A new website - Campus Watch - has received tremendous media attention as well as academic criticism for its efforts to monitor an alleged underlying anti-Israel bias among American Middle Eastern studies professors.
Campus Watch, sponsored by the Middle East Forum, describes itself as a group of American academics who support U.S. interests, including solid alliances with the two democratic entities in the Mid-East - Israel and Turkey. The group advocates the protection of human rights in the region, maintaining a stable and reasonably priced oil supply, and the peaceful resolution of area conflicts.
Campus Watch claims that these concerns have not been represented accurately by the Middle-Eastern scholarship dominating U.S. universities. The problem posed by this misrepresentation is far reaching, the organization says, as scholarship effects future leaders, media representatives and educators and accordingly influences the way the Middle East is ultimately perceived by the American public.
The website was launched as an effort to monitor and gather information on academics who "fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance," with the goal of providing a public venue criticizing what is claimed to be a disproportionately hostile anti-Israel bias within the field of North American Middle East studies. In addition, the project is geared to promoting public awareness of the problem, developing a student and faculty network to represent "American interests" on campus and providing speakers for campus visits. The site posts course syllabi, relevant internal academic correspondence and media reports for viewing by the student community, government officials and journalists.
Website accused of McCarthyism
The most controversial feature on the website when it launched in September was a section entitled "dossiers," where specific professors or institutions were reviewed for disseminating a biased portrait of Middle Eastern affairs. Students were encouraged to submit reports on their professors for posting on Campus Watch.
The site originally cited eight professors and 14 universities for their views on Palestinian rights or political Islam. The professors who were named included two from Columbia - Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Massad - and one each from Berkeley, Georgetown, Northeastern, the University of Michigan, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and the University of Chicago, the New York Times reported.
In response and in a show of solidarity, some one hundred Middle Eastern academics complained that Campus Watch threatened their freedom of speech and smacked of McCarthyism. These scholars demanded to have their names listed on the site as well.
"We launched the site to draw attention to the condition of Middle Eastern studies," said Daniel Pipes, director of Campus Watch and a frequent contributor to Israel Insider. Responding to the criticism, Pipes said that certain "Middle East specialists - joined by their colleagues in other fields - have talked about nothing but the format of the site."
Pipes dismissed the claims of running a smear campaign, saying, "These moans and bleats saying we are being intimidating are preposterous." Even so, Pipes did authorize a change in the website's format, eliminating the "dossiers" section, and incorporating the monitoring of specific professors into the "survey of institutions" section.
"We have made this change to show our goodwill," Pipes said. "Now, we hope they will respond to the charges that we are raising: the intellectual failure of Middle East studies, the tendency toward political extremism, the intolerance of alternative viewpoints, the apologetics, and the abuse of power toward students."
Following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the U.S government increased federal support for Middle East study programs by 26%, adding $20.5 million in new funding. Yet Campus Watch points out that Middle East scholars have made no efforts to examine the roots of terrorism, the psychology of suicide bombers or the origins of the Al-Qaida movement, but have opted instead to continue propogating the trend of anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.
Since its inception, Campus Watch has received extensive media coverage, including articles in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, the Associated Press, the Harvard Crimson, Berkeley's Daily Californian, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Fox News, and MSNBC. An estimated 80,000 people have viewed the site so far. A website was recently launched with the stated goal of countering the efforts of Campus Watch; it was appropriately entitled Campus Watch Watch.