The following is a response to Dr. Shmulik Lederman from Haifa University who commented on our Executive Summary of Academic Freedom in Israel in Comparative Perspective.
In point number one Lederman states that we provide a "caricature" of the neo-Marxist, critical paradigm and wonder whether we are aware that there is more to it than Israel bashing. We disagree with the characterization of Dr. Lederman, but we are perfectly aware that there is more to it. As a matter of fact, over time we have discussed many facets of critical scholarship, but the Executive Summary is an 8 page distillation of a 200 page document, making it hard to do justice to this highly complex issue.
In point two Lederman mentioned that Edward Said's viewed Zionism as an ethnic national movement. That would have been true for a part of Said's career, but his views seemed to change in over time. Said, a professor of literature, was actually a relative latecomer to the critical paradigm; by his own admission, Said was influenced by the Egyptian Marxist economist Samir Amin, and, more to the point, by Talal Assad and the so-called Hull University groups (whose impact he had never acknowledged). Said's evolving view on Zionism is wrought with complexity and should be studied within the context of these and his subsequent encounters with different strands of critical and colonial theory. In other words, Lederman's point simplifies a very complex issue.
In his third point Lederman finds it "ironically amusing" that our work is politically motivated, while at the same time criticizing radical faculty for being politically motivated.
There is a profound difference between our organization and the scholars that we monitor. We are a non-governmental organization supported by private donation to monitor that scholars do not abuse academic freedom to push a political agenda. We have uncovered plenty of instances of such abuse, including scholars who switch from researching in the field for which they were hired in order to produce essentially polemical work on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or simply cease publishing to engage time political activity. Such practices shortchanges taxpayers who deserve transparency and accountability, not to mention a return on their investment.
In 2002 Dr. Lederman joined the group Courage to Refuse- officers and solders who refused to serve in the territories; although they break the law, we have never addressed his issue. IAM raised the refusal to serve in the case of Dr. Idan Landau from Ben Gurion University because he protested the partial docking off his salary. As our Academic Freedom in Comparative Perspectives makes clear, Landau is a public employee and as such, is not entitled to compensation by his employer for the time he served in military prisons. Landau and academics in Israel and abroad who signed a petition have, in IAM's opinion, misrepresented the meaning of the concept academic freedom.
We are also trying to improve the quality of the debate about academic freedom by putting it in an comparative context. As we repeatedly noted, freedom is not unlimited and has to be balanced against social and national needs. Germany, Great Britain and the United States -three countries with long and distinguished academic traditions - have worked these issues out. Rather than incessantly decrying the evils of McCarthyism, the Israeli professoriate can learn something from their experience.
In point four Lederman deplores the "less than funny irony" of IAM which fights against boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), while at the same time urges donors to cut funding to universities that employ critical faculty." Here Lederman seems to mix the proverbial apples with oranges. The real irony is that faculty in public universities supported by taxpayers can use their academic freedom to call for BDS against the state. Had Lederman read our Academic Freedoms carefully, he would have noted that in Germany, Great Britain and the United States, a mixture of case law, ethics codes and public watchdog groups make calls for BDS virtually impossible. The board of governors (where many donors sit) have an oversight role; groups like American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) work directly with donors to inform them about the use of their money. In fact, by appealing to the boards, we hope to develop such practices in Israel.
While Dr. Lederman does not agree with our Academic Freedoms report, at least he gave us the courtesy of reading it. This is more that can be said about others, which, as we already noted, ignored the document . This is unfortunate, because the unparalleled expansive model of academic freedom in Israel has significance beyond radical scholarship. Dr. Yaacov Bergman from the Hebrew University has furnished a prodigious amount of empirical evidence to suggest that broad academic autonomy has hurt the international standing of Israel's higher education, especially in the social sciences. For those who seek to dismiss IAM as an Im Tirzu clone, Bergman's research should provide a compelling reading.
It is a reflection on the shallowness of the discourse that, after years of efforts, Bergman's findings have attracted only a fraction of the attention bestowed on the alleged "McCarthyist assault on leftist faculty." The Roundtable on Academic Freedoms hosted by the Israel Democracy Institute is a case in point. Bergman, a leading leading expert on the subject, was not invited; when finally allowed to offer a short comment from the floor, he was virtually shouted down. Captured by the camera, the discourteous behavior of the professors gives a new meaning to the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.
Dr. Lederman wrote the following:
דנה - כמה הערות לגבי תקציר מוניטור האקדמיה הישראלית בעניין החופש האקדמי:
1. אני מקווה שלפחות אתם עצמכם מודעים לכך שאתם עושים קריקטורה מתיאוריות ביקורתיות וניאו-מרקסיסטיות ויודעים שגם בהקשר העולמי וגם בהקשר הישראלי הן מורכבות הרבה יותר מלקרוא לישראל נאצית ולתמוך במדינה דו-לאומית.
2. באותו הקשר אני מקווה שאתם מודעים לכך שאדוארד סעיד למשל - אם לקחת דוגמא מרכזית בה אתם משתמשים - גם העריך את הציונות כתנועה לאומית אותנטית; או באופן כללי יותר, אני מקווה שאיכות המחקר האקדמי שבאה לידי ביטוי במחקר עצמו היא רצינית יותר מהתקציר שהוא, איך לומר, מביך קצת מבחינה זו.
3. אני מקווה שאתם יודעים להעריך את האירוניה המשעשעת בעובדה שהמחקר שלכם מאשש את מה שנובע מראש מהאג'נדה הפוליטית שלכם, ואת הדמיון המפתיע בין זה לבין ההאשמה בהטיה פוליטית והכפפת האמת לאידיאולוגיה בה אתם מאשימים את אותם אנשי התיאוריה הביקורתית.
4. אני מקווה גם שאתם יודעים להעריך את האירוניה הפחות משעשעת בכך שארגון שמשקיע את מירב מאמציו במאבק נגד החרם על האקדמיה הישראלית, קורא לתורמים לאוניברסיטאות ישראליות להשתמש בכוח שיש להם כדי ללחוץ על נציגי האוניברסיטאות בעניין המרצים הביקורתיים מידי, או במילים שלכם:
בברכת דרך צלחה,
The escalation in and around the Gaza Strip is causing terrible suffering to people - to men, women, elderly and children, Palestinian as well as Israeli civilians. The military offensive conducted by the Israeli armed forces has so far caused hundreds of Palestinian casualties; many of them were unarmed civilians. The siege and economic blockade have reduced most of the Gaza Strip\'s population to abject poverty, devastated its economy, and caused the death of critically ill patients, denied access to vital treatment. The Palestinian attacks on Sderot have severely traumatized its population, far beyond the physical casualties caused among them.
This is not a conflict between two equal forces. The most powerful army in the Middle East, backed by the world\'s single remaining super-power, is daily using tanks, fighter planes, helicopters and gunships against the lightly-armed militias and overcrowded population of a small area whose people have lived under occupation and in poverty long before the present siege.
Yet the individuals caught in the fighting are all suffering - on both sides of the fighting, among both peoples. The pain of living in daily fear, of being wounded and mutilated for life, of grieving for the loss of loved ones, is the same pain - whether one\'s country be oppressed or oppressor, occupied or occupier, rich or poor, powerful or powerless.
The attacks on both sides of the border feed on each other and intensify each other. Palestinians in Gaza, rightly feeling themselves still living under occupation despite the Israeli \'disengagement\', seek to resist occupation, but when some use launching of rockets against civilians, they manage only to provide an additional justification for tightening the siege on Gaza and the escalation of Israeli violence.
The cycle of violence and bloodshed goes on and on, and the threat of an overall invasion and re-conquest of the Gaza Strip is openly and repeatedly made by the Israeli military and political leaders - with the cost estimated at hundreds or thousands of casualties.
We, the undersigned - Israelis and Palestinians - do not accept this grim reality as inevitable. There is a clear and obvious alternative to bloody escalation and strangulating siege, an alternative providing hope: an end to the siege of Gaza, and a ceasefire and cessation of all hostilities.
The siege of Gaza and the collective punishment of its population are totally unacceptable. It is a medieval form of war which is in utter contradiction to the present norms of human rights and international law - which Israel, as an occupying power, is bound to respect. There should be an immediate end to the siege, unconnected with any other issue, and the Gaza Strip must have free access to the outside world, for the free passage of persons and goods.
It has already been clearly seen that the suffering inflicted on Palestinian civilians in Gaza did not and cannot solve the problem of Sderot. The only solution is a complete and mutual ceasefire, an end to all armed attacks by the Israeli occupation on Palestinians, including all shootings by infantry, tanks, artillery, aircraft and gunboats, and all targeted killings, armed incursions and arrests across the border, and an end to launching of rockets by Palestinians on Israelis. In addition, this should involve a reopening of the prisoners issue, starting with negotiations on the exchange of Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit with Palestinian prisoners.
We regard such a ceasefire as an entirely realistic, achievable and desirable act, which would save lives, alleviate misery and create better conditions for any attempt to achieve peace between the two peoples - while understanding that no long-lasting solution is possible while the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem continue to live under occupation.
Full text including Hebrew and Arabic translations at http://toibillboard.info/ceasefirepetition.en-ar-he.htm
195 Name: Shmulik Lederman on Feb 29, 2008
city and/or country: Ramat Gan, Israel