Israel-bashing seminar does ANU no credit

An excellent article in the Australian, written by Prof.Gerald M. Steinberg who heads the NGO Monitor Research Institute. Steinberg is a professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and the founder of the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation. Steinberg is the Founder and President of NGO Monitor.

Steinberg has been a long-time critic of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Oxfam and other organisations that he accuses of having “contributed to the hatred, rather than supporting peace”. Writing in a 2004 Jerusalem Post article he said,

“HRW’s press statement exposes it as a biased political organization hiding behind the rhetoric of human rights.” Later he accused HRW of “exploiting the rhetoric of human rights to delegitimise Israel.

THE main task of a university is to pursue knowledge, free from political or religious dogmas, and ideological or other biases. It is for this reason that institutions of higher learning are granted special status and supported by public funds.

But when these values are violated, and the campus is exploited as a venue for lobbying on behalf of narrow interests, this tarnishes the reputation of the academic community, while society is deprived of benefits from the pursuit of knowledge.

Unfortunately, the conference on “Human Rights in Palestine”, scheduled for the Australian National University today and tomorrow, is a blatant effort to exploit and distort the marketplace of ideas.

Human Rights

Only a few of the advertised speakers have relevant research credentials or peer-reviewed academic publications in the field of human rights. Instead, the program is dominated by opinionated activists associated with and funded by political advocacy groups that exploit the banner of human rights.

For example, “Professor” Hanan Ashrawi, who is featured in the program, is a prominent Palestinian politician and highly visible media spokeswoman. She holds a PhD in medieval and comparative literature.

She achieved notoriety in January 1991, during a US radio interview at the beginning of the Gulf War, when she referred to Saddam Hussein favourably for “standing up for Arab rights, Arab dignity, Arab pride”. (Yasser Arafat and the PLO were closely allied with Saddam.) In February 1991, while the Iraqi dictator’s troops were looting and burning Kuwait, she praised Saddam’s “commitment to peace”. And in 1996, she was among the minority of PLO officials who opposed revising the PLO Charter to remove clauses calling for Israel’s destruction.

Other speakers are involved with “the Steering Committee for the Gaza Freedom March”, the “Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions National Committee”, and Electronic Intifada. For example, Ziyaad Lunat has referred to Israel as “the Zionist colonial implant” – not the type of language one would expect at an academic conference on human rights.

Keynote speaker Richard Falk is primarily known as a fringe “9/11 conspiracy theorist”, and has been widely denounced, including by the Secretary-General of the UN, for vile comments blaming the Boston terrorist attack on “the American global domination project” and “Tel Aviv”.

As noted by the British government’s equality and non-discrimination team, Falk’s recent writings are

“resonant of the longstanding anti-Semitic practice of blaming Jews (through the state of Israel by proxy) for all that is wrong in the world”.

In a clumsy attempt to endow the event with some academic credibility, the ANU organisers included the logo of the prestigious British Academy on the website as an indication of co-sponsorship.

When this was brought to their attention, officials replied:

“The academy is not organising that event, was not consulted on the program and is not directly sponsoring the event itself.”

The text that appears on the conference website claiming that the British Academy is a ‘platinum sponsor’ for the event, is therefore misleading, and appeared without authorisation from us.”

Instead of removing the logo, however, the official program website recently added a tiny and misleading caveat underneath. Even if a complete correction were subsequently to be made, the fact the conference organisers made so fundamental an error does not reflect well on the organisers’ standards of accuracy.

When shocking atrocities are being committed in Syria against Palestinians, among many others, an academic conference ostensibly dedicated to the entirely legitimate subject of Palestinian human rights should not be focused exclusively on the West Bank. This, and the neglect of other pressing human rights issues in the Middle East, reinforce the impression that the real purpose of the conference is to polemicise against Israel.

It also seems not to have occurred to the organisers that Israelis have human rights too. Any assessment of “Economic, Social, Political and Cultural Rights” in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” that excludes the central complexities is at best meaningless, at worst sinister.

It is up to the ANU to decide how best to deal with this scholarly farce, which threatens to tarnish its reputation. Even respected universities are not immune from fringe political campaigns or indulging in nonsense.

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  1. A solidly established fallacy has been that universities are centres of excellence in academic pursuits, centre points of learning at levels of utmost objectivity. Thereafter, those responsibly for these noble pursuits, academics, would be seen as enlightened purveyors of truth and intellectual dignity.
    NOTHING could be further from the truth !
    Academics of great repute, particularly in the field of humanities, have been known for acute partisan position in matters ideological.
    In my experience, I spent five long years studying history at a Marxist university in a communist country. Moving over to Australian universities, first at Macquarie Uni . I did a course in Marxism and Socialist Studies, almost as biased as Bucharest Uni., and continued a higher degree with one Professor, among others who was card carrying member of a certain European Communist Party. I scored top marks, as expected. Where most of the academic staff biased one way or another ??!! You bet.
    So, attaching the “quality” of academia, actually the people populating and making it work, all those respectable academics, to a forum designed to render respectability to a mob of politically viciously motivated activists cum terrorists is as farcical as the claim that room in which parodies of intellectual equity are carried out is decorated with fair, intelligent benches and desks. Same goes for the abusive parade of respectable signs and mottos.