Academic Freedom and Patriotism

14 04 2009



The question about Israel’s academic freedom is one that would undoubtedly give you diverging answers, depending on whom you ask. The left will tell you that academia is not left enough, and the right will tell you it isn’t right enough.

An article captured my attention on the Jerusalem Post, published last week, on April 6th. It features an interview with Dana Barnett, the founder of Israel Academia Monitor (IAM) that tracks Israel’s professors for anti-Israel speech and teachings.

For those of you who know Campus Watch in the U.S., the IAM is its Israeli counterpart. It puts out documents and speeches that Israeli academics have published/lectured, most of which are major criticisms of Israel. Barnett’s mission is to determine the “anti-Zionists” and more so, those who are “anti-Israel.” The article and the mentality is what’s most discomforting.


Professors Criticizing Israel

Barnett focuses on those professors who call Israel an apartheid force, other professors who called against Israel’s war on Gaza, others who support the Palestinian cause and those professors who are against the “security wall,” because she believes that all those can constitute acts of treason. Lumping all of these together is really problematic.

She says that not all professors who express criticism towards Israel or sympathy with the Palestinians are mentioned. But shouldn’t that be the natural case in a democratic country anyway? She says that she searches for words like “occupation” and “apartheid” in these documents to determine who might be speaking against the Jewish State, although the word “occupation” alone does not make an anti-Israel sentiment. I ask then: why look for it?


About the Palestinians

In one line of the interview, Barnett characterizes the Palestinians as “enemies.” She says, “I realized that they are people – with rights, of course – but not a people. They have no common denominator, other than wanting to see Israel destroyed. And that’s not sufficient for peoplehoold.” Is that making your stomach turn yet?

The statement is contradictory. She acknowledges that the Palestinians are people, but then not really people, with rights, but then their rights should technically be taken away because all of them are bent on destroying Israel.

Do any of us remember Kahane? Can we say that electing Avigdor Lieberman also says something about Israel’s peace intentions with the Palestinians and its treatment of Arab-Israelis? Can we generalize, please?


The Problematic Mentality

Coming from the Middle East, this line of thinking is strikingly similar to that in the Arab and Muslim world. In many Arab countries, speaking against the government and its actions would bring you a lot of trouble. “Treason” and “traitors” are but few examples of name-calling; words that Barnett herself uses.

Barnett says that their goal is to exert pressure on “emotional treason.” I got nervous when I read those words. She does not provide us with a definition of “emotional treason.” It reminds me of the 1950s McCarthyism era in the U.S. when anyone who spoke against the country during the cold war was charged with un-patriotism and in many cases, treason.

“Emotional treason” reminds me of the phrase “fear-mongering.”


My Point

Students should be exposed to all kinds of principles and ideas at universities. It should be up to them to choose what to think. To say that these professors, as small in number as they are now, can change a generations’ mentality is simply giving them too much power and credit. To say that students are mere followers and information-receivers is simply undermining our intelligence and ability to figure it out on our own. I have had professors on the far right and those on the far left. I choose what to think.

The point with academic freedom is freedom itself. You begin to curb that, then you begin to curb an important part of the society. You begin to curb that, then you begin to hurt what Israel does far better than its neighbors.  

I was left with a couple of questions: why doesn’t this organization, in the name of academic freedom, also mention those professors who preach against the Palestinians in general? Why not mention those who speak about the Palestinians, maybe even Arabs and Muslims, as people who do not have the right to exist, who deserve to be expelled, who are animals, plain enemies? Please don’t tell me those professors don’t exist.