Monday, February 07, 2005


Columbia, Sharansky, and Academic Intimidation

The flap at Columbia is not disappearing. There is an article in today's Ha'aretz that breaks no new ground (coverage of the David Project's film Columbia Unbecoming first appeared in Ha'aretz in late October of last year). So what makes this newsworthy? It's Natan Sharansky, Likud MK, poster-boy for the US-Likud alliance. I'm not sure what makes Sharansky such a press-worthy figure these days, but there were two articles about him last week (or maybe the week before) in the New York Times, one of which was absolutely nauseatingly praising of Sharansky and his influence on President Bush. That's right, President Bush read Sharansky's book (well, almost read it... he made it past page 200 even) and that's news! Anyhow, Sharansky is hot these days, so when he says this kind of thing it makes headlines:
U.S. college students have become like Russian Jews who kept silent because they feared state retaliation if they spoke out about being persecuted. That was the view expressed Saturday night by Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky at the screening of a controversial documentary depicting pro-Israel students' allegations of intimidation at the hands of Columbia University professors.

"The future leaders of American Jewry are becoming 'Jews of Silence," Sharansky said, lamenting the fact that only a small number of Jewish students are willing to publicly complain about anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiments.
This is part of a continued pressure campaign by pro-Israel groups (Campus Watch, the David Project, etc.) and now by Israeli government officials, to attack Columbia University's MEALAC (Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures) department and make it into the example for the rest of American academia. Recently, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Danny Ayalon withdrew from a conference at Columbia over this affair. Now Sharansky. The fact that there was really absolutely nothing really newsworthy in this article (everything was old news except for the Sharansky quotes) proves in my mind that this is something that certain Israeli officials are not going to let disappear into the night. Anyhow, I've written this all before. It just struck me as odd that Ha'aretz would devote quite a long article to regurgitating the allegations of this film once again.

Perhaps this is related to the Nelson analysis I sent you a link to, Alex. Rice is saying that both parties have to take certain steps and she said we are going to give Palestine an additional 40 million (less than the cost of an inauguration party, but hey, it ain't peanuts!) AND she appointed Gen. Ward to be whatever he is, on the Palestinian side of things.

This stuff about American Jews being like Russian Jews is a bit odd, though. Aren't the Russian Jews the folks who really are pretty silenced in Israel?? Here in the US, the idea that any Jewish student doesn't have recourse to a powerful lobbying organization to protect his or her rights and person is just, well, self-indulgent paranoia. So I have to think that there is another motive here and I think that that is to scare American politicians into hesitating to back these very tentative efforts on the Bush administration's part to enter the fray in Israel and Palestine.

The more I think about this, the odder and more offensive it is. But you know, there is the possibility that Sharansky is just more than willing to manipulate the rigid self-righteousness that so informs Bush for the Israeli right's advantage, no matter what it takes.

Aunt Deb
i'm with you on the nelson analysis. i just don't get what the fuss is about. this is no better than the road map (and probably a good deal worse since the israelis have essentially zero obligations and whenever condi says that they need to step up they can pull out the disengagement "get out of jail free" card and say "hey now, we need to conserve our political capital for this big thing coming up." meanwhile, abbas is spending his political capital like its going out of style and pretty soon it will and this whole thing is going to be back where it started. not that i'm a pessimist or anything).

anyhow, i honestly don't think sharansky is talking the columbia thing up as a means of pressuring the US diplomatic approach. i dont think he is worried one bit about that to begin with. i think it really is an attempt to tap into the right wing anti-arab anti-campus maelstrom and really start to try to get some things to change. put pressure on the US govt in that arena, to enact some of that legislation that calls for "fair and balanced" ME studies departments and that kind of bullshit.
Giving it some more thought, in light of your post, I agree. It probably is this bad -- he's just seizing the opportunity to ride the anti-semitism smearing campaign to get rid of all possible disagreement. Very sad. It's probable that he also sees that the Bush mindset is so primitive that he won't even have to be too clever about things in order to achieve this end.

Aunt Deb
It probably is this badIt's probably worse! Haha.

Seriously, I'm sure Bush would have Sharansky on his cabinet if he could.
Well, sure he would, Alex, but he would also have had Putin on there, too. The man is nuts. Look who he DOES have on his cabinet. Oh and Karl Rove's position is being expanded to cover just about everything -- even though nobody voted for him that I know of.

Aunt Deb
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