We long ago resigned ourselves to institutional academics getting together in their sandboxes, building their little castles, and defending themselves from the evil Israel Lobby that's trying to "exclude their voices". The irony, of course, is that it's actually pro-Israel advocates who routinely get excluded from academic discussions. But what's happening at Brown reaches new lows of brazen hypocrisy. Middle East scholars have organized a workshop to attack the Israel Lobby, national security specialists, and people like Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer - except they didn't invite defenders of the Israel Lobby, national security specialists, or Dr. Pipes and Dr. Kramer. The punch line? The workshop is about "open discourse and academic freedom".
This tip got dropped into our inbox late last night:
Today, at a meeting of [pro-Israel] groups on [Brown's] campus, we found out that... Brown's Middle East Studies Department (which currently offers no courses...) and what is essentially the IR department, with the support of the Muslim Students Association**, organized an "academic" conference called "The Study of the Middle East and Islam: Challenges after 9-11," featuring (among others) Juan Cole and Stephen Walt. There are no pro-Israel speakers, and neither Hillel nor Brown Students for Israel were even asked for input on a conference about the future of Middle East Studies. Needless to say, this is not the kind of thing we want on our campus.... We're determined not to let this conference go by without making it clear to the University that this disregard of academic standards/norms and disrespect for Brown's Jewish community is not acceptable.
The conference was organized by Marsha Pripstein Posusney and Elliott Colla. The goal is to "foster a greater understanding in this country of the Middle East and Muslim world." And wouldn't you know it, the people who are preventing greater understanding are security specialists and pro-Israel academics: "new national security regulations", "pressures from concerned citizen groups", "Congressional oversight of college courses pertaining to the Middle East and Islam", "independent efforts to monitor such courses and publicly vilify instructors deemed to be promoting 'dangerous' views in the classroom". You can get the full agenda off our server here.
Here's the thing though: this conference is bait. No one is actually coming here to learn anything. Walt is the most conservative academic on the monitoring panel, and he's published that Campus Watch is a neoconservative extension of the Israel Lobby. They're trying to be so absurd that people like Pipes and Kramer will protest their rank academic bias. If there's a student-led outcry about how they deliberately insulted pro-Israel undergrads, all the better. One way or another, Cole, Walt, and their ilk will be screaming about how they're being monitored and publicly vilified. Clever, clever.
Except none of these scary sounding "challenges" have been strong enough to stop the workshop participants - which is so brave of them, since criticizing Israel and the Bush administration in academia is so risky. And except this workshop actually is a hypocritical outrage. Just because they're going to use legitimate public outcry to scream about "censorship" is no reason not to call their "open discourse" bluff and put their hypocrisy on public display. This is how children behave - throwing fits to get attention and then complaining about how they're always being disciplined. The problem with this conference isn't that it's dangerous, it's that it's mendacious.
Contact information for Brown University officials is below. Get in touch with us if you want to coordinate with some of the pro-Israel Brown student leaders. We're not going to publicly out them, lest the Brown IR professors are as vindictive as the UC Irvine ones.
Usual warnings about being productively circumspect apply: their fantasies of persecution notwithstanding, the goal is not to silence Cole, Walt, et al. What we'd like to see is genuine public discourse - to see the American academy restored to the status it once had as a genuine site of reasoned deliberation and careful scholarship. In addition to being a perfectly reasonable position, this also has the benefit of making their inevitable screams of "censorship" sound really stupid.
At a minimum, the University should be made to understand that this nudge-nudge wink-wink of unbalanced "balance" is unacceptable in any institution that has pretensions toward higher learning. We know that some of our readers are reasonably distinguished Brown alumni, and one or two of you are not insignificant donors. You should feel free to express your opinion about the one-sidedness of this workshop - a workshop that is, in turn, being used to set the future direction for classes, scholarship, and ideology at your alma mater. But this travesty isn't limited to Brown students - this echo chamber of a workshop will hurt everybody. Universities of Brown's caliber help set the tone for the rest of the academia and the rest of the country, and "open discourse and academic freedom" can't be allowed to mean "America and Israel bashers getting together to tell each other how smart they are".
**Ed. Note, April 27: Michael E. Chapman, VP for Public Affairs & Univ. Relations at Brown, writes that the Muslim Student Association "has had no involvement in the conference whatsoever." We will update this post if additional information arrives.