Neve Gordon and BDS: Update

Most JWN readers are probably well aware of the firestorm of controversy that erupted after Neve Gordon, the chair of the Politics Department at Israel’s Ben Gurion University published this op-ed in the L.A. Times August 20, in which he argued that if a two-state outcome in Israel/Palestine is to be won then outsiders must engage in a widespread campaign of Bycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to this end.
After he published that, BGU president Rivka Carmi circulated a letter saying, among other things,

    “…This kind of Israel-bashing detracts from the wonderful work that is being done at BGU and at all Israeli universities. Academics who entertain such resentment towards their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.”

The thinly veiled threat in her letter then aroused much further condemnation from supporters of academic freedom around the world.
Now, Sydney Levy has an excellent update at Muzzlewatch about all the reactions to the Neve Gordon affair.
Gordon has received some good support from fellow-academics at BGU and around the world. Levy tells us that Prof. Uri Ram, that head of BGU Sociology and Anthropology Department, has stated that,

    Should he be fired as head of the Political Science department due to his political opinions I shall call on all department heads in the University to resign as well, in support of Gordon and in protest of the violation of his rights, civil freedom and the University establishment in Israel.”

It is certainly true that BGU has for many years hosted a faculty that is far more open-minded in its views than the faculties at most of Israel’s heavily state-controlled universities. Check out the list of their “Notable faculty members” here.
It includes such voices of conscience as Oren Yiftachel and Danny Rubinstein.
I should add that during the many years when Benny Morris was quite unable to get a job in the history department of any other university in Israel because of the work he had done uncovering Israel’s expulsionist campaigns against the Palestinians in the war of 1947-48, it was finally BGU that offered him a position. (His formerly leftist political views, as we know, later swung radically to the right.)
Yiftachel, Rubinstein, and (the earlier version of) Morris all found a welcome at BGU so long as it was run by the social-justice-minded economist Avishay Braverman. Bt a couple of years ago he left BGU to run for election near the top of the Labour Party’s list. Now he is one of the handful of leading Labourites who have followed Ehud Barak into the Netanyahu government.
Meanwhile, BGU’s presidency was taken over by Rivka Carmi, a physician. Her commitment to academic freedom seems extremely thin– especially compared with Braverman’s.

5 thoughts on “Neve Gordon and BDS: Update”

  1. Helena Cobban is another lost soul. Why don’t you speak of freedom in the Arab world?
    The world has gone crazy. All the fools have taken over the serious debates. What will be the end? Cobban and her ilk will destroy the Western World from within.

  2. I believe that Ms Cobban is being unfair to Dr. Carmi. First of all, Dr. Carmi’s statement is no more strident or inflammatory than posts penned by Ms Cobban and posted at her site on an almost daily basis. Dr. Carmi is as entitled to speak her mind as Ms Cobban is.
    Moreover, Dr. Carmi never threatened to fire Neve Gordon. As Ms Cobban surely knows, dismissing a tenured faculty member in Israel is at least as difficult as dismissing tenured faculty in the United States. If anything, faculty unions in Israel are more powerful than faculty unions in the United States; Dr. Gordon will not be losing his job and Ms Cobban knows it.
    Does Ms Cobban believe that academic freedom is more respected at Palestinian academic institution or academic institutions in the larger Arab world than in Israel? Is Ms Cobban suggesting that freedom of expression in general is more liberal anywhere in the Arab world than in Israel?
    Ms Cobban is correct about one thing; Ben Gurion University is the most progressive university in Israel and is home to a large number of faculty very critical of the policies of the Israeli Government. It’s not just Professor Gordon or Professor Rubenstein, its Aharon Appelfeld and Amoz Oz as well; it’s Fred Lazin and Benny Morris. The list goes on and on.
    Certainly President Braverman was a progressive voice in the world of the Israel Academy. Ben Gurion’s University’s loss is the Labor Party’s gain.
    But slighting Rivka Carmi on the basis of one paragraph that Ms Cobban found objectionable doesn’t demonstrate either an open mind or a curious intellect.
    Here’s some additional information that Ms Cobban may not have been aware of.
    Prior to becoming President of Ben Gurion University, Dr. Carmi was the Dean of Ben Gurion University’s Medical School (the Goldman School of Medicine). The teaching hospital of the Medical School is Soroka Hospital which is the largest hospital in the Negev. Dr. Carmi and her life partner L’Chaim Nagan were important leaders not only at the Medical School but at the affiliated hospital as well.
    While at Soroka Hospital, Drs. Carmi and Nagan were the primary sponsors of Dr. Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, the Palestinian ob-gyn who lost three daughters to the attack by the IDF on Gaza last year. Dr. Abu al-Aish considered (and presumably still does) Drs. Carmi and Nagan to be close personal friends. While working at Soroka Hospital, it was Dr. Nagan who was the primary advocate for sending Dr. Abu al-Aish to the Harvard Medical School for additional training in embryology. The cost of this training was absorbed by the University at Nagan and Carmi’s request. Dr. Abu-al Aish was and is a beloved figure at Soroka Hospital; his friends there were outraged at the death of his daughters and profoundly moved by his tragedy. This includes Dr. Carmi.
    Earlier this year, Dr. Abu al-Aish was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his tireless work in building bridges between Palestinian and Israeli society. The nomination was made by a Belgium Governmental official. After he was nominated, Dr. Abu al-Aish received calls of congratulation from former President Braverman and from current President Carmi.
    Before the recent war in Gaza and during the time that Drs. Carmi and Nagan were leaders at the Medical School and Hospital, thousands of Palestinian Arabs received treatment at Soroka Hospital. Ms Cobban should check with all her friends in Israel to see whether these Palestinians believed they received care at Soroka Hospital every bit as good as the care provided to Jewish Israelis.
    During the time that Dr. Carmi was the Medical School Dean, Ben Gurion University established the largest, best funded and most sophisticated health care delivery system for Bedouin Arabs who had traditionally been a tremendously underserved population.
    In addition, during the period when Dr. Carmi ran the Medical School, a number of Bedouin Arabs, including Bedouin women were admitted to the Medical School and several have now graduated with medical degrees. Of these, many have chosen Soroka Hospital as the institution at which they will get specialty training.
    In my opinion, the carelessness with which Ms Cobban dismissed Dr. Carmi based on one paragraph she didn’t like is emblematic of the quality of posts on Ms Cobban’s blog. I understand that other thoughtful people disagree.
    At the very least, Ms Cobban owes Dr. Carmi an apology.

  3. So let’s try a little thought experiment.
    Let’s say some famous faculty member at Al-Quds University, made a comment that was as inflammatory in Palestinian society as the remark made by Neve Gordon was in Israeli society.
    Let’s say that the hypothetical faculty member made a comment to the effect that Israel was correct to continue occupying Palestinian lands until Hamas was defeated and all Palestinians renounced terrorism. Or if you prefer, let’s imagine our hypothetical Al-Quds faculty member suggested that the Palestinian national identity was of recent vintage making Palestinians less entitled to a nation of their own than the Israelis are. Who knows, perhaps some Al-Quds professor might suggest someday that instead of seeking their own nation, Palestinians should consider living under Jordanian sovereignty.
    Does Ms Cobban really think that under those circumstances Sari Nusseibeh would react all that differently from Rifka Carmi? Does she think the outrage in Palestinian society would be less than the outrage in Israeli society over Professor Gordon’s remarks? Does she think that a Professor at Al-Quds who made comments like the one’s I’ve mentioned would have his academic freedom respected? Would his job be safe? Would he be physically safe?
    The great Israeli author, Amos Oz, is a faculty member at Ben Gurion University, the same University that employs Neve Gordon. Oz has been highly critical of Israeli policy in general and the “occupation” in particular. If Ms Cobban is curious about how intellectuals with an independent streak are treated in the Arab World, she should consider the case of the great Egyptian author, Najib Mahfouz. Mahfouz won a Nobel Prize for his extraordinary “Cairo Trilogy;” perhaps Ms Cobban has read it.
    Mahfouz was an outspoken and enthusiastic advocate of Sadat’s Camp David Accords and he was an outspoken critic of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini against Salman Rushdie.
    In 1994 Islamic extremists almost succeeded in assassinating the 82-year-old novelist by stabbing him in the neck outside his Cairo home. He survived, permanently affected by damage to nerves in his right hand. After the incident Mahfouz was unable to write for more than a few minutes a day.
    But Ms Cobban thinks the problem is academic freedom in Israel not the midieval outlook of Palestinian or other Arab religious extremists. Just count the number of posts on Ms Cobban’s blog decrying fundamentalism. The few times she does, you can be sure that her suggestion that Arab religious fundamentalism is all the fault of the Israelis, can’t be far behind.
    What else do you need to know about Ms Cobban’s intellectual integrity?
    In the biography section of her blog, Ms Cobban mentions her Quaker roots.
    Of course Richard Nixon was a Quaker too.

  4. Lunatics like Helena Cobban are enemies of western civilization. They stick up for any radical islamic fundamentalist, any arab terrorist, any israel-hating crazed alleged “jew,” anyone on earth who is mentally ill and pretends to be ‘oppressed.’ Hamas members could scream ‘we want to murder the jews’ and nutcases like Cobban would literally cover their eyes and ears, pretend not to hear it and toss the blame on Israel for what psychotic islamic radicals do.
    The good news is, people like her don’t mean anything to anyone that matters.

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