A Jewish advocacy group is warning students about 218 Middle East studies professors in colleges and universities across the country whose classes might contain "anti-Israel bias, or possibly even antisemitic rhetoric."
The AMCHA Initiative singled out the professors because, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas this past summer, they signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel.
"We believe the professors who have signed this petition may be so biased against the Jewish state that they are unable to teach accurately or fairly about Israel or the Arab-Israel conflict, and may even inject antisemitic tropes into their lectures or class discussion," wrote Tammi Rossman-Benjamin and Leila Beckwith, co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative.
Now, 40 of America's leading Jewish studies professors, including Hasia Diner of New York University and Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley, have signed a statement calling AMCHA's actions "deplorable" and a threat to academic freedom. Bernard Avishai, a business professor who splits his time between Dartmouth College and Hebrew University and who has written extensively on Jewish matters, also signed the statement, which said, "We find it regrettable that AMCHA, so intent on combating the boycott of Israel, has launched a boycott initiative of its own."
The Jewish studies professors say their worries go beyond AMCHA's list of Middle East professors.
AMCHA, which means 'your people' in Hebrew, was founded in 2012. It investigates and monitors alleged anti-Semitism on more than 300 campuses across America. In the past couple of months, AMCHA has joined other Jewish advocacy groups to call on Congress to withhold federal funds from Middle Eastern studies programs that show an anti-Israeli bias. In September, AMCHA published a 100-page report claiming rampant anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic activity during the past three years at UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies.
AMCHA defends its methodology. Rossman-Benjamin, who is on leave from her post as a lecturer at University of California, Santa Cruz, said she and her co-researchers analyzed recordings of lectures and conferences posted to UCLA's website.
But the Jewish studies professors say AMCHA's monitoring of lectures and conferences "strains the basic principle of academic freedom."
David Myers, a co-author of the Jewish studies statement and a professor of Jewish history at UCLA, said AMCHA's research is neither objective nor balanced. "I think they have a very clear idea of what they think they will find and they find it, and it confirms what they knew in advance," Myers said.
He added that AMCHA's definition of anti-Israel is so broad that it sweeps up many academics with strong connections to Israel.