Columbia (Joseph Massad), Yale (Juan Cole) and Princeton (Rashid Kahlidi) have had the honor of their Mideast studies faculty (and faculty candidates) being subjected to a pro-Israel smear campaign. Now, it appears Brandeis is suffering the same fate. But instead of the David Project
(behind the Columbia smear), Daniel Pipes is single-handedly taking on Brandeis with the help of some of its pro-Israel donors who’ve threatened a financial boycott.
It all started with Jimmy Carter (doesn’t it always), who spoke on campus several weeks ago. The Pipes-Dershowitz crowd was in high moral dudgeon because Carter refused a one on one debate with Dershowitz. (Last I checked, Dershowitz hadn’t invited Carter to debate him when the Big D’s last book was published either.) University president Jehudah Reinharz was tarred and feathered. Jewish Week reported as much as $5 million in donations was being withdrawn.
The president was even quoted in the student newspaper as being opposed to either Pipes or Norman Finkelstein speaking on campus because of the “inflammatory nature” of their views, saying they were “weapons of mass destruction.”
In its second report on the controversy, Jewish Week indicates that Reinharz has softened his views on at least one of the two speakers. I bet you can’t guess which one…yes, it’s Pipes. Instead of being described as the vapid ideologue he really is, Reinharz now lauds him as serious scholar. He even offers him the hospitality and imprimatur of the president’s office:
You have been a guest on this campus on more than one occasion and, I believe, have always been treated with the utmost respect. I trust that the student groups who organize these events will manage your return visit in the spring with dispatch, and you will be recognized by Brandeis as the scholar you are. I, and my Executive Assistant, Dr. John Hose hope to attend your talk. If time allows, perhaps we can continue our conversation in my office.
Anything to cool down pro-Israel donors and demagogues on the warpath.
Reinharz offers the prestige of his office to someone who levels the most despicable calumnies (which unfortunately describes most of what he writes) against two members of his own faculty:
What, precisely, are those scholarly resources available at Brandeis? Might [University administrator John] Hose be referring to the University’s leading specialist on “contemporary Islamic thought and practice”… Prof. Natana DeLong-Bas (NEJS), an apologist for Al-Qaeda whose depraved thinking was exposed in several recent articles (including “Natana DeLong-Bas: American Professor, Wahhabi Apologist” and “Sympathy for the Devil at Brandeis,” from frontpagemag.com)? Or is he referring to Khalil Shikaki, a Crown Center fellow who has been credibly accused of terrorist links and has a second-to-none record in getting it wrong in his chosen field of Palestinian public opinion?
There are links in this passage to various Campus Watch and Frontpagemagazine articles which I don’t have the heart to link to here. But you can find those links at Pipes’ site.
This is what Oxford University Press has to say about Prof. Delong-Bas in its profile accompanying her book, Wahabi Islam:
Natana J. DeLong-Bas is senior research assistant at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. She is the author of Notable Muslims: A Biographical Dictionary (2004) and co-author of Women in Muslim Family Law revised edition, with John L. Esposito (2001). She has served as editor for and contributor to The Oxford Dictionary of Islam (OUP, 2003), and contributor to The Encyclopaedia of the Qur’an (2004), and The Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (OUP, 2004). She is a frequent public speaker on Islam, Wahhabism, and Saudi Arabia.
In protesting the banning of her book on Wahabi Islam by Egyptian religious authorities (that’s right, the book was banned by Islamists), the provost of the American University in Cairo said this:
“The book essentially argues that Wahhabism has been hijacked by the jihadists…”
Based on what I have read of her work, I wouldn’t say I’d agree with all of her views on Wahabi Islam. But to call her an Al Qaeda symp is ridiculous. And talk about ‘depraved,’ what kind of depraved human being could call a fellow academic “depraved” based on the above biographical profile?
As for the Shikaki attack, it’s beyond laughable. Shikaki is Palestine’s leading demographer and pollster who holds a Columbia University PhD. He founded the Palestinian Center for Policy Survey Research. He regularly collaborates with Israeli pollsters to track Israeli and Palestinian attitudes toward the peace process. His research is avidly followed by researchers, journalists and political leaders in Israel and throughout the world. I regularly report on his polls here when Haaretz reports them. To accuse this man of “terrorist links” is far beyond the pale and only testifies to the desperation of Pipes’ witch hunt against those he views as dangers to Israel.
Let’s also keep in mind that Herr Pipes was the figure largely responsible for Tariq Ramadan being declared persona non grata by the Dept. of Homeland Security. Pipes accused Ramadan of supporting Islamic terror with equally flimsy evidence to that presented against the above Brandeis figures.
Returning to Reinharz’ change of heart about Pipes. The latter had been scheduled to speak on campus this spring. Reinharz’ first remarks on Pipes and Finkelstein seemed to indicate that the University would permit neither to speak though there has been a change of heart outlined above. As for Finkelstein, he doesn’t seem to have the proper papers for a Brandeis engagement. He’ll be sailing the waters outside of campus on the good ship St. Louis till Reinharz decides whether his kind may be permitted entry to Brandeis.
I should state here that I don’t share Norman Finkelstein’s views of Zionism. But if a creep like Daniel Pipes should deserve the honor of a Brandeis podium, Finkelstein deserves one no less. I’m with Prof. Gordon Fellman on this:
Fellman advocated following up Carter’s appearance by opening the school to a new range of speakers on the Middle East.
“We also need to hear Avigdor Lieberman” — an Israeli Knesset member who advocates stripping Israeli Arab citizens of their citizenship — said Fellman. “We also need to hear a right-wing Orthodox settler convinced that God commands Jews to live in the West Bank. We need to hear more from Israelis who reject the occupation and reject the violence. … We need to hear Palestinians who have lived under occupation tell their sides of the story. … We need to hear from the rejectionists on both sides, and we need to hear from the accommodationists on both sides.”
In contrast, I find this counter-view expressed by Brandeis American Jewish historian Jonathan Sarna to be profoundly infantilizing:
“We don’t want to be in the position that every crackpot can be given a forum,” he said.
“I think the faculty increasingly understands that just as we exercise a lot of quality control over faculty appointments, so, too, do we have an obligation to exercise quality control for speakers on campus,” explained Sarna. “Part of our job is to help students figure out what bad books are, and what good books are; what is a bad scholar, and what is a good scholar. … How we exercise that responsibility without in any way limiting free discourse is what this committee will tackle.”
Sarna strongly endorsed Pipes’ scholarly credentials and his qualifications to speak on campus but said he did not want to “prejudge” the case of Finkelstein.
It appears that Pipes is one of the “good scholars” and Finkelstein in all likelihood one of the “bad.”
The types of speakers Fellman lists above represent legitimate loci of opinion within Israeli society. What is wrong with a serious academic institution hearing from all sides of the debate? You’re not appointing these people to the faculty or offering honorary degrees. You’re merely asking them to come and address students for an hour or two. What is Sarna afraid of here? I fear that what he’s done is import to campus the mainstream Jewish community’s absolute fear of real debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He seems to be saying we can only have a debate that is carefully managed. You’ve got to strain it like baby food for an infant. Take out the bad bits and leave in the good.
“There are members of the Brandeis community who truly want everyone to be able to speak, like Hyde Park. I think a university with limited funds, limited resources, limited rooms, and with extremists who require security each time, must use its funds in a responsible way.”
Cop out…big time. This from a supposedly distinguished academic historian? What lameness. Who does he think he’s kidding?
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.