The Price for Criticizing Israel

Part of the neocon grip on Official Washington comes from the harsh career damage inflicted on people who criticize Israel’s abuse of the Palestinians, with such critics deemed anti-Semitic and thus often denied work or a place to express their opinions, as Lawrence Davidson notes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Of late there has been news about attacks on academic freedom, much of it the result of aggressive efforts by Zionist organizations and individuals to silence those academics they see as enemies of Israel.

The latest example of this is the successful pressure brought to bear, apparently by a Zionist donor, on the chancellor of the University of Illinois to rescind a job offer for Professor Steven Salaita. This was done because this influential donor, noting Salaita’s anti-Israel tweets, decided he was anti-Semitic. The Chancellor was apparently convinced that hiring Salaita would cost the university a lot of support – a pretty clear example of donor blackmail.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 2014.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C., on March 4, 2014.

The Salaita case is not the only recent attempt to intimidate academics critical of Israel. An organization calling itself AMCHA (“your people” in Hebrew) and purporting to work for the “protection of Jewish students” has posted a list of over 200 professors who support the boycott of Israel. They too have been judged anti-Semitic and Jewish students are urged by the organization to avoid their classes.

These attacks are tied to a long-standing and growing movement in American higher education to confront Israeli persecution of Palestinians particularly as regards the Occupied Territories – to point out the barbaric nature of the Israeli/Zionist state, not because it is Jewish, but because it is deeply racist.

However, because the leaders and many of the supporters of Israel are Jewish, they confuse the issue and claim a stance against Israel must be one against Jews per se and that is anti-Semitism. It is a claim that makes little sense if only due to the fact that many of those opposing Israeli actions, both within and without of academia, are Jewish.


The Back Story

This attack on academics who see things differently than the Zionists is not new. In 2007, David Horowitz organized teach-ins on campuses across the nation during which professors critical of Israel were accused of purposely withholding information about the threat of “Islamo-fascism.”

Horowitz also asserted that many of these same “left-wing” professors had taken over the country’s universities and were systematically harassing conservative students. Through his influence, 17 state legislatures ordered investigations of these charges. Later he would publish a book entitled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. All were critics of Israel. This set the precedent for the recent listing put forth by AMCHA.

Horowitz was acting in coordination with Daniel Pipes. In 2002, Pipes founded Campus Watch, a website on which he posted the names of academics, mostly in the field of Middle East studies, whom he accused of being “apologists for suicide bombing and militant Islam.” Pipes encouraged students who supported Israel to “hover over the shoulders” of such professors and let them know they were being monitored.

There are many other examples of attacks on academic freedom, and as a consequence Professor Salaita’s career is by no means the only one to be harmed by this sort activity. Dozens of faculty at all levels of higher education have suffered threats, harassment, discipline and/or termination.

These range from well-known figures such as Edward Said at Columbia University and Juan Cole in his dealings with Yale University, to perhaps less-known, but still important teachers and scholars such as Terri Ginsberg at North Carolina State University and the horribly persecuted Sami al-Arian at the University of South Florida.

Larger Historical Context

And then there is the larger historical context for all this. In terms of U.S. history the suppression of free speech, academic or otherwise, can be traced back to 1798 and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Suppression reappeared in the 1830s under Andrew Jackson and during the Civil War under Abraham Lincoln. Woodrow Wilson used the Espionage Act to jail vocal opponents of the First World War beginning in 1917, and this was followed by the first Red Scare in the early 1920s. McCarthyism appeared in 1950s. The intimidating finger-pointing of Islamophobia appeared even before the tragedies of 2001.

What does all this history, stretching from the very beginning of the nation until the present day, tell us? It demonstrates that the effort to control dissenting speech has always been present and probably always will be. There are a number of factors that support this sober conclusion:

First, there is the fact that most people have short historical memories. On average, the United States experiences significant attacks on dissenters and their right to free speech once every 30 to 40 years. This suggests that most citizens have forgotten the essentially barbaric nature and consequences of the previous episode and how, in the end, the claims and charges that ruined so many lives turned out to be false or greatly exaggerated.

Second, there is the difficulty of thinking critically about events of which we have little knowledge. When confronted with such a situation, most citizens rely on the government and its allied media to provide them supposedly accurate information. These sources may well slant stories in a certain way so as to produce public support for specific policies.

The consequences of such distortions are particularly noticeable when it comes to foreign events. Thus, the effectiveness of the ongoing attack on academic freedom, and specifically the freedom of those who are critical of Israel and U.S. policies in the Middle East, is directly related to the ignorance of most Americans about the persecution of Palestinians and the Muslim world’s perception of U.S. behavior.

Third, there is the majority’s ignorance of or indifference to the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the result of a strong demand that the original U.S. Constitution be amended so that it enumerates the basic rights – including freedom of speech – of citizens, residents and visitors on American soil.

However, who is it that usually exercises their rights in ways that might need such protection? It is not the mainstream majority, but rather a vocal minority usually disapproved of by the mainstream. This disregard of the importance of the Bill of Rights is all the more dangerous because those who seek to suppress free expression almost always claim to be acting in defense of the majority.

Such is the power of this claim that often the courts, the job of which entails the enforcement of the Bill of Rights, end up sanctioning its violation.

It is clear that there is a recurring pattern to the assaults on free speech. Perhaps the pattern has its roots in a community’s natural preference for group solidarity. Whatever the origins, the pattern of periodic negative reactions is so well established that we can justifiably conclude it is not going to go away. We are historically stuck with it.

The only way to minimize the consequences of these repeated assaults is to continuously defy them. In other words, only by maintaining a counter-pattern of vigorously defending and using the right of free speech and academic freedom can space be sustained for critical voices.

If at any time we fail to sustain this space we risk the possibility of being overwhelmed by a combination of closed-minded ideologues and the mass indifference of the majority.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

11 comments for “The Price for Criticizing Israel

  1. Joe
    December 2, 2014 at 19:44

    A democracy without protection of elections and mass media from economic power soon becomes an oligarchy. The US oligarchy consists of persons who do business with right wing Jewish people, and categorically promote those views and tyrannize opposition. They oppose democracy and systematically subvert the Constitution. Those who control the mass media and election funding control public opinion, and the level of public education and intelligence does not permit broad recognition that the US is an oligarchy not a democracy.

    That can be altered only by constitutional amendments prohibiting retention or spending on elections and mass media beyond very limited individual contributions. But with the tools of democracy controlled by the oligarchy, the means are unclear. Education has a very limited audience in a culture of ignorance, selfishness, hypocrisy, and malice. Democracy has never been further in the future, and I foresee an apocalyptic struggle before it is restored. More likely, the empty suit of armor will simply be toppled economically by another oligarchy.

  2. Zachary Smith
    December 2, 2014 at 11:54

    Larger Historical Context

    I believe Dr. Davidson errs when he spreads his net to include this ‘context’, for the Salaita case is one where a foreign state uses sympathetic & wealthy US citizens to intimidate opponents of the thuggish little nation at the east end of the Med.

    The first amendment issue surely is a tricky one though. The mention of Lincoln raised my hackles. In the Civil War the very survival of the US was at stake, and taking an absolutist stance on free speech in that situation verged on the suicidal. Personally, I like this formula from an author in the Twenties of the last century.

    Speech or writing can be restrained by the government when it directly incites or provokes crime, or when it comes dangerously near to accomplishing some object which the government is rightfully interested in preventing. It cannot be restrained merely because the remote or indirect tendency may be to encourage crime or injure the public interest.

    This is by no means ironclad. Following this approach, the South was fully justified in violently suppressing every single Abolitionist within reach to protect its dreadful system of institutionalized Slavery.

    And it would also provide a shield for the clever strategy where the provocation of crime is indirect but still deadly. A certain major US religion has been quite successful in ‘educating’ mentally ill types to murder abortion doctors while retaining technically ‘clean’ hands. Permitting young people to be indoctrinated to the degree they willingly become suicide bombers ought to be restricted as well. Yes, it’s tricky.

    Still an opinion, but I feel these larger issues are not really related to the Salaita case. In this one the focus ought to be on Israel – not the US First Amendment.

    • Peter Loeb
      December 5, 2014 at 07:10

      Agreeing with the comment of Zachary
      Smith regarding focus, I would suggest
      an amendment to his suggestion :

      The focus should indeed be on Israel
      together with the enthusiastic support of
      US Administrations and politicians of
      both US political parties over many deccades . (See Naseer H. Aruri, DISHONEST BROKER….)

      —Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

    • ralph harrison
      December 5, 2014 at 11:25

      The solution for objectionable speech is more speech not trying to create
      acceptable standards. Censorship or restricted speech always becomes tyranny.

  3. alexander
    December 1, 2014 at 19:10

    Dear Mr Davidson,
    Could you not argue that the “Neo-con grip” on Washington, Academia, and the mainstream media is, in and of itself, a form of terrorism?
    Real” terrorism” !?!?
    If ones freedom to learn , to think, to feel, to care, or to speak out…. is destroyed…..
    That every individual who chooses to do so…. is made to pay a price…either through their loss of career , or reputation, or both…….
    Haven’t they been ….”.terrorized” ?…
    And all those who witness it ….Haven’t they been “terrorized” also?
    forced to conform into thinking or speaking a certain way….
    out of fear ?
    Isn’t that what terrorism (real terrorism) is all about…in the end ?

  4. truth
    December 1, 2014 at 18:29

    israheili intel is running a worldwide propaganda op with
    its agents running stories about “rising tide of anti semitism”. but
    it is all a lie, just propaganda designed to get sympathy for the “poor
    jews, i.e. zionist thugs” who are committing mass murder in gaza. just google: rising
    tide of anti semitism…………you can see the operation for yourself.
    p.s. google also: robert maxwell israels
    superspy…………..learn how mossad controls media in the usa and europe.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    December 1, 2014 at 17:44

    Paul Krugman tells us we are finally beginning to pull out of the economic slump. Our State Department laments ‘Russian aggression’ while Israel continues its territorial expansion into occupied territory. A Malaysian airliner is shot down, but Malaysia is excluded from the investigation. ISIS continues its rampage, but Americans are too lazy to look at a map. There are only three countries from which ISIS can receive logistical assistance, supplies, reinforcements, and weapons. Those three countries are Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey – our strategic partners. Pakistan will never support our campaign against the Taliban, because they are an essential buffer in Pakistan’s dispute with China over Kashmir. American missile defense systems are nearly useless against the latest Russian ballistic missiles unless they are attacked prior to or immediately upon launch, thus the incentive to extend NATO to Russia’s borders. Even then, the effectiveness of Russian radar and anti-missile defense systems reduce the likelihood that preemptive responses would preclude a successful launch. Russian military doctrine includes the commitment to utilize tactical nuclear weapons in response to an overwhelming conventional attack. Thus, no conventional attack will be mounted. Russia wisely assumes that a U.S. attack would come in the form of a “first strike” attempt. Their doctrinal response to that would be “launch on warning”, against which the U.S. is utterly defenseless. And, it’s our own fault. WE broke the treaties, not them.

    The U.S. has been placating America’s energy concerns by touting fracking and the Keystone Pipeline as rational responses. They are telling us America will have so much energy that we will become a “net energy exporter”. Let’s get something straight. North America has 2% of the world’s net petroleum reserves. That’s right, 2%. And, if the trend toward flight from the Petrodollar continues, our currency becomes worthless on the world market. America has been surviving for years on a scam – other countries had to by and sell THEIR resources using OUR money. Those other countries are getting fed up. Americans believe American lies, but other countries? Not so much.

    Sooner or later, utter failure becomes self-evident. Only a major war, with the concomitant total control of press freedom and suspension of civil liberties can keep a lid on the truth. We’ve seen the Gulf of Tonkin lie, the “babies thrown from incubators” lie, the “weapons of mass destruction” lie, the Qaddafi killing his own people lie, the Syrian gas attack lie, the “no Nazis in Ukraine” lie, and now, the “economic recovery” lie. The list is much longer, but space is prohibitive.

    The “Big Lies” began on November 22, 1963. Americans have NEVER found the courage to confront them. I don’t expect that to change. Republicans are generally content with the financial rewards intrinsic to playing along, and Democrats lack the moral courage to fight back. The ‘left’ thinks the answer is Elizabeth Warren, who just made the obligatory pilgrimage to Israel. A “Libertarian” third party candidate assures a victory for Hillary, and a “Green” third party candidate assures a victory for Jeb. Either way, the Big Liars win.

    Analysts claim we are playing “Russian Roulette” with our military posturing. Actually, its a game Americans were familiar with during the Great Depression. They called it “Liar’s Poker”, but somehow, Americans have forgotten the rules. They seem convinced they have no choice but to play along. Things will have to get much worse before they learn to play the game again, but the stakes are high. It takes real guts, but so far, Americans seem committed to believing every lie that comes along. Cowardice has become the new patriotism, and as long as China keeps manufacturing American flags, Americans will keep waving them.

    • JWalters
      December 1, 2014 at 19:20

      An excellent expansion of the back story of this very important story. Who benefits from all these lies, this ongoing suppression of facts, the persistent fanning of ethnic conflicts? As Robert Parry has pointed out, the neocons fanned the crisis in Ukraine. (How could anyone expect the Russians to let their naval base in Crimea be simply taken?) And the neocons fanned the flames of war in Iraq, and are doing the same with Iran.

      The massive profits of war profiteering bankers enabled their takeover of British and American governments and media.

      Democracy is seriously beseiged.

    • Rob Roy
      December 1, 2014 at 20:36

      Excellent. Thank you. A current lie that has great traction with US citizens is the lie that Putin is sending Russian military (soldiers and equipment) into Ukraine. Our country is intent on a war with Russia because it wants NATO to steadily move east, breaking the promise that it wouldn’t before it went into the Balkan states and Baltic (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) states. As Gorbachev said, “You can’t trust the Americans.” Those most recent six now-NATO countries, under the hammer of the IMF and austerity and neoliberalism, are that closer to surrounding Russia. Russia was wise to take back Crimea, its only fresh water port w/a naval fleet, and has since made no move westward. The coup by our CIA ousting an elected president, Yanukovich, and installation of a Nazi and fascist ‘government’ (Right Sector and Svoboda, people who previously murdered hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians) is as bad as one country can foist on another (and we have done that many times). Then, of course, we turn around and ‘recognize’ this ‘government as ‘legitimate.” Unbelievable. All the lies about Putin I notice are the truth about the US. When people in Russia watch TV, on their own they go to Ukraine to fight against the so-called government army. Putin does not send them there. These people usually have no military training and often get killed as soon as they fight. I heard one of these Russians say, “Do you think if Putin sent us here, we would have this equipment?” The are rag-tailed, use their own trucks, have no protective gear and their weaponry is hit and miss. They have five tanks, four of which are completely broken and unusable and one that runs, not well. We are not only losing our capacity to discern between lies and truth, we are accepting loss of our civil rights, one by one.

      December 2, 2014 at 14:02

      If I was to grade your homework, I would have to give you an A+.

      • Rob Roy
        December 4, 2014 at 00:37

        Donald Edward,
        Thank you for your kind comment. If you were my teacher I’d be a happy student. RR

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