Few topics are hotter on college campuses these days than tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Students and faculty from all over the country are active in protests on both sides of the issue, taking the debate into classrooms and onto the street.
Recently, the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum took the discussion online. Stemming from concerns that professors were operating with a pro-Palestinian slant, the group created a Web site that lists the names of pro-Palestinian professors and criticizes their arguments. The site's opposition calls it an assault on academic freedom. In reality, it is academic freedom in action. Last week, Harvard President Lawrence H. Summers gave a speech stating his concerns about growing anti-Semitism on campuses. One day later, www.campus-watch.org was up and running, posting "dossiers" about teachers and colleges that allegedly only present the Palestinian view of the Middle Eastern policy issue.
The group started by citing eight professors and 14 universities for their views on Palestinian rights. In the week that followed, 88 angry professors responded to the site, asking that their names be posted as well. The gesture was done to show solidarity, and the result is a nationally publicized forum for debate. It can only result in a deeper understanding of the conflict.
The most controversial section of the site may be the "Keep Us Informed" page, which encourages students to report any activities on their campuses that may be relevant to the group's goals. This may mean submitting the names of professors who only teach the Palestinian side of the issue. Opponents equate this with a witch hunt, but it certainly doesn't have to be. As long as it is reported accurately and investigated thoroughly, this section is an effective way of keeping professors accountable.
The forum's director, Daniel Pipes, insists the site is intended to create dialogue, not anger. It is the result of a group of people taking action and presenting their concerns in an intelligent manner. It is an effort deserving of approval.
The Campus Watch Web site presents a well-developed opposition to what it sees as an issue of urgent national importance. More information is always better than less -- provided it is accurate -- and healthy debate leads to better decision-making. The professors who requested that their names be posted on the site did the right thing -- they made their voice heard. The makers of this Web site are doing the same, and they should continue to do so.