WASHINGTON - A blog by Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, deals with serious issues: the Middle East, Iran, Iraq, Palestine. He is very critical of the Bush administration and of Israel, as well. At times, even tendentious. Crude. Two weeks ago, a committee at Yale University decided to forgo his services as a lecturer - despite the fact that his candidacy had already been approved by the departments in which he was slated to teach. A huge embarrassment. Was this because his voice grated on the ears of colleagues, donors and supporters? Or because of the crusade waged against him by a few rightist columnists?
The latter were enraged, inter alia, by Cole's allegation that Iran's president did not call for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Even translation, it seems, is a political act. Cole remained out of Yale, and immediately, there were those who cried that academia had caved in to outside pressure. Ostensibly, a great disaster.
Last year, Professor Deborah Lipstadt wrote a paper entitled, "Strategic responses to anti-Israel and anti-Semitism on North American campuses," in which she formulated more than 20 principles for coping with this problem. One of them was to "recognize that universities are loath to appear as if they are caving in to powerful external interest groups."
The following are the accepted lies: There is no pressure, there is no infringement on academic freedom, the donors did not threaten to stop donating, the committees do not take outside public opinion into account. It is necessary to keep up the pressure - just do not forget to keep up the pretense as well.
There are a variety of means available, whose goal is to rescue Israel from the ambush set for it on campuses by clever opponents who want, in effect, to bring about its liquidation. If Israel's supporters refrain from taking action, the crude defamations will continue without let or hindrance, under a false but honored aegis: academic research. If Israel's supporters express their opinions and expose the tendentiousness at the root of this "research," the doomsday weapon will be pulled out: infringement of "academic freedom."
The last few years have witnessed a host of incidents, in lecture halls and outside them, from the accusatory speech of the "Black Panther" at a university in Petersburg to the famous movie that exposed anti-Israel tendencies in classes at New York's Columbia University. Those who do this work have understood that this is not "academia;" it is "politics" in costume. And if it is politics, that is a game that everyone can play.
Creative solutions are not lacking. It is possible, for instance, to set up a center for Israel studies - but you must be careful to insist that the founders' goal is not to "balance" other departments that are hostile to Israel. The facade must be preserved. Such centers, some of them excellent, began sprouting like mushrooms in the years after the intifada broke out. It is very doubtful that they would have been established had the campuses not been filled with post-Zionists, anti-Zionists and plain old anti-Semites. There is also another solution: strengthening the Jewish studies department, which, due to a combination of circumstances, usually contains lecturers supportive of Israel. That is the good news - that a variety of palliative measures are at the disposal of the interested philanthropist.
One such Jewish donor, Sheldon Adelson, is currently debating whether to give $20 million to Georgetown University in order to expand its successful "Jewish Civilization" program. The university thus benefited twice: Two years ago, it received $20 million from an anti-Israel Saudi donor for the establishment of a Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Now it is likely to receive an identical donation from a Zionist donor. In short, it can boast of its tolerance while also pocketing a goodly sum of money. Cynics might assume that every clever president of an academic institution has already understood that politicization pays. There is no easier way to bring tens of millions of dollars into the institution.