Anti-Israel circles of influence on campus

A recent study entitled Israel and the Campus counted a disproportionate number of anti-Israel incidents occurring on University of California and other elite campuses. It said “the most serious problem faced on campus is not from student activities, but from faculty” who “habitually abuse their academic freedom and have turned their classrooms into bully pulpits to advance the Arab lobby agenda.”

Outside of being mentioned in the occasional flare-up, it is worth exploring how such faculty advance their views across a specific campus and beyond to other colleges. University of California, San Diego, one of the top-rated in the US, is a good place to zero in.

Gross generalization is difficult as there are gradations of criticisms and of vocabulary among the faculty critical of Israel. Further, not all are conscious advocates of an “Arab lobby agenda.” But they do further it by their negativity and frequent failure to separate their criticism from the more radical charges of extreme Israel haters. This provides a coloration to Israel that makes the more outrageous accusations more plausible to those not expert. This does affect other faculty on their and other campuses with liberal or leftist leanings which makes them receptive, and does influence students who will carry these attitudes into their future leadership roles in American society.

What one sees is circles of influence, with the inner circle providing the splash and outer circles adding to the wave. It is that wave that creates a campus atmosphere which gives the impression that the entire campus is critical of Israel and that, it is charged, creates a hostile atmosphere for Jewish and pro-Israel students and faculty.

After years of enduring hate-Israel weeks on campus, in the spring of 2011, a fairly unique thing happened at UCSD. Twenty-eight UCSD pro-Israel professors, most from non-humanities departments, paid for an ad in the campus newspaper (after the newspaper reneged on publishing their letter). Read it all, but here’s an excerpt:

The organizers of the acrimonious and divisive spring event have a golden opportunity this year to show that they are genuinely interested in the rights and dignity of all the people of the Mideast by expanding their focus beyond the tiny Jewish state and, in so doing, put on an event that will do more to unite our campus than divide it….Advocacy that deliberately distorts and omits information to convince others of a partisan viewpoint, that uses calculated, inflammatory rhetoric to demonize a nation, its citizens and its supporters, may be protected as free speech but should nevertheless be scorned by fair-minded students as a form of intellectual abuse.

The impact of these pro-Israel professors’ words aroused the ire of UCSD professors, mostly from humanities departments, critical toward Israel. As the San Diego Union-Tribune reported:

A smaller group of faculty members responded with a letter to The Guardian, accusing the pro-Israel professors of disregarding the principles of academic freedom and robust debate and trying to ‘strike a pre-emptive blow’ against Justice in Palestine Week.

“It was a sad case of professors bullying student groups,” said Professor Gary Fields, one of those who signed the response to the pro-Israel faculty.

Their letter ends with this sentence: “It is through reasoned arguments about the world, protected by academic freedom, that our campus becomes a richer learning environment for us, our students, and the diverse communities we serve.”

Not surprisingly, no mention is made of campus pro-Palestinian groups hurling Nazi epithets or shouting down speakers or blocking walkways and intimidating students on their way to classes, hardly “reasoned arguments.” One of the pro-Israel professors responded, “the faculty that attacked our open letter indulged in the very thing they claim to deplore: an attempt at ‘shutting down discussion on a controversial set of issues,’ namely the underlying motives behind events such as ‘Justice in Palestine: End the Apartheid.’”

That the defenders of Israel mostly came from non-humanities departments and the critics from humanities departments illustrates that discussions of Israel are more likely in humanities courses than in science courses, and those discussions will be critical of Israel. This is one of the ways in which students are more likely to be exposed to views, often one-sided or heavily slanted, critical of Israel. The receptive attitude among fellow professors is indicated that in the 2008 presidential election, of the UCSD faculty who made donations, 96% were for democrats. Use of phrases like “academic freedom” by those who support Palestinian claims are meant to neuter criticism of the pro-Palestinian arguments or antics and to enroll liberal-minded fellow professors into defending such arguments and antics.

At the center of UCSD faculty prominently supporting Palestinian claims and criticizing Israel are the above mentioned Gary Fields, Communications Department, and Ivan Evans, Sociology Department, until recently President of the UCSD Faculty Association union (affiliated with AAUP) but now on to a higher position American Association of University Professors (AAUP) position as its California President where he can work to overturn AAUP’s opposition to academic boycotts of Israel. Evans’ slate partner (for Vice-President for the University of California System) to take control of California’s AAUP is Gary Fields. Evans’ replacement as President of the UCSD Faculty Association is Literature professor Jody Blanco, a co-signer of the above mentioned 2011 letter contesting the pro-Israeli professors’ ad critiquing the pro-Palestinian hate-week.

Gary Fields of the Communications Department introduces his new book:

My new work focuses on the interplay of power and landscape in Palestine. In this project, I compare the fractured landscape of dispossession in Palestine to the landscapes of the British Enclosure Movement in the 18th century, and the 19th century American Frontier. I argue that the geography of fragmentation and dispossession in Palestine continues a longstanding pattern of territoriality. In this pattern dominant groups, inspired by new discourses about property rights and entitlement to land and backed by the state, re-imagine the landscape and recast its socio-economic, demographic, and physical character to fit this imagined vision.

“Dispossession”, as Fields calls it, is another way of saying that Israel at its founding by the United Nations through the territories captured in the 1967 war overcoming the attacks from all directions through defensive settlements along the pre-1967 line and in the Jordan Valley through the defensive fence to keep out terror bombers unjustly took the land from the Arabs who also lived there and segregated them, a euphemism for the apartheid canard Israel-haters are so fond of using. Fields’ argument requires ignoring Israel’s security needs and the Palestinian actions and demands that would disestablish Israel. What does a Communications professor, bring to the discussion of Israel, a topic far removed from his academic field? Fields’ one-sided presentation, on Israel’s settlement policies over the past 65-years and before, can be seen in this lecture. The audience, after 51-minutes of Fields talking, point out his many errors of commission and omission.

Gary Fields authored an op-ed in the San Diego Union-Tribune defending the Mavi Marmara attempt to run the naval blockade of Gaza.

[I]t was Israel, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that was defending itself. Such inverted logic drew upon a time-honored Israeli strategy of disinformation – transform the victims into aggressors while assuming the mantle of victimhood. It is a strategy employed by countless Israeli governments in describing their occupation of Palestine in which Israel, the occupier, becomes the victim of Palestinian violence, thereby recasting the Israeli aggression of military occupation into self-defense.

In an earlier op-ed by Fields, in the Chicago Tribune, in 2004, Fields used an invented quote by a leading Israeli military figure to buttress Fields’ statement that, “the [security] wall expresses a collective psychology of conquest.” When the spurious quote was brought to the newspaper’s attention, it ran a correction.

The New York Times also ran a correction when notorious Israel-hater Rashid Khalili (and Obama friend, the tape of their meeting the Los Angeles Times refuses to release) also used the invented quote in an op-ed.

In Spring 2010, Fields taught a course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A nationally recognized professor of the Middle East offered this critique in a private email:

Taking it as it stands, this course should be called “The Arab-Israeli Conflict From Left Fields.” If one did not know that the instructor presenting this course has for years made regular visits to the West Bank and posed in this community as a champion of the Palestinian Arab cause, one might suppose that this would indeed be, as advertised, an effort to provide students with a “broad range of perspectives.” But a glance at the reading list shows that the material is heavily slanted to one side. It is loaded with leftist and anti-Israeli material…


Indeed, the very grandiose premise of the course is altogether unsupported by the reading. The course purports to offer students ‘a rigorous immersion into the nature of argument and issues of “objectivity” and “point of view.”‘


Where is the literature on objectivity and bias in philosophical, literary and historical study? Not here at all.

In short this course is a typical post-modernist scam, a mockery of what university courses should be, and an example of indoctrination masquerading as education.

When the University of Massachusetts Boston Undergraduate Student Government in April 2012 passed a divestment resolution against Boeing for complicity in Israel’s defense against missiles from Gaza, Gary Fields commented, “Impressive — let’s duplicate this next year at UCSD.”

Ivan Evans, Sociology Department, is a native of South Africa whose primary academic writing described the bureaucracy by which apartheid was enforced. He has extended this focus to “Racial Violence and the Origins of Segregation in South Africa and the American South.” Evans was a supporter of the Occupy movement in his classroom and in a petition of 1127 members of the California Faculty Association unions. In cancelling his class to support a strike against an increase in tuition, Evans wrote, “I called for a strike and disruptive demonstrations on campus. I have nothing to conceal from them and from the administration. THIS IS WHAT TENURE IS FOR.” [Shouting CAPS are Evans’] In an email to UCSD Faculty Association members, Evans speaking for the Board of the Faculty Association, wrote it, “urges faculty to ‘relocate their classes to the rally’ on 1 March,” in effect politicizing classes and forcing students to attend a political rally. Now, in another email to faculty, Evans is campaigning for the passage of California’s Proposition 30 to raise taxes so that more can be spent on public colleges. Taxpayers not amenable to paying for such politics by professors may vote otherwise on November 6.

Last February at UCSD there was a forum where students and faculty expressed themselves about a resolution to support the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement. A Music Department professor spoke in defense of Israel. Afterwards, an unidentified pro-Palestinian student claimed that the professor harassed her in the hallway outside. Evans, for the UCSD Faculty Association, immediately and without evidence or investigation issued a statement saying, “there are no circumstances that can justify the type of ethnic harassment and intimidation that was witnessed by students on Wednesday night.” The accused professor immediately demanded an official investigation, presented witnesses, and the charge against him was found to be without evidence. As I wrote then, “this false claim is in order to step up their own fear, slander and harassment that silences students and faculty at UCSD and other campuses from defending Israel. These false charges are a test experiment to use elsewhere to counter the documented charges of harassment and violence by pro-Palestinian students at other campuses…” Ivan Evans has refused to apologize for his support of the baseless accusation.

Let’s take Ivan Evans’ Sociology Department as an example of how an ideological orthodoxy permeates university humanities departments. Either out of volition or career ambition to fit in with the leftist tilt on our campuses, there are professors in the US who came from Israel but are its critics. One such is Gershon Shafir. While not as radical in speech as Fields, he concentrates on the concept of unequal “citizenship,” his term used by more radical opponents of Israel as a polite euphemism for apartheid, as the outgrowth of “colonialism,” another popular term for the opponents of Israel, in the creation of a Jewish state. Here’s a more extended critique of Shafir’s work. Shafir has participated in UCSD forums where, like his fellow panelists, Israel is criticized. He would say that he wants to save Israel from itself, and to do that needs to expose its evil doings, and advocates more and more concessions to intransigent and revanchist Palestinians.

Another step removed in the circle of influence that undermines support for Israel would be a member of the UCSD History Department and Judaic Studies Program, Deborah Hertz. By no means an advocate of Arab Lobby policies to destroy Israel, Hertz’ liberal and critical of Israel positions helps provide camouflage for those who are avid haters of Israel. Hertz is a progressive feminist, and belongs to J Street. Hertz signed the July 15, 2012 ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune announcing a new J Street chapter in San Diego, coincidental with its members supporting the re-election of President Obama. George Soros and a mysterious donor from Hong Kong (read, cut-out) have been exposed as major financial backers of J Street. Without going into excruciating detail, J Street has backed Obama’s distancing from Israel and opposed Israel’s defenses. For example, Rabbi Alex Joffe as head of Reform Judaism in the US called J Street’s criticism of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, “”morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naïve.”

When eleven pro-Palestinian students shouted down Israel Ambassador Oren’s speech at UC, Irvine, and were brought to trial and conviction for their behavior breaking the law, Deborah Hertz signed a petition, along with 30 other members of Judaic Studies Departments from seven U of C campuses, saying that such “peaceful protest” should not be prosecuted. She and her co-signers did not express disapproval of the disrupters of Ambassador Oren’s speech. She was in alliance with many of the most vile haters of Israel. By an accounting of those who signed a petition to U of C President Mark Yudoff complaining against anti-Semitism within the University of California campuses, none of the 30 signed.

There are many other professors at UCSD who could be highlighted. The ones chosen are to illustrate how the ripples of influence on attitudes toward Israel emanates from the core Israel haters to the euphemistic ones to the useful idiots, and thus on to gullible students and faculty. It is only by exposure and by knowledgeable critique and presentation of the case for Israel that such a wave inhospitable to Jewish and pro-Israel students and faculty will hit a breakwall.

Students come and go but faculty stay on to indoctrinate more students and bias the faculty and its organizations. Most of the focus of pro-Israel groups has been on supporting the pro-Israel students on campuses. That has been a welcome leveling of the field in many cases. However, large sums are consumed, for example, by Judaic Studies Departments, many of which are limp in defending Israel or even contain critics of Israel. For example, at UCSD, when Scholars For Peace In The Middle East (SPME) wanted to bring a traveling group of professors for a forum, the Judaic Studies Program declined to be a sponsor. Pro-Israel resources must be more focused upon the immediate threat to the ability of Jewish and pro-Israel students and faculty to withstand and overturn the hostile environment that is created on many campuses by the coordination and cooperation of faculty and administrators. Members of Judaic Studies Departments (my critique at the cultural blog Arma Virumque of the influential The New Criterion) who speak in Jewish venues should be confronted when they are part of the problem on campus. More attention must be given to exposing the networks of influence of the Israel-haters and their willing enablers among the faculty.

About the Author
Bruce Kesler has penned op-eds for major newspapers, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Washington Examiner, for prestigious blogs such as The New Criterion and Minding The Campus, and his blog postings are often picked up by other top blogs