â€œAre you a donor to Israeli universities?â€ the anonymous writer asks. â€œLearn what is happening on Israeli campuses. Be informed about what is being done with your gifts and generosity.â€ These are the opening lines to a preposterous and dangerous new website called Israel Academia Monitor.
Presenting itself as a human rights movement of sorts, it declares that its aim is to bring to light abuses of academic freedom. Its nameless perpetrators consider themselves to be not only defenders of free speech but anti-McCarthyist campaigners.
The McCarthyists here are Israeli professors like myself who are critical of
At first sight only a twisted logic augmented by historical ignorance could draw a parallel between relatively powerless academics and those well orchestrated, government sanctioned redbaiters of 1950s
But in reality, those behind the Monitor are accusing Israeli academics of McCarthyism in order to deflect criticism from the web inquisitors themselves as they set about exploiting fear.
The site is a bathetic attempt to copy Campus Watch, which was launched in 2002 to police and discipline those
The Monitor dedicates a page to each major Israeli university, listing â€œextremist professorsâ€ who, in the words of the anonymous press release, promote â€œinsurrection and lawbreakingâ€ as well as â€œseditiousâ€ behaviour. These academics are accused of collaborating with â€œanti-Semites and enemies of
The Monitor might have been just a tasteless joke if the times were not ripe for this kind of witch-hunt, if it were not symptomatic of a more general and ominous mood informed by a nationalistic and sectarian frenzy.
The siteâ€™s authors encourage students and scholars to pass on information about suspect professors. They promise to publish incriminating material.
The goal, it seems, is to influence hiring and tenure decisions in order to purge Israeli universities of those who dare question the state, or, at least, silence them.
This assault, however, is not only aimed at academic freedom but at democracy itself. For the danger confronting contemporary democracy is not some new wave of overt authoritarianism, as it was in the early and mid-twentieth century. It is not even terrorism. Rather, the danger comes from those for whom the freedoms that accompany democracy represent a threat, an obstacle to their uninhibited pursuit of dominance and wealth. Like its forerunner Campus Watch, Israel Academia Monitor is indicative of the much broader attempt to silence all those who confront the powers that be.
Neve Gordon teaches politics at
Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights, and can be reached at [email protected]