Cambridge University English professor Priyamvada Gopal, writing in today's Guardian, charges Campus Watch with attempting to deny free speech to academics with whom we disagree. Gopal is upset that the University and College Union, a British academic organization, has backed off its proposed debate on whether or not to boycott Israeli universities.
She titles her op-ed "A Shameful Silence." Along the way, she mischaracterizes Campus Watch and its mission.
The move [to cancel public debates on implementing the boycott] comes at a time when academic freedom cannot be taken for granted….Organisations such as Campus Watch monitor what academics write and teach, compile blacklists and attempt to shut down debate, despite their claim to support free speech. Respected scholars who have faced campaigns include Columbia University's Middle East specialist Joseph Massad, who was accused and then cleared of anti-semitism; outspoken Michigan professor Juan Cole; and Norman Finkelstein, refused tenure and forced to resign after DePaul University came under external pressure. Most recently, Archbishop Desmond Tutu was banned by the University of St Thomas in Minnesota because of his stance on Israel/Palestine.
A cursory look at CW's web pages would have saved Gopal from, at least, errors of fact, if not from those rooted in her ideology.
To state the obvious: CW does not compile blacklists; where does she see them on our site?
As for the tired charge that CW aims to "shut down debate," it is rather the case that Gopal and her allies are so unused to debate of any kind that the mere appearance of alternative views causes them to swoon and cry foul. I invite critics to tell us precisely what mechanisms we use for achieving this grand claim. They cannot, of course, for we neither wish it nor have it within our means to achieve it.
Gopal objects to CW's research on Joseph Massad, who was, as those who can discern gold from brass know, "cleared" only to the degree that an internal committee at Columbia denied that he is an anti-Semite. Massad's statement to the committee was called by Martin Kramer, "a bizarre collage of self-serving lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories." Massad continues to call Israel a "racist state," and the committee's conclusions hardly settled the matter to the satisfaction of many outside observers and members of the Columbia community.
And what of Cole? He is a full professor of history at a major research institution (Michigan), active on the speaking tour (he's at Penn today), and free to speak his mind, as he should be. It's just that, to the regret of Gopal and her ilk who seek to hermetically seal academe from the outside world, Cole's words are challenged regularly.
Gopal's inclusion of Finkelstein and Archbishop Tutu in her list of supposedly silenced heroes further exposes her lack of research: we have never commissioned a single item on either man, as Campus Watch does not take positions on questions of tenure or on campus speakers.
If Gopal cannot bring herself to accept the legitimacy of external criticism of Middle East studies, she might at least spend a few minutes engaged in basic research before she attempts her next op-ed.