Jewish Professor in California Accused of Anti-Semitism

bill_sm1A Jewish professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara has been accused of anti-Semitism for material that he shared with his students in a course on sociology and globalization. The material critical of Israel led to two students dropping the course and charges filed against Professor William I. Robinson.

Robinson triggered the backlash by ending e-mail to all of the 80 students in the course suggesting that they consider the “parallel” images of Nazi and Israeli attacks, specifically addressing Israeli actions in Gaza. He suggested that Gaza could be reviewed as “Israel’s Warsaw.” The materials in the course are available on a website organized by his students supporting him. He is facing a possible faculty disciplinary board.

On his university page, Robinson describes his work:

Welcome to my website. I am a professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am also affiliated with the Latin American and Iberian Studies Program, and with the Global and International Studies Program at UCSB. My 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.
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.

I fail to see why this material is not protected by academic freedom principles. While some have argued that it was not relevant to his course work, Robinson makes a plausible case that it was and that he routinely deals with such international questions in his globalization course. Notably, in a February letter, the Anti-Defamation League acknowledged that his “writings are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom” and simply called for him to repudiate the views. Various groups and students are free to call for such a change in views, but the submission of this matter to a faculty board would create an obvious chill on academic freedom, particularly for any academic considering criticism of Israel.

The charging officer sent the following allegations and said that the investigation would go forward: “[H]ere is a summary of the allegations: You, as professor of an academic course, sent to each student enrolled in that course a highly partisan email accompanied by lurid photographs. The e-mail was unexpected and without educational context. You offered no explanation of how the material related to the content of the course. You offered no avenue to discuss, nor encouraged any response, to the opinions and photographs included in the e-mail. You directly told a student who inquired that the e-mail was not connected to the course. As a result, two enrolled students were too distraught to continue with the course. The constellation of allegations listed above, if substantially true, may violate the Faculty Code of Conduct.” The officer noted that professors cannot “use of the position or powers of a faculty member to coerce the judgment or conscience of a student or to cause harm to a student for arbitrary or personal reasons.”

The fact that this is a course on international problems would seem to undermine such charges. While the university is highly protected over consciences of its students, it needs to be equally protective over the academic freedom of its faculty and aware of the negative impact that this image leaves with untenured faculty: you can be called to account if you include provocative or unpopular material. The American Association of University Professors has long opposed this type of discipline and rejects the common attack on education as indoctrination and protects electronic communications as it does written communications in course work.

In the meantime, critics, including students, have made YouTube segments like this one to campaign against Robinson.

I must say that I was uncomfortable with the email below when I first read it and thought that is was framed as a bit too much of an advocacy statement. Nevertheless, I still find it within the protected scope of academic freedom. Many professors will assume advocacy positions to get students to debate and challenge ideas. I will often assume positions that I do not support in class to trigger such debate, often assuming unpopular or extreme positions to see how my students will respond. It seems to me that an appropriate subject for exchange. Frankly, I do not mind the controversial analogy which can trigger rigorous debate, but Professor Robinson could have framed this more in an academic rather than an advocacy fashion. Ultimately, that message could have been given to him by an administrators rather than allow this academic investigation to go forward. I am also concerned about whether, given the tenor of the email, students would feel free to disagree — though this is hard to judge when you have not seen the class or past debates. I think that the Anti-Defamation League got it right. It is perfectly correct to challenge his portrayals and comparisons while recognizing his right distribute such material.

Here is the email:

If Martin Luther King were alive on this day of January 19, 2009, there is no doubt that he would be condemning the Israeli aggression against Gaza along with U.S. military and political support for Israeli war crimes, or that he would be standing shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinians. I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. Perhaps the most frightening are not those providing a graphic depiction of the carnage but that which shows Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children.

Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw – a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group”), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.

The Israeli army is the fifth most potent military machine in the world and one that is backed by a propaganda machine that rivals and may well surpass that of the U.S., a machine that dares to make the ludicrous and obnoxious claim that opposition to the policies and practices of the Israeli state is anti-Semitism. It should be no surprise that a state founded on the negation of a people was one of the principal backers of the apartheid South African state not to mention of the Latin American military dictatorships until those regimes collapsed under mass protest, and today arms, trains, and advises military and paramilitary forces in Colombia, one of the world’s worst human rights violators.

Below is an article written by a U.S. Jew and sent to a Jewish newspaper. The editor of the paper was fired for publishing it.

The issue of criticism of Israel on campus has produced a number of intense academic fights in the last couple of years, here and here.

For the full story, click here.

9 thoughts on “Jewish Professor in California Accused of Anti-Semitism”

  1. Commoner,

    You say that the nationalist Jewish treatment of Palestinians is nothing like the nationalist German treatment of Jews. Are we imagining the following facts: Germans drove Jews out of their homes and off their property in Poland, swelling the Jewish district in Warsaw, which became a ghetto; built massive walls and erected razor-wire fencing around the ghetto; and erected watchtowers and checkpoints. Germans controlled what went in and out of the ghetto. Germans cultivated a collaborationist government within the ghetto, which helped Germans suppress Jewish resistance. Jewish resistance was considerable, and included violent actions against non-Jewish Germans. Germans periodically invaded the ghetto under the pretext of putting down uprisings, disrupting plots to attack Germans, and collectively punishing Jews for acts of violence against non-Jewish persons, invasions that resulted in substantial civilian loss of Jewish life and extensive damage to property. This intolerable situation was the result of an ethnonationalist project carried out by Germans to enlarge the ethnic German homeland in order to create living-space for ethnic Germans. If you remove the words German and Jews and replace them with Jews and Palestinians you will a compelling analogy based on the stated facts (more facts can be recited). These comparative facts are hardly “nothing.” To be sure, there are differences between the cases; but there are also similarities. Therefore, the cases are analogous and Robinson demonstrated no deficit in intelligence in making the comparison.

  2. I would just question his intelligence. The Israeli treatment of the so called Palestinians is nothing like the Nazi’s treatment of jews, gays and others during the holocaust. Israel does not round up Palestinians for torture and death, or target them with any racial agenda. Unlike their fellow arabs:

    Israel also provides free electricity, water and facilitates medical shipments into Gaza.

  3. I think that this is another example of free speech suppressed. I think he was trying to get people to critically think and argue with conviction what their exact position is. Regardless of his position.

    If his tenure is terminated then an unjust result will result and will serve as a chilling effect on institutions of higher learning. When will the strip search commence to be assured that material that is controversial will not be brought onto campus?

  4. If the professor had claimed that Jews were abusing Palestinians because of something inherent in the Jewish character, he would have been anti-semitic. You would think that educated people, like those who presumably run the University, would understand that being critical of Israel is not necessarily anti-semitic.

    Israel is a nation. Like other nations, it makes mistakes and follows an unethical path at times. Just because true anti-semites often hide their anti-semitism in criticism of Israel is no reason to assume that any criticism of Israel is automatically ant-semitism.

  5. The anti-semite accuser crowd is really quick to jump the gun. If I recall correctly, a similar thing happened at Columbia University a few years ago for an even milder ‘offense.’

  6. This is pretty funny because at my university, I have to sit through international affairs and history courses that portray Israelis as righteous defenders of their God-given territory and all Palestinians and Arabs as mindless dogs hellbent on murder of all Jews. During one course on current problems affecting the international community, we had a panel discussion between three professors on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The best part about this discussion was that it was two ultra-conservative pro-Israeli hawks versus a liberal Jew who just thought the Israelis used too much force and was wrong to corral the Palestinians inside Gaza and other segregated areas. We didn’t even get the chance to hear the other side of the argument. I attempted to challenge the panel and I was berated for being naive and was quickly discredited because I was only an undergraduate.

    People on the outside think that education is black and white, and that the facts do not lie. This is simply untrue. The problems affecting the past, the present, and the future are so complex that it is impossible to give one single explanation that unites all of the facts into a cogent argument. It is up to the students to take in varying points of view and think critically (not stressed enough at university) about the subject. It is the responsibility of educators everywhere to present all sides of the argument so that students form their own opinions.

    In regards to this article, the students are the problem, not the professor. I’ll never understand how people can get so upset because they have to listen to a different point of view. Students should come to class with an open mind, expecting to hear new information and modify their existing views accordingly (maybe not at all, or maybe a drastic change). Students who come to a class with their views set in stone are the type of people who are ruining the educational system in America. These people will be the ones who decide to outlaw academic freedom and make blasphemy a crime.

  7. Isn’t it amazing how standing against murder and mayhem is viewed so negatively.

    I wonder if the good Professor had the opposite opinion, what would be going on. Would those two students stay a cheer and the others leave?

    This country is run by a bunch of Zionists and Zionist sympathizers and they will use any weapon of character assault to try to tear down any enemy to their goals. Obama is surrounded by them (and the ones like Biden that wants to be one so bad that he says it out loud).

    I understand the intricacies of the teacher/student interaction, but as far as his opinion is concerned, I don’t find a thing incorrect about it. There are many parallels of Nazis and what they are doing in Gaza and Palestine, in general. I can’t see how anyone can argue that point, unless ignorance or complicity reigns in your view.

    I wish more Jews would stand up to the government that has hijacked them, just like the one that hijacked us. Too bad it is coming from an American and not more outrage from Israelis.

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