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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Palestine | California | International | Education & Student Activism | Government & Elections
Zionist censorship at colleges and universities
U of Ottawa, Canada; U of Cal at Santa Barbara; De Paul Univ, Chicago; Bard College, NY State; Clark U, Worcester, Mass
[ photo caption: Denis G. Rancourt, physics professor recently fired by the University of Ottawa. The photo is from his site, at http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/ ]
I first became ‘actively aware’ of the strenuous effort of Zionist groups in North America to suppress open public discussion of Israeli policy in universities about two years ago from an e-mail sent by a friend in Egypt. That involved a campaign which successfully prevented Norman G. Finkelstein from gaining his well-deserved tenure at De Paul University in Chicago.
Since then there has been no shortage of attacks on uncensored discussion in Canadian and U.S. colleges and universities. A particularly fierce instance of this widespread drive is the recent firing of a long-time tenured physics professor by the University of Ottawa.
Denis G. Rancourt, after 23 years on the faculty, was fired on 31 March 2009. Until then he was a tenured Full Professor of Physics at the Univ of Ottawa with a robust, indeed remarkably outstanding professional research record. His chief immediate antagonist, who temporarily bested him, is Allan Rock, who was appointed President of the university in July 2008. Rancourt has, so far as I know, consistently been a maverick faculty member, insisting on his “right” to be guided by his own understanding of what education should mean rather than by the dictates of the university’s administrative apparatchiks, whose true function is to maintain the dominant social ideology.
At the moment a strong pro-Zionist, anti-Palestinian ideology predominates in Canada, as shown in the article linked to in . My belief is that Rancourt’s conjecture is correct, that among the real reasons for the attack on him by the administration is his critical view of the Zionist-dominated government of Israel. Of course no administrator admits this as a reason, but the fact that a strongly Zionist-oriented administration fired him, on patently contrived grounds, lends credence to this belief.
I will include a somewhat lengthy excerpt from Rancourt’s statement of 10 April 2009 on his dismissal in which he provides a shocking account of the vengefulness — the sheer spitefulness — with which the administrators acted, directly harming not only Rancourt but others at the university, research assistants and undergraduate and graduate students who were not initially involved in any conflict with the administration. Apparently the administrators found this to be acceptable ‘collateral damage’ to innocent parties, as did the Zionist Nazis who conducted the bombing and attendant slaughter of children in Gaza only some weeks earlier.
First however I want to say that I am publicizing all this distasteful information about five North American campuses against the advice of a good friend, a non-Jewish Canadian who said it would be providing material to anti-Semites to use as a Trojan Horse for attacking Jews under the guise of supporting Palestinians. My friend wrote, “We live in a society that is steeped in racism. There is a HELL of a lot of racism and anti-semitism among the WASP proletariat especially. It has not gone away and is not going anywhere . . . We are simply stoking the fires of anti-semitism. What we need to do is to take down capitalism and imperialism. It is the only way to stop the colonialism in Palestine anyway.” I don’t doubt that my friend is correct on several counts, although I personally haven’t exerienced anti-Semitism. He is surely correct in seeing the absolute need to do away with capitalism and imperialism. Nevertheless I believe it is important to state the truth as we understand it and to make clear that while we are severely critical of the destructive actions of some groups in which people of Jewish ethnicity play a large role, we are not in opposition to any ethnicity per se. Individuals, of whatever ethnic heritge, should be judged on the basis of their individual qualities.
Turning now to Rancourt’s statement of 10 April 2009 on his dismissal, to which I give a great deal of credence, he says,
“It appears that among the real reasons for the university’s attempts to discipline me since September 2005 and for its recent most harsh actions against me under President Allan Rock’s mandate might be the administration’s opposition to my political views about the Palestine-Israel conflict, which, starting in 2005, I have expressed in articles, on radio, in my blog postings, at public venues, and in my classes. In September 2005 the dean cancelled my Physics and the Environment course following a complaint (regarding an email comment about Zionism), channelled through the university’s Canadian Studies Institute director Pierre Anctil to the VP-Academic. A complaint against an invited speaker in the course, Professor Michel Chossudovsky — who spoke about Middle East geopolitics, from the Jewish Student Association then gave rise to a sustained but failed attempt to discipline me. In 2006 I invited two Canadian-Palestinian speakers to address the class in my Science in Society course. This was followed by a damning January-2007 editorial in The Ottawa Citizen and I was subsequently removed from teaching all the first-year courses that I had developed. The Ottawa Citizen is a CanWest newspaper and its director is a member of the university’s Board of Governors. CanWest Global Communications Corporation is a staunch advocate and supporter of Israeli policy. In 2007 I criticized the university’s official position on the academic boycott of Israel on my UofOWatch.blogspot.com blog. The repression against me intensified when new university president Allan Rock, a staunch supporter of Israeli policy, arrived on the scene in July 2008. I was disciplined for the UofOWatch blog with an unpaid suspension in September 2008, by a decision of the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors (EBOG). The latter suspension was followed by many more severe actions against me (see below) and is being used by the university as an argument in my dismissal.
“The university became markedly more aggressive in its attacks against me after the arrival of Allan Rock in July 2008. Whereas, previous disciplines that started in 2005 were limited to letters of reprimand and of allegation (all withdrawn or overturned), the arrival of former federal politician and proven supporter of Israeli policy Allan Rock coincided with:
* my removal from all teaching
* a one-day suspension without pay for my blog critical of the university,
* an unannounced lockout from my laboratory actuated under false pretext,
* dismantling of my laboratory,
* my removal from my graduate students,
* reprisals and intimidations against my graduate students,
* university-imposed unilateral deregistration of my undergraduate research student,
* an unannounced firing of my research associate of 12 years,
* my suspension from all my duties,
* my physical barring from campus, including from my weekly campus radio show,
* a lockout from my office,
* my police arrest under a false claim of trespassing while hosting my regular weekly Cinema Academica event,
* public university statements defaming me, and
* my dismissal — allegedly for having assigned twenty three A+s in a combined fourth-year and graduate physics course.
“The March 31st university decision to dismiss me was itself tainted with Israel-aligned political influence. The decision was made by the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors (EBOG) with members Allan Rock and Ruth Freiman present.”
Mr. Rancourt goes on to show, in a “supplementary brief that the university refused to receive” that both Allan Rock and Ruth Freiman, because of close ties to the ‘Israel-supporting’ community, should not have participated in the EBOG meeting. They, and the rest of the board, violated their university’s own protocol.
The reaction to these outrageous attacks by the Univ of Ottawa Administration is in all likelihood proving far greater than the administration anticipated. Particulaly telling, I think, is a letter from a research scientist at the Univ of California at Berkeley, pointing to the damage to the Univ of Ottawa in the international scientific arena. Ignacio Chapela, who wrote it, is the researcher who, with his student, first discovered the presence of genetically contaminated corn in Oaxaca. The resolution of this conflict will be critically important for the quality of education in Canada.
In the United States, unlike in Canada, the effort to suppress open discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict in colleges and universities is largely unhidden. Alan Dershowitz of Harvard, Abraham Foxman of the so-called Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and others of their ilk charge around spewing their hatred on any academics, especially Jewish ones, who have a critical word to say about Israeli policy. These self-pitying Jews see any compassion in response to the suffering inflicted on the Palestinians by the conquering Israelis as a sure sign of anti-Semitism. These self-appointed ‘righteous defenders of Israel’ endlessly trumpet their delusions, incapable of understanding a world with more than enough suffering to go around for everyone. My impression is that this less hidden arrogance in the U.S. is being met with a more open counter attack by students and others in the U.S. who reject the Zionists’ claims of anti-Semitism.
William I. Robinson is the focal point of a concerted attack by Foxman and his ADL on the Univ of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB). Robinson is a tenured professor of sociology at UCSB, where he has been teaching since 2001. Prior to UCSB he taught on the faculties of the Univ of New Mexico, the Univ of Tennessee, and New Mexico State University. According to his website, in addition to sociology he is “also affiliated with the Latin American and Iberian Studies Program, and with the Global and International Studies Program at UCSB. [His] scholarly research focuses on: macro and comparative sociology, globalization and transnationalism, political economy, political sociology, development and social change, Latin America and the Third World, and Latina/o studies.”
His vitae indicates that prior to his graduate studies at the Univ of New Mexico his education included a B.A. in Journalism (major) and International Studies (minor) at the Friends World College, Huntington, N.Y. (completed in 1981), which included four years of study in Kenya, Nigeria and Costa Rica.
The attack on Robinson was triggered by his reaction to the Israeli assault on Gaza. Among the materials that he normally e-mails to his students he included graphic images of the bombardment, obviously not calculated to stimulate sympathy for the Israeli government. Two Jewish students were evidentally badly shaken and quite promptly withdrew from the course. It appears to me from what I have seen on the website of the group of undergraduate and graduate students’ Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB (CDAF-UCSB)  that the two students were manipulated by the local chapter of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to file complaints against Robinson. Whether they withdrew from the course before or after the ADL guard dogs of Israel’s undeserved stellar moral reputation got to them I do not know. But a glance at their complaints is enough to show the absence of any substantive grounds for their actions.
Additional evidence of the unsavory subterfuge employed by the ADL is in a recent posting on the CDAF-UCSB site headlined, “BREAKING NEWS: UC-Santa Barbara faculty member goes public about ADL pressure, May 2, 2009. History professor attended meeting where Abraham Foxman pushed UCSB to act against sociology professor.” Imagine Foxman, as dishonest as the ADL which he heads, using tax-exempt money of this 501-C3 coercion group to fly from Washington D.C. to Santa Barbara to pressure UCSB in a supposedly secret meeting to censor Robinson. No shortage of chutzpah there. This is an attack against the campus from an outside pressure group, and it appears that there is vigorous opposition to the UCSB administration’s initial weak-kneed acquiescence to the ADL demand to investigate Robinson. Of course it is unacceptable that the Foxman outfit and his Israel-first cohort are able to harass Robinson, but if they are strongly repulsed it can serve to strengthen adherence to academic freedom at UCSB and elsewhere.
Each circumstance of struggle of course has its own particularities. I highlighted the events in which Professors Rancourt and Robinson are currenty caught up because it seems to me these are the the two most ‘inflamed’ situations right now. Canada strikes me as being even worse than the United States in terms of the audacity of the university administration in firing a tenured, well-respected scientist, and the seeming inadequacy of any organized forceful challenge and refusal by the students to accept Rancourt’s mistreatment. At Santa Barbara the students appear to have formed a vigorous opposition in support of Robinson. The situations of Joel Kovel and Norman G. Finkelstein are markedly different. Kovel, born in August 1936, is approaching 73. Apparently he is now seeking a resolution of his conflict with Bard that does not involve his reappointment. Finkelstein, a good deal younger than Kovel, when he was denied tenure at De Paul University two years ago, came to a resolution of his conflict with that institution, and has continued as a very active public educator on the same issues that stirred the Zionist attack dogs to work against his tenure. I anticipate that Kovel will continue to put forward his ideas publicly.
Joel Kovel taught for over twenty years at Bard College where he was a professor. From the standpoint of those who support the Zionist project his outspoken and highly informed criticism of the nation-state of Israel is particularly unwelcome. My account in a draft version of the mistreatment accorded one of his books was incorrect. Professor Kovel kindly sent me an accurate version, for which I am thankful. It follows:
His 2007 book, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a single democratic state in Israel/Palestine, was taken out of distribution by the University of Michigan Press — normally the distributor of the British publisher, Pluto Press — after pressure by the Zionist Thought Police. StandWithUs/Michigan, a branch of the Campus Watch movement founded by Daniel Pipes, assailed the book, and the Director of the U of M Press, immediately caved in. After pressure got the book restored to circulation, the press proceeded to cancel the distribution contract with Pluto, perhaps the largest publisher in the English language of works critical of Israel. Pluto has since rebuilt a contract with a private distributor, and Overcoming Zionism as well as its other anti-Zionist works are back in circulation.
As for Bard College’s treatment of Kovel, he writes that on 7 Feb 2009 the Bard administration notified him that as of June 30, 2009, when his current 5-year contract expires, it will not be renewed and he will be placed on emeritus status on that day. Kovel maintains that this administrative action is “motivated neither by intellectual nor pedagogic considerations, but by political values, principally stemming from differences between [him]self and the Bard administration on the issue of Zionism . . . [T]he evidence shows a pattern of conflict over Zionism only too reminiscent of innumerable instances in this country in which critics of Israel have been made to pay, often with their careers, for speaking out.”
Norman Finkelstein, initially barred, got to speak at Clark University after all. He had been invited by a student group at Clark, and scheduled to speak 23 April 2009 on the Gaza massacre of 27 Dec 2008-17 Jan 2008. Shortly before the scheduled event John Bassett, the President of Clark, cancelled the event. However, apparently in response to a deluge of protests and widespread negative publicity, he quickly reversed himself, saying in a (form) e-mail I received from him on 20 April, “George, I believe the talk is scheduled for April 27, only four days later than they had originally planned.” Some details are in the final item in Note , which has a link to Finkelstein’s website.
Outspoken concerned humanitarian voices at U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities are by no means being attacked only by Zionists. But Zionists play a large role. The five institutions considered in this note are examples. We must insist on open public discussion free of all censorship, an effort in which we can be successful, with generous use of the internet.
William I. Robinson, sociology professor at Univ of California-Santa Barbara, recently attacked by the so-called Anti-Defamation League. The photo is from his site, at http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/robinson/.
 De Paul University denied tenure to Norman G. Finkelstein. My effort to counter the campaign against Finkelstein is recorded in several postings:
A dangerous struggle to bury the truth: Truth, the greatest threat to the powerful, 8 April 2007
Help prevent Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz from intervening in De Paul University to get Norman G. Finkelstein fired, 9 April 2007
Dershowitz vs. Finkelstein III. The real problem is much deeper. James Petras and Bill Templer are straightening me out, 12 April 2007
Dershowitz vs. Finkelstein IV. Beyond Dershowitz, institutionalized fraud, 18 April 2007
Fraud by Anti-Finkelstein U.S.-based Jewish Mafia. Beyond Dershowitz, institutionalized fraud, 22 April 2007
Standing tough for truth, Norman G. Finkelstein. Into my pantheon of truth-tellers he goes, 22 April 2009
 Administrative apparatchiks. A revealing investigation of the extent of conspiratorial efforts by Canadian ‘administrative educators’ to prevent student efforts to hold meetings devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reported at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12352. It is titled, University of Toronto Suppresses Pro-Palestinian Activism. The author, Liisa Schofield, is identified as: a documentary filmmaker, an anti-poverty activist, an activist for Palestinian rights, and the Volunteer and Programming Coordinator at OPIRG Toronto.
 Denis G. Rancourt’s website. Information about the struggle is contained in his statement of 10 April 2009, headed “Statement by Denis Rancourt Regarding his Dismissal by the University of Ottawa”, from which the quoted paragraphs are excerpted. This statement is at http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/component/content/article/25.html. It also linked to in the inclusive ‘struggle’ site at http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/.
 Reactions to administrative actions. Reactions generally supportive of Rancourt can be seen at http://www.academicfreedom.ca/ . In particular, comments by students, community members and others are assembled at http://rancourt.academicfreedom.ca/letters-of-support/students-and-community-members.html. Information about a legal suit against the university by a postdoctoral researcher and graduate students who were denied access to their research laboratories is in http://www.academicfreedom.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=77&Itemid=85. Professor Chapela’s letter is at http://www.academicfreedom.ca/Documents/ChapellaLetter.pdf.
 William I. Robinson’s ample website, at http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/faculty/robinson/ includes his statement, “As a scholar-activist I attempt to link my academic work to struggles in the United States, in the Americas, and around the world for social justice, popular empowerment, participatory democracy, and people-centered development.”
 The Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB maintains an extensive website at http://sb4af.wordpress.com/robinson-case/charges-responses/cdaf-ucsb-response/ and appears to be mounting an aggressive counter-attack. Their site begins with a straightforward, clear and admirably powerful statement, namely,
CDAF-UCSB Response to Case
The Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB (CDAF-SB) strongly opposes the flagrant and baseless affronts to academic freedom on this campus and to Professor Robinson in particular. We believe these allegations have been brought in order to silence any criticism of Israeli policies and practices. Furthermore, we consider the umbrage against Professor Robinson to have been fomented by non-university forces that have infiltrated the academic setting to wage a war of political repression. We find this non-academic infiltration to be an unacceptable attack on the scholarly exchange of ideas that is the most compelling interest of the university.
Accordingly, we demand the immediate dismissal of all of the charges against Professor Robinson as frivolous, unfounded, and malicious. Any further consideration of these baseless attacks is unacceptable. As a coordinated group of undergraduate and graduate students, we will not accept any resolution of this matter that is unfavorable to Professor Robinson and academic freedom.
CDAF-UCSB also insists that the attack on Professor Robinson’s academic freedom, one that ominously recalls similar campaigns against other critical academics across the nation, be publicly condemned. This condemnation is essential to preserve full and fair discussion within the most important of the U.S.’s civic institutions. Any genuine consideration of these absurd attacks will have a severe chilling effect on the production and dissemination of scholarly research in all disciplines. Further, the attacks must be condemned to protect faculty and students from wasting valuable time and energy defending themselves against frivolous allegations and political repression.
In fact, a critique of the Israeli state, its policies, and the leaders responsible is not and should not be considered an affront to Jewish people as a collective, the Jewish religion, or Jewish heritage. Conflating the state of Israel with the Jewish people essentializes the assorted political opinions of a diverse religious group by reducing them to the set of policies espoused by the prevailing regime. The charge of anti-Semitism is made in bad faith; its real purpose is to automatically vilify and stifle any honest critiques of the state of Israel’s policies and practices.
In sum, these attacks must be firmly repelled in order to preserve the fundamental, free speech right to dissent, to protect academic freedom that enables scholars to produce new knowledge, and to promote the free exchange of ideas in fulfillment of the university’s purpose to educate.
 Kovel’s correction. The draft of my article had the following incorrect account of the incident with Kovel’s book and the Univ of Michigan Press: “His 2007 book, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a single democratic state in Israel/Palestine, was at first not going to be distributed by the University of Michigan Press — normally the distributor of the British publisher, Pluto Press — because of threats of legal action by Alan Dershowitz’s attorney. However, that initiative of ‘mad-dog Dershowitz’ was unsuccessful: Kovel’s book is being distributed in the U.S. as though it were just an ordinary book.”
Following his account, Kovel added, “That’s what I know happened, because I was in the thick of it. But if what you say about Dershowitz is also true I definitely would want to know about it.”, to which I responded, “Your note immediately put doubts in my mind about my memory, which is not that reliable. I’m sure that I learned about an event with Dershowitz threatening legal action, a threat that failed to suppress a book, but it might have been a threat against a publisher of one of Finkelstein’s books.”
 Joel Kovel’s statement regarding his termination by Bard College is at http://www.joelkovel.org/#bardstatement.
George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.
All comments and criticisms are welcome. george.salzman [at] umb.edu
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