For the past month or so, I’ve inadvertently been focussing my blogging on the general issue of political speech in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and the ways in which the latter suppresses the free exchange of ideas both within Israel and Diaspora Jewish communities. Many of the most important subjects I’ve written about–Amzi Bishara’s being driven into exile by the Shin Bet and the Kamm-Blau case–have dealt with the issue of democracy and the compromises Israel and its supporters are compelled to make to defend it in the context of continual war.
I don’t usual report on specific Israeli events before they happen since I can’t add much value to them blogging here in the States. But I’m delighted to make an exception and report that the Steinmetz Center at Tel Aviv University will host a conference this Thursday, April 29th on Free Speech and Academic Freedom in a Society in Conflict (pdf download of schedule in Hebrew). Among the important panelists will be David Newman, recently named dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben Gurion University; Naomi Hazan, Israeli chair of the New Israel Fund; and Galia Golan. Also participating will be the single-most noxious and dangerous figure in Israeli academia, Gerald Steinberg, founder of the notorious NGO Monitor.
Steinberg and Im Tirtzu have spearheaded the campaign to demonize Hazan and New Israel Fund for the group’s alleged involvement in the Goldstone Report on the Gaza War. Steinberg has also directed multiple efforts to defund Palestinian NGOs and social science initiatives for their alleged anti-Israel activities. Through his lies, the Israeli Palestinian Mada al-Carmel research group lost an $800,000 grant from the Canadian government (for which it plans to sue). He is known for lies, distortions, and outright fabrication in pursuit of his far-right ideological mission. In fact, an Israeli court recently forced him to apologize publicly to a different Israeli Palestinian research organization for his falsification of its record. It’s safe to say that for Steinberg, the mere fact of being Arab is sufficient to render someone a threat to the state. That such a person should find an academic home at Bar Ilan University is frankly astonishing. And I say this not because of Steinberg’s political views. If all he did was express them that would be acceptable. It is the serial campaigns of lies and demonization that I find inimical to academic study of such subjects.
Professor Newman has himself been the target of a British BGU trustee, who attempted to get Newman fired from his academic post and wished for his death, for the professor’s participation in a BBC documentary about the role of the British Israel lobby.
Two important academic figures who will be missing from panels at this event are Prof. Neve Gordon, whose career at Ben Gurion was threatened when he wrote an essay supporting the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement; and the university’s president, Rivka Carmi, who participated in the academic lynching of Gordon. She should be asked to appear to explain her shameful role in that affair.
Another incident this conference should take up: Yigal Arens disinvitation from a Ben Gurion University conference on cybersecurity due to pressure from the IDF and intelligence agencies who refused to participate if Arens did.
While there is much that is wrong with Israeli society, at least it can be said that this important issue can be discussed there. Unfortunately, no comparable U.S. institution could or would take it up.