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November 18, 2019 2:36 pm

An Open Letter to Boston University’s President Regarding Antisemitic Professor Sarah Ihmoud

avatar by Richard Landes

Opinion

Boston University College of Arts and Sciences. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Dear President Brown,

I was surprised by the letter you are sending out in reference to the Sarah Ihmoud case. Given my experience with you during the years I taught at BU, and the integrity you showed in dealing with the various problems that arose during those years (I retired in 2015), this seems out of character. Although the Sociology Department has voted not to offer her a position, the issues I bring to your attention remain salient, especially in view of the fact that she’s still up for a position in BU’s Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program (WGS).

In this case, unlike “all cases involving review and assessment of candidates for faculty positions,” your evaluation and hiring process can not have been based on “peer evaluation of a candidate’s scholarly and professional achievements within the appropriate discipline and according to established disciplinary criteria.”

Rather, it is nearly impossible that anyone in support of her candidacy has checked any of Dr. Ihmoud’s footnotes, which are uniformly based on unreliable, unverifiable claims that cite either self-referential literature (much like Holocaust denial “scholarship”) or notoriously unreliable propaganda sites like Electronic Intifada.

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Nowhere is there any reference to the extensive controversy surrounding her claims (e.g., her lurid and unsubstantiated claims of what happened at Deir Yassin). In the “old days,” this kind of ranting would not have passed muster as an undergraduate paper.

It is, therefore, not just an issue of “disapproving of some of Dr. Ihmoud’s rhetoric and positions she has advocated,” as you wrote. Dr. Ihmoud is not a scholar, but a professional propagandist, whose task, much like traditional practitioners of the longest hatred, is to accuse Israel (i.e., sovereign Jews) of deliberately and maliciously attacking innocent Palestinians. She does this with manufactured claims (hence the importance of her unreliable references), which she then folds into a post-colonial theoretical structure that turns Israel into the embodiment of evil, guilty of genocide, and the world’s misfortune.

All of this is done in violation of every element of scholarship, from invented claims to one-sided concerns that result not in a nuanced and rich analysis (e.g., Ben-Gurion), but a one-dimensional morality tale — evil Israelis and innocent Palestinians. Indeed, the world of patriarchal domination that she accuses Israel of, is actually a good description of Arab (and especially Palestinian) men, an issue which might not occur to someone unfamiliar with the Middle Eastern scene, but jumps off her pages to anyone informed of the region’s practices (e.g., vaginal cutting, shame-murders, religiously sanctioned wife-beating, etc.), none of which makes any appearance in Ihmoud’s empirical or theoretical discussions.

Indeed, I suspect that when we examine carefully her claims, it will turn out that many of her accusations against Israel are projections of the culture she does not discuss, a pattern very common in antisemitic charges past and present. (Certainly, her citing of Mordechai Kedar mistakes his description of Palestinian culture for a call to Israel to behave in such a manner; and she accuses Ben-Gurion of weaponizing Zionist wombs, when that is explicitly a Palestinian theme.) The reason so many enthusiasts for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the Nazis and Communists of the 20th century, to the global Jihadis of the 21st, found that forged document so exciting, was because it allowed them to accuse Jews of precisely the criminal ambitions they themselves embraced.

As for the role of the administration where faculty is concerned, it is precisely BU’s obligation, where relevant, to challenge the authority of the faculty and academic leaders when they make uninformed or partisan decisions. (I know, I served on the University Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure Committee for two years when I taught at BU.) In this case in particular, you owe it to the credibility of the university to establish an ad hoc committee and bring in some independent specialists who can speak to the reliability of Ihmoud’s scholarship, should WGS offer her a post.

As a scientist and a university president, you must be aware of the growing problem of the corruption of scholarship, especially in the social sciences and the humanities (but also even in the natural sciences). Indeed, the field of “grievance studies” in which the Palestinian narrative holds a prominent place, has produced a disastrous corruption of scholarship and some truly comic scandals in “peer reviewed” journals. Ihmoud’s candidacy is not a case of “searching for excellence and diversity,” as your Faculty Search Manual claims, but diversity at the radical expense of excellence. Do you want BU to become a by-word for this kind of folly, no longer restricted to pseudo-journals, but now also at work in major institutions?

In our conversations, you once asked me about Richard A. Norton’s book, Hezbollah. Not having read it yet, I was reluctant to comment despite my fundamental disagreements with his scholarship, including his presentation of a vibrant “civil society” in the Middle East, especially Syria, where his work has, in more recent years, proved so wide off the mark. But this case is 10 times as egregious in its non-existent scholarly commitment and its malicious accusations of malevolence.

The decision to hire her would not, as you claim, be “made consistent with our established criteria and processes.” On the contrary, in the long run, this appointment will only embarrass your institution, and appear in later histories of the decline of the humanities and social sciences in Western academia, as a milestone in the process. It would also contribute to a well-documented correlation between this kind of hate-filled scholarship and wider antisemitic activity on your campus. As a scientist and administrator, do you want to attach your name and your institution’s reputation to such a turn of events?

Sincerely,

Richard Landes
Chair, Council of Scholars SPME

A version of this letter was originally published by SPME.

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