In the latest issue of City on a Hill Press, the student newspaper for the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC), reporter Marc Abizeid spins a bone-chilling tale of silenced professors and a Middle East studies field threatened by a shadowy network of "radical pro-Israel interest groups." At the helm of this nefarious conspiracy is of course Campus Watch, which Abizeid paints as a ruthless organization bent on censoring anyone who strays from the straight and narrow.
The problem is none of it's true.
Much like the disaffected academics he profiles in the ominously titled, "Silencing Debate on the Middle East," Abizeid suffers from the delusion, common on university campuses, that criticism is suppression.
Abizeid at least took the time to solicit my views on Campus Watch, but the long, tendentious list of questions he e-mailed me played his hand from the get-go. And, despite my best efforts to set the record straight, the finished product confirmed my suspicion that Abizeid's mind was made up long before he began his research.
Among Campus Watch's alleged victims, Abizeid highlights Columbia University associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history Joseph Massad, whose current bid for tenure has attracted its fair share of opposition. Massad's propensity for anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and, by way of his book Desiring Arabs, anti-gay rhetoric, is well-known and he remains a controversial figure on both sides of the political spectrum. He has been accused of bias and intimidation by his students, and described by critics as a terrorism apologist, a crackpot, a bigoted nutcase, and an extremist.
But like many of his cohorts, Massad prefers playing the victim card to addressing criticism, and vague, unsubstantiated death threat claims come in handy for this purpose. Abizeid repeats Massad's claim at his Columbia faculty web page that he received "death threats" "following the launch of Campus Watch" in September, 2002. Massad has never provided proof of these allegations, but, obviously, as Abizeid quotes me as saying, "Campus Watch has no role whatsoever [in] such actions and we condemn anyone who would behave in this way, which is clearly unacceptable." Yet, Abizeid then goes on to detail how "in 2004, Massad was again the target of these pro-Israeli interest groups," as if to render my statement suspect. So – once more for the record – Campus Watch is not in the business of threatening people's lives. Perhaps Abizeid should consult Tony Soprano on the matter instead.
UCSC history professor Edmund "Terry" Burke III is another academic whose claims of victimhood Abizeid repeats uncritically. Burke is one of the founders of the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University, a group that, under the banner of academic freedom, insists upon freedom from criticism. To that end, Burke has been circulating a letter via e-mail soliciting donations to buy a full-page ad in the New York Times, an outcome that would certainly belie the group's claims that "scholars have been denied public platforms from which to share their viewpoints."
Campus Watch director Winfield Myers lampooned Burke's letter, and his fellow thin-skinned Ad Hoc Committee members, in an October blog post that apparently hit home. As Abizeid put it:
After drafting the petition, Burke found himself targeted on the home page of the Campus Watch website, which posted his photograph supplemented with a ridiculing description of the petition's purpose.
Apparently, neither Abizeid nor Burke is familiar with the blogosphere. It allows those pesky upstarts outside the university unfettered access to information, photographs, and satire. The humorless need not apply.
Nonetheless, the brave signatories of the Ad Hoc Committee petition, according to Abizeid, "vow to speak out against those who attack colleagues and universities in order to achieve political goals." That's fine by me because, as I stated in the article, "Campus Watch holds no authority that would allow us to silence anyone — nor would we silence anyone even if we could."
Got that, folks?