Two national groups are weighing in on the controversy over William I. Robinson, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara who is being investigated for charges of unprofessional conduct related to an e-mail message he sent to students in one of his courses, comparing images of Nazi attacks on Jews with Israeli attacks on Gaza. Some students have called the e-mail anti-Semitic.
The Middle East Studies Association of North America sent a letter expressing concern over possible violations of Robinson's academic freedom. "Whether or not one agrees with the substance of Professor Robinson's views on Israel or with the way he chose to express them, we believe that there are grounds for grave concern about the allegation that his e-mail message is anti-Semitic as well as about the university's decision to bring him up on charges for the content of that message and its circulation to students. As a faculty member at UCSB, which claims to be firmly committed to the defense of academic freedom, Professor Robinson is entitled to express his views freely, even on controversial issues and even when some students may be upset or offended by what he has to say. The expression of those views in the context of a course that deals with global issues seems entirely appropriate as well," the letter says.
Meanwhile, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a group that has criticized some of the anti-Israeli rhetoric on American campuses, issued a statement backing the inquiry into Robinson. "An important issue is the distinction between legitimate criticism of policies and practices of the State of Israel, and commentary that assumes an anti-Semitic character. The demonization of Israel, or vilification of Israeli leaders, sometimes through Comparisons with Nazi leaders, and through the use of Nazi symbols to caricature them, indicates an anti-Semitic bias rather than a valid criticism of policy concerning a controversial issue," the statement says. "Contrary to what a number of academics who should know better have asserted, academic freedom does not mean that material that is introduced to a curriculum, class, or academic forum should be protected from collegial and peer review and discussion, conducted in a civil and constructive manner. Where peers find scholarship or pedagogy to be substandard, they are entitled, indeed obligated, to say so."