Edward S. Beck, Ed.D., CCMHC, NCC, LPC, is Co-Founder SPME and Immediate Past President SPME (2002-2009)
and Co-Editor, SPME Faculty Forum (2002-2010)
With the start of the Second Intifada in 2002 and with a son about to enter the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University and with a close and more extended family in Israel many of whom are professors and professionals, it became apparent to me that the narrative of the Israeli-Arab conflict was taking a calculated and ever effective turn for the worse on college campuses. At the time I searched the younger Internet to find voices of accuracy and moderation speaking against the polemics, propaganda and ad hominems serving as anti-Israel scholarship in the halls of the academy, on the pages of our journals and on the internet. I was hearing more and more about the incitement and hatred that was building against Jewish students and faculty. I quickly became aware that defenders of Israel were in the foxholes and ducking for cover from seemingly overwhelming forces and that many of our own colleagues were getting seduced by the egregious mis- and disinformation coming out of a calculated strategy to turn the Palestinians into the Davids to the Israeli Goliaths and to demonize and delegitimatize Israel and to single it out for approbrium as it defended itself from suicide bombings against civilians, rockets lobbed into its sovereign territory and genocidal threats from Iran, Hamas, Hizbullah, Al Quaida and other countries and groups.Together with some extraordinary colleagues, most notably Judith Jacobson at Columbia, Laurie Zoloth then at San Francisco State University and now at Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern and Ruth Lichtenberg-Contreras, then at the Vienna Natural History Museum, we started a listserv and called it Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. It was a reaction to a then 900 member Professors for Peace listserv which spouted toxic anti-Israel poison blaming Israel for every modern ill. When the listserv reached a few hundred, people suggested that we “do something” and made many outstanding suggestions for which we had no resources.
So we decided to incorporate as a not for profit charitable educational organization to solicit funds to produce academic scholarship and academic advocacy programs. We made a few dollars, enough to get me around to ask for a few more dollars and meet donors and officials. We were very lucky to be mentored by Rabbi Eric Lankin, then with the United Jewish Communities and now with the Jewish National Fund, who was an early and passionate believer in our efforts to engage, educate and empower our colleagues to set the record straight on campus. With Eric’s help we met with leaders of major Jewish organizations many of who were now embroiled in the campus wars and were skeptical of a group of faculty’s efforts. Also, with the help of several committed and important donors who sought us out as well as many of you who have contributed regularly, we have been able to hang in there and grow to make our presence felt both on campus and in the community
I think it is safe to say that we have overcome a good bit of friendly skepticism and now with a mailing list of over 60,000 faculty, the hiring of an executive director and soon to be announced director of communication and research, the publication of two academic works (one in English and one in German), the holding of two international academic conferences with another on line and many regional and country wide conference as well, the twice offering of the Faculty Fellowship to Israel program in 2008 and 2010 and nearly fifty chapters in North America, Europe and Australia, with chapters contemplate in Asia and Latin America, SPME has become a truly “big tent” academic organization seeking to set the record straight in an academically responsible way.
Last November, I stepped down as President after 7 years as SPME’s chief cook and bottle washer after having served as a volunteer president, chief administrative officer and clerical, development chief and co-editor of the Faculty Forum, while working with Network Participants, donors, the Board and allied groups. I have been ably replaced by a number of people in a plan transition that is near ending. I held on to the Faculty Forum co-editorship to help insure the regular information flow to our network knowing my replacements would be very busy learning the ropes and systems we had put in place and developing new pathways to resources and new leadership. In 7 months this has been successfully done and now I am ready to turn over the co-editorship of the Faculty Forum to a new Director of Communications who will be announced and coming on board soon.
I am stepping back for two reasons.
First, I believe that the organization and our mission and results can only grow when leadership is developed, cultivated and given a chance to grow. Our challenges will not end in my lifetime. This is a team marathon and while I have run the first laps of this race, the marathon has only just begun. Given academic processes and the amount of scholarship that is necessary, I wanted to build an organization that would far outlast me and continue the important work of handing the narrative of this important area affecting all of us in academia either directly or indirectly. To this end, I surrounded myself with the best and the brightest colleagues I could find and have slowly turned over the reigns and am watching the evolution of the organization to the next stage of growth and development. I don’t want to see SPME go in the direction that the highly successful, but now defunct American Professors for Peace in the Middle East went. Our work will be a challenge in perpetuity and this organization must grow to increasing levels of the production of credible academic scholarship and networking so that we are never again having to hide in fox holes with our commitment to academic integrity, honest debate, academic freedom and academic accountability with respect to the narrative in the Middle East. Unfortunately there is a permanent need for SPME far beyond our working lives. I hope I have planted the seeds for that permanency with my stepping back and divesting responsibility to younger more talented, energetic and productive faculty.
Second, I have reached the stage of life, where after I have devoted myself to my career and the founding and growth of two major organizations (the American Mental Health Counselors Association and SPME and had a successful career in academia, clinical practice and the community), I want to return to enjoying my family and bride of 42 years, my two parents now in their ’90s and my three grandchildren all born in the last two 19 months, which has changed my life’s priorities enormously. Having suffered some health issues, I want to spend my time now more concentrating on the family and visit them around the world, including in Israel, Europe, North America and Latin America and concentrate on networking them as well.I will remain on the SPME Board of Directors and involved in major decisions and select efforts for as long as folks think I am making a contribution. I don’t want to overstay my welcome and feel I have important perspective to offer still and institutional memory for those yet to come.
Though I may be stepping back, SPME is moving forward. There are too many wonderful and talented people to thank personally and the more I mention, the more that may be left out and for that I beg your forgiveness for not publicly thanking each and every one of you. The article would be never-ending. You know who you are and you know how special our relationship has become in this incredible academically oriented, social-networking, advocacy experiment.
Congratulations to the new leadership crew. If you appreciate the work that I have done over these years, please show your support with a generous contribution to SPME to help them grow and continue.