Anecdotally it has been widely known, due to the Israel Lobby’s stultifying efforts to cripple democracy and free speech, that it is easier for an academic to criticise Israel in Israel than in the terrorist, sham-democracy of America.
Professor Neve Gordon
At a historic convocation in the venerable Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, many of the world’s leading scholars spoke about academic freedom and the “Jewish Question.” Professor Neve Gordon who has won a libel suit against fellow academician, Steven Plaut, remarked how Dr Norman G. Finkelstein would have received tenure at Ben Gurion University even though he was denied it at DePaul University. Professor Gordon, who is a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, explained that at Israeli universities deans and provosts are elected by the faculty and not appointed by a president or governing board. He explained there is greater faculty governance in Israel than in the United States, although he did expresss alarm that a growing number of Israeli universities are becoming “American.”
Dr Gordon, who is a tenured professor at Ben Gurion University, rather ironically revealed when he was up for tenure last year, the only organised effort to deny him tenure came from Americans that were irate over his dissenting views of the subjugation and occupation of Palestine. American thought police tried to derail his appointment through a letter-writing campaign. The audience of about 1,300 chuckled knowingly with images of the aroused Israel Lobby trying to get a critical thinker such as Dr Gordon silenced and marginalised.
Dr Norman G. Finkelstein, who received a standing ovation prior to his address, spoke on the second panel at this wondrous academic freedom event that started at 2:15 and continued well past 6:30. He defended “incivility” and “harsh language” and used examples from Karl Marx, Das Kapital and Bertrand Russell’s court-imposed academic freedom-denial case at City College of New York. Those examples buttressed his argumentation that if harsh criticism is supported by well-researched argumentation, it should not be censored or punished. Quite arrestingly, Dr Finkelstein stated in the classroom, the instructor attempts to “stimulate”; in public speaking the objective is to “convince.” I enjoyed the clarity of that duality because I have often told my classes that in their presence, I am a teacher and not a preacher but once I walk out of that classroom, I feel less encumbered in articulating opinions and impassioned views.
Unfortunately Noam Chomsky could not attend due to the illness of his wife, but dramatically, the audience was mesmerised by a video of a casually dressed genius in front of his bookcases, summarising his views on academic freedom and the sinews of American imperialism and colonialism. He eloquently defended Drs Finkelstein and Mehrene Larudee and placed them in the context of persecution of professors in times of war. Dr Chomsky noted that the U.S. demonises the enemy, exaggerates the threat and then lies about self-defence as a casus belli. The same sequence is applied to progressive faculty who are demonised as anti-Semitic or anti-American, then accused of imaginary or smokescreen crimes such as incivility or bullying conservative students and then suspended or fired. While he did not give this precise parallel sequence, his talk certainly evoked such images in my mind.
I considered the University of Chicago event on a rather chilly October night both historic and transformative when such courageous and devoted scholars, in a setting of grandeur and drama, spoke truth to power with energy, insight and brilliance.