16 May 2006 - The Halutz-hunting hypocrites
A group of Harvard students calling itself the Alliance for Justice in the Middle East (AJME) has set about “hunting” former Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff General Dan Halutz, who is apparently finishing up an eight-week executive training course at Harvard Business School. General Halutz led the IDF during last summer’s Lebanon War and, rightly or wrongly, has taken the fall for its failures.
The students have issued “Wanted” posters, accusing Halutz of “war crimes.” They have vowed to hound him wherever they can find him, and are convening search posses (lynch mobs?) this week for the purpose. They have also set up a group on the popular Facebook.com student networking site and started a blog. As is typical of extreme-left groups, their sites do not allow readers to post comments or reactions. The reaction from state-run Iranian television has been laudatory.
AJME’s blatant assault on academic freedom is being led—surprise, surprise—among others, by a disgruntled Israeli graduate student in anthropology, Noah Ben-Yehoyadah. Ben-Yehoyadah’s tedious extremism has been exposed in an ongoing debate on the Harvard Hillel’s e-mail list, in which he has blamed Israeli Jews for the Iranian threat and claimed, erroneously, that American Jews are politically right-wing.
Ben-Yehoyadah has mobilized Harvard’s hard-core anti-Israel crowd, including several others whom I could “name and shame” here. But I won’t stoop to the level of targeting people for their political opinions. Instead, in my capacity as president of the Harvard Law School Alliance For Israel, I have fired off a letter to the Harvard administration, which is considering disciplinary action against AJME.
The group has violated several university policies, including using the Harvard Business School logo on their propaganda without permission. Beyond that, however, the AJME vigilantes have violated the basic principles of freedom of speech and inquiry, as well as the right of every person to be presumed innocent until proven guilty (and no charges against Halutz have been laid).
I make the point in my letter that I have been publicly critical—on this website, and elsewhere—of aspects of Israel’s military strategy in the war. I have, for example, criticized the use of cluster munitions. I also know plenty of Israelis who have lots of complaints about Halutz. But what the hard-core radicals of AJME are doing goes far beyond what is acceptable protest, and comes dangerously close to incitement.
Harvard has hosted some very controversial figures from the Arab and Muslim world, including some with blood on their hands. I was here when Yasser Arafat spoke at the Institute of Politics in 1995; former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami spoke there this past fall. Lots of people were upset about these appearances, but no one threatened to hunt either of the two leaders down.
AJME is contributing directly to a growing climate of fear on campus that has prevented people from expressing their views—and the worst victims, interestingly enough, are not pro-Israel voices but critics of Iran. Harvard’s new Middle East journal, New Society, has approached several Iranians on campus with reformist or dissident views, but each of them has declined to write, citing the political danger.
Already in the past several weeks, the Iranian government has quietly detained Iranian academics who work in the U.S. and Canada, some of whom have quite anodyne views, on visits home. And western academia is appeasing this madness. Armenian studies professor James R. Russell was recently “dis-invited” from a Harvard exhibition of Iranian poster art because of his criticisms of the regime.
The radicals of AJME are the fellow-travelers of this sort of repression. Instead of using demonstrations, appeals to administrators and all the wonderfully open avenues that are available to them to express their views, they have adopted the tactics of the Tehran mobs besieging the British embassy during the hostage crisis, going for macho, hyper-adrenalized hooliganism that is polarizing the campus.
It’s amazing to me that so many people still believe that the “pro-Israel lobby” stifles debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when that conflict is the most hotly debated issue on campus. The real repression is exercised against those who hold pro-Israel or pro-American views, particularly those who are citizens of Iran or Arab countries, who live in fear of the long reach of their dictatorial governments.
I doubt that AJME shall ever find its quarry, both because Harvard is determined to protect its students and guests from harassment, and because Halutz’s course is basically over in any case. AJME has, however, poisoned the atmosphere here and I hope Harvard stands firm in defense of academic freedom. If you’d like to support action against AJME, write to President Derek Bok: derek_bok[at]harvard.edu.