Mitch Bard replied to my post about the L’Affaire Hanna Diskin at George Washington University in which an ill-suited Israeli academic attempted to indoctrinate her students in pro-Israel propaganda, all on the dime of the American Israel Cooperative Exchange and the Schusterman Foundation. Bard is the director of AICE, in fact its only employee. It’s only fitting that if he wishes to hang himself AND provide the rope that I allow him to do so. Here’s his apologia with my questions and comments interspersed:
1. What is the American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise?
We are a 501c3 organization devoted to improving the quality of education about Israel available on U.S. college campuses. We view the impartial and scholarly study of Israel to be critical in understanding the Middle East. We are trying to address the dearth of Israel Studies on U.S. campuses; Most U.S. campuses have at most one class on the subject, and that often deals exclusively with the Arab-Israel conflict. We aim to bring scholars to U.S. universities — scholars who could broaden understanding of Israeli society, politics, history, language, and culture (in the same way that, say, Chinese or French or Russian history, language, and culture are studied on U.S.
campuses — often without regard to the current governments of each of those nations).
It is true that such a focus makes us susceptible to the charge that we support Israel’s right to exist; I do, our funders do, and our scholars do.
Whoa, let’s just stop here for a minute. You support the “impartial” study of Israel yet you freely admit that “ALL” your scholars support Israel’s right to exist. Which means that AICE has a litmus test which excludes certain Israel studies scholars from participating in the program. Ipso facto, AICE is NOT impartial. At the least Ilan Pappe and Tanya Reinhart would never be AICE scholars. But who else would be excluded? Would it only be anti-Zionist scholars? Or does the litmus test exclude others as well? Would Norman Finkelstein (who supports a two state solution) were he an Israel studies scholar, be treif?
Aside from this, Bard sets up a straw man when he says his scholars support Israel’s “right to exist.” Most Israel studies specialists support Israel’s right to exist (as do I). But some are critical of Israel and its policies. Would they be accepted as AICE scholars? What would be the political criteria that would exclude one from being considered? How much criticism is too much?
To be sure, there are indeed programs of Middle East Studies where such a point of view would make me and our scholars unwelcome.
I challenge Bard to name a single program which has made a scholar unwelcome ONLY because he or she accepts Israel’s right to exist. The notion is preposterous.
In some classrooms, a map of the Middle East will not include the geopolitical boundaries demarcating a country called Israel.
This sounds like more propaganda from Bard’s AIPAC broadsheet, Myths and Facts. First, which classroom and at which school? Second, is AICE’s entire raison d’etre based on the fact that classroom maps exclude Israel? That’s the best he can do?
In such an environment, an accurate understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict is surely impossible, yet that is in fact a real problem on some U.S. campuses.
No, the problem as Bard sees it is that scholars like Juan Cole, Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi and others are simply too persuasive to their students. He worries that if their alleged propaganda goes unchallenged that students will get the wrong idea and begin actually doubting the AIPAC narrative. Further, Bard confuses these scholars critique of Israeli policy based on scholarship with political propaganda. So Bard’s answer is to respond to so-called propaganda with pro-Israel propaganda of his own.
We believe that the scholars we help bring to the campus can and do bring understanding, scholarship, and a depth of knowledge that would otherwise be unavailable to students and other faculty. And the growth of our program suggests that there is an enormous appetite for what we offer.
Or could it be the growth of your program is due to a sugar daddy willing to shell out $3 million and universities on severely reduced budgets only too happy to accept free faculty positions.
I should add, of course, that we are hardly alone in helping bring experts to U.S. campuses to teach specialized courses; foundations do this all the time, and there is nothing unusual about it, so long as the university maintains total control over the hiring of guest faculty and the review of their work.
Which brings me to another important subject. Bard claims that the university “maintains total control over the hiring of faculty and review of their work.” Yet he has already acknowledged that some faculty cannot be considered for ideological reasons. So if a university wanted to hire Ilan Pappe (just as a fer instance) they couldn’t. So how is this “total control?” I think what Bard means is that AICE provides candidates he vets for ideological and other purposes and the university then picks which candidate it wants. I don’t call that total control. But Bard’s standards are different than mine.
2. How do we work?
We secure funding to bring eminent scholars to U.S. campuses — we review the academic qualifications of those scholars, make sure they have the requisite English speaking skills to teach on a US campus, and make them available to campus administrators.
Which brings us to another question: if AICE reviews the academic qualifications of its scholars how did it place an Israeli instructor from Ariel College whose academic specialty was Communist era Poland in a GWU classroom teaching the Arab-Israeli conflict? Just how much reviewing was there?
We have a faculty advisory board of prominent American and Israeli scholars who help us identify the best Israeli scholars. We also invite professors to apply. Our number one criterion is scholarship.
Which brings me to another question: why isn’t the faculty advisory board mentioned on AICE’s website? Who sits on this board? What role do they play? And why aren’t AICE scholars and their campuses listed on the site either?
NOTE: Eric Fingerhut, writer of the original Washington Jewish Week e mailed me that he’d located a list of the Schusterman scholars, though not on the AICE website.
It is in our interests to have universities hire those with the highest academic standards.
Which is why of course AICE provided Hannah Diskin to GWU.
We offer recommendations of scholars to the universities based on these applications and the advice of our board. In the end, however, AICE has no say in who is hired by the university.
Though AICE has a say in who is NOT hired because it weeds out those it disapproves of.
The university decides whom to hire and what they will teach. We require only that the professors teach four courses, at least two on modern Israel.
Again, AICE approved an unqualified person to teach a course on modern Israeli politics. Why?
Our funding only partially covers the cost of the professors; the universities provide matching funds. The universities are solely responsible for monitoring the content of the courses.
This strikes me as PR management. You mean to tell me that the fact that Hannah Diskin taught material that was completely inappropriate in her course and that this fact was exposed by the local Jewish media is NOT something that concerns AICE?
3. What happened at GWU?
Here is what I know; At George Washington University. AICE provided funding for a postdoctoral fellow position. It was up to GW to choose whom they wanted and ultimately decided on Diskin. We had never interviewed her and had no role in her hiring.
Sorry if I repeat myself but…what is your faculty advisory board doing? You claim they recommend candidates and you provide the names to the schools and that you review their qualifications and yet you wash your hands of Diskin and claim that she somehow appeared out of thin air. You didn’t know her, didn’t recommend her. Then how did she become one of your fellows?
It was our hope and expectation that she would have met the university’s criteria for the position. It was very disappointing to us to learn of her resignation
— yet ultimately, the university administration has the full information regarding her hiring and resignation (and any student complaints).
Spoken like a true bureaucrat passing the buck onto the next guy.
4. Who am I?
I have a Ph.D. in political science and am one of the leading authorities on U.S.-Israel relations and author/editor of 18 books.
I’m glad you only claimed to be “one of the leading authorities on U.S.-Israel relations.” Gee, you could’ve said you were THE leading authority. I’m glad you retained a bit of modesty. You won’t mind if I also mention that you spent a significant portion of your career dishing out AIPAC talking points and other broadsides. You won’t mind if I point out that this AICE scholars program is supported by a Foundation that funds virtually all of AIPAC’s campus pro-Israel advocacy including the director’s salary. You won’t mind if I point out that you don’t have a regular academic position. You wouldn’t mind if I pointed out that some of the those 18 books were published by your own Foundation and not by a peer-reviewed academic press. You wouldn’t mind if I pointed out that the Virtual Jewish Library is a font of partisan propaganda regarding its discussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And a last word on propaganda. Dr. Bard touts the intellectual rigor of the academics in his program and claims they are vetted almost solely on that basis. How does he reconcile this with the following interview he gave:
“Donors need to be very careful about how they give to universities because their money can be used for purposes that are contrary to their intentions,” warns Mitchell Bard of the AICE.
Bard points to the case of Helen Diller, the wife of real-estate developer Sanford Diller. In 2004, she gave $5 million to the University of California at Berkeley and its Center for Middle East Studies to finance research grants and underwrite visiting professorships.
“You know what’s going on over there,” she said of Berkeley to a San Francisco Jewish newspaper. “With the protesting and this and that, we need to get a real strong Jewish studies program in there….Hopefully, it will be more enlightening to have a visiting professor and it’ll calm down over there.”
Mrs. Diller clearly wanted an academic with a partisan agenda named to her endowed chair. Yet when she gave her money directly to the University she was forced to deal with a rigorous departmental process that vets candidates. The result was a distinguished Israeli geographer highly critical of the settlement enterprise and the failures of Israeli democracy. Bard, in this interview, clearly states that AICE will give donors the comfort of knowing it will appoint scholars who adhere to the donor’s ideological viewpoint. That’s not scholarship, that’s partisanship and it doesn’t belong on campus.
I’ll repeat what I said in my earlier post on this: I have nothing against Jewish foundations funding Israel studies. I have nothing against Israelis teaching in such programs who are largely supportive of Israeli policy; as long as I know that ALL qualified Israelis regardless of ideological predispositions are eligible for AICE and actually appointed to its positions. This is not the case with AICE as far as I can tell.
If I am wrong it should be simple enough for Bard to list those AICE academic participants who, unlike Hannah Diskin, don’t have a slavish adherence to the pro-Israel narrative in the classroom. (If he would’ve listed them on his site I could’ve already done this myself).