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MESA rallies to Gordon`s defence
By: Richard Silverstein
Tikun Olam
29 August 2009

The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the most distinguished professional group representing faculty who teach in the field of Middle East Studies, has written to Ben Gurion University president Rivka Carmi to protest against her attacks on Prof. Neve Gordon for publishing an L.A. Times op-ed endorsing the Global BDS movement. If you’ve been following this blog, the latest development is an orchestrated campaign to drive Gordon from his chairmanship of the political science department.

MESA Pres. Virginia Aksan wrote to Pres. Carmi:

On behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) I write to express our grave concern over your recent comments approving Ben-Gurion University’s search for legal means to dismiss Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Government and Politics Department, Neve Gordon…The threat of dismissal against a tenured faculty member because of opinions he expresses on a subject of regular debate in his country flies in the face of academic freedom, a freedom that Ben-Gurion University has committed itself to uphold. We therefore urge you to publicly rescind this threat and to fulfill your primary duty as university president to affirm and protect the rights of all members of the university community to express their opinions without fear of censure or punishment.

In truth, Carmi hasn’t directly threatened Gordon with dismissal since Israeli law forbids it (he has tenure). But she has clearly stated that she WOULD dismiss him if she could and the University rector expressed a wish that he “draw the proper conclusion” (an Israeli euphemism for resignation which I’ve begun to detest) and resign his chairmanship. Earlier, Carmi had suggested that Gordon was “free” to leave the University and Israel itself if he didn’t like it there.

What the University CAN do (and IS doing) is pressure Gordon’s department to unseat him as chair. But even this is difficult since Gordon wisely told his department in advance of his planned op-ed and offered to resign his position if the department members requested it. They unanimously voted to retain him. So for the University or department now to backtrack would look especially spineless.

Not that they won’t try. In fact, one of Gordon’s department colleagues who voted to refuse his resignation has now miraculously discovered a reason why the chairman should resign:

Lazin wrote a letter to the other members of his department saying that Gordon’s op-ed refers readers to a Web site that calls for a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions.”Thus Neve is actively supporting a boycott of our university, our department, our faculty and our students,” Lazin wrote. “In my view, Neve’s support of the academic boycott … undercuts his legitimacy to continue as chair of the department.”

MESA takes issue with Carmi’s contention that Gordon has violated the principles of academic freedom:

…It is precisely in moments of political crisis that the principles of academic freedom are tested.

Further the group admonishes BGU’s presdient for her role in escalating the incendiary rhetoric against her faculty member:

In your public statements since August 22, you have added to the popular campaign of vilification mounted against Professor Gordon in the media by repeating, without contesting, the extremely damaging charge that his article amounts to treason against the state. Similarly, your reference to his views as “destructive” and an “abuse of the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at Ben-Gurion University,” and your suggestion that academics with such views should “consider another professional and personal home” cast an alarming chill on the free exchange of ideas that is foundational to the academic enterprise and to democratic governance…

Even more importantly, MESA’s president notes that the attacks on Gordon violate even BGU’s academic principles:

Article 2 of BGU’s own Academic Code affirms that the university “will not discriminate in its activities against any person for reasons of race, religion, nationality, gender, or political views [and] will act to protect academic freedom.” Article 4c of your university’s Code of Ethics further clarifies “in addition to their academic freedoms, researchers of the university enjoy all civic freedoms enjoyed by every citizen of the state, including freedoms of expression and organization… Researchers are authorized to express their political or religious opinions without incitement and are authorized to act to implement them using legal means.”

…We hope you will realize the importance of doing everything in your power to end the intimidation against Dr. Gordon by reaffirming his academic right to free expression as guaranteed by the by-laws of your university.

Interestingly, a few months ago a tempest was stirred by an Palestinian Arab graduate student at Tel Aviv University who wrote a paper about Global BDS. Unlike Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv’s president, while opposing the student’s views, strongly supported his right to express them. The statement of TAU’s president is worth quoting:

Pluralism is a central tenet of Tel Aviv University, a doctrine forming the basis of its very existence and its societal role. Hence, the diversity of racial and ethnic or cultural groups is accepted, and it is on academic criteria, not on political viewpoint, that a student’s standing is determined.

This is how it ought to be done, Pres. Carmi.

Prof. Neve Gordon and family
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