Campus battles over the Middle East conflict and rising anti-Semitism are heating up on several fronts:
# A national pro-Palestinian student conference declaring that “Zionism is racism” is slated for Oct. 12 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, with plans to increase pressure on college officials to drop investments in Israel.
# A Philadelphia-based think tank has launched a controversial national watchdog project to monitor professors who spout anti-American, anti-Israel and pro-Islamist rhetoric. Pro-Palestinian scholars label it “blacklisting.”
# Academic leaders and pundits continue buzzing over the landmark speech by Harvard University President Lawrence Summers condemning the growth of anti-Semitism on college campuses, including his own, and around the world. While some hail Summers for being the first university president to tackle the issue, others criticize him for wrongly linking the divestment issue to anti-Semitism.
# On Sunday, Rabbi Avi Weiss and an interdenominational group of rabbis are sponsoring a 1 p.m. pro-Israel rally at the UN declaring that “anti-Zionism on campus is anti-Semitism.”
In Michigan, the university is bracing for the Second National Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement, which says it “condemns the racism and discrimination inherent in Zionism.”
The conference, sponsored by a consortium of pro-Palestinian groups, seeks to end U.S. aid to Israel and lobby for divestment. It also calls for “the right of return and repatriation for all Palestinian refugees” and “an end to the Israeli system of apartheid and discrimination” — a reference to South Africa’s former racist white regime.
Panelists include Sami-Al-Arian, recently fired from the University of South Florida following reports linking him to Middle East terrorist groups.
Conference organizers refuse to condemn Palestinian terrorism, according to its Web site.
“As a solidarity movement, it is not our place to dictate the strategies or tactics adopted by the Palestinian people in their struggle for liberation,” organizers said.
Critics blasted the position.
“This outsourcing of morality allows the group to focus on Israel’s sins while ignoring those slaughtered by Palestinian suicide bombers,” Detroit News Editorial Page Editor Nolan Finley wrote this week.
In a hard-hitting column, Finley said the student conference “expresses tacit support for terrorism and has as its mission the destruction of Israel.
“You have to wonder two things: How would the university react had the Klan or some other extremist group spouting racist, sexist or homophobic hate speech asked for a platform on campus? And when did anti-Semitism lose its seat on the bus of political correctness?”
Finley also quotes two Jewish University of Michigan regents as being worried about the conference’s mission statement and the anti-Jewish speakers.
“If the destruction of Israel as a Jewish homeland isn’t anti-Semitic, what is?” asked regent Larry Deitch, who is investigating ways to legally stop the event.
But Jeffrey Ross, the college expert for the Anti-Defamation League, said stopping the conference was not likely due to free speech principles.
“There’s no evidence that violence or illegal activities are taking place,” he said.
Instead, ADL and the University of Michigan Hillel are planning a series of pro-Israel events to counter the conference, including a rally, national speakers and media ads.
“The central message of the rally will be invest in democracy, invest in peace, invest in Israel,” said Ben Berger, a Michigan Hillel official.
Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian scholars are protesting Campus Watch, the national project to monitor and gather information on professors of Middle East studies who “fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance” that was launched last week by Daniel Pipes, a leading critic of Muslim radical fundamentalism.
In unveiling the project, Campus Watch assembled “dossiers” on eight Middle East professors and 14 universities for advocating questionable views on the Palestinian-Israel conflict and on radical Islam or “Islamism.”
Pipes, who directs the Middle East Forum think tank, said the idea is to publicize and correct historical errors and unbalanced anti-Israel rhetoric by pro-Palestinian professors at American colleges.
Among those named on the Campus Watch Web site are Hamid Dabashi and Joseph Massad of Columbia University, John Esposito of Georgetown University and Northeastern University economics Professor M. Shahid Alam, whom Pipes’ site accuses of attempting to “justify the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers.”
But charging that the project is an assault on academic freedom, about 100 angry university professors — Jews and non-Jews — in a show of solidarity are asking they also be included on Campus Watch’s list.
In response to the negative reaction, Pipes announced Monday that he was repackaging the site — eliminating the individual dossiers on specific professors and instead placing the information under the heading of their university.
“People were reacting to certain trigger words like ‘dossier,’ and we didn’t want people feeling they were being attacked,” explained Campus Watch deputy director Jane Maestro.
Campus Watch will rely on students, professors and administrators to be its eyes and ears across the country.
Pipes noted that about half of the professors teaching Middle Eastern studies are of Arab descent.
One national Islamic group called Pipes an obsessive anti-Islamist racist.
Pipes blames American scholars of the Middle East for “downplaying the dangers posed by militant Islam, seeing it as a benign and even democratizing force.”
Campus Watch warns that these scholars “have an extensive but subtle influence on the way Americans see the Middle East and set the tone for much of what is taught and learned across America” in colleges, high schools, elementary schools and in newspapers and on television.
Meanwhile, strong reaction to the speech by Summers continues, with divestment supporters criticizing the Harvard president for linking their cause with anti-Semitism.
Hundreds at Harvard have signed the divestment campaign petition, but nearly 6,000 people have signed a counter petition urging colleges not to divest and condemning the pro-Palestinian effort as “a one-sided attempt to delegitimize Israel.”
Summers had declared that efforts to get Harvard, Princeton and other universities to withdraw its financial investments in Israel are anti-Semitic.
“He’s a Jew. He’s concerned about anti-Semitism,” MIT linguistics professor Danny Fox told The Associated Press. “I’m a Jew. I’m concerned with anti-Semitism. I think it’s bizarre to relate the actions like the divestment campaign to anti-Semitism, and it’s also dangerous.”
Summers, the former U.S. Treasury Secretary, also cited incidents abroad — synagogue burnings and physical assaults on Jews “in every country in Europe” — as well as efforts by academics in Europe to cut off support for Israeli researchers.
Summers, who described himself as “Jewish, identified but hardly devout,” also fingered campus student groups around the nation that sought to raise money for Arab organizations linked with terrorists — meeting with “at least modest success and very little criticism.
“Where anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israel have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists, profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities,” said Summers, who added that he was speaking as “a concerned member of our community” and not as president.
Peter Ashton, a forestry professor and divestment supporter, told the Boston Globe: “I don’t consider myself anti-Semitic at all, but I’m definitely hostile to the aggressive eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth policies of the current Israeli leadership.”
But Marc Berley, who teaches English at Barnard College, applauded Summers in a New York Post op-ed as the first president to speak out and “put his finger on the problem: Anti-Semitism is becoming politically correct.
“Rather than speak responsibly, elite professors feel free to walk in lockstep with hate-mongering activists,” Berley said. “And so long as the cause is deemed progressive, political correctness … renders the inflaming hatred acceptable.”