Russell Berman is against one-sided panels…

So the American Anthropological Association is hosting a panel at its annual conference in December titled “BOYCOTTING ISRAELI INSTITUTIONS OF HIGHER EDUCATION ABRIDGES ACADEMIC FREEDOM“.

Number of anthropologists on the panel: 0.

Number of pro-boycott voices on the panel: 0.

Number of anti-boycott voices: 5.

Personally, I have no problem with a one-sided panel like this. But you know who should have a problem with a one-sided panel like this? Stanford comp lit scholar and former president of the MLA Russell Berman.

Back in January, Berman told Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed that he objected to the allegedly one-sided nature of a panel at the MLA that was exploring the question of BDS. According to Jaschik:

He [Berman] said that MLA tradition is that “panels are generally organized by members,” so he does not take the views on any panel to reflect those of MLA leaders or the association as a whole. But Berman said he was concerned that “the panel organizers are evidently comfortable with such a narrow range of opinion.” He said that this “speaks volumes about their flawed understanding of academic freedom and open debate.


Ordinarily, I’d expect Berman to speak out strongly against the upcoming American Anthropological Association panel. There’s just one problem: He’s on it.


  1. Sonali August 13, 2014 at 12:13 am | #

    There is a more academic panel on the topic of BDS by Middle East anthros later the same day
    Perhaps Nelson and friends wanted to provide balance, and the AAA Executive Committee inexplicably let them.

  2. Roquentin August 13, 2014 at 9:46 am | #

    One of the most common propaganda techniques is to artificially restrict the range of opinion, like Hannity & Colmes, Hardball, and all those other news programs. The ironic thing is that the debate itself is secondary, the icing on the cake at best. The real legwork is done in getting you to accept the premises and that these in fact are the terms of the debate. If you really want to run wild with it, you could even say this is more or less how our two party system functions.

    • BillR August 14, 2014 at 8:14 am | #

      Reminds me of a comment made the other day:

      I have tried “dialogue” with Israelis, but I have found it extremely frustrating and exhausting because they are so tricky. They ignore points you make that they don’t like and they absolutely refuse to consider anything from a different point of view. They constantly lie, evade, equivocate, shift goalposts, contradict themselves, etc. If they feel that a line of argument is not leading where they want it to lead, they refuse to continue with it and change the subject. If you say anything they find offensive they become abusive or hysterical. It is not real dialogue but a form of verbal warfare. So it is Israelis themselves who make dialogue impossible. I know there are exceptions, but they are rare.

      Also, an excerpt from Max Blumenthal’s Goliath on Israel’s brand of propaganda, hasbara:

  3. Richard Ohmann August 14, 2014 at 9:45 am | #

    Incidentally, I was on the MLA panel in January, to whose pro-boycott unanimity Russell Berman, Cary Nelson, and others so strongly objected that with the aid of Hillel International and the Israel on Campus Coalition they hired a hall in a neighboring hotel for their own panel unanimously opposing the academic boycott. In fact, I spoke against it on the MLA panel, which I had also co-organized. (I favor the economic boycott.)

  4. Adam Albrett August 14, 2014 at 8:14 pm | #

    Berman’s panel has to be one-sided. Someone who can reason rationally and takes the time to think before getting involved in something would not participate in a panel whose title is clearly indicative of an insurmountable irrationality which cannot be remedied by the panel’s ‘dialogue’ or should I say pseudo-debate Most people, even academics who ought to know better, are too quick in either making a statement to represent an ‘issue’ (such as the title of the panel) or in responding to what often only appears to be a sound argument, but may in fact be an irreparably flawed ‘dead-ender’ that needs to be exposed as such rather than engaged on the merits.
    While the matter at hand involves the boycott of Israeli academic institutions and one can easily provide an analytical framework using the terms commonly employed in dealing with this matter, it is preferable to use a substitute matter and associated terms to force those who have difficulty in reflexively thinking dynamically, systematically, and empathetically to acquire a useful technique and skill (one hopes).
    Imagine panel titles/claims that lie inclusively between the Scylla title of “liberating slaves abridges property rights” and the Charybdis title of “interfering with the capture of slaves violates the right to earn a living” (or pick another right that is more fundamental and necessarily would encapsulate the less fundamental right in the Scylla title were such a right to ever materialize) and the ‘fuzzy areas’ around them. Can you imagine anyone today attending or being part of a panel whose title is so situated? Contrary to what some may think, especially some who think it has long been settled that everything is arbitrary and contingent, there is no room for non-fallacious reasoning and an objective dialogue with regards to the preceding claims/titles or the claim that boycotting Israeli institutions abridges academic freedom (I have no sympathy for those who think they can distinguish an economic boycott from an academic one and not be irreparably discredited intellectually, morally, ethically, and legally), but there is room for a useless subjective debate that unavoidably descends through rhetoric, sophistry, and revolting fallacies as the loser in the debate scores points with the ever dwindling numbers of the favorably prejudiced and dimwitted. Of course, they are effectively abandoned when the loser in the debate insists on stopping and admits that the loser should be judged as rhetoricians, sophists, or entertainers are judged—not seriously—but still allowed the face-saving claim that the abandoned few—no matter how few and despite being abandoned—means the jury is still out and the debate will resume later.
    I leave it to the reader to engage in the worthwhile exercise of figuring out why the foregoing must be true and encourage others to use it especially in pre-employment evaluations or IQ tests. I will provide some encouragement by exposing someone who opposes Prof. Robin and has chosen to be the loser in this debate that cannot be won rather than a participant in a constructive dialogue. Jacobson over at the laughter-inducing legal insurrection blog claimed that the supporters of the academic boycott of Israel are hypocrites for coming to the defense of Prof. Salaita. When I read his blogpost, I exclaimed at home in a loud voice that it is impossible for him to non-fallaciously argue that they are hypocrites, that the boycott violates academic freedom, or that UIUC was not violating Prof. Salaita’s right to academic freedom. In a blogpost the following day, Jacobson backtracks and admits that the supporters are not hypocrites, but are rather violating the golden rule. Jacobson may be too dimwitted (not surprised given his academic background and what he’s now doing with his life) to recognize that he went from committing at least three fallacies to making at least four, with the additional fallacy being that two wrongs make a right. One would be mistaken to think that Jacobson will soon become the posterboy for comedic fodder for logicians and philosophers; even borderline saintly logicians and philosophers are not immune to feelings of contempt and have to consume idiocy in moderation. It’s been a few days, but my cheeks are still sore from the intense laughter he and others on his blog induced.

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