Recently without warning or provocation, David Newman, a political geographer from Ben Gurion University, decided to launch some pretty serious, but patently false accusations against Scholars for Peace in the Middle East in the Jerusalem Post.
One needs to understand the relationship of SPME and Newman in context to understand the mean-spiritedness and inaccuracies of his charges. I met Newman when we were fighting the UK boycotts together. I had admired his work in trying to get leftist support for Israel in that country and to stave off the boycott.
He told me that he was his government’s representative to the UK in this struggle. In our discussions, it seemed as we both shared common values towards academic freedom and honest debate and so I tried to recruit him to serve on our Board of Directors as he said he had access to Arab scholars who might be interested in working with us to foster exchanges and dialogues.
This had been a topic of SPME Board discussion for some time with Prof. Peter Haas, Chair of the Department of Religion at Case Western Reserve University being a leading advocate. We would identify hopeful prospects to become involved in these efforts, invite them and not not hear from them. Newman and I discussed the possibility of his developing more programs for SPME of this manner and he assured me he was well-connected to do all of this.
After some push and pull, Newman accepted our invitation of October 23, 2007 to join the board, but resigned suddenly on October 29, 2007. It was clear to us he was not committed to help us reach the agenda for which he advocated and we acknowledged would be a good direction and for which we had hope he could be would be instrumental in bringing about.
Following his resignation, he wrote with a proposal that SPME sponsor him on a speaking tour of SPME campuses, which before the abrupt calling off of the boycott seemed like a good idea.
Without understanding that SPME had no designated funds for a David Newman tour and that now there was no demand for anti-boycott speakers as the issue had been resolved, Newman’s expectations of SPME’s capabilities were unrealistic and quite demanding, as if he were a diva and we were at his service. There simply was no interest in a David Newman tour in America and no one forthcoming to sponsor it.
Then a year or two later, he sent a rather vague correspondence indicating he’d be interested in joining the board again. The feeling of there board was that he had let us down once and that the best predictor of future behavior is previous behavior and we were proven right with his article.
So what are Newman’s allegations?
1) The title of his piece is called “Bashing the Academic Left.” While I cannot and won’t speak for the other groups targeted in his article, I can say with assuredness and clear conscience that SPME’s policy is neither to right-bash or to left-bash. We are a big-tent organization with representation from the right, the center and the left. The Board and a number of “pro-Israel” advocates from the extreme left and extreme right can attest to my reluctance to publicly get involved with those kinds of characterizations and ad hominems. The fact is that we are criticized from both the left and right which tells us we might be doing something right as our numbers continue to increase. I challenge Newman to find a piece where SPME bashes the left. He never would invited to join the Board of Directors if we were the left-bashers he accuses of being. 2) Newman accuses SPME of being “partially funded” by the Jewish National Fund, an organization into which he launches a tirade and then casts aspersions on SPME with guilt by association. The fact of the matter is that SPME has a “cooperative venture” arrangement with JNF whereby JNF professionals help SPME volunteers and its executive director raise funds for SPME. Donors to SPME through JNF have their funds come directly to SPME. Newman’s lack of regards for fact is evident here. Through JNF’s participation SPME was able to recruit 20 international scholars, Jewish and non-Jewish to connect and visit academic colleagues in Israel to engage in academic and research collaboration.
3) Newman further accuses SPME of being “self-appointed….” Well, dah, yeh…? We are professors who formed an independent academic organization to address issues of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on campuses. What is his objection to professors forming such a group? At some point over 44,000 like-minded individuals have been involved with SPME with 27,000 being retained as a constant core. We are governed democratically, have to live up to the laws of the land and fulfill the mission we set out to do. This is where David’s lack of understanding comes painfully through.
4) Newman accuses SPME of not seeking Arab-Israeli, Arab Jewish dialogue and this is perhaps the one area where Newman knows he is dead wrong because we, in fact, tried to recruit him to help us move more successfully in this direction, and he copped out. The fact of the matter is that SPME, since the beginning has approached Arab colleagues for board participation, taskforce and committee participation and has not been successful because of specious charges from extremists like Newman and some of his mates whose strategy is to tear down others to elevate themselves. This is the tactic of the extremist.
Having said that in response to Newman, let me be very clear that SPME would welcome active involvement of a scholar who would be willing to work within the context of SPME who can promote the necessary involvements and dialogues.
Please understand that this response was painful to write. Newman was once an esteemed colleague.