The question of what to do about anti-Israelist professors who use their position to propagandize against the Jewish state is one that has perpetually bedeviled campus Israel advocacy efforts. An article published yesterday in the UK-based Jewish Chronicle points to a strategy for handling the problem that may work.
While short on some details, the article explains how Smadar Bakovic, an Israeli postgraduate student at Warwick University, successfully had the grade on her dissertation marked higher after complaining about the anti-Israelism of her supervisor, one Nicola Pratt, an associate professor in “international politics of the Middle East.” Pratt is an outspoken proponent of boycotts and other unpleasantness against the Jewish state, whose extraordinarily strong record on women’s rights and equality clearly is no reason for warm feelings from an intellectual whose work focuses on “feminist international relations theory.” As a result, Bakovic requested from the beginning of her studies to be reassigned to a different supervisor, a request that was denied. Her final paper was nevertheless marked up 11 points by two other professors from the grade it had been given by Pratt, with the university acknowledging only that “we should have done more to allow Ms. Bakovic to change her supervisor at the very beginning” but, in a feat of exemplary doublethink, standing behind Pratt’s mark.
A small success, no doubt, and there are grounds for not being overly impressed. But Bakovic’s strategy is one all who are interested in confronting campus anti-Israelism should consider carefully.
Following what the article says on the matter, Bakovic did not make an issue out of Pratt’s anti-Israelism per se. Instead, she focused on the manner in which Pratt’s ideological commitments affected her ability to perform her task as a teacher. It may seem like a small distinction. But the one thing the Massad affair at Columbia made plain was that no amount of pressure is likely to convince a university, however just the proposition, that the classroom is not a place where one can rightfully propagandize their own political views. In Columbia’s own terms, “the relationship between the views of any instructor and his or her pedagogy” is one the university believes to be beyond the terms of rightful outside inquiry. But the university did make plain that “pedagogical intimidation or the failure to create a civil learning environment” was unacceptable.
Rather than bewailing, rightfully, the failure this kind of thinking evinces toward the principles for which the notion of academic freedom was created, campus Israel advocates would be smarter to recognize the opening it grants us.
This is what Bakovic has done. By focusing her efforts on the manner in which Pratt had not fulfilled her basic teaching duties and not on the degree to which she propagandized on behalf of anti-Israelism, Bakovic won a small victory that would otherwise likely not have been possible.
Can such a strategy fundamentally diminish the power of anti-Israelist professors to poison young people against the Jewish state? Perhaps not. But it can make a significant difference. And that is more than any other tactic previously employed can say for itself.