Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Ari Y. Kelman, associate professor and Joseph Chair in Education and Jewish Studies at the University of California-Davis, has been in the news of late. That's because Kelman authored a study which suggests that campus antisemitism isn't a thing (for background see: New campus study claiming little antisemitism on campus severely flawed  by Daled Amos). Kelman came to this conclusion by handpicking just 66 subjects from five separate campuses who have no interest in Israel or things Jewish, thus insuring the very non-randomized study would generate the results he sought. Which led to some cognitive dissonance when a reader drew my attention to a June 14 Times of Israel profile of Dennis Prager in which author Lisa Klug cited Kelman as an expert.

Dennis Prager
Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Prager is known for stating clear simple truths in language that anyone can understand. In the Times of Israel interview he says, “Non-Jews who think anti-Semitism is only the Jews’ problem need to read about miners’ canaries — about miners who think that when canaries die of noxious fumes those fumes won’t kill them,” he says, and “Nothing better identifies incipient evil than anti-Semitism.”

Ari Y. Kelman
This is a true statement, crafted for actual people. Instead of acknowledging the point, Klug suggests that Prager's careful wording might be seen by some as "oversimplification." The use of the word "oversimplification" might, on the other hand, be seen by others as "bias by description." In bias by description, authors use adjectives and characterization to paint a favorable or negative picture of a person, political view, or story. When a reader suspects an article contains bias by description, that reader should look for balance within the piece or in the wider news outlet as a whole.

In terms of this particular piece, Klug brings us the opinions of two academics, both of whom use several negative descriptors in their characterizations of Prager with "balance" provided by the CEO of Prager University, Marissa Streit. The academics are (SURPRISE!) Prof. Ari Kelman of the bogus study, and Daniel Schwartz, an associate professor of history and the director of the Program in Judaic Studies at The George Washington University. Kelman is meant to be the progressive voice:

“Prager’s comments are spurious, overly broad, and, basically inaccurate,” writes Ari Y. Kelman, Jim Joseph Professor of Education and Jewish Studies at Stanford University. “They do not represent the general conditions of Jewish student life on college campuses, and they do not represent the experiences or intentions of many of the faculty associated with Jewish Studies with whom I have spoken."

All 66 of them!
"And I am fairly certain that I have more interaction with both students and faculty than Prager does, which leads me to wonder where he gets his information from."

Perhaps the other tens of thousands of Jewish students Kelman didn't interview?

Klug offers context for citing Kelman as an expert on campus antisemitism.
"Kelman, who also serves as associate director of Stanford’s Berman Jewish Policy Archive of some 40,000 journal articles and research reports is in the midst of a student-focused research project. He and his own students have interviewed about 80 enrollees on five California campuses, Kelman says."

Uh, no. Not "about 80 enrollees." Just 66. And even if it were 80, that would not be an impressive number. (Can you spell "miniscule.")

“I can speak with some authority about the lives of college students because my students and I are in the middle of a research project on how Jewish students are making sense of politics around Israel, being Jewish, Palestine, and other issues on campus,” says Kelman.

Authority. Uh huh. We know how that turned out. Sixty-six handpicked uninvolved Jewish college kids making sense of something they could care less about, including the nonexistent aforementioned state.

But let's move on to Daniel Schwartz, the other academic cited by Klug. His CV's seem to promise Schwartz will generate the balance in this piece. Schwartz, we're told, is an active member of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) which is against BDS and supports academic freedom, for instance. So far, so good. A glance at the organization's mission statement, unfortunately, suggests the AEN may be crippled by political correctness. Note the phrasing of this sentence: "The Academic Engagement Network aims to promote more productive ways of addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Daniel Schwartz

Compare this phrasing to say, the unabashed forthrightness of Professor Ruth Wisse of Harvard, who speaks of the Arab war against the Jews. A partial transcript:

Ruth Wisse

People talk about the 'Arab Israel conflict' I think the term itself is a lie, and if at all possible, the term should be avoided. What you have is the Arab war against Israel and I would put it even more strongly; what you have is the Arab war against the Jewish people. 
The Arab league was created in 1945. It was created the same year as the United Nations and I think one of the main reasons that the Arab League was created, it was not that these Arab countries were so much in love with one another—as we can see the conflicts in the Arab world among the countries themselves are almost as great as their conflict with the Jewish State—but the Arab League came together around one thing more than anything else and that was the prevention of the creation of the State of Israel, and then what has remained the glue of the Arab: of pan-Arabism, of the Arab League formerly, and of what the Arab League represents: the common enmity to a Jewish state, so that the role of opposition to Israel is at the very foundation of Arab politics.
It's frightening in the sense of how important it is to Arab countries because sometimes when one sees it from their point of view, you sort of wonder: What would draw them together if it is not common enmity to the State of Israel? No wonder they have to keep this war going for so long.
It is so essential to their political life and to their internal political life, not only vis-à-vis one another but really in terms of scapegoating, in terms of explaining what's going wrong, in terms of blaming and creating a grievance against another country. So I think it makes no sense to talk about an Arab Israel conflict, because when you use these terms, it almost seems as if you're talking about two entities which are at war with one another. It's almost as if you're thinking of the Franco-Prussian War, where you would have France and Germany in conflict over some territory, or even the Polish Russian War where it was a conflict over whether this country would have the land, or that country would have the land.

Well, what we're talking about is not that kind of conflict. It is the conflict of countries, over 20 countries, with an enormity of land, with more land than they know what to do with, that refuse to allow one people its land. It is a very essential refusal to accept the principle of pluralism, to accept the principle of the possibility of the existence of another people with its own legitimacy. And until that realization begins to be spoken of more openly, and until that realization is really forced back into the Arab world, we don't have a chance of ever solving what that conflict is.

And it's not enough for people outside of the conflict to begin to recognize this truth, the most important thing is for people within the Arab world to begin to acknowledge what they have denied the Jewish people for over 60 years.

Ruth Wisse isn't the only academic who might have provided balance for Klug's hit piece on Prager. At least 8 of them come to mind. But Klug culled Schwartz from an organization hampered by a need to find balance where there is none—in the Arab war against the Jews. Klug writes:

Daniel Schwartz, an associate professor of history and the director of the Program in Judaic Studies at The George Washington University, says he is “all too familiar with Prager’s right-wing extremism.” 

But Schwartz needs to be the balance to Kelman, so he offers his creds through an assertion of his opposition to BDS:

Schwartz, an active member of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), says he would not have joined if “I weren’t concerned about the rash of BDS initiatives on college campuses in the US in the past few years.”

Of course, he doesn't believe that BDS has made it at all difficult for Jewish college kids, contrary to consistent reports of harassment and even violence against them by pro-BDS, anti-Israel, and antisemitic students and groups.

“I am generally skeptical of the notion that boycott and divestment campaigns have created an atmosphere on college campuses that is ‘hostile’ to robust forms of Jewish self-identification and expression, just as I tend to be skeptical of the way the current generation of college students speaks obsessively about a need to feel ‘safe’ on campus, in a way that tends to favor the suppression of certain kinds of speech,” Schwartz says.

This is balance? It's just more psychobabble leftist-speak for "We hate Prager." We KNOW that Jewish students not only do not "feel" safe on campus, but that they actually feel scared and endangered (and with good reason). We also know that BDS is part and parcel of the ethos of the people who threaten those Jewish students and have left them feeling so frightened and alone and so afraid to speak up for Israel. We don't need fake academics to tell us this, because we read about campus incidents nearly every day in the Algemeiner and Israel National News.

The Times of Israel article ends with a brief interview of Streit, but not before Klug makes a snide
Marissa Streit
comment about Streit's office being littered with "made in China" PragerU swag, with Streit, seemingly apologetic, explaining that the water bottles and totes are sent to donors. Streit describes how PragerU works:

A group of about 500 students comprise PragerForce, in which they make a commitment to share content, Streit says. In addition to aggressive online marketing, Streit says the “secret sauce” of PragerU is that the organization has “clear, factual and easy to understand content combined with a very robust marketing platform.”

What I said: clear, simple, easy to understand, factual. What Klug characterizes as "oversimplification." Also, 500 students, versus Kelman's 66. Natch?

Klug asks Streit one final question:

Will the organization’s methods produce a lasting impact? 
To which Streit responds:
“If people could hear Dennis and see a video again and again, that could help people to articulate with intellectual ammunition,” Streit says. “If you are pro-American, you are pro-Israel. The more people you bring to American values, the more people you bring to Israel.”

That would have been a great place to end the piece. It's always nice to end on a positive note, with a quote. But no. Klug must sow doubt in the reader's mind over the viral effect of PragerU videos, because this is the anti-Conservative Times of Israel. She must deliver the coup de grâce, kneeing Prager and his followers in the testicles one final time:

Like the future of on-campus debate itself, the legitimacy of this argument remains to be seen.

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