Commentary Magazine

Faculty Who Say Yes to ‘Anti-Zionist’ Conspiracy Theories

Late this May, Vida Samiian, Director of Middle East Studies at California State University, Fresno, resigned. Her complaint: “the unethical and discriminatory cancellation of the Edward Said Professorship [in Middle Eastern Studies] search.”

According to the administration, the search was canceled “because of critical procedural errors.” The search committee, the administration says, was improperly formed, and “an unauthorized party was participating” in the deliberations. Samiian insists instead that the administration caved to outside pressure applied by “individuals and forces that defend” Israel, “the last settler colonial regime.” These Zionist were racists, too—the search “was canceled based on animus toward the national origin, racial, and ethnic background of the four finalists.”

As Colleen Flaherty gently observed for InsideHigherEd, Samiian presented virtually no evidence of outside pressure. Instead, she reported second-hand details of “a handful of interactions between search committee members and—less than outside groups—other unnamed colleagues on campus.” Samiian presented no evidence at all for the charge of racism. Nonetheless, people who describe themselves as intellectuals and academics were off to the races.

The U.S. Campaign for an Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel decried the “bullying by Zionists” that had taken place at Fresno and agreed that the cancellation constituted “discrimination against Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims.” Jewish Voice for Peace sponsored a “faculty letter” which worried that “the search was canceled … in response to pressures from Israel advocacy groups.” That “could potentially qualify as national origin discrimination.” Hundreds of faculty members, supposedly accustomed to disciplining themselves to follow the evidence, signed. The Middle East Studies Association skipped the charge of outside influence. But it submitted the evidence of one Joe Parks, professor of education and the Equal Employment Representative on the search committee, to suggest that “the administration ‘caved’ to racism because the four finalists were of Middle Eastern ethnicity.”

If the anti-Israel elements on our campuses were capable of embarrassment, they might be shamed by Steven Lubet’s extensive and careful coverage of the Fresno incident. Consider what Lubet, a professor at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, told us about Parks, who is also cited in Samiian’s resignation letter. Parks, unschooled in the nuances of covert anti-Semitism, forgot to speak of “Zionists” and said outright that the search was derailed by “the Jewish faculty.” In 2008, he was disciplined for making “offensive comments in class related to gender, race, national origin, ancestry and religion,” and “for retaliating against a student.”

Strikingly, though there is no reason he could not have been provided with evidence of internal and external pressure, Parks conceded that he could not materially support his claim. He admits that he relied on some of the search committee members and Samiian herself! Parks’ explosive allegation that “Jews on the faculty and community members of the Jewish community” contacted search committee members to complain that the finalists for the position were “of Middle Eastern ethnicity,” is unsubstantiated and unlikely to be true. Even if some faculty or community members were inclined to make such a complaint, it seems implausible that they would be as open about their anti-Arab prejudice as Parks is about his fixation on Jews.

As Lubet also pointed out, no evidence is no problem for the Fresno conspiracy theorists. Parks said evidence of improper influence would never come to light because the faculty is “afraid to buck the administration.” An anonymous commentator, who claims to have been a finalist in the search, speculates that a “gag order has been imposed on any faculty contradicting” the administration’s story. So the unfalsifiable line is that powerful Zionists have a powerful administration suppressing all evidence of its clandestine activities. There is a reason Lubet entitles his post “The Protocols of the Elders of Fresno.”

If the anonymous commentator was indeed a finalist, I wonder whether his or her expertise on the Israel lobby was a plus. The “strength,” says our finalist, “of the Israeli lobby lies in not always acting as outside pressure but also in functioning from inside institutions thanks to individuals who occupy gate-keeping positions, and from the strategic position of the insider post, enact their commitment to Israel in and through everyday administrative tasks.” This winner would have fit in just fine in a Middle Eastern Studies program that, in 2015, brought in Richard Falk. Falk, a professor of international law and former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, is a 9/11 truther. Yair Rosenberg noted that he once posted “a cartoon of a yarmulke-wearing dog urinating on Lady Justice while chewing on a bloody skeleton.” Guess who was one of just two other people to appear on the “mini-conference” program with Falk?

That’s right: Vida Samiian, whose talk was entitled “What is to be Done? An Activist Agenda.”

We don’t know yet what Freedom of Information Act requests might reveal about the cancellation of the search. But we already know that faculty who, with no evidence in hand, sign their names to statements that make grave charges against “Zionists,” disgrace themselves.

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