Thursday, January 27, 2011

Alice Bach-Professor or Propagandist?

Gary Fouse

Hat tip to Campus Watch

Alice Bach-Case Western University

Campus Watch has featured an article about Case Western University Professor Alice Bach and a piece she  wrote for the Huffington Post. That post is linked below. After reading it, I felt like it was old home week at UC-Irvine listening to all the Israel-haters who come to speak at our campus. I have chosen to comment on her piece, bit by bit, not because I disagree with her (which I do) rather because it calls into question whether she is shoving her bias down her students' collective throats in the classroom. In the below piece, she argues against the Dept. of Education's decision to apply Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to cover Jewish students who are victims of anti-Semitism on campus. Note the title, "Whose Land is it Anyway?"

Professor Alice Bach holds the Archbishop Hallinan Chair in Religious Studies and directs the Hallinan Project for Peace and Social Justice at a major midwestern university.

"When I read about the altered interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, heralded by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), I felt the familiar cold creep of attack settling in my spine. Title VI prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance. A large research university, such as the one at which I teach, is the beneficiary of many funds from federal agencies, and could lose this funding if it is found that we have discriminated on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and voluntary compliance cannot be achieved. Thus, if the ZOA's report that anti-Semitism is to be an emendation to Title VI is accurate, once again we shall be in the tactical sights of the Campus Watchers. Anti-Semitism is undoubtedly despicable, but it is miserable to be subjected to false charges of anti-Semitism merely for presenting Palestinian voices."

Note at the outset that Bach's paper is loaded with labels. The first one she uses is "Campus Watchers", a reference to the blog, Campus Watch, which has featured her article. It also strikes me as strange that she would deny civil rights protection to a particular group. Would she also object to protections against African-Americans on the basis that those who may disagree with, say, affirmative action, would be falsely labeled as "racists" as well as those who complain about illegal immigration as being anti-Hispanic?

"I've endured such false charges previously. They are wretched to live through, intimidating, and hostile to a culture of free academic inquiry. Palestinian aspirations for freedom are intentionally suppressed through falsified and misleading accounts and negative comments about pro-Palestinian classes and lectures. After some anonymous threats delivered by late-night phone calls to my home, the University gave me added security protection, and had plain-clothes security sitting in the audience as well as uniformed people at events. However, none of the leading administrators ever attended one of the events that caused the threats."

I am not accusing Ms Bach of being anti-Semitic in any way-or being a self-hating Jew if she is Jewish. (I don't know or care. It's a term I don't use to begin with.) If she has received threats, that is regrettable. I have seen many of her opinion speak at UC-Irvine, and they never needed any police protection. The ones who do are those who would dare speak on a campus with opposing views. Just ask David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes or Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren.

"ZOA president Morton Klein notes schools could lose funding under the new US Department of Education interpretation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act "if they do not protect students from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation, and discrimination." Provided in the ZOA press release is a letter dated October 26, 2010 from Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, stating that "anti-Semitic harassment can trigger responsibilities under Title VI. While Title VI does not cover discrimination based solely on religion, groups [such as Jews] that face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics may not be denied protection under Title VI on the ground that they also share a common faith."'

I would argue that Russlyn Ali had to be dragged into applying Title VI protections to Jews. It was the DOE-OCR 's position during the ZOA complaint against UC-Irvine a few years back that Title VI did not apply to Jews. I would also say that I have no problem with a school losing federal funding when it hosts speakers like Amir Abdel Malik Ali or Mohammed al-Asi, who make a habit of railing against Jews in their speeches. If a Mohammed al-Asi can stand on a campus and tell a crowd that "you can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew", I would take away federal funding too.

"How many professors will decide it's not worth the trouble to challenge the narratives of the well-organized Hillel, AIPAC, ZOA, Campus Watch, and other right-wing, pro-Israel groups that descend upon those who teach interpretations different from the Israeli hardline? Where will the line be drawn between criticism of Israeli policy and genuine anti-Semitism? Will it be deemed anti-Semitic for a Palestinian to assert that he regards Israel as an illegitimate state because it stole his family's land, ethnically cleansed him, and refuses to extend equal rights to those Palestinians who remain? Some expansive definitions of anti-Semitism regard such talk as a textbook case of anti-Jewish bigotry. The Jewish pro-Palestinian speakers I have hosted were called self-hating Jews, and the non-Jewish speakers were identified by the Hillel-led group as anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist, and worse. It's absurd, but true, and could be coming soon to a campus near you."

Note the labels; well-financed, right-wing, hardline, ethnically-cleansed. I would also note that Ms Bach should hardly consider Hillel to be her enemy. They are one of several Jewish organizations that have failed to stand up to anti-Semitism on many campuses. She also tells us that she hosts pro-Palestinian speakers (Yes, many of them are, indeed of Jewish origin). My question is whether she hosts them in forums and seminars or in her classroom.

"For most of my academic career, I have believed that controversy in the classroom eventually leads to a stronger community. Silencing conflict through a bland insistence upon political correctness confirms the fear that controversy is both uncomfortable and to be avoided at all costs. Students may love Kermit's lament that it is not easy being green, but it is far tougher to hear from a classmate that it is not easy being brown."

Here she pretty much confirms that she brings her views into the classroom (which I studiously do not).Is she serious when she says that political correctness lies on the other side (from her views)? C'mon! Political correctness is solidly on the pro-Palestinian side in virtually all universities. And here we go again with the "brown" line. Is she trying to insert race into the argument in an effort to win sympathy from other "brown people"? Political correctness is also constantly trying to make white people (and students) feel guilty about past acts of racism toward "brown people". It is part and parcel of the post-colonial line that dominates discourse on campus.

"On the plane home from my usual summer trip to the West Bank, I thought about the struggles Palestinian students and faculty have at the West Bank's Birzeit University in getting to school when the Israelis set flying checkpoints. I thought of the younger kids aimlessly playing in grim refugee camps, although they are refugees in their own land. I decided to challenge my undergrads to struggle through the subtleties of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Having taught and survived the backlash against feminist and multicultural perspectives, I knew most of the challenges of teaching against the grain."

I'm not sure what that has to do with protecting Jewish students on campus from anti-Semitism other than the Israel-Palestinian conflict has stoked much of this atmosphere, and if she wants to spend her summers on the West Bank, she is free to do so. Personally, I'll opt for a German beer garden. Here again, however, she exposes herself as someone who brings her personal views into the classroom. Here again, she drags in  topics that are unrelated (feminism, multiculturalism). Teaching against the grain? Hardly.

"Thus, I offered a course entitled "Whose Land is it Anyway?," which was rife with the pitfalls of politics, religious tensions, and realities of the Occupation that had never been offered at my university. Contemporary politics are not of great interest in this midwestern research university in which the majority of students focus on the hard sciences and engineering. Although we have a Jewish Studies minor, we do not at this time teach Arab history, culture, or literature."

What? Does she think her class (es) are somehow unique on a university campus? Middle East studies across the nation are dominated by the pro-Palestinian perspective. The "realities of the Ocuupation"? Fair and balanced? I doubt it.

"As a biblical scholar, I intended to present a foundation for the Israeli claims to the "Holy Land," and then to study the historicity of these claims. With these ancient textual claims discussed, we would move to the contemporary issues of land and border disputes. We wrestled with scholars who write against the grain: important voices arguing the case that the Israeli Occupation is in reality an ongoing Palestinian genocide, which evoked Holocaust comparisons. During the semester we grappled with the effects of the Zionist eradication of Palestinian names of towns, streets, mountains, and landscape, replacing them with biblical names. One student asked if Arabs could speak Hebrew. Another insisted that there were no such people as Palestinians."

Here we go again. "Genocide", "occupation", "Holocaust comparisons" "Zionist eradication" "no such people as Palestinians"? Could you go  further into the reasoning the student used, such as the origin of the term, the history of the Palestinian nation etc? It seems obvious that in Ms Bach's class, the outcome of the discussion is pre-ordained.

"To supplement the course, I invited internationally known scholars to speak at the University about the realities of the forty-plus years of Israeli Occupation, the role of American Jews in support of Israel, the Israeli occupation forces bulldozing of Palestinian houses in the West Bank, and the illegal Israeli settlements. Class discussions remained civil and occasionally passionate, though a self-described Zionist columnist wrote a nasty piece in the student newspaper."

More labels. Her side? "Internationally known scholars". "Israeli Occupation" (occupation capitalized, no less.)The role of  American Jews. Illegal settlements and the "Zionist" columnists.

"At least students are thinking about these issues, I reassured myself. But when Zionist community leaders claimed that I was striking fear into Jewish students on campus, I knew I would have to defend myself, in spite of the misrepresentations and exaggerations about the course and the speakers who had presented their views."

Yes, thinking your way. Here again is the term, Zionist" (community). It is interesting how the left uses the term "Zionist" as a sinister pejorative.

"After a campus appearance by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, coincidentally while their book was enjoying a place of prominence on the best-seller list, outraged emails poured in and late-night telephone threats began. None of the emails from colleagues were from those who attended the event. Rather they were from people I did not know personally, who excoriated me for supporting an "anti-Israel" position. Several demanded of the president that I be fired."

Here again, if Bach experienced harassment and/o r threats, I condemn that. I would also never argue that she be fired. Criticism, however, is always legitimate. (Mearshimer and Walt co-authored a book critical of Israel.)

"By the time Norman Finkelstein, Ali Abunimah, and Alison Weir had spoken here, I was told that the University had received more than 60 letters from irritated alumni, donors, and community leaders. While the administration acknowledged that I have academic freedom, they insisted that I must present "both sides" in future events. There must be no thought that I was demonizing the state of Israel. I, of course, have no problem with presenting compelling and powerful Jewish voices addressing the subjugation of Palestinians under Israeli rule. But I have no desire to use my time and energy to bring defenders of the domination of another people to campus. Certainly, I would not have worked two decades ago to bring defenders of apartheid to campus to provide "balance." It is unreasonable to ask for such balance on Israel and Palestine."

Norman Finkelstein??!! I should rest my case right here. Finkelstein is a discredited ex-professor who was canned by DePaul University because his 'scholarship" was deemed bogus. Today, he is introduced as "an independent scholar with a PhD from Princeton" as he makes the university tour on behalf of the pro-Palestinian activists.  I have heard this guy speak at UC-Irvine twice. He is virulently anti-Israel and delights in insulting those with whom he disagrees or those who question his views-especially if they are young students not equipped to go toe-to-toe with him.

Yours truly listening to a Finkelstein speech at UC-Irvine May 2010.

Here is the Wikipedia entry for Ali Abunima:

Alison Weir is an American anti-Israel activist who also makes the grand tour of university campuses. She is the creator of a movement and video called, "If Americans only knew". She has also appeared at UC-Irvine. I asked her if she were involved in other "humanitarian issues" like Darfur, Iran or anti-Semitism. She said no, only the Israel-Palestinian issue because it involves our own country.

As for bringing in Jewish voices who also condemn Israel, that is hardly providing balance. Many American Jews are against Israel. They are routinely used as window dressing to counter charges of anti-Semitism. (Finkelstein is a classic example.)

"Strikingly, a few months later, the University joined with Hillel and the Jewish Studies program to bring Harvard's Alan Dershowitz to the University, without a speaker to present the other side. Only a few weeks ago, the University joined with the same co-sponsors to bring Israeli right-winger Natan Sharansky to speak. In the University publicity about Sharansky's appearance, he was characterized as "helping people fulfill their life dreams. His story of how one person can make a difference is inspiring." The coverage in the Cleveland Jewish News did not mention Palestinians. During his US college tour, Sharansky was quoted during a speech at Stanford, "I'm ready for a Palestinian state. But only if they stop teaching their children to hate. Palestinians want to live normally, and their identity must mean something more than killing Jews," he continued. "There is no shortcut to peace. We need to build partnerships with those who want to live in peace. It will take time." This was a solo event, heavily advertised by the University (as the Finkelstein talk was not according to Hillel's own documentation) with no reactions to such statements."

I personally don't care if Ms Bach brings in opposing voices to counter her opinions. On-campus events outside of the classroom should be open to all sides and audiences can question what they say-or you can schedule a debate. I get the impression that Ms Bach got heat from Case Western because she brought in one-sided presentations to her classes. I draw a sharp distinction between the two. As for Sharansky's quoted statement, I have no quarrel with that at all. It sounds reasonable to me.

"Tired of protesting the paltry support pro-Palestinian students received from the administration and faculty on campus, while the pro-Israel group had the finances of the University and the Jewish Federation behind them, the small Students for Justice in Palestine group dissolved. It's an ironic situation since close to half of the students in the group were Jewish. There is still a Muslim student group, but these days they invite the campus to nonpolitical events. Instead of talking about their fears living in the US with Muslim being too often synonymous with terrorist, they serve falafel and hummus at their open meetings and play Arab hip-hop music."

Good for them. Ms Bach should come out to Irvine and see the Muslim Student Union here at UCI. She should also see how feckless the Orange County Jewish Federation is as well as UCI's Hillel. Were she in Irvine, she would find very little for her side to complain about.

"It is hard not to be astonished at the melodrama of the ZOA and other organizations supporting them. They persist in their undocumented claims that Jewish students are frightened, indeed persecuted, whenever faculty members expose the realities of the Israeli Occupation, support the return to the 1967 borders of the state of Israel as stated in UNSC Resolution 242, and use terms such as ethnic cleansing. I have not seen any evidence of persecution of Jewish students on my campus or the campuses of my colleagues. In spite of the Campus Watch groups, started by Daniel Pipes, in which right-wing student informers report on "pro-Palestinian" lectures, classes, or campus events, many of us persist in trying to offer our students views other than those from Hillel, ZOA, and the newly minted Christians United for Israel (CUFI), CUFI on Campus."

Translation though all the victim tears? We try to indoctrinate students as to our view of Israel (and a myriad of other issues).

"Being a veteran of ZOA half-truths, I read their triumphant press release with suspicion and checked the Government tracking site for Congressional bills in progress to see if the new bill was a rewording of the Ali letter mentioned above. It was not. The two additions proposed in the bill touted by ZOA, sponsored by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) and Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA), do not refer directly either to anti-Semitism or to Jewish students. The bill does indicate that schools must protect students' right to take time off for religious obligations and accommodate their dietary restrictions. While that wording would certainly include Jewish students, it would also embrace the religious obligations and dietary restrictions of all faiths. If that bill were to become law, perhaps the administration here would accommodate Muslim students by canceling required Friday afternoon classes and lunch meetings during Ramadan."

Title VI should, indeed, protect Muslim students from civil rights violations on campus, as well as any other religion. In UCI-Ext ESL classes Muslim students are excused on Friday for mid-day prayers. As for Ramadan, it is a common sense issue. Teachers are aware of the Ramadan period and that students will be fasting and maybe not at their best in class. As for turning the campus schedule upside-down to accommodate these issues and inconvenience all students, I would not go that far.

Let's cut to the chase here.  professor Bach is just another in that army of American professors spread out in universities all over the country who are dedicated to de-legitimizing Israel-a process that would, in their vision, destroy Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation. It is an organized program world-wide.

Personally, I don't care about Ms Bach's personal ideology or her beliefs. She is entitled to them. Under the university code of academic freedom, I guess she has the right to shove her beliefs down her students' throats. I would never advocate that professors like Bach be fired-or harassed. It is fair, however, for us to express our own freedom of speech and expose these professors for what they are-indoctrinators. Protected or not, imposing your beliefs upon your students is unprofessional. I also have strong political beliefs and do not hesitate to express them in out-of-class forums. Yet, my students are not exposed to my beliefs in the classroom. The community and parents with kids in college have every right to know how their tuition money is being used.

As for Title VI, it is a recognition that in our universities, the one group of students who are facing the most insults and harassment are Jewish students. That is merely a reflection of what is going on world-wide-a resurgence in anti-Semitism.  It may not be the case at Case Western, but it is true in many universities in the US and Canada. That is why Title VI-after a great deal of struggle by organizations like the ZOA- has now been applied to Jews.

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