Politics

On Israel, divestment and double standards

On Israel, divestment and double standards

The glaring double standard at play in campus discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was highlighted yet again this past week when a Southern California liberal arts college president forced an Israeli professor to apologize for a comment he made to a Palestinian student at an anti-Israel protest.

What exactly happened around dinnertime on March 4 is a matter of some dispute, but here’s what we do know. Claremont McKenna College professor Yaron Raviv attempted to enter the dining hall when Najib Hamideh, a Palestinian student at nearby Pitzer College demanded to see his I.D. as part of a street theater protest by the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine.

Raviv refused and, according to him, told Hamideh that he was impeding access to the dining hall. Hamideh threatened him, saying, “I will hunt you down.” Raviv, replied by calling him a “f—ing cockroach.” Hamideh, for his part, denies threatening Raviv.

Thus began a monthlong smear campaign against Raviv by some student publications and activist organizations, which culminated in an April 19th letter from Pamela Gann, the college’s president, to the entire community. Gann called Raviv’s remark “inappropriate,” “unprofessional,” and not “reflect[ive] of CMC values.”

While pretending to defend freedom of expression on Claremont’s campus around controversial issues, President Gann has actually sought to stifle dialogue when such conversations don’t conform to her politics.

Gann ignores SJP’s longstanding supporting for a boycott against Israeli academics and so is silent against one of the most mean-spirited campaigns on campus today. Not content to target Israelis as Israelis, the campaign also targets those of us who support Israel. It even includes those Israelis who oppose controversial Israeli policies. Of course such a campaign isn’t really about “academic freedom” but institutionalized bigotry. Defend though she may the rights of students to conduct anti-Israel protests, she doesn’t extend those rights to students protesting abortion or racial preferences on campus.

Alas President Gann’s letter would not be the first time that she has sided with anti-Israel activists on campus.

I know all about this because when I was a student at Claremont McKenna College, she went after me when I exposed CMC Professor Bassam Frangieh’s pro-terrorist views.

In a series of articles, I detailed Frangieh’s pro-Hezbollah, pro-Hamas, pro-suicide bombing, and pro-Saddam Hussein writings and statements. To name but a few examples, consider Frangieh’s statement to an interviewer when Hamas won its first and only election in 2006. He looked upon the terrorist organization’s electoral victory with “great job” and thought that Hamas’s control “might be able to produce the beginning of salvation. . . . I wonder what else would the Arabs have without Hamas and Hezbollah? Nothing. Except humiliation. I congratulate Hamas on its victory.” Meanwhile, in his academic work, he has written in favor of suicide bombing and martyrdom. In a speech at the University of Bridgeport in 2007, he said that Islam is “very democratic,” and he praised Saddam Hussein as a model leader who “wasn’t a thief” and who “really did something for his country.”

These views also included signing a pro-Hezbollah petition encouraging its signatories to “Boycott Israel…We are all Hizbullah now” and a letter calling terrorist outfit the “Lebanese Resistance” and a “legitimate” army while praising its “heroic operations” against Israel. Another petition Frangieh signed blamed a “Zionist conspiracy” for a plan to divide Iraq into three separate regions.

Rather than rebut the overwhelming evidence I had amassed, President Gann’s administration attacked me personally. Steve Siegel, the college’s development officer, called me a “right-wing nut” at an alumni event while Richard Rodner, then the VP for communications, expunged mention of Frangieh’s pro-terrorist views from Wikipedia. Then-dean Gregory Hess insinuated that I was an anti-Muslim bigot by pointing out that Frangieh was a Christian, evidently ignorant that some Arab Christians also support the terrorist organizations. Not content to come after me personally, President Gann even orchestrated a campus wide meeting to condemn me for violating Frangieh’s “academic freedom” merely for making his views well known in a campus newspaper.

I graduated and Frangieh continues to teach at Claremont. Eventually, my reporting was independently validated by three major journalism awards, including one for $10,000, and an internship at the Wall Street Journal.

President Gann is right. Freedom of expression should be civil.  “As an institution of higher education, we strive to model an ideal community for civil discourse,” she wrote on April 19th. “We count on our community members—and especially our faculty—to conduct themselves in a professional manner that respects differences of opinion and robust, civilized expressions on controversial issues.”

If only the college’s president lived up to her own code of conduct.

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