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Advocacy Corner

November 16, 2006 By:
Asaf Romirowsky
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Critic Edward Alexander, in his latest book -- co-authored with Paul Bogdanor and titled The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders -- writes that "Hitler's professors were the first to make anti-Semitism both academically respectable and complicit in murder. They have now been succeeded by [Yasser] Arafat's professors: not only the boycotters, not only the advocates of suicide bombings, but also the fellow travelers ... "

And, in fact, we know that the indoctrination and education toward suicide bombing takes place in Hamas and Hezbollah "summer camps" and schools. But a growing problem is that North American college campuses have become breeding grounds for the "ideals" that abet and "explain" terror as well.

At a recent Halloween costume party at the home of University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann, for example, engineering student Saad Saadi showed up dressed as a suicide bomber, then posed for photos with Gutmann and other school officials, such as University chaplain William Gipson.

After realizing how offensive the costume was, Gutmann's office issued a statement, saying that "the costume is clearly offensive, and I was offended by it. ... The student had the right to wear the costume just as I, and others, have a right to criticize his wearing of it."

This is a classic academic non-apology. The real issue is the fact that, under the guise of "academic freedom of speech," she was okay with the young man's costume as a means of expressing his views, whatever they are. He may be guilty of poor taste, but she is guilty of automatically criticizing poor taste, and then defending it as "academic freedom of speech."

The fact that academia has become forgiving of terrorism is the crux of the problem. Had Saadi dressed up as Hitler, Pol Pot or a Ku Klux Klan member, he would have been reprimanded and then barred from Gutmann's party.

This is not the first time the University of Pennsylvania has allowed such viewpoints to be expressed in such an open fashion.

Three years ago, during the Muslim Student Association "Islam Awareness Week" at Penn, William W. Baker was invited as keynote speaker. Baker, a former chairman of a racist and anti-Semitic organization called "Christians and Muslims for Peace," has a long record of anti-Semitism.

In addition, in 2005, Penn's Middle East Center hosted anti-Israel professional Eugene Bird in a discussion of "What's Wrong With the Withdrawal?" Bird was described on event publicity materials as the president of the Council for National Interest -- a seemingly unbiased organization that claims to be "nonpartisan."

Yet the council has close ties to Islamist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

In his address, Bird claimed, like fellow academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, that Bush officials like "[Paul] Wolfowitz, [Richard] Perle and [Doug] Feith" (who also happen to be Jewish) were responsible for leading America into the Iraq war and other "mischief in American foreign policy."

The growing "respectability" of these views, which smack of anti-Semitism, was on display recently in The New York Times, where the Council for the National Interest took out a full-page ad, which attacked Israel.

All this illustrates the lack of balance in academia, especially, as far as Middle East studies departments are concerned, where so-called scholarship consistently fails to examine, much less condemn, terrorism or jihadism. Moreover, such an atmosphere allows for intolerable ideas to become accepted as the norm. This kind of thinking is what needs to be challenged by all those concerned about the health of academia, as well as the continued well-being of Israel.

Asaf Romirowsky is the manager of Israel & Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

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