Professors and students talking about the Middle East at colleges across the nation are discovering a thin line between spurring discussion and inviting attack — especially when an impassioned e-mail message can reach millions of in boxes in seconds, be picked apart and paraphrased on blogs in minutes, and reprinted (in context or not) in the pages of leading newspapers within days, triggering yet another round of emotional exchanges. Brandeis University is far from the only academic battleground on this topic, and clashes such as those described below are increasingly common. All of the following events took place within the past year:
In advance of a speech that Jimmy Carter gave at Emory University on February 22, a group of professors there wrote an essay that was published in the university's student newspaper, The Emory Wheel. They demanded that Mr. Carter, a longtime distinguished professor at the university, debate his book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, with Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy in the first Bush and the Clinton administrations, who said Mr. Carter had undermined efforts toward Middle East peace by mislabeling two maps in the book and distorting proposals made by President Bill Clinton in 2000. Before a crowd of 600 at Emory, he said, "I believe what I advocate in this book — whether you agree or disagree — is the best chance for the future." Mr. Ross is scheduled to speak at Emory in May.
In October, after telephone calls from two Jewish groups contributed to the cancellation of a speech on the "Israel lobby" at the Polish consulate in New York, more than 100 international historians signed an open letter denouncing the "climate of intimidation" to which they said critics of Israel were increasingly subjected. The leaders of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee said they had not tried to silence Tony Judt, a history professor at New York University, but said they approved of the Polish consul general's decision to cancel his talk. Mr. Judt had defended a paper by the professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt on the "Israel lobby" that drew a firestorm of criticism when the London Review of Books published a version of it. The debate may flare up again in September when a book by Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt on the "Israel lobby" is scheduled to be published.
The possibility that Juan R.I. Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, might win an appointment in Middle Eastern history at Yale University caused a stir last spring, but it is unclear the extent to which external pressure contributed to a committee's rejecting his candidacy in June. While critics called him a blog-obsessed pundit, admirers, upset that he didn't get the job, pointed to Mr. Cole's extensive scholarly work and the roster of Middle East experts who regularly read his blog, Informed Comment.
Last April, Joshua H. Stulman, at the time a senior at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, learned by e-mail that he would not be allowed to show his 10-piece art exhibit, "Portraits of Terror." Charles R. Garoian, director of the School of Visual Arts, where the exhibit was supposed to be displayed, wrote Mr. Stulman that the exhibit "did not promote cultural diversity" or "opportunities for democratic dialogue" and ran afoul of the university's Zero Tolerance Policy for Hate. Among other scenes, Mr. Stulman's paintings showed members of Hamas giving what appears to be a Nazi salute, the desecration of synagogues, and a baby dressed as a suicide bomber. Within days Graham B. Spanier, the university's president, overruled Mr. Garoian and said Mr. Stulman's paintings would be shown. Penn State does not endorse censorship, he said.
After a series of public clashes between Jewish and Muslim students at the University of California at Irvine, the Muslim Students Association sponsored a weeklong lecture series called "Holocaust in the Holy Land" in May, featuring a speech titled "Israel: The Fourth Reich." The event and its keynote speaker, Norman G. Finkelstein, drew strong criticism from Jewish groups on the Irvine campus. Mr. Finkelstein is a professor of political science at DePaul University and a critic of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. The Irvine administration defended its students' right to speak freely and tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Jewish and Muslim activist students to talk with one another.