Stanford University's Joel Beinin is used to criticism for his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but when a conservative commentator put the professor's photo on the cover of a booklet titled "Campus Support for Terrorism," it started a whole new war.
Beinin, a prominent Middle Eastern scholar, filed suit in March -- turning his ideological clash with FrontPageMag.com Editor in Chief David Horowitz into a legal one.
Horowitz removed the photo from later printings, but Beinin said the harm had already been done and is demanding unspecified damages. With the United States at war in Iraq, Beinin said, it's a scary time to be labeled a supporter of terrorism.
"Horowitz is -- if not a coordinated part -- part of a broader attack against people who speak out against Bush's Middle Eastern policies," said Beinin, past president of the Middle Eastern Studies Association. "If you don't fight back and allow the Horowitzes to do and say what they want, it pollutes the political environment to the point where you can't have intelligent discussions about what we do in the world."
While he believes what Horowitz did was libelous, Beinin isn't suing on those grounds. Instead, he selected a more clear-cut legal challenge -- copyright infringement for unauthorized use of his photo.
Horowitz, who said he didn't know the photo was copyrighted, argues he's the victim in the dispute.
"It's an abuse of the courts to chill my free speech," Horowitz said of Beinin's lawsuit. "If he wants a debate, I will come to Stanford and debate him."
Both men are Jewish, but they stand on opposite sides of a deep fault line of opinion on Israel and its actions in the Middle East. Beinin believes Horowitz's antipathy toward him stems in part from the fact that he is Jewish -- Horowitz calls Beinin a "self-hating Jew" -- and that he has criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and called for a Palestinian state.
Horowitz, who is frequently seen on cable television programs such as "The O'Reilly Factor," is a 1960s radical turned conservative who founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The center has since been renamed the David Horowitz Freedom Center and is publisher of the online magazine Front Page. His books include "Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left."
He calls Beinin an "apologist for terror" and not only published Beinin's photo on the cover of "Campus Support for Terrorism" but featured him in his subsequent book, "The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America."
He accuses Beinin, among other things, of saying the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat shouldn't be considered a terrorist but should be respected as the Palestinian Authority's elected president.
Beinin called that a typical Horowitz distortion.
"He gets everything wrong," Beinin said. "His mode of operation is to distort and misquote and confuse people by piecing things together that don't belong together."
Arafat, Beinin agrees, was responsible for many acts of terror but as president of the Palestinian Authority needed to be dealt with internationally as a statesman.
Beinin's lawsuit reads in part, "Mr. Horowitz's most recent 'campaign' has been to attack the integrity, scholarship and patriotism of academics who question American foreign policy in an overt attempt to intimidate and silence them for fear of being labeled as Islamic terrorists or collaborators."
He is seeking an unspecified amount in damages in federal court.
Beinin was one of the nation's first Middle Eastern scholars fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic. He spent a year on the Kibbutz Lahav in Israel before earning a master's degree at Harvard. Briefly disillusioned with academia, he made doors for Dodge trucks in Detroit, where he helped Arab autoworkers understand their rights.
Talking about Israel and the Palestinians has always been difficult in the United States, he said, and during his doctoral studies at the University of Michigan, he followed his thesis supervisor's advice not to write about the subject if he wanted a job in academia. Stanford hired him in 1983 to teach Middle Eastern studies.
The Beinin-Horowitz controversy is just one example of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seeped into academia here and abroad. In Britain, the largest association of higher education instructors voted in May to ask its members to consider boycotting their Israeli academic counterparts who don't publicly dissociate themselves from Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.
In the United States, the activist group Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, held a conference at San Francisco State University in July and called on Palestinians to protest at the Israeli consulate, while the Philadelphia-based organization Campus Watch began asking students in 2002 to monitor their professors for perceived anti-Israel bias.
In recent years, Middle Eastern studies in the United States have come under scrutiny by Horowitz and others who believe faculty are too sympathetic to Palestinian issues and unreasonably hostile to Israeli policies, said Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors in Washington.
"As long as faculty are free to question accepted ideas and notions, there will always be those disturbed by their questioning, and there will always be those who will call for restraints on freedom," he said.
Knight cited Columbia University, where the administration formed an ad hoc committee in 2005 to investigate the classroom behavior of Middle Eastern studies Professor Joseph Massad after student complaints. Knight fears such censure is having a chilling affect on academia.
Campus Watch -- a project by the Middle East Forum -- has encouraged students to monitor professors for perceived anti-Israel bias and report their findings. The Campus Watch Web site has many articles about Beinin.
To stop professors from discussing their political opinions in the classroom, Horowitz has shopped his "Academic Bill of Rights" around the country and has succeeded in getting legislation to that effect introduced in 16 states, although no legislature has passed it. Still, Horowitz said he believes his bill has influenced debate.
"My model for academia is the Columbia I went to in the 1950s -- I want to see it depoliticized," he said. "I never heard a teacher one time express a political opinion. That's what I want. There's massive abuse going on."
He is incensed that in 2003 Beinin held a class lecture at a "teach-in" against the Iraq war in Stanford's quad.
The lecture that day on the Gulf War happened to be relevant, Beinin said, but was "definitely an act of solidarity with the teach-in."
"This is as close to the line of putting politics in the classroom that I've ever done," he said. "I don't hide my opinion."
E-mail Carrie Sturrock at firstname.lastname@example.org.