Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Actually, Brandeis got it very wrong

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The recent controversy over Brandeis University’s withdrawal of its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is symptomatic of the disconnect from reality prevalent in academia. Let’s look at Hirsi Ali’s “virulently anti-Muslim public statements” quoted by the Brandeis faculty members who signed a letter to the university president, urging him to rescind the offer:

David Cohen quotes Ms. Hirsi Ali as saying: “Violence is inherent in Islam – it’s a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder. The police may foil plots and freeze bank accounts in the short term, but the battle against terrorism will ultimately be lost unless we realise that it’s not just with extremist elements within Islam, but the ideology of Islam itself….Islam is the new fascism” (London Evening Standard, 2-7-07). Rogier van Bakel quotes her as follows: “Jews should be proselytizing about a God that you can quarrel with. Catholics should be proselytizing about a God who is love….Those are lovely concepts of God. They can’t compare to the fire-breathing Allah who inspires jihadism and totalitarianism.” Van Bakel notes religions’ ability to bring about change for good: “Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?” Ms. Hirsi Ali responds, “Only if Islam is defeated.” Van Bakel asks, “Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?” To that she responds, “No. Islam, period.” (Reason, 11-07)

These are the statements which caused 87 faculty members to be “filled with shame,” because, in part, they “cannot accept Ms. Hirsi Ali’s triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples.”

They are entitled to their opinion that the “non-western peoples” that mutilated Ms. Hirsi Ali and murder women for the crime of being rape victims are not culturally backward, but I think she is certainly as well and probably more qualified to make this judgment than the Brandeis faculty.

It is hard for me to see why her position should fill them with shame to the point that they won’t allow their university to honor a woman who has quite literally put her life on the line to end these practices!

I was unable to find an argument worth discussing in the faculty letter, so I turned to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism. Here is why he believes that “Brandeis got it right:”

Ms. Hirsi Ali’s sweeping statements of condemnation do not make vital distinctions that civilized people must always make. I am referring to the distinctions between radical and fanatic versions of Islam and moderate and centrist versions of Islam. As we Jews know very well, there are real consequences when entire populations are represented in the public imagination by their worst elements.

If any major American university were to award an honorary degree to a political or cultural figure who had spoken in such broadly condemnatory terms about Jews, the Jewish community would be outraged — and rightly so. The task of American Jews and all Americans is to join with our Muslim friends in the fight against religious fanaticism in Islam and in all other religious traditions; it is to promote the values of justice, love, and moderation that are common to all the major religious faiths. But we cannot do that if we insist on honoring those who, however sympathetic their backgrounds and moving their personal stories, have made the mistake of demonizing all Muslims and bashing Islam.

Rabbi Yoffie himself fails to make a critical distinction, that between an ideology and a population. Hirsi Ali criticizes Islam, with which she has intimate knowledge, as an ideology, one which has elements that are pro-violence, intolerant, anti-democratic, misogynist, anti-Jewish and more. She believes that these elements are inherent in Islam, that they are an essential part of it. Hence she “bashes” Islam.

But she does not “demonize all Muslims.” This is an entirely different thing, and one that Hirsi Ali is careful to avoid. I am sure she would agree with Yoffie that there are radical and moderate Muslims; but in her analysis, a moderate Muslim is one that, for whatever reason, does not act out the more offensive parts of the Islamic ideology.

Criticism of ideologies, even vituperative criticism, has been part and parcel of legitimate discourse in the West since the Enlightenment. I’m sure that many members of the Brandeis faculty curse capitalism every morning before breakfast, and nobody is “filled by shame” by this. Half of the world’s Internet sites would go dark and there would be no more political speeches if one couldn’t criticize ideology.

To shut down critical discussion of an ideology by trying to assassinate the character (and in the case of Ms. Hirsi Ali, the person) of the critic, simply because the ideology is a religious one, is unreasonable.

Yoffie’s comparison to criticism of Judaism is instructive. He conflates Jew-hatred — the ‘racial’ form practiced by the Nazis, the religion-based version of the Spanish Inquisition, or the conspiratorial type preached by Frazier Glenn Cross (or Miller), which are clearly unacceptable, with ideological objections, which are not.

For example, there are misogynist and intolerant threads in Haredi Judaism which I oppose, as I oppose the universalist themes and conflation of Jewish ethics with leftist politics that appear in Reform Judaism. Public expression of this criticism does not make a me a bigot who hates Haredim or Reform Jews, or even wishes them ill.

There is a difference between Judaism and Islam, which is that the pernicious parts of the ideology that are found in Islam form an essential part of it, and one which at the present time is becoming more and more prevalent in the normative practice of Islam. One could say that more and more Muslims are becoming ‘radicalized’, or as I prefer, beginning to act according to Islamic ideology.

Normative Judaism, in which the understanding of the texts has undergone a process of moderation through the rabbinical tradition, strongly negates the idea that violent episodes (e.g., genocide in the book of Joshua) should be a guide to behavior today — precisely the opposite of what is happening in Islam with the spread of Islamist doctrine.

Muslim organizations like CAIR are trying to make it unacceptable to voice any “criticism of religion,” which they equate to a form of bigotry. But disagreement, no matter how vehement, with an ideology is worlds apart from hating its adherents.

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Sandra Korn’s academic totalitarianism

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

I’ve often said that the best thing about Hamas is that they say what they think. None of the two-faced English vs. Arabic stuff we get from the ‘moderate’ PLO. They say they want to kill us, because they mean it.

So for the same reason, I enjoyed the Harvard Crimson piece by Sandra Y. L. Korn, “The Doctrine of Academic Freedom.” Korn is not ashamed to put forth the idea that academic freedom should be limited when it conflicts with the political prejudices of the “university community”:

If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

And how does it “ensure” this? She provides examples, such as disruption of classes “with a bullhorn and leaflets” and the academic boycott of Israeli institutions. The irony in advocating coercive action to oppose research or speech that she and her peers consider politically incorrect is palpable, especially since the bullhorns and boycotts are reminiscent of the SA tactics of the 1930s.

While she understands that the purpose of academic freedom is to see to it that research is not “restricted by the political whims of the moment,” she apparently fails to grasp that the reason for this is that political whims are just that — whims. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Chinese students took the lead in what Ms Korn must (at least, we hope she must) admit were terrible injustices. Their views were doubtless shared by most of the “university community,” but so what?

The principle of academic freedom does not require, as Ms Korn’s “academic justice” does, an omniscient and perfectly good community to decide which ideas may be discussed and which not. It says in effect “don’t suppress any ideas, let them compete on their merits,” because we are not smart enough to decide a priori (Korn thinks she and her friends are).

The fact that she chooses a boycott of Israeli universities as an example of a just limitation of academic freedom is a perfect example of the defect in her approach, because as a matter of fact, the ‘oppression’ of the ‘Palestinians’ is at bottom a whopper of a lie intended to cover up the desire of the Arabs to eliminate the state of Israel, and even in many cases to perpetrate a genocide of the Jewish population (viz., Hamas Covenant), something I am sure Korn would disapprove of.

Probably all of Ms Korn’s friends agree that only a right-wing Zionist nut would believe that. Maybe this is because the only voices that they hear are those of, er, left-wing anti-Zionist nuts. Academic freedom is intended to allow all (scholarly) points of view to be heard, in order to help us avoid precisely this situation.

Korn’s “academic justice” is more like academic totalitarianism!

This seems blindingly obvious to me, who did not go to Harvard (but like Ms Korn, did study the history of science, in which I learned about politically incorrect scholars like Galileo Galilei). So why doesn’t she get it?

Her bio indicates that she is “a joint history of science and studies of women, gender and sexuality concentrator.” And there could be the explanation: perhaps whatever she learned in her History of Science classes was overwhelmed by the main lesson taught in gender and ethnic studies, which is that there is no such thing as objective truth, there are only the political consequences of belief.

To illustrate, consider the example that opens her essay:

In July 1971, Harvard psychology professor Richard J. Herrnstein penned an article for Atlantic Monthly titled “I.Q.” in which he endorsed the theories of UC Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, who had claimed that intelligence is almost entirely hereditary and varies by race. Herrnstein further argued that because intelligence was hereditary, social programs intended to establish a more egalitarian society were futile—he wrote that “social standing [is] based to some extent on inherited differences among people.”

SDS then got out their bullhorns, to Ms Korn’s great approval. But does she approve of trying to stifle Herrnstein because she believes that his research was bad (how would she be able to tell if he were drowned out by the bullhorns)? Or is it enough for her that she believes that it “promotes or justifies oppression?” Does she also reject the theory of evolution on the grounds that it can be used to support social Darwinist policies that she (justifiably) dislikes?

I began by mentioning Hamas, and I should apologize to Ms Korn for comparing her to them, even in respect to their honesty. I’m sure she has never fired a rocket at a civilian population in her life. But there is something else that she shares with Hamas, which is a belief in ideology above all.

That is about as pernicious an idea as you can get.

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“We simply don’t want to hear from you”

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

The naivete of the Left is sometimes almost touching (almost, but not quite). Here is a clip from a Ha’aretz article written by a young woman named Or Tshuva, a postgraduate student in the department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University of London.

Left-wing Israeli academics have in the past few years faced a great challenge. Threatened with censorship, prosecution and ostracism in their home universities, they have been subtly forced to hold their tongues when it comes to publicly expressing their political opinions. In 2009, Neve Gordon nearly lost his job as a politics professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after writing an op-ed arguing that Israel has become an apartheid state that can only be saved by an international boycott. One year later, in 2010, world-renowned art theorist Ariella Azoulay was denied tenure by Bar-Ilan University apparently due to her pro-Palestinian political views. These incidents send Israeli academics a clear message: tolerance of critical opinions is running out.

It is for exactly this reason that many Israelis pursue academic careers abroad. But in the international academic community, they often find that no matter how far left or pro-peace they are, their “Israeliness” remains an obstacle. Universities and scholars that explicitly support boycotting Israeli academic institutions are still relatively rare, but it seems that to avoid undesirable political rows, many universities choose not to collaborate with their Israeli counterparts or offer scholarships to Israeli students. In many cases, Israelis looking to participate in student-exchange programs or pay for postgraduate studies in Europe, and especially the United Kingdom, are unable to find any opportunities. When it comes to funding, they tend to discover Israel is neither part of the Middle East nor of Europe. Israelis are usually not entitled to apply for the scholarships available to other foreign students.

While their Palestinian fellows enjoy the political and financial support of active pro-Palestinian university societies and generous scholarships designed specifically for them, the implicit message to Israelis is often: “It doesn’t really matter what you say or think, because we simply don’t want to hear from you.” For example, British Member of Parliament George Galloway walked out a debate at Oxford University three months ago simply because he learned that his student opponent was an Israeli citizen. The fact that the student was about to explain the necessity of an agreement recognizing both Israel and a Palestinian state did not matter.

What will it take for you to understand? They don’t want you. Not the Brits, not the academic world in general, and certainly not the Palestinians. It doesn’t matter how far you go in negating your own people’s right to self-determination, no matter how much of a good Jew you are, you will not be good enough.

Thus it always has been for Jews in the Diaspora. Your experience is the best argument for the Zionism that you despise. (h/t Israel Academia Monitor)

Shabbat Shalom!

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Pro-Israel professor harassed and defamed

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

For some years, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin has been almost the sole faculty voice in the University of California system speaking out against harassment of Jewish students who support Israel. Here is an excerpt from a complaint she filed with the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights in 2009:

Professors, academic departments and residential colleges at [The University of California, Santa Cruz] promote and encourage anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior, much of which is based on either misleading information or outright falsehoods. In addition, rhetoric heard in UCSC classrooms and at numerous events sponsored and funded by academic and administrative units on campus goes beyond legitimate criticism of Israel.  The rhetoric – which demonizes Israel, compares contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, calls  for the dismantling of the Jewish State, and holds Israel to an impossible double standard – crosses the line into anti-Semitism according to the standards employed by our own government. …

The impact of the academic and university-sponsored Israel-bashing on students has been enormous.  There are students who have felt emotionally and intellectually harassed and intimidated, to the point that they are reluctant or afraid to express a view that is not anti-Israel.

In the snake pit of academia, where unfashionable explicit Jew-hatred has morphed into enthusiastic and widespread over-the-top anti-Zionism, Rossman-Benjamin stands out — even among pro-Israel faculty members, most of whom are happy to  keep their mouths shut and their noses clean for the sake of promotions and tenure.

Now it seems that her enemies have decided to make an example of her, attributing to her the worst possible sins — the 21st century equivalent of witchcraft — racism and Islamophobia.

In the fantasy world of our universities, being accused of crimes against political correctness can get you in big trouble. And there is a degree of viciousness there that those of us who live on Earth and have real jobs can barely imagine. Rossman-Benjamin recently wrote a letter to University of California President Mark Yudoff, where she wrote in part,

… I have recently come under a vicious and unjustified personal attack from a pro-Palestinian student group on my campus, the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) and members of affiliated Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) groups on other UC campuses. They claim that I made “openly racist” and “Islamophobic” comments about the SJP and Muslim Students Association (MSA) during a talk I gave at a synagogue near Boston last summer. …

Most recently, in response to a 2-minute video clip taken from a much longer video of my talk last summer, the UCSC CJP and affiliated SJP groups on other UC campuses have not simply voiced dissent but waged a virulent and harmful campaign to assassinate my character that includes: posting and promoting a defamatory on-line petition accusing me of racism and censorship and calling on you to condemn me; widely posting defamatory flyers about me on the UCSC campus; launching over a dozen videos about me on YouTube that wrongfully accuse me of being “hateful,” “dangerous,” and “Islamophobic;” instructing SJP students UC-wide to fill out hate/bias reports against me on their respective campuses; passing libelous resolutions condemning me for my “inflammatory, hateful, and racist assumptions” in the UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, and UC Irvine student senates; and, perhaps most egregiously, appearing to collaborate with groups sympathetic to terrorists (e.g. the International Solidarity Movement) and associated on-line publications (e.g. Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss) to more widely circulate these defamatory materials about me.

Please understand that the CJP/SJP’s targeted and well-orchestrated campaign of intimidation, harassment, and defamation has caused me to feel real concern for my safety and my ability to carry out my responsibilities as a faculty member at UCSC.

It is no longer remarkable that supporters of the most racist, misogynist, homophobic, intolerant, anti-free-speech and violent forces in the world today — for example, Hamas — take shelter behind Western concern for the complete opposite of all of those. They are expert at the game of political correctness (here is another example). At the same time, their behavior conveys veiled physical threats against their targets.

I find it interesting to recall the atmosphere on campus when I went to school, before the upheavals of the mid-1960’s. One significant difference was the attitude of the Jewish students, who weren’t cowed and apologetic, still not having been beaten into submission to the idea that the Jewish state was an evil, apartheid, Nazi-like oppressor of ‘indigenous’ brown Palestinians. How this happened is a long story, but there certainly is no hope for reversing it if the few faculty members who can serve as models and mentors for Jewish students are intimidated or even driven out.

Check out Rossman-Benjamin’s request for letters of support here.

Previous posts about Tammi Rossman-Benjamin are here and here.

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In support of free speech — Updated

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013
Leila Khaled

I’m Leila. Fly me to Damascus!

The University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (what is usually called the ‘Student Union’ in the US) has a Social Justice Centre (motto: “We work toward progressive social change”).

So whom do they invite to speak to the students but Leila Khaled — because nothing is as progressive as airline hijacking.

Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) took part in the hijacking of TWA flight 840 in 1969 (no one was injured, but the plane was blown up in Damascus), and in a foiled attempt on El Al flight 219 in 1970 in which a crew member was killed by another hijacker. She was turned over to British authorities — after being beaten up by passengers — who managed to hold onto her for about a month before she was released in exchange for Western hostages held by the PFLP.

Well, actually, UBC is only inviting the virtual Leila, because the real one, being a convicted if not punished terrorist, is not allowed into Canada. So they are doing it by Skype.

Nevertheless, some have objected on the grounds that an actual terrorist is not a good role model for students.

Naturally, the university is defending the idea. Lucie McNeill, UBC Public Affairs Director, said

A university is an open community and there are all sorts of groups that think, believe and state their opinions differently … You expect different schools of thought to contend on a campus.

And we agree with her, as does our correspondent Joel B. Shapiro, who sent her and some others the following email:

From: Joel B. Shapiro
Sent: May-01-13 8:52 AM
To: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’
Cc: ‘’; ‘’
Subject: I applaud your defense of free speech on campus

Dear Lucie McNeill,

I applaud your defense of free speech, open dialogue, and political debate on campus, as described in Globe & Mail this morning.

In appreciation and affirmation of your point of view, and UBC’s official (current) policy, I would like to apply for permission to hold the following three annual events on the UBC campus. With whom can I meet to submit and discuss the applications? And would you be so kind (and politically progressive) as to help me champion these important political debates at UBC? The three events:

  1. A conference comparing the lethal techniques of Palestinian terrorism (and Islamist terrorism in general) to non-lethal forms of self defense employed by Israel—and the implications for Canadian and international law. Just in case you are not aware of this issue, here are a few tiny examples (just the tip of the iceberg): the terrorists target innocent civilians, maximize civilian casualties, and use their own people as human shields. Israel, conversely, uses checkpoints and security fences (including the infamous “wall”), tries to minimize civilian casualties, and of course, attempts to protect its citizens rather than using its own people as human shields.
  2. Saudi Apartheid Week: protesting and debating gender apartheid (misogyny), homophobia, state-sponsored racism, slavery, sectarian violence (which is a lethal form of racism)…and support of terrorist violence throughout the Arab world. The meetings and demonstrations will focus on presenting legitimate evidence against Arab nations so as not to target the Muslim religion directly, which of course is not “kosher” in Canada. (Although we will point out the repugnant irony that criticizing Muslim racism and violence is almost always criticized as a racist act, especially on the left, and that insofar as Islam is both a religion and a political ideology, we can & must treat its ideology as we do every other ideology in the world, i.e., with cautious respect and vigilant critique.)
  3. Finally, we wish to have a visual type demonstration to help student understand the dilemma posed by terrorism and the root cause of Israel’s defensive actions. The demonstration would look something like this: perhaps there can be a fake explosion, fake blood and body parts, and loud air raid sirens in the cafeteria or large classrooms, and everyone has to evacuate their classrooms for 5 minutes — to remind everyone and encourage debate about Palestinian terrorism.

We will, of course, conduct all of the above with the utmost honesty, integrity, dignity, and scholarship—free of any hint of racism, and with the only purpose of encouraging debate, dialogue, awareness, and political action against clear injustices in the world. After all, who is not against state sponsored racism, misogyny, homophobia, slavery, targeting innocent civilians, using people as human shields, etc., etc.? We also promise, unlike the Palestinian groups, not to invite any speakers who are convicted terrorist or who call for violence or racism of any kind, but only those who, conversely, stand opposed to racism and violence.

Given that UBC has been so supportive of anti-Israel events, and even hosting a convicted terrorist to speak on campus, I expect that UBC will be equally supportive of (i) a far less racist and far more honest defense of Israel, and (ii) legitimate political dialogue around much greater evils (which are in fact, ironically, root causes of Israel’s self defense anyway). We do not ask for any kind of favoritism, but we do request equal time and consideration.

Supporting the one cause but not the other would expose UBC’s policy (and motivation) as not being grounded in free speech but rather in the one-sided war against Israel and against Jews on campus. Please choose free speech over (or in addition to) your (inadvertent?) promotion of Palestinian & Islamic terrorism on campus.

Your current one-sided approach contributes to a climate of fear for Jews in Canada—so much so that Canadian Jews are afraid to speak up out of fear of reprisal. What better place to encourage that debate than a university campus that is already out there promoting free speech and political debate.

Thanking you in advance for your consideration and support.


Joel Shapiro, Ph.D.

Update [1857 PDT]: The dialogue continues:

From: McNeill, Lucie
Sent: May-01-13 4:24 PM
To: Joel B. Shapiro
Subject: Re: I applaud your defense of free speech on campus

Dear Mr Shapiro,

The group organizing this event at UBC, the Social Justice Centre, is an Alma Mater Society (AMS) resource group.  The AMS is the student union at UBC and is completely independent from the university.  The AMS does not represent the University of British Columbia.

At the following URL, you will find UBC President Stephen Toope’s letter to the UBC community on respectful debate which expresses UBC’s core values:

Best wishes,



From: Joel B. Shapiro
Sent: May-01-13
To: McNeill, Lucie
Subject: Re: I applaud your defense of free speech on campus


Thanks for the quick response. But you have not answered my questions:

  1. Will you help me sponsor those three events through an AMS / if I go through an AMS – or not?
  2. And will UBC allow those three events to take place, as they have allowed “anti-Israel weeks” in the past? You will definitely get some pushback.

Or are you saying that I do not need permission, buy-in, or cooperation from you (or UBC) in any way, and that I can just go ahead and do whatever I want if it is in conjunction with an AMS and adheres to your core values?

I would of course prefer your full support. And I assure you that my three events will be far less dishonest and racist than the pro-Palestinian events—which means that if pro-Palestinian / anti-Israel events are allowable according to UBC’s core values, then my events will definitely be. We will, of course, study and respect your core values while promoting the event and while on campus. I would also be happy to organize some internationally renowned speakers to help raise the international profile of UBC in the process (no terrorists, of course).

Thank you.


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