Israeli academic anti-Zionism, and in some extreme cases overt anti-Semitism, has become a major story in the Jewish news media as of late, in large part due to an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which Professor Neve Gordon of Ben Gurion University called for an international boycott of the Jewish state.
In order to clarify this issue for our readers, the Five Towns Jewish Times turned to Professor Steven Plaut, Ph.D., considered by many to be Neve Gordon's chief academic opponent and one of the staunchest defenders of Zionism on Israeli campuses.
Plaut runs a website called Isracampus, which works to expose and monitor the anti-Israel political activities of radical leftist Israeli academics. It is modeled roughly after Campus Watch in the U.S., a website run by noted Arabist Daniel Pipes, which does similar work in monitoring American academics in Middle Eastern studies departments.
The Five Towns Jewish Times spoke with Plaut about "economic peace," academic anti-Zionism, and his long-standing legal feud with Neve Gordon.
Q. How did you get involved in Zionist activism?
A. When I first came to Israel, I stayed out of political debate and discourse. At the time I saw my role as becoming a spokesman for and promoter of free-market economic ideas. I sought to attack the residual socialist policies and suppression of competition, which were the fundamental ideologies of all political parties in Israel, including the Likud. I joined Daniel Doron and some others in hammering away at these anti-productive monstrosities and against centralized command and control of the economy, fighting through the media.
I did so until the Oslo fiasco began. Once Rabin and Peres abandoned traditional Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians and pursued Peace Through Appeasement and Capitulation, I became convinced that economic policy was secondary and that all of Israel had become a single-issue country. I believed that the Oslo debacle had to be opposed and reversed, and that every ounce of energy must be devoted to that lest the country be annihilated by the stupidity of the Israeli political elite. I still believe this.
Today I am very active with a small group of similar-minded people in operating Isracampus. It is a website and group that exposes and monitors the anti-Israel political activities of radical leftist Israeli academics and faculty members. I believe that the suicidal policies pursued by Israel over the past two decades all stem from the artificial power of the Israeli Far Left, especially via its hegemony over Israeli universities, courts, and the media. We think the world needs to know just who and what the Israeli academic Left is, and how it is harming the country.
Q. Who are the worst academic offenders against Israel?
A. Several hundred people, most of them documented and exposed on www.Isracampus.org.il, are spread among Israeli universities and colleges. The very worst centers of academic radicalism are Ben Gurion University and Tel Aviv University, while the University of Haifa and the Hebrew University are only slightly behind. The worst faculty offenders are usually employed in the humanities or the soft social sciences, as well as in law and education. Many of them openly call on the world to boycott Israel. Some openly support terrorist attacks against Jews. Almost all the offenders are Israeli Jews; very few are Arabs. Some are Israelis living outside Israel. Rather recently, a professor at Sapir College kicked a student out of class for wearing an IDF uniform.
Q. What do you think of the decision by Defense Minister Barak to cut ties with the Yeshivat Hesder in Har Bracha, in light of anti-IDF stances taken by professors at Israeli universities?
A. It is clearly absurd. Some teachers at Har Bracha expressed opposition to the government's policy of expelling settlers from their homes, but demanded that yeshiva students obey the law and serve in the army. By contrast, hundreds of radical faculty members at Israeli universities demand that Israelis refuse to serve in the army altogether, break the law, and these same radicals often call for Israel to be annihilated altogether. The army has not cut off ties with Israeli universities, even though some army officers have been assigned to take courses with ultra-haters of Israel on the campuses, including the nefarious Ilan Pappe. Lecturers who penalize students who wear uniforms or serve in the reserves should be summarily fired, even if they hold tenure.
Q. Can you tell us a little bit about your long-standing legal battle with Neve Gordon?
A. Well, it is all about to go to the Supreme Court, so I may have a better comment for you in a few months. In any case, it is Israel's most notorious SLAPP suit, that is, a harassment lawsuit attempting to silence one's critics via frivolous libel litigation. The suit in question has been described in the media as the Israeli version of the David Irving suit against Deborah Lipstadt, with me playing Deborah Lipstadt.
Briefly, Neve Gordon is a fanatically anti-Israel and anti-Jewish Marxist lecturer in political science at Ben Gurion University. He routinely denounces Israel as a Nazi-like, racist, apartheid, fascist entity, and he has called for Israel's existence to be terminated altogether. His articles are so venomous that they are carried by Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi websites. He issued the call last summer in the Los Angeles Times for a worldwide boycott against Israel.
Gordon filed a SLAPP suit against me because I dared to criticize him for publishing fawning sycophantic praise of neo-Nazi Norman Finkelstein. I also described Gordon and the group of "human shields," which illegally entered Ramallah to defend terrorists from the Israeli army and prevent their capture, as "Judenrat Wannabes."
Gordon, who lives in Beer Sheba, ran to Nazareth to file the harassment suit, hoping it would be assigned to a radical Arab judge there. The judge [Reem Naddaf, ed.] for the first round in court was indeed a radical anti-Israel Arab woman, whose husband was the right-hand party associate of Azmi Bishara (the Knesset Member in hiding now because he is wanted by Israel for spying and treason).
She explicitly endorsed Holocaust revisionism in her verdict and also declared there that all of Israel stands on lands stolen from another people.
That judge simply ignored all Israeli case law and defenses of freedom of speech, and effectively ruled that sedition is protected speech while criticism of sedition is libel. She found against me. Later a Nazareth appeals court overturned almost everything in the original verdict, but left some residual issues unresolved. That is why I appealed to Israel's Supreme Court. The whole legal battle has been going on for about eight years. We will see if the Supreme Court has the courage to rule unambiguously in favor of freedom of speech and against neo-fascist SLAPP suit harassment.
Professor Amal Jamal of Tel Aviv University is threatening to sue Israeli newscaster Dan Margalit for responding harshly and kicking MK Jamal Zahalka off his program after the legislator insulted him personally and stated that Ehud Barak likes to listen to classical music while children are murdered. Zahalka also called Tel Aviv occupied territory.
Q. What is your take on academics getting involved in such issues? Does this remind you at all of Neve Gordon's attempts to discredit your criticism of his views and to silence you through legal means?
A. Most Arab faculty members in Israeli universities keep a low profile and keep their opinions to themselves. An open secret is that many are beneficiaries of affirmative action preferences. In any case, Amal Jamal at TAU, Asad Ghanem at Haifa University, and a few other Arab faculty members have become very open and extremist in recent years. Some express their hatred of Israel and their opposition to Israel's continued existence as a Zionist state. By and large, though, the Israel-hating Arab faculty are far less extremist than are the Israel-hating Jewish faculty members at Israeli universities.
Q. What can be done regarding Israel's poor state of academic performance and falling quality of universities?
A. Privatize, privatize, privatize! Turn the public aid to the universities over to students, like veterans' vouchers in the U.S., and let those students shop for the best education. Force the universities to compete. Do away with tenure so that pseudo-academic extremists with little or no scholastic achievement can get the boot. Strip the universities of their entitlement to taxpayer funding and force them to compete for students armed with vouchers. Convince donors to universities to demand accountability. Fire professors involved in law breaking and in treason.
Q. As an economist and nationalist political thinker, what is your take on Bibi's economic peace initiative?
A. It is an empty slogan. Economic prosperity and growth will make Israel stronger but will not make the Arabs any less belligerent. Islamo-fascist hatred of Israel and Jews, together with Arab terrorism, do not diminish when standards of living rise. Much to the contrary, economic comfort in the Islamic world (and higher education) produces terrorism and fanaticism, not moderation.
Q. Have you had any success?
A. It is an uphill battle. There are small achievements and minor successes, but most of the battle still lies ahead. Rescuing Israel from the Left is a long trench war that has been going on for decades and will go on much longer. No matter how many times the ideas and policies of the Far Left are discredited and fail, they just crop up all over again. This is as true under governments headed by the Likud as it is of those led by the Labor Party.
Q. What can the public do about the deplorable state of academic anti-Zionism?
A. Well, there are some encouraging signs. First, Zionist students on Israeli campuses are well organized and vocal and getting more effective and aggressive in confronting the tenured Fifth Column. These students are now getting organized to "spy" on radical faculty members and leak to the media what they say and how they indoctrinate inside their classrooms. Second, many of the academic radicals have been intimated by Isracampus and groups like NGO Monitor, who follow what they do and say, and publicize their behavior. They are frightened by the idea that someone is keeping tabs on them. Third, major university donors and patrons from around the world are speaking up much more openly and making it clear that they do not want their donations to Israeli higher education misused for anti-Israel political indoctrination and anti-Zionist sedition.
There is still a long way to go. The university heads still turn a blind eye to misuse of the classroom for political indoctrination. Hiring and promotion decisions are still subject to a corrupt process that rewards pseudo-academic political radicalism and sometimes punishes serious research and academic work.