Monthly Archives: January 2006

Comments please? On problems facing the Jewish Community

Here is one of the essays I am writing for the incredibly competitive Wexner Fellowship. It seems relevant for this space, which is why I decided to post it. If you have comments, please do email me at akb2016 -at- Before Feb 1st would be best, since that is when the application is due. But the ideas expressed below have less to do with the application and more to do with what I’ve been wrestling with for a while, so I look forward to your comments.

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They Keep On Accusing

The Dissident Voice just published an article repeating the oft-stated lie that I work or have worked for Campus Watch. I never have. This is the email I sent the author of the article, Richard Hugus

Hi Richard,
Please correct a false accusation made in your article on the Dissident Voice: in it, you write that I worked for Campus Watch and cite proof that 11 articles of mine appear on Campus Watch’s webste.
I do not work and have never worked for Campus Watch. And the evidence you cite to support your accusation is left wanting. 25 articles by Joseph Massad appear on Campus Watch’s website–does that mean that Joseph Massad works two jobs for them?
I’ve made this point numerous times over the past two years.
It is true, I served in the IDF. I also founded an international umbrella organization for socialist movement in 1998 called, “The First of May” (and later “Youth to Youth”) organization–and worked with Palestinian youth in Gaza through my socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. You do not cite that in your article–and, instead, paint me in the same distorted fashion that others have done, in order to simplify reality and avoid the tough questions that should come with an open-minded look at the world.
While you are certainly justified in having your opinion on what goes on at Columbia, you do not have the ethical right to draw false conclusions in your articles from partial evidence. Doing so makes you no better than the Bush administration, who you yourself have bashed for concealing evidence in order to make their case for War.

Heh. Let’s see how they respond.

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Theory of Academic Freedom in Real Time

Asaf Shtull-Trauring over at Jewschool wondered what I have to say about the developments over at UCLA, where a UCLA alumnus offered to pay students to record lectures in order to make the case that the classes were over-politicized.
The discussion that is developing in the comments is incredibly interesting. Someone going by the name “hum” answers Asaf’s conclusion that,

If this assumption is false, then trying to make teachers “objective” and “non-political” could become a very dangerous project resembling McCarthyism.

by pointing out that,

This conclusion is wrong on the facts — it depends on a fallacious division of ideas into either objectively true or all of one standard — but, second of all, it is also wrong on the methods. Censorship, and McCarthyism involve the exercise of power to close down the expression of ideas. When one does not have the power to close down the expression of ideas, we do not call it “censorship” or “McCarthyism”. We call it “criticism” and “debate”.
Classrooms, as Asaf points out, are political arenas, and public spaces. Professors who speak there should expect to be challenged, and argued with, and criticized — even outside the forum of the classroom. That is the academic tradition, and it is a healthy thing. If the major threat to academic was truly the threat that a professor’s words would be reported and challenged outside the classroom, then academia is in awfully good shape.

I, for my part, offer the idea that,

The point that is often lost in the debate over academic freedom is that freedom must be a two-way street. That is, if one has the freedom to profess one’s opinions, one must also respect the fact that others will have their own opinions, and should have the right to profess them in whatever forum permits. Since a classroom is by nature a controlled environment, the professor has the power of censorship–-but within reason. That is, a professor may not censor ideas selectively within a classroom based upon the political opinions of the students professing those ideas. If a professor does such a thing–-as was the case at Columbia-–the professor him/herself is guilty of McCarthyism at its worst: the silencing of dissenting opinions in the hopes of maintaining a politically “pure” environment.
If students feel that they are unable to state their opinions within the classroom–either because they were not permitted to do so due to structural considerations (i.e. the class was a lecture with no discussion) or due to political litmus testing (i.e. Zionists were denounced before they could make their case)–students have the right and even the obligation to raise those issues within the public forum of ideas. Otherwise, students would be no more than vessels to be filled, automatons, and not the scholars-in-training that they are supposed to be.
To sum up, the problem with many of those who decry any attempt by students or alumni to debate opinions put forward by professors is that they do not truly believe in the open-nature of the market of ideas. For these people, who more often than not have political views in line with the professors they are defending, thought should be left to the professionals, and the ignoramuses sitting on the other side of the lectern should speak only when spoken to. That, however, is not academic freedom, but thought-tyranny of the worst kind.

Keep checking Jewschool back for more.

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The Long Winter March

After writing my last post, I flew to Israel to attend my grandfather’s funeral and spend time at the Shiva on Kibbutz Reshafim, then to return to the city with a week left to work on my final research papers. It was hard to leave my family, to leave Israel, to leave my grandfather’s memory—but there are some things I’d rather not fully share with the world. Luckily, my grandfather’s work ethic has been deeply instilled in me, enabling me to get my papers done in time, and am rather proud of two of the six: a paper exploring the possibility of reading the book of Deuteronomy through Josiah’s eyes, and a course on Rabbinic Theology. Take a look and tell me what you think.
Since then, I have been working on a few of my extra-curriculars: preparing to teach three classes next semester (two at Prozdor Hebrew High School–one on the History of Israel and another on Rabbinic Theology–and one at the Park Avenue Synagogue on Jewish Social Justice as part of their Chesed program); developing BlogsofZion and finding classic Zionist texts for inclusion in our archives; starting up a new Jewish magazine, PresenTense, for the Generation X set (website being developed); and co-producing a feature length documentary on why and how some young Jews remain connected to the Jewish tradition (a promo of which was presented by Daniella Kahane at Limmud this year). And I set up a MySpace account–which has taken more time than anything above. And I’m applying to a different graduate program for next year: NYU’s Dual-Degree Program in Non-Profit Management and Judaic Studies. Which rocks.
So, the long winter march continues. Classes have begun, teaching has begun, and blogging continues at BlogsofZion. Join the conversation.

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