Stanford University’s Joel Beinin is used to criticism for his views
on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but when a conservative
commentator put the professor’s photo on the cover of a booklet
titled “Campus Support for Terrorism,” it started a whole new war.
Beinin, a prominent Middle Eastern scholar, filed suit in March —
turning his ideological clash with FrontPageMag. com Editor in Chief
David Horowitz into a legal one.
Horowitz removed the photo from later printings, but Beinin said the
harm had already been done and is demanding unspecified damages. With
the United States at war in Iraq, Beinin said, it’s a scary time to
be labeled a supporter of terrorism.
“Horowitz is — if not a coordinated part — part of a broader attack
against people who speak out against Bush’s Middle Eastern policies,”
said Beinin, past president of the Middle Eastern Studies
Association. “If you don’t fight back and allow the Horowitzes to do
and say what they want, it pollutes the political environment to the
point where you can’t have intelligent discussions about what we do
in the world.”
While he believes what Horowitz did was libelous, Beinin isn’t suing
on those grounds. Instead, he selected a more clear-cut legal
challenge — copyright infringement for unauthorized use of his photo.
Horowitz, who said he didn’t know the photo was copyrighted, argues
he’s the victim in the dispute.
“It’s an abuse of the courts to chill my free speech,” Horowitz said
of Beinin’s lawsuit. “If he wants a debate, I will come to Stanford
and debate him.”
Both men are Jewish, but they stand on opposite sides of a deep fault
line of opinion on Israel and its actions in the Middle East. Beinin
believes Horowitz’s antipathy toward him stems in part from the fact
that he is Jewish — Horowitz calls Beinin a “self-hating Jew” — and
that he has criticized Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and
called for a Palestinian state.
Horowitz, who is frequently seen on cable television programs such as
“The O’Reilly Factor,” is a 1960s radical turned conservative who
founded the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. The center has
since been renamed the David Horowitz Freedom Center and is publisher
of the online magazine Front Page. His books include “Unholy
Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.”
He calls Beinin an “apologist for terror” and not only published
Beinin’s photo on the cover of “Campus Support for Terrorism” but
featured him in his subsequent book, “The Professors: The 101 Most
Dangerous Academics in America.”
He accuses Beinin, among other things, of saying the late Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat shouldn’t be considered a terrorist but should
be respected as the Palestinian Authority’s elected president.
Beinin called that a typical Horowitz distortion.
“He gets everything wrong,” Beinin said. “His mode of operation is to
distort and misquote and confuse people by piecing things together
that don’t belong together.”
Arafat, Beinin agrees, was responsible for many acts of terror but as
president of the Palestinian Authority needed to be dealt with
internationally as a statesman.
Beinin’s lawsuit reads in part, “Mr. Horowitz’s most recent
‘campaign’ has been to attack the integrity, scholarship and
patriotism of academics who question American foreign policy in an
overt attempt to intimidate and silence them for fear of being
labeled as Islamic terrorists or collaborators. “
He is seeking an unspecified amount in damages in federal court.
Beinin was one of the nation’s first Middle Eastern scholars fluent
in both Hebrew and Arabic. He spent a year on the Kibbutz Lahav in
Israel before earning a master’s degree at Harvard. Briefly
disillusioned with academia, he made doors for Dodge trucks in
Detroit, where he helped Arab autoworkers understand their rights.
Talking about Israel and the Palestinians has always been difficult
in the United States, he said, and during his doctoral studies at the
University of Michigan, he followed his thesis supervisor’s advice
not to write about the subject if he wanted a job in academia.
Stanford hired him in 1983 to teach Middle Eastern studies.
The Beinin-Horowitz controversy is just one example of how the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seeped into academia here and
abroad. In Britain, the largest association of higher education
instructors voted in May to ask its members to consider boycotting
their Israeli academic counterparts who don’t publicly dissociate
themselves from Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
In the United States, the activist group Al-Awda, the Palestine Right
to Return Coalition, held a conference at San Francisco State
University in July and called on Palestinians to protest at the
Israeli consulate, while the Philadelphia- based organization Campus
Watch began asking students in 2002 to monitor their professors for
perceived anti-Israel bias.
In recent years, Middle Eastern studies in the United States have
come under scrutiny by Horowitz and others who believe faculty are
too sympathetic to Palestinian issues and unreasonably hostile to
Israeli policies, said Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in
academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of
University Professors in Washington.
“As long as faculty are free to question accepted ideas and notions,
there will always be those disturbed by their questioning, and there
will always be those who will call for restraints on freedom,” he
Knight cited Columbia University, where the administration formed an
ad hoc committee in 2005 to investigate the classroom behavior of
Middle Eastern studies Professor Joseph Massad after student
complaints. Knight fears such censure is having a chilling affect on
Campus Watch — a project by the Middle East Forum — has encouraged
students to monitor professors for perceived anti-Israel bias and
report their findings. The Campus Watch Web site has many articles
To stop professors from discussing their political opinions in the
classroom, Horowitz has shopped his “Academic Bill of Rights” around
the country and has succeeded in getting legislation to that effect
introduced in 16 states, although no legislature has passed it.
Still, Horowitz said he believes his bill has influenced debate.
“My model for academia is the Columbia I went to in the 1950s — I
want to see it depoliticized, ” he said. “I never heard a teacher one
time express a political opinion. That’s what I want. There’s massive
abuse going on.”
He is incensed that in 2003 Beinin held a class lecture at a
“teach-in” against the Iraq war in Stanford’s quad.
The lecture that day on the Gulf War happened to be relevant, Beinin
said, but was “definitely an act of solidarity with the teach-in.”
“This is as close to the line of putting politics in the classroom
that I’ve ever done,” he said. “I don’t hide my opinion.”
E-mail Carrie Sturrock at [email protected] le.com.