Stanford University journalism professor and former New York Times foreign policy correspondent Joel Brinkley has written a commendable article in the San Francisco Chronicle questioning Princeton University professor emeritus of international law Richard Falk's role as special representative of the U.N. Human Rights Council. Falk is charged with investigating alleged Israeli human rights abuses against the Palestinians or, in other words, drumming up false charges against Israel on behalf of a "human rights council" that includes the Organization of the Islamic Conference, among other unsavory participants. As Brinkley puts it:
The Human Rights Council is already an embarrassment to the United Nations. Certainly reasonable people can criticize Israel, just as they can find fault with the Palestinians. But the council's pathological obsession with Israel is its defining characteristic, and Falk is its embodiment.
Falk, as Brinkley notes, has another compromising characteristic: he's a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who believes the Bush administration perpetrated the attacks. Falk went so far as to write the preface to conspiracy author David Ray Griffin's 2004 book, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11, as well as a chapter in Griffin's 2006 book, 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out.
Considering all this, Brinkley is absolutely right to condemn Falk's presence on the U.N. Human Rights Council. However, he undermines his own credibility with the first sentence in his conclusion (emphasis added):
I wouldn't have cared that an academic wrote the foreword several years ago for a book that is the conspiracy advocates' bible. But I do care that the man whose job now is to help the Islamic states pursue their vendetta against Israel also believes that the U.S. government is capable of such unspeakable evil. What does that tell you about his frame of mind for his United Nations job?
It's difficult to understand how Brinkley, who earlier in his article accurately describes 9/11 conspiracy theories as "fringe stuff" and compares its adherents to "people who used to think that Neil Armstrong didn't really land on the moon 40 years ago," could so casually dismiss Falk's contribution to such a book. He seems to be concerned about Falk peddling conspiracy theories only inasmuch as it affects his U.N. appointment, not his position in academia.
But shouldn't we apply the same standards to employment in academia as we do to all other fields? Furthermore, shouldn't we expect more from those charged with educating the next generation?
These are questions Brinkley, himself a professor at a distinguished university, would do well to consider.