Universities have been very successful in preventing anyone outside the faculty from exercising any oversight on what goes on in classrooms and lecture halls by hiding behind the mantra of academic freedom. Perhaps this would not be such a problem if there was any consistency in enforcement of academic freedom, but, when it comes to Jews and Israel, there is not. As many commentators have noted, the types of things regularly said and promoted on campuses about Jews and Israel are never tolerated when they are directed at women, ethnic minorities or gay students. What's worse is that academic departments often sponsor some of the most non-scholarly and blatantly anti-Semitic speakers and programs, giving them the veneer of respectability and the imprimatur of the university.
Sadly, this form of academic malpractice is all too common. According to ADL, 99 anti-Israel events were sponsored or co-sponsored by university departments between 2012-2015 at institutions such as Berkeley, Drew University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
On September 18, 2015, for example, Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) gave a speech advocating the anti-Semitic BDS (Boycott, Sanctions, Divestment) campaign that was sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and co-sponsored by eight departments, including the Center for Race and Gender, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, Ethnic Studies, English, Chicano Studies, Near Eastern Studies, and African American Studies.
Where was an academic watchdog to ask how these departments could justify affiliating with an event in which the speaker calls for a boycott against Israel? How can they cosponsor an event with SJP, an organization whose mission is to malign Israel and impede peace efforts?
Some administrators do speak out, but their views are counterproductive. In 2013, for example, Karen Gould, the president of Brooklyn College, used the academic freedom dodge to justify the Political Science Department co-sponsoring with SJP a panel discussing the anti-Semitic BDS movement, which was headlined by two of the most virulent anti-Israel supporters of boycotting Israel – Judith Butler and Ali Abunimah. Gould apparently saw no contradiction in invoking academic freedom as the justification for a program calling for the denial of academic freedom to Israeli Jews.
The double-standard that exists in the treatment of Jews and other campus constituencies was evident at the University of Missouri. Daniel Swindell reported in FrontPage that:
On the same day that Missouri University (MU) President Timothy M. Wolfe resigned over "racism," the MU Black Studies Department co-sponsored a lecture by David Sheen, a journalist who regularly compares Israelis to Nazis. The lecture was called "Racism in Israel." The event was hosted by the MU Socialists, who posted the following description: "Remember the systematic racism experienced at Mizzou is part of the violent global system of white supremacy. Come to our event tomorrow night to learn more about connections between racism in Israel & racism on campus.
At Drew University, Bassem Tamimi, a Palestinian anti-Israel activist who has been arrested in Israel several times, was co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Department last year.
In April 2014, Ali Abunimah was hosted at Columbia. He is one of the leaders of the anti-Semitic BDS movement and a proponent of a "one-state solution," which is a euphemism for the destruction of Israel. Not surprisingly, he was introduced by Professor Joseph Massad, whose animus toward Israel is also well-known. This lecture was sponsored by the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies; the Columbia International Socialist Organization; and Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine.
More recently, Vassar invited Jasbir Puar to speak. She is a member of the Advisory Board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, one of the proponents of the American Studies Association resolution to boycott Israeli universities and a promoter of the specious notion that Israel uses its LGBTQ-friendly policies to "pinkwash" crimes against Palestinians.
Although attendees of this public event were told they could not record it (professors engaged in anti-Israel political advocacy become apoplectic at the idea that their words might be recorded), her remarks were sufficiently offensive to attract comment. Ziva Dahl wrote in the Observer that Puar claimed that one of Israel's ultimate goals is the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, that Israelis kill Palestinians to harvest their organs, and that the IDF intentionally bombed Palestinian hospitals and nursing homes. She expressed support for the BDS campaign underway at Vassar and advocated armed resistance against Israel.
Puar's appearance was sponsored by the Vassar American Studies Department and co-sponsored by Africana Studies, English, International Studies, Jewish Studies, Political Science, Religion and Women's Studies.
Read that list again and you may be as flabbergasted as I was to see Jewish Studies on the list of sponsors.
Dahl said the former and current directors of the department, Peter Antelyes and Joshua Schreier, respectively, sat silently behind her during the lecture. According to Dahl, "When I asked Mr. Schreier whether he believed Ms. Puar's outlandish accusations, he responded, 'You prove to me that anything she said wasn't true.' I was stunned."
Indeed, the involvement of Jewish Studies departments in outrageous programs like this occurs more often than you might expect. It is no better, however, that other departments, which presumably consider themselves serious academic units, lend their credibility to fallacious research, outright lies, political propaganda and blatant anti-Semitism.
The failure of police departments to adequately police themselves led to the creation of community oversight boards. The irresponsibility of university officials in monitoring and responding to anti-Semitism on campus has created a need for some type of external oversight. Most people would prefer not to intervene on campus, but the foxes can no longer be trusted to guard the henhouse.