Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Academic Indemnity?

A couple of weeks ago, Elder of Ziyon brought to our attention a recent article by M. Shahid Alam posted on the Pacific Free Press website. Alam is a professor of economics at Northeastern University and, as such, is protected by academic freedom to espouse views that are, shall we say, repulsive. He has published widely in  web publications such as Counterpunch (on the Israelization of America) and is well known in anti-Zionist circles. 

The piece he published is excerpted from Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave Macmillan), a study of the ways in which The Zionists "...have worked – and, often have succeeded – to alter the behavior of the other political actors in this drama (i.e., their colonialist project and its disruptive effect on the region - my words) and, how, in turn, the Zionists respond to these changes. Most importantly, we need to explore all the ways in which the Zionists have succeeded in mobilizing the resources of the United States and other Western powers to serve their specific objectives."

The article essentially rehashes the theme of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but with an updated, 'dialectical', post-colonial reworking of the history of Zionism. It is a lovely read and brings to mind a kind of cross between, The Israel Lobby and any old junk on ZOG/White Supremacist websites.

Take an example: "Over the course of the nineteenth century, they had become an important, often vital, part of the financial, industrial, commercial, and intellectual elites in several of the most important Western countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Moreover, the most prominent members of these elites had cultivated ties with each other across national boundaries.

Once these Jewish elites, spread across the key Western countries, had decided to support the Zionist project, they would become a force in global politics. On the one hand, this would tempt the great powers to support Zionism, if this could buy them the help of the Jewish communities, based in a rival or friendly power, to push their host country in a desirable direction. Conversely, once the Zionists recognized this tendency, they too would seek to win support for their cause by offering the support of Jewish communities in key Western countries.
It would be in their interest to exaggerate the results that Jewish communities in this or that country might be able to deliver. During periods of intense conflicts – such as World War I – when the fate of nations hung in the balance, the competition for Zionist support became more intense than ever. This placed the Zionists in a strong position to trade their favors for the commitment of the great powers to their goals. In September 1917, this competition persuaded
Britain, at a difficult moment in the execution of its war, to throw its support behind the Zionist project."

Anyhoo, I felt like lodging a complaint about this anti-Semitic diatribe with the powers-that-be at Northeastern, and two weeks later I received a rather predictable, pro-forma, reply. Apparently I'm not the first to complain about the professor:

On behalf of Provost Stephen Director, please let me thank you for contacting us to express your concerns about the recent article by Professor M. Shahid Alam.  We appreciate learning your views.

A fundamental aspect of American higher education is an unwavering commitment to academic freedom, which sometimes includes tolerating viewpoints that are repugnant to most of us. Please understand that when an individual faculty member espouses his or her views, this does not constitute the views of the University. While a strong commitment to freedom of speech can present uncomfortable moments—particularly when it comes to matters of ethnic discrimination—we believe that efforts to curtail academic discourse would be antithetical to the University’s mission.

Mary Loeffelholz, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
Office of the Provost, Northeastern University

I am all in favor of academic freedom, free speech and the First Amendment, but the likes of Professor M. Shahid Alam are not. They want to boycott Israeli universities and other cultural institutions -- you can't have it both ways. Additionally, there have been enough reports about intimidation by anti-Zionist faculty at various campuses across the country, that it would seem to me that a professor with such vehement views should, at the very least, be made accountable to an institution's administration so as to guard against his bias in the classroom.

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

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