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Congratulations, John Adams: You Got CUNY’d

21 Oct

On Twitter tonight, The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, whose book The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century I discussed on Memorial Day, was tweeting about the protests that greeted the Met premiere of John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer.

Here are just some of Ross’ tweets.

 

 

I feel like John Adams and the Met just got the kind of treatment that we at CUNY get whenever we raise the issue of Israel/Palestine. The same gang mobilizes to shut us down. Indeed, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who until recently was on the CUNY Board of Trustees and tried to deny Tony Kushner an honorary degree because of his stance on Israel, was at the protests tonight, leading the charge.

Here are some more Ross tweets.

 

 

Congratulations, John Adams: you just got CUNY’d.

Is the Boycott of the University of Illinois Illiberal?

29 Sep

I’m hearing whispers that some liberal-ish academics think the boycott of UIUC is illiberal and censorious. So let me get this straight. Is the underlying idea that, as an academic, you’re obligated to accept every single speaking invitation you receive? (Let’s recall the terms of the boycott: simply that we will refuse to accept an invitation to speak, or otherwise participate in an event, at the UIUC, until Steven Salaita is reinstated.) Or is it that you’re allowed to say no if your reasons are strictly careerist—i.e., the institution is not high-prestige or the honorarium too low—but not if your reasons are moral principles? Or is it that you think careerism is not only a moral principle but the only acceptable moral principle that would justify a refusal of an invitation? Or is all this liberalism talk besides the point, and it’s just Israel Israel Israel?

It’s Not the Crime, It’s the Cover-up

28 Sep

In the latest turn in the Salaita affair, Ali Abunimah has filed a public records request with the University of Illinois, which the University has not complied with. Raising suspicions of…

Here’s Ali:

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says it cannot find a key document that may shed light on donor pressure and organized efforts to convince top administrators to fire Steven Salaita for his criticisms of Israel.

The Electronic Intifada requested the document – a memo on Salaita’s views handed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise by a major donor – under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, an 18 September letter from the university informed The Electronic Intifada that “no records responsive to your request could be located.” Under Illinois law, Wise is required to preserve the document as a public record.

The existence of the document in question was revealed in a 24 July email (see below) Wise sent to the university’s senior fundraising staff reporting on a meeting she had with what appears to be a major donor…In the email, Wise writes (emphasis added):

He said that he knows [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] well and both have less loyalty for Illinois because of their perception of anti-Semitism. He gave me a two-pager filled with information on Steven Salaita and said how we handle this situation will be very telling.

This “two-pager” is the document that was requested by The Electronic Intifada and that the university now claims it cannot find.

Maria LaHood, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which is part of the legal team representing Salaita, expressed skepticism toward the university’s claim that it cannot locate the document.

“It is hard to believe that Chancellor Wise would have thrown out the two-pager on Professor Salaita given to her by a donor at a meeting that was important enough for her to email details about to top Illinois fundraising officials at midnight, unless there’s a reason she didn’t want it to be made public,” she told The Electronic Intifada.

“The two-pager might indicate a more organized effort to go after Salaita, and it will be one of the many documents we’ll seek in litigation,” LaHood added.

Under the Illinois State Records Act, documents received by Wise and the university are the property of the state. As a public official, Wise is legally required to preserve such records, which may not be disposed of except under conditions set out in the law.

The Electronic Intifada has filed a request with the Public Access Counselor at the office of the Illinois Attorney General to review the facts and law surrounding the University of Illinois’ failure to release the “two-pager” on Steven Salaita handed to Chancellor Phyllis Wise by a pro-Israel donor.

The request notes that under the Illinois State Records Act, Wise, a public officer of a state agency, is legally required to preserve the document in question and the university is legally required under the State Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act to produce the record for public inspection.

As the State Records Act states:

All records made or received by or under the authority of or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials of this State in the course of their public duties are the property of the State and shall not be mutilated, destroyed, transferred, removed or otherwise damaged or disposed of, in whole or in part except as provided by law. Any person who knowingly and without lawful authority alters, destroys, defaces, removes, or conceals any public record commits a Class 4 felony.

Such felonies may be punishable by a term of imprisonment.

Given the facts set out in the post above and provided to the Public Access Counselor, the request asserts that “reasonable suspicion exists that a public record has been disposed of without lawful authority.”

The Public Access Counselor is an office established by law to help enforce the Illinois Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act.

“Working under the direction and supervision of the Attorney General and with a team of attorneys and professional staff, the Public Access Counselor’s mission is to help people obtain public documents and access public meetings,” according to the Attorney General’s website.

Chronicle of Higher Ed Profiles Me and My Blog

19 Sep

Marc Parry has written a long profile of me, this blog, and my work and activism in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Some excerpts:

The Salaita Affair has riveted academe. One story line that has drawn less attention is the role played by Mr. Robin. For more than a month, the professor has turned his award-winning blog into a Salaita war room, grinding out a daily supply of analysis, muckraking, and megaphone-ready incitement.

“A lot of people see him as an intellectual leader,” says Michael Kazin, a professor of history at Georgetown University and co-editor of the magazine Dissent. “He can be counted on to battle people.” (Those people include Mr. Kazin, who crossed swords with Mr. Robin last year when Mr. Kazin published an article critical of academic anti-Israel boycotts.)

Mr. Robin is something of an odd fit for his current role.

Although people constantly ask him to speak about the Israel-Palestine question, he turns down the invitations because he does not consider himself an expert on the subject. His current scholarship focuses on the political theory of capitalism. His last book, The Reactionary Mind (Oxford University Press), was a much-debated collection of essays about conservatism.

And although he has been lauded as the “quintessential public intellectual for the digital age,” Mr. Robin is really something of a technology dinosaur.

The professor does not own a smartphone. He flees the Internet by riding New York’s subway trains for four hours at a time after dropping off his 6-year-old daughter at school or camp. He devotes these trips to reading: ­”Schumpeter in Queens, The Theory of Moral Sentiments in the Bronx, Hayek in Brooklyn,” as he wrote in one post.

Like an addict, Mr. Robin tries to set boundaries for his habit. For instance: No blogging first thing in the morning. That way the process won’t eat up his whole day.

“I’m always telling myself, ‘OK, this is the last day I’m blogging,’” Mr. Robin says.

When I arrived at his apartment for an interview around noon one day this week, he had already violated his no-blogging-in-the-morning rule. Twice.

Mr. Robin can be a pugnacious online presence. During the BDS donnybrook, for example, he ripped a former student, Jumaane D. Williams, who had gone on to become one of the City Council members critical of the event. “U took my class on civil liberties,” Mr. Robin wrote in a series of tweets directed at Mr. Williams. “Pressure from govt officials on campus speech is ok? That’s what U learned?”

In person, though, he comes off as polite and cool-headed (mostly). The professor is a compact man with rosy cheeks and light brown hair that falls over his forehead; on the day of our interview, he wore a wrinkled white shirt and dark slacks, which gave him the look of an off-duty waiter.

Recent years have radicalized his views on the role of the academy in Israel debates. Previously, he didn’t have a position on BDS and even sympathized with critics who questioned the relevance of such boycotts. He now supports the movement. “I think the academy actually is quite important on the Israel debate,” he says.

In the Salaita case, Todd Gitlin faults Mr. Robin for failing to engage with the substance of Mr. Salaita’s tweets, at least as far as Mr. Gitlin has seen. Mr. Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, points to this Salaita tweet from July: “There’s something profoundly sexual to the Zionist pleasure w/#Israel’s aggression. Sublimation through bloodletting, a common perversion.” As Mr. Gitlin views it, “Salaita crossed the line from incivility to rank hatred.”

Mr. Robin has actually blogged about one of the most potentially offensive tweets. More broadly, though, he acknowledges “deliberately not engaging in the content.”

As he explains why, he seems on the verge of exploding.

“Todd Gitlin and I could go back and forth for days,” he says. “Parsing tweets! Like, tweets! Tweets!”

“The serious thing to do is to figure out what’s actually happening,” he says. “An outspoken critic of Israel, speaking in an inflammatory way about it, being punished and drummed out of the academy—that’s what’s happening.”

Getting into the details of the tweets, he says, is “missing the forest for the trees.”

Wished I had remembered, when I was talking about why universities and academics like Steven Salaita get targeted in the Israel/Palestine debate, that I had remembered this, from Hobbes’s Behemoth:

The core of rebellion…are the Universities; which nevertheless are not to be cast away, but better disciplined.

Barack Obama’s Upside-Down Schmittianism

18 Sep

Reading this post by David Cole—on Obama’s unauthorized war on ISIS—my mind drifts to the German political theorist Carl Schmitt.

Schmitt famously defined the sovereign as “he who decides on the exception.”

Long established and stable constitutional regimes presume and rest atop legal routines, social patterns, political order, normalcy: “For a legal order to make sense, a normal situation must exist.” In such situations, political authority is constrained by a set of rules and its exercise of power is almost as predictable as the social order itself.

But there are moments in the life (and death) of a society that exceed the boundaries of these laws and routines, moments, as Schmitt says, when “the power of real life breaks through the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition.” Such moments are ones of grave existential threat. The decision as to whether we are in such a moment—that is, whether we are confronting “a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state”—is not self-evident. Such a decision cannot be made in accordance with, cannot be prescribed or contained by, these laws and routines. Such a decision does not emanate from a constitutionally authorized office or conform to a preestablished list of specified conditions. It must instead by made ex nihilo; it necessarily “emanates from nothingness.” It is a decision that, in the very doing, sets out and enacts the grounds and norms of its own justification.

He who makes such a decision is sovereign.

I was reminded of Schmitt’s teaching, as I said, by Cole’s post on Obama’s unauthorized war on ISIS. Here’s Cole:

In his speech, President Obama avoided the word “war,” but that is the more common word for the kind of sustained military campaign he described. And under our constitution, the president cannot go to war without congressional approval except in narrow circumstances not present here.

Obama has given no indication that he intends to seek Congress’s authorization for airstrikes. There has been some talk of obtaining approval to send troops to train Iraqi forces, but Obama apparently thinks he doesn’t need any authorization to drop bombs from the sky with the aim of killing human beings—even in a country, Syria, where he plainly will have no permission from the sovereign to do so….On Meet the Press this Sunday, Obama claimed, “I have the authorization that I need to protect the American people.” The host, Chuck Todd, didn’t press him on where that asserted authority comes from. Congress certainly has not given it.

Under the Constitution, whether to use military force is Congress’s decision, not the president’s. The framers gave Congress the power “to declare war” and even to authorize lesser uses of force, through what were at the time called “letters of marque and reprisal.”…

There is one situation in which the president can use military force without congressional authorization—when responding in self-defense to an attack or an imminent attack. But Obama has not made that argument in announcing the campaign against ISIS. As he said on Meet the Press, “I want everybody to understand that we have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland from ISIL. That’s not what this is about.”

I am quite sympathetic to Cole’s argument, but something about its relation to American history gives me pause. Take Latin America. In the last two centuries, the United States has intervened militarily in that continent literally dozens of times. In Mexico, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Cuba, and more. It has sent troops, occupied cities, killed foreign soldiers, overthrown governments, created new governments, and governed militarily. The history of the United States in Latin America is of one damn war, at least as Cole understands that term, after another. And only two of them declared by Congress. Both in the nineteenth century.

Thinking about Obama’s war on ISIS in the context of that history, it’s hard for me to summon anything but a “shocked shocked” indifference to the president’s disregard for the Constitution. I’m not proud of that, and I’m not trying to proffer a knowing cynicism against Cole’s quite sound legal arguments. It’s just the history that overwhelms me.

Which brings me back to Schmitt.

Against virtually everything Schmitt argued in Political Theology—he does offer this throwaway line as a parenthetical observation: “not every extraordinary measure, not every police emergency or emergency decree, is necessarily an exception”—in the Unites States, the legally and constitutionally prescribed path to war has been the exception, and the unauthorized, extra-legal (if not illegal) military expedition has been the rule. At this point, he who would decide the exception—that is, he who would be sovereign, he who would make a decision that “emanates from nothingness”—would be he who seeks a constitutionally authorized congressional declaration of war.

We thus confront a situation of upside-down Schmittianism, in which war is “the crust of a mechanism that has become torpid by repetition” and law “the power of real life” that might break through. Which could be grounds for hope, were it not for the fact that the law is almost as lifeless as the victims of America’s torpid, repetitive wars.

Forget Pinkwashing; Israel Has a Lavender Scare

17 Sep

Speaking of McCarthyism, 43 veterans of an elite Israeli intelligence unit have not only come out against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but declared that they will no longer “take part in the state’s actions against Palestinians.” The intelligence on Palestinians that they gathered, they claim, “is used for political persecution,” which “does not allow for people to lead normal lives, and fuels more violence, further distancing us from the end of the conflict.” According to the Times:

In the testimony and in interviews, though, the Unit 8200 veterans described exploitative activities focused on innocents whom Israel hoped to enlist as collaborators. They said information about medical conditions and sexual orientation were among the tidbits collected. They said that Palestinians lacked legal protections from harassment, extortion and injury.

One of the hallmarks of a repressive state, particularly in the twentieth century, is the use of blackmail against gays and lesbians in order to get them to collaborate and inform on their friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and other potential or actual dissidents. The Stasi was notorious for turning gays and lesbians into collaborators (see pp. 567ff); one of the key figures in Timothy Garton Ash’s The File—Schuldt—is just such an informant. So pervasive was the use of this type of blackmail during the Cold War that it also figured prominently on the US side: one of the main justifications proffered for drumming out gays and lesbians from the federal government during the McCarthy era was that they were susceptible to being blackmailed by the Soviets. Though no one ever found a single instance of that.

Now here comes news that the Israeli state is doing the same thing among Palestinians. It will be interesting to see how the people who were so rightly appalled by the Stasi’s recruitment of gays and lesbians to a repressive state apparatus—including Israel defenders like James Kirchick—and who routinely hold up Israel’s record on gays and lesbians as a measure of its freedom and democracy (critics of Israel call that “pinkwashing”) will rationalize this away.

I have here in my hand a list of 205

15 Sep

AMCHA, an organization whose self-declared purpose is to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitism on campus, has a list.

A list of 218 professors who have called for the boycott of Israel. Which is somehow a threat to Jewish students on campus.

And they wonder why we call it McCarthyism.

Several folks have suggested that all of us who are academics, from graduate students to endowed chairs, write the organizers of the initiative and urge them to add our names to the list. As an act of solidarity. I think it’s a good idea, so I’m going to do it, and I encourage you to do the same.

Here are the folks and email addresses you should write:

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz, tammi@amchainitiative.org

Leila Beckwith, Professor Emeritus, UCLA, leila@amchainitiative.org

administrator@amchainitiative.org

Update (11:30 am)

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Professors Rossman-Benjamin and Beckwith:

I noticed this morning that you listed on the AMCHA website 218 professors who are a threat to Jewish students (“Thank you for your actions to protect Jewish students”). As a practicing Jew, I think your list is abhorrent. As a citizen, I think it’s pure McCarthyism. As an act of solidarity with the professors who have been unfairly maligned by you and your list, I’d like you to add my name to it. Below please find my identification.

Corey Robin

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