Im Tirtzu, the Israeli brass knuckles hasbara outfit, has expanded its campaign for mind control over the Israeli political debate by assaulting Israeli universities. Until now, it had focussed much of its energy on attacking the New Israel Fund and other Israeli human rights NGOs for their alleged support of the Goldstone Report. Now, they have widened the assault to include the political science departments of Israeli universities, which it views as being rife with anti-Zionist professors teaching left-wing propaganda to students and demanding that they parrot it back in return for good grades.
Among the unsupported (and unsupportable) claims leveled is that 80% of the material taught in political science courses is anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli. The entirely scientific method used was for two Israelis who somehow earned PhDs to divide up the course materials (articles, books, etc) into two categories: “Zionist” and “anti-Zionist” or “post-Zionist.” How did they arrive at this distinction?
‘We used a single criterion,’ said Dr. Ron Bartz, ‘what was the stance of the author regarding the question of whether Jews have the right to a national state in the Land of Israel–yes or no. Articles defined as Zionist were virtually non-existent in course syllabi.’
The report they wrote (pdf) found that of researchers who embraced the model of “a state for all its citizens” as opposed to those who embraced Israel as a Jewish state, articles reflecting the former perspective were found 24 times in course lists and articles reflecting the latter were only found 9 times. Presumably Im Tirtzu views the former perspective as anti-Zionist and the former as Zionist, which of course isn’t necessarily the case.
I’m dying to see specific books and articles and how they categorized them. This should bring a barrel of laughs. Just as a ferinstance, Norman Finkelstein‘s work will of course fall into the anti-Zionist camp even though he supports a two-state solution. You rapidly get an idea of how slanted Im Tirtzu’s methods are.
It’s rather odd to me that the newspaper article to which I link above claims that Drs. Ron Bartz and Uri Lebel “supervised” the report. But their names are not listed as authors. Indeed, no name is listed as far as I can see. Which makes this document authorless and utterly lacking in any credibility. Lebel, by the way, teaches at Ariel College, a settler institution established without academic certification.
An article in Yisrael HaYom, Israel’s Likudist daily underwritten by Shelly Adelson’s billions, also pointed to an seminar taught by Tel Aviv University Prof. Yehudah Shenhav on Government Bureaucracy and Human Rights. What especially irked Im Tirtzu is the participation of Israeli human rights lawyer, Michael Sfard in the course and the fact that students would participate in projects organized by anti-Occupation human rights NGOs Machsom Watch and Yesh Din. In another course, students were required to watch a documentary film featuring an interview with (has v’halila) Azmi Bishara and listen to a speech by left-wing Knesset member Dov Chenin. Apparently, according to Im Tirtzu, teaching about these subjects in an Israeli university should be forbidden or at least balanced by an accompanying course that waves the white-and-blue fervently.
This entire exercise strikes me as a rip-off of Daniel Pipes Campus Watch. In its report, Im Tirtzu even tracks student complaints filed against specific courses and professors, which is a tactic patented by Pipes’ crew. I would be willing to wager that the Israeli group has consulted closely with Pipes and/or Charles Jacobs of The David Project. This is yet another example of Israel importing some of the worst polemical tendencies of the American Jewish right.
Im Tirtzu has the ear of the right-wing political establishment. Education Minister Gideon Saar, announced recently that he had a few surprises in store for academics who endorse the BDS movement (Neve Gordon, are you listening?). It’s not clear what the government can do to punish such professors unless it wishes to violate principles of academic freedom; or whether it intends to punish the universities or departments via cutting off governmental subsidies.
A Kadima Knesset member had this delightfully witty analysis of the malady afflicting Israeli academia:
“Israeli academia apparently suffers from ‘Palestinomania,’ a mild psychological illness whose symptoms include self-hatred, an affinity for Israel’s enemies, Jewish anti-Semitism and/or anti-Zionism,” Shamalov Berkovich said in the Knesset. “The spread of ‘Palestinomania’ demands the immediate and painful treatment for all of our sake, and the sooner the better.”
Minister Saar earlier this year gave his papal blessing to the hooligans of Im Tirtzu when he addressed one of the conferences:
“I place great importance in this gathering,” he said. “Campus activism is hugely vital, and this is what you are doing. For this, you will be blessed.” “I very much appreciate this work, which gives expression to an authentic Zeitgeist felt by the public and is much-needed on our campuses,” Sa’ar said of Im Tirtzu. “I came to tell you: God speed.”
These threats against Israeli academia and specific researchers comes on the heels of the death threat sent to Prof. Neve Gordon which I feature here. For those who seek to dismiss the seriousness of such gestures remember that wanted posters graced the streets of Jerusalem just before Prof. Zeev Sternhell was wounded by a pipe bomb likely delivered by accused settler serial killer Jack Teitel. Hate like this is serious. Not that this means the Israeli police will uncover the culprit/s. They somehow often manage not to be able to solve such cases.
I wonder whether it’s getting to the point that Israel is turning into an inverted version of mullah-led Iran, where “dissidents” like Gordon come under a fatwa and need 24 hour security in order to protect them from settler crazies. We’ve had an Israeli prime minister assassinated by such a one before.
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.