goldstein Goren
International Center for Jewish Thought at the university.
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