Who should be punished?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
the blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
in the streets!

– Pablo Neruda

I hope Robinson’s students are debating this as intensely as the readers here. If so, this seems a raging success as a learning exercise.


What is college supposed to be about? Back in my day, younguns, many of us hoped it would be about discovering an intellectual `real world’ beyond the borders of our (mainstream media mediated) conventional ideas. Even now, I’m sure for a few freshpeople that is part of what they hope their college academic experience will provide them.

But that’s not how it generally works out. Most professors care almost exclusively about tenure and the academic mole hill, and besides, they fear where things might go if they did their duty to nurture or even fucking provoke a `worldly’ awareness (however unsettling) in their students. So they think and act `by the book’, keeping their ears to the mainstream world and listening for instructions on which thoughts win points there and which are over the line. Boring.

These profs, of course, have long been intimidated into silence or at best muddled concern over the actions of America’s number one ally Israel, while happily railing on the evils of official U.S. enemies Iran, `the Taliban’, Sudan, and, earlier, Serbia, Saddam, and the Soviets.

Nonetheless, Israel’s razing of Gaza last January compelled UC Santa Barbara professor William Robinson to rashly provoke his `sociology and globalization’ students with an e-mailed photographic comparison of the Gaza and Warsaw ghettoes. Over the line.

Two of his 80 students complained, saying the Jewish professor was anti-Semitic. Because criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and because comparisons between barbed-wire-enclosed ghettoes – no one in or out enforced with deadly force – created by Nazi-era Germany and GWOT-era Israel are anti-Semitic.
The comparison is and was imprecise and deliberately provocative, but that sometimes works as a teaching strategy for getting intellectually `off their ass’ the many young Americans exceptionally limited in social and political awareness. In fact, why couldn’t the comparison and its limits have produced a consciousness-raising in-class debate instead of the academic terrorization of a professor? I bet the former is what was hoped for by Robinson.

As ProfEd said at the `Inside Higher Education’ article on the controversy:

a raging success

Posted by ProfEd on April 24, 2009 at 5:30am EDT

I hope Robinson’s students are debating this as intensely as the readers here. If so, this seems a raging success as a learning exercise.

Unfortunately, instead, maybe William Robinson will follow Normal Finkelstein as the next Jewish professor to lose his job for criticizing the evil Israel does to the Palestinians. I hope not. Please sign the petition and otherwise help the guy out.

A few other interesting comments at the `Inside Higher Education’ article on Robinson:

(My favorite)

I completely agree …

Posted by Jonathan Swift, emeritus at school of hard knocks on April 26, 2009 at 5:15am EDT

… with Ken Waltzer that criticism of Israel should be stifled. But I also agree with Ken Waltzer that we must pretend that there is some hypothetical critic of Israel we would condone. I agree that, in order to appear reasonable, we should limit our condemnation of Prof. Robinson. If Prof. Robinson is canned, it will certainly teach Israel’s critics a lesson that their self-preservation requires silence. But if we state openly that criticism of Israel is the cause, we may not win a lot of genuine support.

Instead, it must be the case that those who criticize Israel are so misguided that they do other things worthy of dismissal, such as sending “unexpected email” or “failing to properly contextualize”. Certainly, we should be suspicious of any email mentioning atrocities by Israel that does not also list atrocities by other entities, preferrably atrocities Israelis like to list, such as Lebanese atrocities.

This may seem a little devious and, frankly, I can imagine how some might misunderstand but, after all, we’re simply right. As Ken Waltzer aptly puts it, chorusing an opinion does not make it right! And here we have a case where the opposing opinion is clearly wrong and we can prove it to our own satisfaction. And, by extension, to the satisfaction of any right-thinking person. Anyone who disagrees is, by definition, an anti-Semite.

To summarize, let’s intimidate Prof. Robinson for criticism of Israel, but let’s say it’s for his poor professorship, about which we all obviously care as deeply as we do about the education of his distraught students. Please do not share this message with anyone who might be unsympathetic!

(On the Anti-Defamation League legal department’s immediate involvement)

Pandering Politics and Learning from Lawsuits

Posted by Maximilian Forte, Associate Professor at Concordia University, Montreal on April 26, 2009 at 12:15pm EDT

Quote: She said that the ADL does not contest “his right to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction,” but said that the critique of Israel “really had nothing to do with the course.”

Remember everyone to first clear your syllabus with the ADL, so that they can exercise their exclusive prerogative of deciding from a distance what is relevant course content.

That a university would pander to the totalitarian hysterics of a group like the ADL, or to students who forgot that one of the purposes of the university is to question, discuss and debate everything, not run away and cry that someone thinks differently, is something that should shame this university to the core.

This action is preposterous and I cheer Prof. Robinson for his quick thinking in immediately going to a lawyer. After Ward Churchill’s victory, universities should know better than to try such stupid political stunts. Let them learn the hard and expensive way.

(And a pre-emptive response to one irrelevant counterargument)

Posted by a casual observer on April 26, 2009 at 5:15am EDT

[*] Professor Robinson is being irrational in comparing the Israeli activities in Gaza with Nazi atrocities in Warsaw.

This is not only incorrect but also has nothing to do with the issue of academic misconduct. To reiterate someone who posted above, it is all too simple to delete the email in question and ignore it. If a student is not capable of distinguishing between the opinions of his or her professor and actual curriculum then he or she does not deserve to attend such an institution. The issue of a valid comparison is all too blurry. A comparison or analogy is valid if there are similarities that are of interest, as there are in this case, such as the confinement and the needless killing of innocent lives. The things compared do not have to be exactly the same, and should not be. Otherwise there would be no point in comparing them. It would simply be stating the obvious.

BTW, Counterpunch features a brief interview with Robinson. He and Finkelstein are far from the only victims; another prominent victim in Canada is Denis Rancourt, whose petition you can also sign.

Finally, as always, please inform others on Israel’s Lies about Gaza (and Palestine generally). Some of the better places to go for the truth are the Norman Finkelstein and Jewish Voices for Peace websites.

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