I’ve been making some cracks about the Stern Gang behind the campaign against Barnard Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj. It appears to be a loose confederation that includes Campus Watch, Frontpagemagazine and Paula Stern, of course. It also includes such pro-Israel wingnuts as Steven Plaut and no doubt others of that sort. When Stern and Campus Watch both protested that her petition had had nothing to do with Campus Watch, I decided to try to trace back the history of the campaign if I could.
While there were negative (and positive) academic reviews of Facts on the Ground going back to 2001, when it was first published, the earliest non-academic article I could find was Hugh Fitzgerald’s sleazefest, Crisis at Columbia: Nadia Abu El-Haj, published simultaneously by Frontpagemagazine and Campus Watch on October 10, 2005. Fitzgerald’s effort is one of a series of Campus Watch hit pieces on Columbia professors deemed to Islam-friendly by these monitors of pro-Israel academic rectitude. So it must be seen as part of a broader campaign originated by the David Project against Columbia’s Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures program.
I’m interested to learn from readers if there are any earlier sources calling for her to be denied tenure. Stern claims that she first learned about the campaign from a fellow Barnard alum who participates with her in an Israeli “list.” I’d like to know how her friend heard about this and when. No doubt, Fitzgerald’s article played some role in inspiring Stern’s campaign.
What is not in question is that the origins of the anti Abu El-Haj campaign lie with right-wing ultra-Israel organizations with a decidedly political, rather than academic agenda. From the research I’ve published here over the past few days, it’s clear that the evidence adduced by them against Abu El-Haj’s work is an intellectual sham that barely conceals an insidious political agenda.
I wanted to also add that I am a Columbia alum, School of General Studies ’75 and have as much of a personal interest in this matter as she does, as I too care about the academic integrity of my alma mater. I took a wonderful political science course with Professor Dalton at Barnard as well. One of the Hugh Fitzgerald hit pieces I mention above is against my School’s dean, Peter Awn.
As an aside, Stern and her other Barnard co-conspirators have threatened, according to the JTA story, to withhold contributions to Barnard if Abu El-Haj gets tenure. Let’s assume they are large donors, which I’m willing to bet is NOT true. But just for the hell of it let’s assume they are. What is the aim of an alumnus donor? Is it to advance the academic interests of their alma mater? Or is it to advance a political agenda? When Daniel Pipes bragged that Brandeis would lose $5 million in donations if it hosted Jimmy Carter, I was incredulous. What donor who really has the best interests of an educational institution at heart would do such a thing? You’re biting off your nose to spite your face. Because Jimmy Carter speaks on campus or Nadia Abu El-Haj gets tenure, you’re willing to deny a student a scholarship or withhold a gift to build a new library or dormitory? Someone will have to explain the logic of this to me because it’s beyond me. And I say this as a former college fundraiser, which perhaps makes me extra senstitive on this subject.
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.