M.J. Rosenberg just gave me a head’s up about Yale’s withdrawal of a faculty appointment to Juan Cole after a concerted campaign against him from Yale Jewish donors and other Jewish neocons. Both Jewish Week and The Nation report that Cole had been approved by several faculty committees before pro-Israel forces managed to muster a a concerted effort to stop him. Philip Weiss writing in The Nation says:
The controversy erupted this spring after two campus periodicals reported that Cole was under consideration by Yale for a joint appointment in sociology and history. In an article in the Yale Herald, Campus Watch, a pro-Israel group that monitors scholars’ statements about the Middle East, was quoted as saying that Cole lacked a “penetrating mind,” and suggesting that Yale was “in danger of sacrificing academic credibility in exchange for the attention” Cole would generate. Alex Joffe, then the director of Campus Watch, told me Cole “has a conspiratorial bent…he tends to see the Mossad and the Likud under his bed.” For its part, the Yale Daily News twice featured attacks on Cole by former Bush Administration aide Michael Rubin, a Yale PhD associated with Campus Watch and the American Enterprise Institute. In an op-ed Rubin wrote, “Early in his career, Cole did serious academic work on the 19th century Middle East…. He has since abandoned scholarship in favor of blog commentary.”
Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has always been important in Cole’s reading of the Middle East. Naturally, Israel is central to neocons, too. Michael Rubin accused Cole of missing the good news from Iraq and of being anti-Semitic. That charge was soon taken up in the Wall Street Journal and in the New York Sun. “Why would Yale ever want to hire a professor best known for disparaging the participation of prominent American Jews in government?” wrote two Sun co-authors. One of them, according to Scott Johnson, was a student of Alan Dershowitz’s at Harvard [ed. Mitchell Webber, a Yale graduate who is now a law student and a research assistant for Alan Dershowitz at Harvard Law School,]. The other is Johnson’s daughter, Eliana, then a Yale senior. After that article, Johnson, a Minneapolis lawyer and Dartmouth grad, wrote up the case on his blog, which describes itself as a friend of Israel, and attacked Cole as a “moonbat.”
Alex Joffe denies that a network went after Cole. “There wasn’t any organized opposition. It was a question of people becoming aware of it somehow and each getting in his two cents.” Asked about pot-stirrers, Johnson says, “I think if you look anywhere but Yale, you’d be making a mistake.”
Well, if this isn’t a network, neither are the professionals who exchange cards at New York parties. Joel Mowbray, a Washington Times columnist who has assailed the consideration of Cole, sent a letter to a dozen Yale donors, many of them Jewish, warning of Cole’s possible appointment. According to the Jewish Week, “Several faculty members said they had heard that at least four major Jewish donors…have contacted officials at the university urging that Cole’s appointment be denied.” Still, Johnson’s point is well taken. It must have been Yale insiders who got the news out to Cole’s enemies, as Cole’s appointment passed one after another of several institutional hurdles.
Jewish Week adds on this score:
Several faculty members said they had heard that at least four major Jewish donors, whose identity the faculty members did not know, have contacted officials at the university urging that Cole’s appointment be denied.
And while most faculty members contacted for this piece agree that it is highly improbable that outside pressure played a part in the tenure committee’s decision, the letters and the subsequent calls suggest a campaign to discredit Cole.
So here you have the hardline pro-Israel Campus Watch, Scott Johnson, author of Powerline one of the most widely read right-wing blogs, a student of Alan Dershowitz and daughter of a Scott Johnson writing in the New York Sun, Joel Mowbray of the Washington Times, and Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute orchestrating a right-wing pro-Israel campaign to deny Cole the job. And this is only what is publicly known because these people were the ones willing to use their names in voicing their opposition. Who knows whether groups like Charles Jacob’s DAVID Project or even Aipac were involved more surreptitiously. And one shouldn’t forget that while the groups can maintain plausible deniability regarding their own involvement that wouldn’t prevent such a behind the scenes effort by individuals affiliated with those groups.
To anyone idiotic enough to deny or besmirch Cole’s stellar academic credentials, Weiss reminds you of them:
Academics…say that Yale was drawn to Cole by top-rank scholarly achievement. He is president of the Middle East Studies Association, speaks Arabic and Persian, and has published several books on Egyptian and Shiite history. “We were impressed with Cole’s scholarly work, and a wide set of letters showed that he is also highly regarded by other scholars in the field,” says political science professor Frances Rosenbluth, a member of the Yale search committee that chose Cole. Zachary Lockman, an NYU Middle Eastern studies professor, says, “It’s fair to say he is probably among the leading historians of the modern Middle East in this country.” Joshua Landis, a professor at University of Oklahoma, describes Cole as “top notch.”
“He was the wunderkind of Middle East Studies in the 1980s and 1990s,” Landis says. “He can be strident on his blog, which is one reason it is the premier Middle East blog…. [But] Juan Cole has done something that no other Middle East academic has done since Bernard Lewis, who is 90 years old: He has become a household word. He has educated a nation. For the last thirty years every academic search for a professor of Middle East history at an Ivy League university has elicited the same complaint: ‘There are no longer any Bernard Lewises. Where do you find someone really big with expertise on many subjects who is at home in both the ivory tower and inside the Beltway?’ Today, Juan Cole is that academic.”
Of course, Cole is on the left, while Lewis is a neoconservative. And it is hard to separate Cole’s scholarly reputation from his Internet fame. Cole started his blog, Informed Comment, a few months after September 11. He quickly became the leading left blogger on terrorism and the Middle East, delivering every day, often by translating from Arabic newspapers.
And to those critics who claim Cole’s publications have been sidetracked by his blogging take a close look at his publication list.
The pro-Israel crowd has attacked the Columbia Middle East Studies program, attempted to deny Rashid Khalidi an appointment to Princeton. And now they’ve sent Juan Cole packing back to the University of Michigan. David Horowitz has tarred Joel Beinin of Stanford as a “campus supporter of terror.” Stephen Walt, co-author of The Israel Lobby, who just stepped down from his Harvard deanship accepts that his hopes for academic advancement are finished after crossing Aipac. Cole himself has resigned himself to the same fate:
“I knew when I began to speak out [at his blog, Informed Consent] that I wasn’t going to be hired. I knew my academic career was over. I knew that I can be in this place, be a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan for the rest of my life. But I would never be a dean. I would never be a provost. I would never be in the Ivy League. I’m not surprised. I’m not upset. Actually, the bizarre thing is that Juan Cole was considered by Yale in the first place.”
And Cole added this telling addendum in a Jewish Week interview:
Cole, while refusing to comment on the tenure committee’s vote, told The Jewish Week he believes that “the concerted press campaign by neoconservatives against me, which was a form of lobbying the higher administration, was inappropriate and a threat to academic integrity.
“The articles published in the Yale Standard, the New York Sun, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, and the Washington Times, as part of what was clearly an orchestrated campaign, contained made-up quotes, inaccuracies, and false charges,” he said. “The idea that I am any sort of anti-Jewish racist because I think Israel would be better off without the occupied territories is bizarre, but I fear that a falsehood repeated often enough and in high enough places may begin to lose its air of absurdity.”
But the fact of the matter is that nothing that Cole says about this subject has not already been said two or three times over by scores of Israeli commentators in newspapers like Haaretz, Maariv and Yediot Achronot. The fact of the matter is that the Aipac crowd can’t muzzle dissent in Israel, but sure can (try to) do so here in the States and has rather remarkable record of success on that score.
While Jewish Week’s coverge of the story generally echoed Weiss’ in The Nation, I found this passage for the former publication slightly off kilter:
The reasons behind the rejection remain unknown; several calls to a Yale spokeswoman went unreturned.
But university insiders say that the uncharacteristic rebuff may have been influenced by several factors, central among them the political commentary Cole writes on his blog, “Informed Comment.”
Often favoring a pugilistic tone and consistently criticizing Israel’s policies in the West Bank, Cole has attracted a visibility that has made him a favorite target of several conservative commentators.
I’d maintain that “the reasons behind the rejection” are quite known and recounted clearly above and even in the Jewish Week article itself. Cole was certainly rejected for his views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s a goddamn shame. There’s a lesson to be learned here. If you’re a serious, ambitious academic you better watch your step. If you have views that run counter to Aipac’s you’ll have to learn to censor yourself unless you’re willing to draw the wrath of the Dershowitzes, American Enterprise Institutes and Aipacs of this world. As an NYU professor notes–whatever happened to the free exchange of ideas, academic freedom, etc.?
[Zachary] Lockman…finds the process fearful: “Since September 11 there has been a concerted effort by a small but well-funded group of people outside academia to monitor very carefully what all of us are saying, ready to jump on any sign of deviation from what they see as acceptable opinion. It’s an attack on academic freedom, and it’s not very healthy for our society.”
The pro-Israel crowd strikes again. And freewheeling academic discourse is the victim. We’re all the poorer for it.
The Yale faculty should be ashamed of what a group of its members did in this case. How could they allow non-academics in some cases, and non-Yale faculty in others set the tone for what should’ve been a purely intra-faculty decision? Furthermore, their actions have reinforced a hostility between academia and the blog world since academics who blog are increasingly seeing their blogging included in hiring, tenure review and promotion considerations, and often not in a favorable sense. If you teache and make a false step in your blog you’ll be made to pay. And in some cases, merely writing a blog counts against you since more hidebound academics look down their nose at blogs as mere dabbling since it is devoid of conventional oversight like peer review, formal sourcing, and the “rules of evidence” are considerably looser.
As someone who blogs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I’ve commended the very few faculty who blog about this specific field (there are only two or three). I once asked Joel Migdal a specialist on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the University of Washington if he knew of professors in his field who blogged and whether he’d ever considered doing so. Joel looked at me a little like I’d come from outer space. The thought and the concept clearly had hardly entered his mind. I can’t say his reaction surprised me based on what I already knew. But now I can’t even say I blame (not the right word) him for his response. How can any faculty member with a progressive perspective on this conflict considering blogging? Unless you blog with a wholly pro-Israel agenda (by which I mean ‘rightist’) you’re likely to be made to pay.
The university community is not the only one impoverished by decisions like this one. The blog world itself is both diminished and assaulted when our blog peers are assaulted within their professional fields for the perfectly reasonable, though controversial things they may write. For those of us who wish to see the influence of blogs on society and intellectual life increase, we should be aghast at what happened to Juan Cole. And we should all be ashamed of what Scott Johnson at Powerline, who after all must have impeccable academic credentials in this field to have assaulted the qualifications of Cole, has done to a major intellectual figure in the field of Mideast studies.