Recently Joan Scott published an article in The Link, a publication of Scholars for Middle East Understanding, in which she makes the case that a well organized pro-Israel, pro-occupation lobby, has Middle East Studies “under siege.” The article really does rival Robert Fisk in its misleading and tendentious presentation, which is particularly sad, because rather than being a hack writer for Arab causes living in Syria, Joan Scott is a well-respected professor of History at the Princeton Center for Advanced Study, America’s most prestigious academic institutions, home of Albert Einstein and dozens of other Nobel Prize winners. Here is a detailed analysis to which I welcome further comments and additions.
[Because of the length of this article, it will appear in sections over the next week or so. This is installment I.]
Middle East Studies Under Siege
by: Joan W. Scott
January – March 2006
The Link – Volume 39, Issue 1
Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the trade towers in September 2001, the American Association of University Professors (A.A.U.P.) set up a special committee to report on Academic Freedom in a Time of National Emergency. (For the text of this report see www.aaup.org.) I was a member of that committee and, at the time, chair of A.A.U.P.’s committee on academic freedom and tenure.
A year later, on October 4, 2002, The New York Times carried a story about the special committee’s work and I was quoted in it as stating “There are many more examples of attacks on critics of Israel than on students who are pro-Israel.” My comment was based on reported incidences in newspapers and magazines, and on conversations we had had with faculty and students on a large number of campuses.
Given how tendentious this formulation — “many more” — and the overwhelming sense of surprise and fear that overcame the Jewish students on campus in the wake, not of 2001, but of October 2000 and the beginning of the “Second Intifada”, this kind of remark was bound to raise cries of foul… and it did.
In response I got several, quite similar e-mails challenging my comment and demanding concrete proof for it. One e-mailer, who identified himself as a writer from the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Missouri, asked to see my “data” for his ongoing research on “the polarization of campuses.” I replied that we were in the process of assembling data, that my comment was based on a “rough impression,” and that I would be back in touch with him when I had more information.
Well, Professor Scott, where is that concrete evidence? Or is this article, filled with more deeply tendentious anecdotes, your response?
Shortly after that, a friend forwarded me an e-mail from a right wing pro-Israeli list serve. In it the same man who had asked to see my data boasted that he had trapped me into admitting that I spoke on the basis of a “rough impression” and that he could now publicly denounce me as a bad social scientist since I had no hard data on which to make my claim. But he hesitated to do so—here was the ethical dilemma he was sharing with his allies—because his impersonation of a scholar would then have to be revealed. “I told her I was a researcher,” he said, “but I’m not; I’m an activist devoted to ridding our campuses of the pro-Palestinian presence.”
Given how partisan Scott’s work on this subject, I would love to know what she considers “right wing”, and I would like to see what the actual email said, since it seems more than likely that even the most right-wing of pro-Israeli activists would be living in fantasy land if he thought he could “rid” our campuses of pro-Palestinian presence. The intellectual ethnic cleansing on our campuses comes far more actively from the pro-Palestinian side.