The Israeli lobby has launched an all-out drive to ensure congressional passage of a bill, approved by the House and now before a Senate committee that would set up a federal tribunal to investigate and monitor criticism of Israel on American college campuses.
Ten months ago the New York-based Jewish Week newspaper claimed that the report by American Free Press that Republican members of the Senate were planning to crack down on college and university professors who were critical of Israel was "a dangerous urban legend at best, deliberate disinformation at worst." They were claiming that AFP lied.
However, on Sept. 17, 2003, the House Subcommittee on Select Education unanimously approved H.R. 3077, the International Studies in Higher Education Act, which was then passed by the full House on Oct. 21. The chief sponsor of the legislation was Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a conservative Republican from Michigan.
Critics charge that the bill is dangerous—a direct affront to the First Amendment and the product of intrigue by a small clique of individuals and organizations which combines the forces of the powerful Israeli lobby in official Washington.
Leading the push for Senate approval of the bill are the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith, run by Abe Foxman, the American Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee.
Also lending its support is Empower America, the neo-conservative front group established by William Kristol, editor and publisher of billionaire Rupert Murdoch's Weekly Standard, which is said to be the "intellectual" journal that governs the train of foreign policy thinking in the Bush administration.
One other group has lent its support: the U.S. India Political Action Committee, an Indian-American group that has been working closely with the Israeli lobby now that Israel and India are geopolitically allied.
H.R. 3077 is bureaucratic in its tone, decipherable only to those with the capacity to wade through legislative linguistics. It would set up a seven-member advisory board that would have the power to recommend cutting federal funding for colleges and universities that are viewed as harboring academic critics of Israel.
Two members of the board would be appointed by the Senate, two by the House, and three by the secretary of education, two of whom are required to be from U.S. federal security agencies. The various appointees would be selected from what The Christian Science Monitor described on March 11 as "politicians, representatives of cultural and educational organizations, and private citizens."
Gilbert Merk, vice provost for international affairs and development and director of the Center for International Studies at Duke University, has echoed the fears of many when he charged that this advisory board "could easily be hijacked by those who have a political axe to grind and become a vehicle for an inquisition."
The primary individuals promoting this effort to control intellectual debate on the college campuses are prominent and outspoken supporters of Israel and harsh critics of the Arab and Muslim worlds. They are:
• Martin Kramer, a professor of Arab studies at the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University in Israel;
• Stanley Kurtz, a contributor of ex-CIA man William F. Buckley Jr.'s bitterly anti-Arab National Review Online and a research fellow at the staunchly pro-Israel Hoover Institution; and
• Daniel Pipes, founder of the pro-Israel Middle East Institute and its affiliate, Campus Watch, an ADL-style organization that keeps tabs on college professors and students who are—or are suspected of being—critics of Israel.
These three, along with the Israeli lobby, are claiming that they are fighting "anti-Americanism" as it is being taught on the college campuses.
Republicans in Congress have joined this chorus, preferring to allow their constituents to think that this is an "America First" measure.
Juan Cole of the History News Network responds to this extraordinary twist on reality saying that the claim of "anti-Americanism" is intellectually dishonest.
"What they mean . . . if you pin them down is ambivalence about the Iraq war, or dislike of Israeli colonization of the West Bank, or recognition that the U.S. government has sometimes in the past been in bed with present enemies like al Qaeda or Saddam. None of these positions is ‘anti-American,' and any attempt by a congressionally appointed body to tell university professors they cannot say these things—or that if they say them they must hire someone else who will say the opposite—is a contravention of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
The promoters are also suggesting that this legislation would, according to the American Jewish Committee, "enhance intellectual freedom on campus by enabling diverse viewpoints to be heard." Of course, the legislation would do precisely the opposite, say critics.
Lisa Anderson of the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs said in response that "this plan . . . is not about diversity, or even about the truth."
Ms. Anderson does not cite the role of the Israeli lobby, but instead targets conservative Republicans who are acting as the Israeli lobby's surrogates and says that this plan is "about the conviction of conservative political activists that the American university community is insufficiently patriotic, or perhaps simply insufficiently conservative."
What she should be saying is that these Republicans who are carrying water for Israel are concerned that universities are "insufficiently pro-Israel."
The Republican House members who originally joined Hoekstra in co-sponsoring this legislation should be named for the record. They are: John A. Boehner (Ohio), John R. Carter (Texas), Tom Cole (Oklahoma), James Greenwood (Penn.), Howard (Buck) McKeon (Calif.), Patrick J. Tiberi (Ohio) and Joe Wilson (South Carolina).
Americans will not be able to find out how their representatives voted on the bill. Hoekstra asked for a suspension of the House rules, which was approved, making it possible for the controversial measure to be passed with an unrecorded "voice vote." There is no record of how individual House members voted or if they even voted at all.
The measure passed by the House is the same type of proposed "ideological diversity" legislation that AFP detailed in its Oct. 20, 2003, issue. At the time, the measure was being kicked around for possible introduction in the Senate by two prominent Republicans, Rick Santorum (Penn.) and Sam Brownback (Kan.).
AFP's initial report on the legislation garnered so much attention from American college and university professors and on the Internet, even so far as the Arab world, that the resulting negative publicity forced Santorum and Brownback to back off.
Many major American education organizations, including the teacher's union, the National Education Association, have raised their concerns about this campaign to muzzle the free speech of teachers, professors and instructors. The American Civil Liberties Union has also protested this measure.
Critics say this is a new form of what has been known in the past as "McCarthyism," and no matter what you may think about the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose name, rightly or wrongly, inspired that terminology, the truth is that this legislation is "McCarthyism" by virtue of the popular definition.
The only chance to destroy this legislation and stop it dead in its tracks is for enough grassroots citizens to rise up and demand that H.R. 3077 be put to rest.
And believe it or not, the one senator who may be able to stop it is Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy of Massachusetts.