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Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict

JEFF HALPER RESPONDS TO "MCCARTHY VS VOLTAIRE" ARTICLE

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About Maurice Ostroff
The following comment was received from Jeff Halper, professor of anthropology, political activist, author,lecturer and co-founder and Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He is also a member of the Board of Advisors of the Free Gaza Movement.

Maurice, it IS McCarthyism
 
Maurice, You are simply wrong when you say that the activities of Im Tirtzu, the Israeli Academic Monitor, the NGO Monitor, Isracampus, Campus Watch, etc. etc. are merely legitimate criticism of academics and not McCarthyism.
 
Your definition of McCarthyism is exactly true: "the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence. Criticism of these groups is not merely "factual," as you well know (or should know). I have no problem whatsoever if my facts or even my analysis is challenged -- in fact, that is a good thing for an academic, provided the criticism is constructive and in good faith. But to label an academic "anti-Zionist" or "leftist" or to dismiss a person's analyses on the basis that they are "post-Zionist" or "leftist" has nothing whatsoever to do legitimate criticism; it is precisely McCarthyism, the desire to discredit both the academic and his or her writings on an ideological rather than factual basis.
 
I don't know if you are an academic or not, but if you are then you know that "facts" are only a part of analysis. We can agree on a fact -- that Israel has destroyed 24,000 Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories since 1967 -- but what that means (is that good or bad) is not a factual matter; it depends on both analysis and morality. Indeed, where Israel even has an occupation is a debatable "fact" (at least for you). And an analysis can be very cogent and useful even if some facts are wrong.
 
But this is not really the issue, as you well know. The IAM, which decides in its opening title that a particular piece or person is "anti-Zionist," as if that is a "fact" and they have the authority to declare it, is trying to delegitimize a particular political position -- and ALL academic analyses are political in the end, so don't go telling me that there is any such thing as an "objective" analysis. Im Tirtzu isn't even as disingenuous as the IAM -- and IAM is in-your-face partisan.
 
All I ask, from you and the others, is fundamental intellectual honesty. Do what you're doing, but don't try to fool others -- including yourself -- that what lies behind your activities is a true and genuine concern for "facts" and honest intellectual debate. You want to delegitimize certain views and persons.  Fine. Then just be honest and say it.  And be honest enough to say you have no problem with McCarthyism. But to dress up your actions as free intellectual debate and pretending it is not McCarthyism is to lie -- above all, to yourself.
 
Jeff 
 
Jeff Halper
Director
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)
PO Box 2030
91020 Jerusalem, Israel 
 
ICAHD Website: www.icahd.org


Sacred cows make the best hamburger. -- Mark Twain

 
Maurice Ostroff's open reply
 
August 27, 2010

Dear Jeff Halpern,
 
While I don't concur with your interpretation of what I wrote, I nevertheless thank you for your considered comments. The subject certainly warrants serious debate in civil discourse.
 
In answer to your query, I am neither an academic nor an intellectual. I am only a simple engineer, but I nonetheless agree with your statement that "facts are only a part of analysis" and I add that intellectual honesty demands that facts should not be presented out of context, pertinent facts that may contradict the writer's thesis should not be withheld and most importantly opinions should never be presented as facts.
 
While I disagree with much of your actions abroad like your recent hour long TV interview in Seattle during which you described Israel as the source of most if not all of the world's troubles, I don't doubt your sincerity and would not presume to make unfounded assumptions about your motivation. I am therefore more than disappointed that you don't extend the same honest appraisal of those with whom you disagree and that you resort instead to accusations based on your imagination. I refer to your completely unfounded McCarthylike accusations, and I quote "don't try to fool others -- including yourself -- that what lies behind your activities is a true and genuine concern for "facts" and honest intellectual debate. You want to delegitimize certain views and persons.  Fine. Then just be honest and say it.  And be honest enough to say you have no problem with McCarthyism. But to dress up your actions as free intellectual debate and pretending it is not McCarthyism is to lie -- above all, to yourself".
 
Are you a mind reader? How on earth can you presume to know what lies behind my or anybody else's activities?  How dare you accuse me of being dishonest and pretending? These cheap debating techniques of using ad hominem attacks to avoid the substance of a discussion are surely unworthy of an academic of your eminence. I certainly don't want to delegitimize anybody. In fact I am not even sure what that impressive sounding word means in this context.
 
But when Neve Gordon, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed publicly advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel and describes Israel as an apartheid state while admitting the double standard involved in not boycotting China at the same time for its egregious violations of human rights,  IAM, IM Tirtzu and others feel they have a duty to make his unbalanced diatribes widely known.  In calling for suppression of the factual information these organizations disseminate, are you not denying the very freedom of speech that you demand for academics who support BDS?
 
I would appreciate it if you would please let me know what opening title you had in mind when you wrote " The IAM, [Israel Academia Monitor] which decides in its opening title that a particular piece or person is "anti-Zionist," as if that is a "fact" and they have the authority to declare it, is trying to delegitimize a particular political position".
 
As it appears from the aforesaid statement that you and those whom you influence hold a completely faulty impression about the organization I reproduce below, in full, IAM's mission statement and I ask you, in all seriousness, whether you disagree with any of the stated objectives. 
 
ISRAEL ACADEMIC MONITOR'S MISSION STATEMENT
IAM is a non-profit, grassroots organization comprising citizens who, while strongly advocating free speech and academic freedom, are seriously concerned about the growing tendency to distort and abuse these two essential characteristics of a democratic society. Of particular concern are academics who defame their own universities and advocate measures that will harm Israel in general and their universities in particular by using unbalanced prejudiced arguments that fail to live up to the scholarship standards expected of the universities they represent.
 
Our goal is to present the truth by making the activities of those academics more widely known and challenging their distortions and bias.
 
IAM endorses the following principles set out in a 1940 statement by The American Association of University Professors (AAUP)
 
"When College and university teachers speak or write as citizens they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution".
 
And
 
"Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject
".
 
I am pleased that you agree with my definition of McCarthyism as  "the practice of publicizing accusations of political disloyalty or subversion with insufficient regard to evidence",  and I am at a loss to understand how you justify your criticism of groups like Im Tirtzu, IAM, Isracampus and Campus Watch,  without bothering to substantiate your claims.
 
This letter is being publicized as will the reply I hope to receive from you
 
Sincerely
Maurice Ostroff 

 

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