Brooklyn College, and the High Cost of Defending Israel
Whenever I speak in support of Israel or in criticism of its enemies, the dogs of defamation are unleashed against me. The attacks, all from the hard left, seemed coordinated, focusing on common ad hominem themes. They accuse me of being a plagiarist, a supporter of torture, a right wing Zio-fascist, a hypocrite, an opponent of the two-state solution and a supporter of Israel’s settlement policies. All these allegations are demonstrably false but this does not seem to matter to those whose job it is to try to discredit me.
Let me begin with the charge of plagiarism—a charge originally made by the discredited academic, Norman Finkelstein, who has falsely charged virtually every pro-Israel writer with the same academic crime. In my case, the charge centered around a one-paragraph quotation from Mark Twain in my book The Case for Israel. I cited the paragraph to Mark Twain, but Finkelstein said that I should have cited it to a woman named Joan Peters, because he believes I found the quote in her book. But the truth is that I found the quote ten years prior to the publication of Peters’ book and used it repeatedly in debates and speeches. When Finkelstein leveled his absurd charge, I immediately reported it to the Harvard University President and to the Dean of the Law School and ask that it be thoroughly investigated. Harvard appointed its former president, Derek Bok, to investigate the charge. After a thorough investigation he found it to be utterly frivolous. But to the dogs of defamation this only goes to prove that Harvard must be part of the pro-Israel conspiracy.
The second charge is that I am pro-torture, despite my repeated categorical statements in my writings that I’m opposed to all torture under all circumstances. I do believe that torture will be used, not should be used in the event we ever experience a ticking bomb situation. Accordingly I have suggested that no torture should ever be permitted without a court approved warrant, of the type the ACLU has demanded in targeted killing cases. But to the dogs of defamation, this distinction is irrelevant. Because I am pro Israel, I must be pro torture. This is particularly ironic, since both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas routinely torture dissidents, without their leaders being called pro torture by the same hard left defamers who falsely accuse me.
The most recent unleashing of the dogs of defamation was stimulated by the position I took on a BDS conference at Brooklyn College. Although I support the conference going forward, and oppose any attempt to censor it, I raise troubling questions about whether the Brooklyn College political science department should be sponsoring and endorsing that advocacy event, if they would not be willing to sponsor and endorse an anti-BDS event by an equally radical anti-Palestinian right wing group. My position, of course, has been distorted, and I have been lumped with those who would censor the event. I have been called a hypocrite because apparently the political science department at UPENN once co sponsored an anti-BDS speech I gave there, despite the fact that I was totally unaware of this sponsorship and would have been opposed if I knew about it. I was informed and believed until now that the event had been sponsored by Hillel and the Jewish Federation. Along the same lines, two members of the political science department at Brooklyn College have claimed that my speeches there were sponsored by the department and were as controversial as the BDS advocacy event. That is totally false. So far as I can remember I have made three speeches at Brooklyn College: One, the Konefsky lecture in the late 1960s or early 1970s which was a purely academic lecture focusing on the work of Professor Samuel Konefsky. There was nothing controversial about it. Second, a speech I was invited to give when I donated my papers to Brooklyn College. Again not very controversial. And third, a talk I gave in 2008 about my teachers at Brooklyn College and about a letter by Thomas Jefferson I had found in a book store. This can be heard online here. Again, not particularly controversial.
Why then is there such a concerted effort to attack me personally and to question my integrity every time I speak about Israel? It has little to do with me, because my attackers know that I can fight back and that my academic standing will not in any way be influenced by their attacks. The attacks are directed at young academics, without tenure who would dare to speak up on behalf of Israel. The message is clear: If you support Israel, we will attack you like we attack Dershowitz, but you will be hurt much more that Dershowitz would. We will damage your reputation, hurt your student evaluations and decrease your chances for tenure. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that so many pro-Israel young academics refuse to speak up. I know because they call and discreetly tell me about the fear they have that they will be subjected to the same kind of McCarthyite tactics that I am subjected to.
That is why I will continue to fight back and respond every time the dogs of defamation are unleashed against me.