Israel's Tenured Extremists

By Plaut, Steven | Middle East Quarterly, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Israel's Tenured Extremists


Plaut, Steven, Middle East Quarterly


Israel is under assault from within and not just from the usual suspects. Its legitimacy and, in many cases, its very existence are being attacked by a domestic academic fifth column. Hundreds of professors and lecturers, employed by Israel's state-financed universities, are building careers as full-time activists working against the very country in which they live. And the problem is growing. Fortunately, the Israeli public has become aware of the problem and is increasingly demanding that something be done about it. A not inconsiderable part of the credit for this belongs to the Middle East Quarterly, probably the first serious journal to discuss the problem a decade ago, sparking a debate that continues to challenge the Israeli academy's offensive against the Jewish state.

"SOCRATES" BLOWS THE WHISTLE

In fall 200 1 , the Middle East Quarterly ran a major exposé of anti-Israel academics based inside Israeli universities. Titled "Israel's Academic Extremists,"1 it shattered the conspiracy of silence that had long been observed in the Israeli media and on Israeli campuses about scholars working against their own country and in support of its enemies. And it opened a floodgate.

The article was attributed to "Solomon Socrates," described as "the pen name for a watchdog team of researchers keeping an eye on Israel's universities." The very fact that the authors felt they needed the cloak of anonymity to protect themselves from retaliation from their colleagues within higher education may have been the most dramatic illustration of the sorry state of academic freedom and pluralism in Israel's universities.

Noting that hiring and promotion procedures at Israeli universities were commonly politicized, with leftist faculty who had poor academic publication records getting hired and promoted as acts of political solidarity, the article offered thumbnail characterizations of about two dozen Israeli academic extremists. Today that list seems tame and thin, at least when compared with the dimensions of the problem as it is now understood. A few of the names were of obscure academicians of little interest, evidently spotlighted as a result of some outlandish statements and positions. Two of those named, Benny Morris and Ilan GurZe'ev, would no longer make the list and are generally considered today to be important defenders of Zionism and critics of "post-Zionist" historical revisionism of which they were once key articulators. Morris appears to have jettisoned most of his earlier Israel-bashing and New History revisionism regarding the period of Israel's war of independence, though not everyone is persuaded the rehabilitation is sincere.2 As a result he has become the favorite whipping boy for much of the anti-Zionist Left, incensed that he no longer spends his days denouncing Israel as the ultimate evil in the world. In February 2010, Morris was even denied the right to speak at a Cambridge University student event on the grounds that he was too pro-Israel and thus supposedly anti-Arab.3 In June 201 1, he was accosted by antiIsrael activists while on his way to lecture at the London School of Economics.4 Gur-Ze'ev, meanwhile, has been speaking out forcefully against the anti-Semitism and totalitarian inclinations of the radical Left, to the chagrin of those who oppose him.3

From Socrates' 2001 list, Baruch Kimmerling, Dan Bar-On, and Israel Shahak are no longer alive while Ilan Pappe and Gabriel Piterberg have emigrated and built careers elsewhere as full-time Israel bashers. The remaining names have, however, been joined by scores, perhaps hundreds, of home-grown academic bashers of Israel over the past decade.

THE INTERNAL WAR AGAINST ISRAEL

Most of Israel's anti-Israel academics hold tenured faculty positions at the country's taxfunded public universities. They include people who justify and celebrate Arab terrorism and who help initiate campaigns of boycott and economic divestment directed against their own country in time of war. …

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