A Tale of Two Boycotts: The Campus Debate on Israel Heats Up

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2002 | Go to article overview

A Tale of Two Boycotts: The Campus Debate on Israel Heats Up


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Richard H. Curtiss is executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

The pro-Israel Middle East Forum, headed by Daniel Pipes, launched a new Web site this fall. Called Campus Watch, it criticized eight professors and 14 universities for their views on Palestinian rights and political Islam. Pipes has long argued that Americans pay too little attention to the dangers of political Islam, and the Web site is designed to call negative attention to those whose views on these issues differ from Pipes' own.

The site lists two professors from Columbia University, Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Massad, and one faculty member each from Berkeley, Georgetown, Northeastern, the University of Michigan, the State University of New York at Binghamton and the University of Chicago. The only trait all these professors have in common is criticism of Israel--otherwise their academic interests differ.

To counter what many see as an incipient "black list" of American scholars, a number of academics have asked to be included in the list. Judith Butler, professor of comparative literature at Berkeley, wrote ironically, "I have recently learned that your organization is compiling dossiers on professors at U.S. academic institutions who oppose the Israeli occupation and its brutality, actively support Palestinian rights of self-determination as well as a more informed and intelligent view of Islam than is currently represented in the U.S. media. I would be enormously honored to be counted among those who actively hold these positions and would like to be included in the list of those who are struggling for justice."

Those named in Pipes' original list said they were heartened by the support. "It's a new genre springing up, and I'm especially glad that it includes Jewish scholars," said Prof. Dabashi, head of Columbia's department of Middle Eastern and Asian languages and cultures. "This is about McCarthyism, freedom of expression. It's very important that it not be made into a Jewish-Muslim kind of thing."

Many academics see Campus Watch as an effort to hamper free speech on the Middle East, and are deeply concerned by the Web site's "Keep Us Informed" section, in which Pipes invites the submission of "reports on Middle East-related scholarship, lectures, classes, demonstrations and other activities." Put bluntly, Pipes seems to be inviting students to turn in their professors.

Pipes said he hoped the Web site would open new dialogue about Middle Eastern policy. "We weren't trying to rile people," he said. "For me, `dossier' was just a French word for file." His point, Pipes claims, "is that Middle Eastern studies at most universities present only one interpretation," which Pipes calls "left-leaning groupthink."

Some academics charge that Campus Watch has added to a concern that those in the field of Middle East studies are facing unfair scrutiny. "Last year, Martin Kramer wrote a book arguing against federal funding for Middle Eastern studies in universities, and that scared people," said Lisa Anderson, dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, who is also about to become head of the Middle East Studies Association. Kramer is the former director of Tel Aviv University's Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. "Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer," says Anderson, "are part of the same group."

"For me, `dossier' was just a French word for file," Pipes said.

For a long time, a much larger, more diverse group has advocated another type of boycott. Europeans have been actively boycotting Israeli musicians, artists, and others who in previous years would have been welcome in Europe. This has reached the point where some people have abruptly canceled long-awaited events, due to worldwide concern for the Palestinian problem. Now, somewhat belatedly, such activities have begun in the U.S.

This came to a head at Harvard University, when President Lawrence H. …

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