Monday, September 20, 2010

Backspin points to an interview with Fred Gottheil, concerning an experiment he undertook this year. Here's how he described it in an article earlier this month:
A year and a half ago, January 2009, David C. Lloyd, Professor of English at the University of Southern California, wrote a three-page petition concerning U.S. relations with Israel, which he addressed to incoming President Barack Obama. His petition was endorsed by nine hundred signatories, most located at universities and colleges in the United States, but some affiliated with academic institutions in Canada, United Kingdom, and even Israel.

Lloyd's petition was notable not only for its criticism of Israeli policy -- that is standard fare among the set of academics who subscribe to a post-colonial view of the world -- but rather for its demonizing of the Jewish state.

...[A]ccepting as genuine the petitioners' stated goal of seeking social justice in the Middle East, I thought it fitting to contact the signatories of the Lloyd petition to offer them yet another opportunity to express their commitment to social justice in the region, this time by endorsing a Statement of Concern regarding human rights abuses practiced against gays and lesbians and against women in general in many of the Middle Eastern countries, including the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority. The idea was really uncomplicated: Since they expressed a concern about social injustice in Israel, they might also be willing to express their concern about human rights abuses practiced against women, gays, and lesbians in other parts of the Middle East.

...Only thirty of the 675 self-described "social-justice seeking academics" responded, 27 of them agreeing to endorse the Statement. But these 27 signatories represent less than five percent of the 675 contacted. In other words, 95 percent of those who had signed the Lloyd petition censuring Israel for human rights violation did not sign a statement concerning discrimination against women and gays and lesbians in the Middle East.

Surprised? If so, prepare for yet a bigger surprise. As many as 25 percent of the Lloyd petition-signing academics were faculty associated with gender and women studies departments. Yet of these, only 5 endorsed the Statement calling for attention to the discrimination against women in the Muslim countries of the Middle East. Put more bluntly, 164 of the 169 faculty who had chosen to focus their life's work on matters affecting women, and who felt comfortable enough to affix their names to Lloyd's petition censuring Israel, chose not to sign a Statement of Concern about documented human rights violations against gays, lesbians, and women in the Middle East.

What should we make of this? Perhaps it is that we should be aware of what we don't see when we see petitions and their signatories. While academics are entitled to voice opinions no less than anyone else, those -- as in the Lloyd petition -- who explain their criticism of Israel and demand change in our relationship to that Jewish state on grounds of "social justice" may indeed have other agendas in mind. What they were willing and unwilling to sign tells us a great deal about who they are and what social justice means to them. It appears their "social justice" is reserved only for their own kind. And it matters. After all, many of them teach "social justice" in their classrooms.
Somehow I had missed this story; it was covered by CiFWatch and others.

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