Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Do European Socialists Like Hanukah?

Hanukah, as we know, commemorates a miracle. This year, I witnessed one firsthand.

I just gave a lecture in Toulouse, France, on “The Political Ideology of Israel’s De-Legitimization.” On the conference’s panels were French intellectuals and public figures who refuse to write and talk in Newspeak, such as Richard Prasquier (President of CRIF), Yvan Rioufiol (Le Figaro’s least politically correct columnist), Philippe Karsenty (a media analyst who’s been fighting, with guts and resilience, the French state TV channel France 2 on the Al-Dura blood libel), Robert Redecker (a French philosophy professor who lives under permanent police protection because of a fatwa issued against him for a critical article he once wrote on Islam), and Jacques Tarnero (a French author and filmmaker who argues that European opinion makers are trying to absolve Europe from the Holocaust by accusing Israel of behaving like its former torturers).

There was also a French Senator, Jean-Pierre Plancade. Originally a member of the French Socialist Party, he is now an independent.

Plancade ended his talk by begging the Jews to bring light to the world, and he referred to the upcoming Hanukah holiday to make his point. Coming from a politician who rose within a party that is both staunchly secular and sympathetic to the Palestinian narrative, those were striking words indeed.

Why do these people side with Israel and the Jews? Because they realize that their own freedom is threatened by Israel’s enemies. As Jacques Tarnero explained during the conference, he feels like France is going through another Dreyfus Affair: The France 2 channel knows and privately admits that it is lying about the Al-Dura Affair, but the media and the Government are circling the wagons around Charles Enderlin because Raison d’État and corporate solidarity come before the truth. Who cares if Daniel Pearl was beheaded to “avenge” the blood of Muhammad Al-Dura, and if Al-Dura has become an icon to justify the murder of Jews?

The panel I attended in Toulouse was not an isolated event. More and more Europeans are speaking out against the assault on truth and freedom, against the appeasement of Islamism, and against the demonization of Israel. Former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar says that if Israel is vanquished, the West is finished. His “Friends of Israel Initiative” is gaining new recruits by the day. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently declared that “multiculturalism in Germany has failed” –a polite way of saying that most of Germany’s Turkish immigrants never integrated into German society. More and more political parties in Europe are gaining ground on platforms that call for a restriction of Muslim immigration and for the defense of Western values.

Merkel’s comments came in the wake of a new book that is both hugely popular and controversial: Deutschland Schafft sich ab (“Germany Does Away with Itself”) by German politician Thilo Sarrazin. Like Plancade, Sarrazin is a Socialist, a left-winger who, because he is speaking out his mind about Islam and the West, is being vilified and ostracized.

For what did Sarrazin write, after all? That Germany's immigrant Muslim population is reluctant to integrate and tends to rely more on social services than to be productive, and that the Muslim population growth may well overwhelm the German population within a couple of generations at the current rate. True, Sarrazin also made silly comments on gene and intelligence, but that’s not why he is under attack. He is under attack for addressing a topic that is unofficially but effectively banned from public discourse.

The fact that Sarrazin’s book sold out after a few days says a lot about what many Germans want to hear and about what their elites want to silence.

As Matthias Matussek from Der Spiegel wrote: "Political correctness is silencing an important debate … Sarrazin's findings on the failed integration of Turkish and Arab immigrants are beyond any doubt. He has been forced out of the Bundesbank. The SPD wants to kick him out of the party, too. Invitations previously extended to Sarrazin are being withdrawn. The culture page editors at the German weekly Die Zeit are crying foul and the editors at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung are damning Sarrazin for passages he didn't even write. But what all these technicians of exclusion fail to see is that you cannot cast away the very thing that Sarrazin embodies: the anger of people who are sick and tired—after putting a long and arduous process of Enlightenment behind them—of being confronted with pre-Enlightenment elements that are returning to the center of our society.”

Instead of trying to please Europe’s appeasers, Israel should assist Europe’s résistants. As more and more Europeans are showing courage and moral clarity, let us do what they expect from us: lead the struggle of the Maccabees and dissipate darkness with the lights of Hanukah.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Mount Scopus or Mount Olympus?

On November 2nd, 2010, the Knesset’s Education Commission hosted a special hearing under the title: “The Exclusion of Zionistic Positions in Academia.” The event was chaired by MK Zevulun Orlev and attended, among others, by Education Minister Gideon Saar, by members of Knesset from various political parties, by high-ranking representatives of Israeli universities, by Israeli NGOs, and by ordinary citizens.

Two Israeli NGOs, the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS) and Im Tirtzu, were asked to present the main conclusions of their study on what they claim to be the growingly post-Zionistic narratives of Israel’s political science and sociology departments. In October 2010, the IZS published a 122 page document called “Post-Zionism in Academia.” Im Tirtzu, for its part, published in May 2010 a 64 page document called “Anti-Zionistic Incitement and Bias in Universities.” Both publications include an extensive review of syllabi, and both reach the conclusion that students are mostly taught a one-sided and derogatory description of nationalism in general and of Zionism in particular. Im Tirtzu’s report also includes testimonies of students about what they claim to be the one-sidedness and political intolerance of their professors, as well as a review of the political petitions signed by Israeli academics.

Instead of addressing the issues raised by the IZS and by Im Tirtzu, Israel’s academic establishment has reacted with scorn and arrogance. At the Knesset hearing, BGU Rector Prof. Zvi Hacohen interrupted the IZS’s presentation, calling it “nonsense” and claiming (without proving it) that the IZS’s paper does not meet the most basic criteria of academic research. Tel-Aviv University Rector Prof. Aharon Shai also claimed that the IZS’s paper is not a research paper (without explaining why) and added that adopting an academic ethical code (as proposed by Education Minister Gideon Saar at the beginning of the hearing) would “destroy Israeli Academia.”

Members of Knesset, for their part, were divided. Meretz MKs Haim Oron and Nitzav Horowitz claimed that the alleged political bias of Israel’s political science departments should be discussed at the Higher Education Committee (HEC) and not at the Knesset. To which Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh replied that expecting the HEC to discuss the issue is naïve at best and hypocritical at worst: since the HEC is mostly composed of University professors, it automatically circles the wagons around its peers. Tirosh, of course, could have added that, as the body that represents tax-paying citizens, the Knesset is entitled to check if the tax money it levies from citizens and transfers to universities is used to pay the salaries of professors who call for the international boycott of Israel.

Two days after the Knesset hearing, Ha’aretz came out to the defense of the universities by claiming that adopting an ethical code would harm academic freedom. Ha’aretz wrote that Gideon Saar proposed such a code as a result of the lobbying of Im Tirtzu. But, in fact, the idea of an academic ethical code for Israel was first proposed by Prof. Amnon Rubinstein, himself a renowned Israeli academic with impeccable liberal credentials. Moreover, BGU does have an ethical code (it is the only Israeli university to have one). Did BGU adopt an ethical code to “destroy Israeli Academia?”

Amnon Rubinstein advocates the adoption of an ethical code for Israeli universities in his article “Academic Freedom of Expression” to be published this month in the IDC’s journal Law and Business (a draft of the article is posted on Rubinstein’s personal website). The article addresses, among other things, the question as to whether calls from certain Israeli academics to boycott Israel are part of academic freedom of expression.

Rubinstein argues that professors enjoy a special status because their students have to listen to them and take their exams in order to succeed (certainly for mandatory classes). So professors have obligations precisely because they have privileges. Rubinstein is of the opinion that there is no appropriate legal mechanism in Israel to ensure that professors do not abuse their freedom of expression and do respect the obligations that stem from their privileges.

Thus does Rubinstein recommend the adoption of an academic ethical code in Israel in order to clearly define what constitutes and what does not constitute academic freedom of expression. In the United States, such a code was adopted in 1940 by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and it has been revised and updated ever since. The AAUP’s code states, among other things, that professors “should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others.”

Those in Israel who oppose the adoption of an academic ethical code would do a service to the public debate by presenting sound arguments instead of claiming that such a code would “destroy Israeli Academia” and that Gideon Saar is a pawn of Im Tirtzu. Until they do, one will have reasonable reasons to assume that they have a problem with accuracy, restraint, and respect for the opinions of others.