Four NYU professors have joined dozens of scholars nationwide in writing letters of protest to Campus Watch, a pro-Israel research and policy group that monitors universities with a perceived anti-Israel bias.
The scholars are among more than 100 across the country who in recent weeks have written to Campus Watch in defense of eight professors who the group has listed as "apologists to terrorism" on its Web site.
In September, Campus Watch started a list of Middle Eastern studies professors across the country who the group claims have "errors and biases" in their scholarship. It listed NYU as one of 20 U.S. colleges that "fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance" with regard to Middle Eastern studies, according to the Web site.
Soon after the list of scholars was drafted, a professor from the University of California at Berkeley urged scholars to write in and request to be added to the list as an act of solidarity with the eight professors initially posted.
NYU Middle Eastern studies professors Jenine Abboushi, Khaled Fahmy, Zachary Lockman and history professor Mary Nolan joined more than 100 professors and graduate students who asked to have their names added. Campus Watch responded by creating a new section called "Solidarity with Apologists" on its Web site for the professors who wrote in to support their colleagues.
"[The new section] was a slimy move," Lockman said in an e-mail. "Campus Watch listed all of us as having written in to ‘express our solidarity with apologists for Palestinian and Islamist violence.' Of course we had done no such thing."
"The original scholars targeted by Campus Watch were not apologists for terrorism, nor are those of us who wrote to protest being slanderously attacked in this way," he added.
Daniel Pipes, the Campus Watch forum director, would not comment on the professors' claim that identifying them as having "solidarity with apologists" was a misrepresentation. He said only that professors whose names were posted in that section had asked to be listed on the site.
The NYU professors compared Campus Watch's tactics to those used by Joseph McCarthy in his attack on communism in the 1950s.
"All of this reeked of McCarthyism and I considered it a gross attack on the freedom of expression," Fahmy said in an e-mail.
Even though he was not one of the eight professors initially listed on the Campus Watch site, Fahmy said he felt compelled to respond in their defense.
"McCarthyism was defeated by upholding and defending the principle of freedom of expression and by confronting attempts to silence and muzzle dissenting voices," he said. "I therefore felt it incumbent upon me to write to Campus Watch expressing my solidarity with the eight blacklisted professors and also to express my repugnance at these cheap, non-academic tactics."
Fahmy said the political climate in the U.S. after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 had lowered the tolerance for dissent and helped to spark "fanatical" forums like Campus Watch.
"Such fanatical vigilantism could not have been possible had there not been an administration in Washington that seems to be responding to people's post-Sept. 11 worst instincts of fear and xenophobia, not by sober reflection, but by agitating such fears to justify its repeated attacks on constitutional rights and civil liberties," Fahmy said. "This narrowing tolerance is sad and dangerous as it leaves real anti-Semitism and real moral bankruptcy unchallenged."