NEW YORK - Four Professors from New York University have joined tens of scholars in protests over Campus Watch, a pro-Israel group that witch-hunts academics and intellectuals, whom they perceive as showing signs of anti-Israel bias.
The scholars are among more than 100 across the US who in recent weeks have written to Campus Watch in defense of eight professors who the group has labeled on its web site as "apologists to terrorism".
The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israel organization, set up the Campus Watch web site last September listing faculty members from a number of universities and allowing students to report on them.
This move by the Philadelphia-based think tank has been decried by academics as campus McCarthyism and attempted intimidation.
The Muslim Public Affairs Council, among others, has regarded the project as "basically a hate Web site" and that posting "dossiers" on faculty members amounts to a blacklist.
Campus Watch 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.
Moreover, it accuses Arab American scholars of generally being biased against the United States and being apologists for so-called ‘unfriendly' regimes.
Organizers of Campus Watch said the site targets professors who "actively dissociate themselves from the United States."
For instance, it criticizes Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Near East languages and civilization at the University of Chicago, for dedicating his study of the Palestine Liberation Organization to "those who gave their lives during the summer of 1982 ... in defense of the cause of Palestine and the independence of Lebanon."
Eight professors have been listed on the site so far. The dossiers include short biographies as well as personal articles, letters to editors and essays written and published by these professors.
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.
A gender theorist at Berkeley, Judith Butler, wrote that she would like to be included in the list of US academics "who oppose the Israeli occupation and its brutality, actively support Palestinian rights of self-determination".
NYU Middle Eastern studies professors Jenine Abboushi, Khaled Fahmy, Zachary Lockman and history professor Mary Nolan also 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. "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.
Opponents immediately called the site "McCarthy-like" and an attempt to stifle opposition to US policy in the Middle East.
Some of the professors who appear on the site derided it as fear-mongering.
Khalidi called the site "slimy" and said the effort "could have a chilling effect if people allow themselves to be intimidated." Campus Watch is part of a "well-financed campaign of black propaganda" that is bound to create opposition, he said.
"All of this reeked of McCarthyism and I considered it a gross attack on the freedom of expression," Fahmy meanwhile said.
"McCarthyism was defeated by upholding and defending the principle of freedom of expression and by confronting attempts to silence and muzzle dissenting voices," he added.
"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 US after Sept. 11 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.