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On Dealing with Antisemitic University Faculty

By TTN Blog

This post is a quickie guide to a four-part analysis at The Faculty Lounge by Steven Lubet, a TTN colleague who is a professor of law at Northwestern University. This is from Part One:

Michael Chikindas is a tenured professor of Food Science at Rutgers University. He is also an anti-Jewish bigot, as is evidenced by his Facebook posts, which often feature classic anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and grotesque cartoons [like the one above] that would be thoroughly familiar to readers of the Daily Stormer.  . . .  He claims not only that Israelis were responsible for 9/11 — as do many well-known conspiracy theorists — along with the standard Holocaust denial, but also that Jews, masquerading as Turks, were responsible for the Armenian genocide.  Perhaps needless to say, Chikindas denies any anti-Jewish prejudice, and claims that he is merely an anti-Zionist.

Prof. Lubet concludes this segment by citing the Rutgers University Board of Trustees statement on academic freedom:

. . . a faculty member can be disciplined for bigoted speech within the course of his or her academic or related work, but not for purely “extramural” speech. . . .  Chikindas’s Facebook-posted anti-Semitism has nothing to do with his field of food science, so it would seem that “institutional discipline” — which would include suspension, but not administrative re-assignment — should be barred on academic freedom grounds.  This is the position taken by my own university regarding the Holocaust denier Arthur Butz, who teaches electrical engineering, and I think it is the right result.

Part Two is about Hatem Bazian, a lecturer in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC-Berkeley and a founder of Students for Justice in Palestine, who has circulated antisemitic images via Twitter. 6a00e54f871a9c883301b8d2c5ee98970c-800wi“Mom, Look! I Is Chosen!” is an example. Prof. Lubet’s analysis weighs the following:

There is actually a stronger case for disciplining Bazian than there is against Chikindas, given that Bazian’s expression of bigotry is directly related to his academic appointment in the Department of Ethnic Studies.  According to the AAUP Statement on Extramural Utterances, a faculty member may be disciplined if “the professor’s extramural utterances raise grave doubts concerning the professor’s fitness” for service in his or her position.  Religious biases may be irrelevant to Chikindas’s teaching of Food Science, but they go right to the heart of teaching Ethnic Studies.  . . .

Although I am generally opposed to disciplining faculty for extramural speech, I am also in favor of calling people to account for bigotry, no matter how much they try to rationalize or justify it.  No one who is actually opposed to anti-Semitism could circulate those images . . . .

Part Three is about two arguments defending the academic status of Chikindas and Bazian. This is part of Prof. Lubet’s discussion:

The most extensive defense of Chikindas was written on the AAUP’s Academe Blog by John K. Wilson, who says that “Chikindas is an anti-Semite, and an idiot,” while arguing against the measures taken against Chikindas because “Perpetuating ‘toxic stereotypes’ is not a violation of any campus rules, nor is upsetting people.” . . .

First, though perhaps most understandable, it is trivializing for Wilson to call Chikindas “an idiot.”  The problem with Chikindas is not stupidity or poor judgment, it is bigotry.  The reference to anti-Semitism as idiocy has the effect of minimizing the seriousness of Chikindas’s Facebook posts . . . and the historic harms that have been committed in the name of similar anti-Jewish tropes.  A synagogue was firebombed in Sweden last weekend by people who share Chikindas’s beliefs.  They were racists, not idiots.  . . .

According to Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University, Bazian’s behavior was nothing more than “a mistake he made and for which he took responsibility and has publicly apologized.” In a letter to UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, Abdulhadi asserted that Bazian had merely “inadvertently retweeted an offensive meme.” Abdulhadi . . . evidently could not bring herself to acknowledge that it included vile and unmistakable anti-Semitic imagery.  Instead, Abdulhadi insists that “Hatem is being attacked because the Zionist establishment would like to silence all of us and use bullying, smear campaign and outright incitement to violence to take us out once and for all.”  To Abdulhadi, it seems that complaints about anti-Semitism have no intrinsic legitimacy and can be readily discounted as coming from the “Zionist establishment.”

In Part Four, Prof. Lubet explains why repeating and spreading such antisemitic images on social media matters, arguing that such imagery has motivated real-life atrocities against Jews, both historically and in our day, up to and including genocide.  Lubet refers to media tactics directed at followers of the neo-Nazi Stormfront website, which include such nuggets as:

There should be a conscious agenda to dehumanize the enemy, to the point where people are ready to laugh at their deaths. . . . all enemies must be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews. This is pretty much objectively true anyway, but we want to leave out any and all nuance.

He then quotes some Tweets from activists in SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine), followed by the observation that “Bazian, Abdulhadi, and others have played a role in producing a generation of activists at ease with the idea of genocide.” To wit:

Hitler should have took you all.

I honestly wish I was born at the time of the second world war just to see the genius, Hitler, at work.

Where is hitler when u need one?’ I literally ask this every day.

Zionists don’t count as human beings. I would say they’re cockroaches, but that’s offensive to the cockroaches.  . . .

But to do complete justice to Prof. Lubet’s work, one needs to read his posts in their entirety. (Postscript: Prof. Lubet has just consolidated his posts into one link; click here.)

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