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Academic Freedom, my tuches

Tonight, a friend sent me a an email that had been floating around a local university campus. The email decried a potential lawsuit, threatened by MEMRI’s head, Yigal Carmon, against Juan Cole and potentially U of Michigan for publishing false information about MEMRI in an article. The email proceeded to urge all its readers to “preserve academic freedom” by writing a strong letter to MEMRI opposing any threats of a lawsuit against an academic and his institution.

This all began when MEMRI translated Osama Bin Laden’s last video. That’s the one that arrived at Al Jazeera, the station that loves broadcasting messages from terrorists and images of their atrocities (unless the images show cerrtain Muslims being so evil that they’d kill the head of a human rights organization who has been assisting their compatriots for 30 years), during the final days of the recent elections. Among other things, he says that Al Qaeda will attack states that support Bush.

MEMRI translated the word for states to mean, well, “states,” as in Texas, Oklahoma, etc. Cole felt that they were wrong and the word means states in the sense of sovereign countries. But Cole didn’t stop there. Cole proceeded to discuss MEMRI as if badmouthing them would buttress his point. For absolutely no reason, he accuses them of having $60 million in funding, cherry-picking articles to create an over-all negative and distorted impression of Arab media (he brings up the KKK as it relates, in his opinion, to certain Israelis), and of being a PR machine for the Likud. He also says a few other things that are quite offensive

In other words, “You guys are Israeli Right Wing shills with lots of Jewish/Israeli money behind you, some racist feelings toward Arabs, professionalism that sucks, the wrong kind of people leading you…and therefore can’t be trusted to translate the word ‘states’ properly.”

Now, at this point, this story is all over the blogs across the Internet, in emails circulated all over university campuses, and I’m sure will hit some mainstream media soon.

So I went to visit his blog. Juan Cole which is fairly active blog with, as I understand it, quite a bit of traffic. Cole seems to have a certain anti-Israel perspective – I would even call it nasty – of the type one hears in circles of the far and center-left Left. Cole is a full professor of some standing at the University of Michigan and is well respected for his views on Islam and the Arab world, and as a result also garners respect in many Leftie and Democrat circles.

Since this story has been hitting blogs across the Internet, many Palestinian supporters and others on the Left who might have a beef with Israel, are using this issue to attack MEMRI’s credibility. One would guess that this is because MEMRI is very effective at bringing to light many issues and attitudes within the Arab world that stand in contrast to our values here in the U.S. Finally, there is a reason to lash out at them: their supposed unreasonableness and heavyhanded tactic against an academic.

Unfortunately, however, it appear that Cole did not put the type of academic scrutiny one would expect into the article he wrote and in his comments about MEMRI. He basically admits as much in his response to the MEMRI letter. Yes, he shows bluster, but he also backs off gingerly from his claims. Then again, even as he backs off a bit, he attacks again. Consider this gem which is directed at Yigal Carmon who was a former intelligence agent for Israel:

Israeli military intelligence is used to being able to censor the Israeli press and to intimidate journalists, and it is a bit shocking that Carmon should imagine that such intimidation would work in a free society.

What’s funny is that it is patently obvious that he’s wrong in his assertions, but MEMRI was right to be worried because his posts are spread all over the Internet. In fact, once he has posted something in the “blogosphere” (a fancy way of saying “in the public realm”), it will get spidered and enter the search engines. From now on, people will assert that MEMRI gets $60 million in funding and is affiliated with the Likud because a prominent university professor said so. MEMRI did not help themselves by threatening to sue, because he has made them out to be ogres while he is a victim of suppression of free speech.

This may affect MEMRI materially since as a registered non-profit (501(c)3), they may not have certain political affiliation. If somebody in the IRS happens to learn about these accusations, it could cause MEMRI unwarranted problems.

The pro-Cole forces are asserting that it’s perfectly fine to post false information, even when an easy Google search will provide accurate info, on a blog, because, well, because it’s a blog.

They are also asserting that it’s okay for an academic, who is relying in part on his university’s reputation and money to assure himself of a particular type of career, to enjoy the fruits and respect accorded an academic, but if he chooses to post derogatory and false comments about an organization, and the organization reacts angrily, then it is his freedom of expression being violated. Therefore, he has no obligation to truth, only to self-expression.

I think Cole deserves to be punished in some way for besmirching an organization just because his argument about the definition of a particular word differs from that of an organization that happens to be on the opposite side of the Israel-Arab debate. He will get away with it because a lawsuit makes little sense here and because there are enough Lefties out there and people who subscribe to wanton Jewish/Israel control-of-the-world conspiracies that a lot of noise is being made about how MEMRI is trying to squlech free speech.

It’s sad to see how people are rushing to defend his lies about, and their repercussions on, an entity that can be criticized, but not for the reasons he has given. The idea of academic freedom is abused when it is used as a shield to defend outright lies.

8 Comments

  1. Evan Gahr

    4/22/2005 at 5:32 pm

    Learn more about Louis E. Chimpstein, the only Simean-American ever to win a debate on “Hannity & Colmes.”

  2. TM

    4/22/2005 at 5:55 pm

    Interesting site and story, Evan, although all the attacks on Jews are a little off-putting. So what’s happening now?

  3. Evan Gahr

    6/12/2005 at 4:02 pm

    The latest is that Jay Lefkowitz, who once said a little anti-Semitism is good for the Jews, and who has never denied his collusion with White House phone calls that preceeded the parting of ways with Hudson of two Jewish employees who embarassed the Bush Administration was, according to Eli Lake’s story last month in the New York Sun, slated to be nominated as special human rights envoy to North Korea, a post his cousin Michael Horowitz helped created, by around May 25.

    The nomination is now way overdue. (More about Lefkowitz at Chimpstein.com)

    Yes,Chimpstein does contain attacks on Jews.

    To quote Marty Peretz on this matter.

    The conservatives who shilled for Weyrich are “guilty of grotesque double standards, worst of all the Jews among them.

    Jay Lefkowitz: Deep down I believe that a little anti-Semitism is good for the Jews.

  4. Don Jenner

    8/21/2006 at 8:34 am

    Hmn. Jews have been fighting Arabs since before the end of the Babylonian Captivity (when the other Hebrews, who weren’t deported, were deprived of Jewishness by virtue of marriages outside the tribe). And atrocities have been commonplace on both sides; what was it David did to the folks in Amman? Something about saws and brick kilns, as I recall?… We could go on — as has the antipathy, for some 2500 years plus. That said, modern Israel has more often been the victim than the aggressor (the exceptions seem to have been preemptive, and that is a problem), and to have used force judiciously, even minimally, even resulting in valiant deaths by Israelis (not all of them Jews) in pursuit of the flawless surgical strike. As for Juan Cole, he exemplifies a common problem within the Academy; he has trained as an expert on the Arabic Culture (something of an oxymoron there, long discussion for another time) and assumes that narrow expertise extends into more general mastery. Pfui.

  5. bruce david

    8/21/2006 at 8:44 am

    The 25 Rules of disinformation

    Alice in Wonderland Logic

    1. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

    2. Become incredulous and indignant

    3. Create rumormongers

    4. Use a straw man

    5. Sidetrack opponents with name calling, ridicule

    6. Hit and Run

    7. Question motives

    8. Invoke authority

    9. Play Dumb

    10. Associate opponent charges with old news

    11. Establish and rely upon fall-back positions

    12. Enigmas have no solution

    13. Alice in Wonderland Logic

    14. Demand complete solutions

    15. Fit the facts to alternate conclusions

    16. Vanish evidence and witnesses

    17. Change the subject

    18. Emotionalize, Antagonize, and Goad

    19. Ignore facts, demand impossible proofs

    20. Falsify evidence

    21. Call a Grand Jury, Special Prosecutor

    22. Manufacture a new truth

    23. Create bigger distractions

    24. Silence critics

    25. Vanish

  6. Carl from L.A.

    5/26/2007 at 11:45 pm

    Having read Cole’s website (Informed Comment) for some time, I would like to give my perspective about him.

    Cole is probably more knowledgeable than any other publicly available source about Iraq, and constantly provides an almost invaluable perspective about what is going on there. I suggest that anyone who doubts this follow his website for some time.

    He has, unfortunately (in my opinion) internalized a significant part of the Arab states’ party line about Israel. When he strays from his comments about Iraq to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he loses perspective, and unfortunately has very little of value to contribute. This is unfortunate, as it can only serve to undermine the impact that he might have in his real area of expertise.

    Just to be up front, I am an American Jew who has lived and worked in Israel. I have had work relationships with a number of Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank. I have come to know them neither as demons nor innocent victims, but as pretty normal people living in difficult conditions.

  7. themiddle

    5/27/2007 at 4:31 am

    Carl, thanks for your input. Just fyi, since this post, I’ve written a few more about Cole and had for a while also tried (not always successfully because he doesn’t publish all the comments he receives) to engage him on his blog. If you do a search on our site, you’ll see the posts about him.

    Unfortunately, I believe his political biases color all of his writing on that blog and, frankly, taint his conclusions. This applies broadly but in particular with Israel and American Jews (though he differentiates between those Jews he deems good and those he deems evil – you’ll know the ones he deems evil because he calls them “Likudniks,” or as they are known today, “the Israel Lobby”).

    The problem isn’t whether he’s wrong about Israel and its supporters, which he often is, but that he is extraordinarily influential with America’s Left. He influences the leftward side of the Democratic party and often gives legitimacy to claims made about Israel by anti-Israel forces. This is also not to minimize his influence at MESA which has turned into a body where it can be challenging for academics who feel or research in a positive manner about Israel to express themselves. In other words, I draw the opposite conclusion to what you write: he has impact regarding the Israeli-Arab conflict despite his biases because people perceive him to be an authority on Iraq.

    By the way, he’s the joker who tried to translate Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel to mean that he wasn’t talking about destroying Israel. Too bad the Iranians don’t take his courses.

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    11/24/2019 at 1:26 am

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