Our phones have been ringing off the hook this past week with incoming calls from reporters inquiring about our coverage of Middle East studies at the local colleges and universities. We couldn't quite figure out what it was all about until a source on one Ivy League campus e-mailed us a link to a newly launched online petition drive by an outfit that has grandiosely named itself the "Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University."
Defend the university from what? According to the petition, the threat from which the university — actually, not only the university, but, the petition claims, "the future of democratic society" — requires a defense consists of "groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel." The petition portrays these groups not as like Senator McCarthy's anti-Communism, but worse.
The double standards show what the Ad Hoc Committee — led by, among others, a former provost of Columbia University — really has in mind. The professors say they are in favor of "the free exchange of ideas" and against "ideological and political tests," but among the signers of the petition are two scholars, Everett Mendelsohn and J. Lorand Matory of Harvard University, who led the fight to oust Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, for his sins of speaking out in favor of America and Israel.
They say they are against "outside groups seeking to influence what is taught, "but they raise not a peep against the tens of millions of dollars pouring into American universities from Saudi princes and Persian Gulf governments that are hostile to Israel. The only "outside groups" the Ad Hoc Committee is worked up about are those friendly to Israel. Those groups include alumni, parents, students, trustees, and professors, so it is hard for us to see the logic to denying them a voice in what happens on campus. What was that about the "free exchange of ideas," again?