December 30, 2012

Nicholas Dirks UPDATE

Remember this post from near the beginning of this month?  It was about the incoming Chancellor of UC Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, being asked if he had ever supported BDS against Israel.  When he answered that he had not he was then asked if his wife ever supported BDS against Israel.

Well shortly before Christmas a group of Columbia University professors issued a statement taking issue with what they feel is a bogus narrative by Dirks of what took place back at Columbia regarding BDS and taking issue with Dirks's false allegation of antisemitism:

recent interview conducted by UC Berkeley’s Public Relations office and timed with the appointment of the new university Chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, begins, “Floating around the Internet is a claim that at some point in your past... you signed a petition for Columbia to divest in all things Israel.” The interviewer asks the Chancellor-designate to clarify his role. But let us be clear: this is not a question. It is a demand. We live in political climate in which robust and critical speech about the policies of the Israeli state is becoming ever more difficult. Its proponents are subjected to myriad forms of harassment in an effort to shut down such speech. If one wants to be a powerful public figure, the interviewer is effectively saying to Dirks, distance yourself from that petition.
Unfortunately, Dirks responds by doing precisely what is demanded of him. He does not clarify that the Columbia University petition did not call for divestment from “all things Israel,” but instead from companies that manufacture or sell arms or other military hardware utilized by Israel, in violation of US law, against the civilian populations of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He does not say that he did sign the petition, but, as he might have argued, that once he became an administrator he recognized he had to play a different role, one that protects all political speech on campus, regardless of his own personal convictions, and thus that he chose to withdraw his signature. Instead, he declares that somehow his name appeared on the petition and that he asked for it to be removed.
That is not all: Dirks goes much further. He offers a description of Columbia in 2002 as a time in which broader “controversies” over the question of Israel and Palestine developed. He narrates those controversies in the voice of the off-campus Jewish neo-conservative groups (Campus Watch, the David Project, to name the main provocateurs) who spearheaded a sustained attack against his own colleagues, who were faculty members in the Middle East field. The David Project produced a film, Columbia Unbecoming, that instigated Columbia’s supposedly “internal” investigation. Parroting their perspective in his interview, Dirks notes that it was a climate in which “it seemed very difficult for some [Jewish] students to find safe spaces in which to talk about Israel where they didn’t feel that the basic context in which they found themselves wasn’t hugely not just anti-Israel, but by implication, anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic.” His is a brilliant rhetorical move, an account of how some Jewish students supposedly “felt.” In providing no other perspective on the “controversy,” however, Dirks allows the contention that criticism of Israel’s policies is, “by implication, anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic” to stand as a simple matter of fact.
In purveying this false account, Dirks rewrites the history of the conflict at Columbia. The reality, in contrast, was one in which most members of the faculty and many students argued that baseless accusations of anti-Semitism were being wielded in an effort to curtail academic freedom and free speech. Moreover, Dirks rewrites the “conclusion” to that so-called controversy.
Read on at, the ezine of the Arab Studies Institute.

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