Dear Friends of SPME:
As students and faculty return to campuses around the world for a new semester this month, those of us concerned with honest discussions about the Middle East are girding ourselves for another academic year in which the debate about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, Islamism, the Arab Spring, Iranian intransigence, and the continuing internecine bloodshed in Syria will animate classrooms, symposia, and rallies.
Despite the significant, and often deadly, developments now sweeping across the Middle East, many in academia have not given up on their fixation with the Palestinian cause, and with the seeming endless energy they will expend in continuing to demonize, delegitimize, and slander Israel, and Zionism, in their attempt to help elevate and defend the Palestinian cause.
This special supplement to the Faculty Forum, produced to examine the recent controversy over Berkeley’s Judith Butler (and her suitability to be the recipient of the Adorno Prize), demonstrates clearly some of the tactics in the cognitive war against Israel on campuses. Butler has been criticized, among other things, for seemingly embracing Hamas and Hezbollah, as two particularly troublesome examples, and for giving them credibility as part of a populist, anti-imperialist movement of which she, and many of her like-minded anti-Zionists, see themselves as being a part. So while Butler and her like-minded professors and students on campuses would ordinarily have no ideological kinship with the misogynistic, homophobic, totalitarian, theocratic culture of radical Islam, they have managed to cobble together what some observers have called an “unholy alliance,” in which even jihadists and academics share in a common enmity for American values, military strength, imperialism and, of course, America’s key democratic ally in the Middle East, Israel.
On campuses, that anti-Western, anti-Israel sentiment has manifested itself in Israel Apartheid Week events, calls for academic boycotts against Israeli scholars and universities, divestment from university portfolios of companies supplying material to Israel’s military, and academic panels, symposia, and conferences which regularly devolve into one-sided, politicized events with the single purpose of demonizing the Jewish state and advancing the Palestinian’s march to self-determination.
Scholars for Peace in the Middle East was founded precisely to confront this dilution of scholarship and academic integrity, and not only in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. We seek an honest assessment of developments—political, cultural, economic, and social—across the entire region, moving beyond the current academic obsession with Israel to help insure that an honest, and useful, debate about the changing face of the Middle East can take place. In discussing specific academics, such as Ms. Butler, who, for better or for worse, contribute to that discussion, we hope to bring some clarity to debate.
Dr. Richard L. Cravatts