Students for Justice in Palestine try to shut down U of C course taught by former Israeli intelligence officer

March 3, 2023 • 12:15 pm

Given the anti-Semitism sweeping academia, spurred on largely by pro-Palestinian organizations but also by the “anti-Zionism” of the progressive Left, it is academic suicide for someone to teach a course from an Israeli point of view, especially if that person is a former deputy director of Israeli military intelligence.  But such a course has been scheduled at my University for two separate quarters, with the first in progress now. The Palestinian students and their sympathizers are up in arms, physically trying to disrupt it.  It’s all detailed in the article from Inside Higher Ed below (click screenshot). However, a group of academics are trying to stop the students’ planned disruption (second article below from the Algemeiner; also click screenshot).

Details from the article above:

The Students for Justice in Palestine organization at the University of Chicago has been protesting teaching by a former deputy director of Israeli Military Intelligence whose “main academic interest,” according to the Israel Institute, “is societal resilience in the context of protracted terrorism against Israel.”

Meir Elran is a visiting professor at the university teaching the class Security, Counter-Terrorism and Resilience: The Israeli Case. He’s also a retired Israeli brigadier general who directs the domestic research cluster of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. He has a doctorate from the University of Haifa.

A Students for Justice in Palestine statement condemning Elran and his course is signed by, among others, several Chicago faculty members and Noam Chomsky, the longtime critic of American foreign policy who is now a University of Arizona laureate professor.

The statement says Elran’s course aims at “inculcating U.S. students with the mindset and worldview of the Israeli military.”

“On Elran’s telling of Israeli history, Israel appears not as an expansionist apartheid state predicated on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian land, but as an embattled liberal democracy surrounded by ‘large hostile Muslim populations’ and mired in a ‘Muslim-Jewish conflict’ not of its own making,” the statement says. “Having established this essentially Orientalist and propagandistic framing, Elran’s course encourages students to put themselves in the shoes of Israeli military strategists, reflecting throughout the quarter on the various past and present means by which Israel has worked to ‘secure’ its colonial enterprise and crush indigenous Palestinian resistance to it.”

“No principle of ‘academic freedom’ or ‘intellectual diversity’ justifies hosting classes taught by complicit Israeli military personnel—particularly not classes that misrepresent Palestinian history, treat Palestinian deaths as fodder for ‘strategic’ military theorizing and inundate students with the Orientalist worldview of Israeli colonists,” the statement says.

I regard the Students for Justice in Palestine as an anti-Semitic organization. They favor the motto “From the River to the sea, Palestine will be free”, which of course means eliminating Israel), so this protest is expected. and in line with our free speech policy. What is not allowed is disruption of the class, and of course the University of Chicago will not cancel an approved class because of political protest. The SJP argument that “academic freedom” does not allow an Israeli professor to give a course that may involve expressing Israeli points of view is of course a stupid argument. They’d certainly approve a course that that retells Palestinian history given by a Palestinian academic. Anything Israeli is condemned here; in the past few years students having shut down two talks given by Israelis.

A call for the elimination of Israel from SJP’s Chicago Instagram page:

The SJP beefs that this course is part of a nefarious Universsity plan to silence Palestinian voices, but no such plan exists. The SJP put their anti-Israel posters all over campus (and that’s fine), and they’re not removed:

On Instagram, the organization wrote, “Far from being an exception or an isolated incident, this latest escalation fits into a larger pattern of the university’s antagonism toward pro-Palestinian voices and refusal to take disciplinary [sic] against Zionist students and organizations. SJP will not be intimidated by these repressive tactics and refuses to be silenced by the university’s escalating attempts to shield students from the truth about Palestine and the violence represented by General Elran’s course.”

Repressive tactics? To give a course? What these students want is nothing less than the suppression of viewpoints they don’t like.  If they don’t like the course, they shouldn’t take it, but neither should they prevent other students from hearing Elran’s course.

Chicago spokesman Jeremy Manier, Vice President for Communications, gave a typical U of C response, one of which I’m proud:

Manier wrote in an email that the university “is deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas, and these values have been consistent throughout our history. While differences of opinion over course material may arise, the university defends the freedom of instructors to teach any course that has been developed through our faculty-led curricular processes, and the ability of students to enroll in courses of their choice.”

The course will go on, and students will not be allowed to disrupt it.

Meanwhile, the Algemeiner details a protest of the disruption, signed by many academics:

From the piece:

Over 120 academics from universities across the US have issued a letter calling on the University of Chicago to prevent Students for Justice in Palestine’s “in-person, disruptive” protest of a course taught by retired Israeli Defense Forces General Meir Elran.

A controversy broke out at the university on Feb. 2 when, according to the Chicago Maroon, SJP attempted to gain entrance to Cobb Hall — a building where Elran was teaching —but were allegedly “obstructed” by administrators and the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD). The students were attempting to protest his course, “Security, Counter-Terrorism, and Resilience: The Israeli Case.”

In a statement to The Algemeiner sent on Tuesday, the University of Chicago described the incident differently, explaining that “there was a brief delay of less than three minutes that allowed time for a Dean-on-call to speak with the students.” After, SJP “held a protest of approximately 15 minutes in a hallway outside of the classroom.” The group, according to multiple witnesses, also had previously succeeded in entering the building and standing outside the door of Elran’s classroom while chanting “Terrorist!”

That’s not really peaceful protest, though the protestors probably shouldn’t be allowed to disrupt the class this way.  The academics’ letter, here, is a good one, I think (it’s a sad sign of the times that the letter is unsigned), but SJP is relentless. What they want is not just the extirpation of Israel, but the silencing of all pro-Israeli (i.e., pro-“Zionist”) points of view.

SJP’s actions continued an effort to boycott what the group last year called “sh*tty Zionist classes,” which has targeted classes including Israel Institute visiting professor Meital Pinto’s “Multiculturalism in Israel” and Stephanie Kraver’s “Narrating Israel and Palestine through Literature and Film.”

Elran became the focus in January of SJP’s ire, which called his course “nothing less than the incursion of Israel’s military complex onto the university’s campus.”

In Monday’s letter, the professors urged University of Chicago to publicly condemn SJP’s academic boycott, citing the centrality of Zionism to Jewish identity, academic freedom and open inquiry, and student safety. [JAC: There’s no way the University woul condemn a boycott, as a call for boycotting a class is simply free speech.]

“We believe that it is only through such forceful and unequivocal responses that campuses can remain vibrant spaces for learning, dialogue, and growth,” they continued.

I’m curious to know to what extent the University will use force to stop any disruption. They’ve said they would, but of course the optics of campus police removing demonstrators from buildings are not good, and Elran’s class did go on.

And, by the way, I’d equally defend a Palestinian professor’s right to give a course from the opposite point of view—so long as it’s approved by the curriculum committee.

9 thoughts on “Students for Justice in Palestine try to shut down U of C course taught by former Israeli intelligence officer

  1. I was watching the BBC today. They have really stepped up their anti-Israel reporting lately. Today, it was that one civilian was killed after attacking Israeli soldiers.

    Israel: the only country where the death of a single person — regardless of whether they were a terrorist, attacker, or civilian — is somehow international news.

    Can you imagine if we reported on other countries this way? But no. Only Israel gets this treatment. I’m absolutely sick of it. It’s a decades-long campaign to poison the minds of people around the world against Israel, and it seems to be working.

  2. “And, by the way, I’d equally defend a Palestinian professor’s right to give a course from the opposite point of view—so long as it’s approved by the curriculum committee.”

    I agree. Though surely nearly every other course in the humanities is taught in either a very careful manner, or through the lens of complete support for the Palestinians. Anti-Zionist/Pro-Palestinian courses already exist on nearly every campus, as do professors who hold such beliefs. It’s only a course/professor that might, maybe, possibly be pro-Israel, or even just not outright anti-Israel, that would be protested.

  3. The “dean on call” program seems like a really good piece of infrastructure. I wonder if there is something similar to it at other schools. But i guess the marching orders for the deans who support this need to be clear and consistent through a clear and shared understanding of the Chicago Principles here or whatever policies a goven university has regarding these matters.

  4. “SJP will not be intimidated by these repressive tactics…”

    Propaganda 101- attribute to your opponents your own bad intentions and actions.

  5. A course on societal resilience through counterterrorism led by a professor with this CV would be fascinating. A tip of the hat to the academic department that put it on the calendar.

    This is one of those questions for which “there is no other hand!”, as Tevye says in a different context. Bless the University of Chicago for its fortitude against the heckler’s veto. The university should certainly use lawful force to protect the professor’s speech on its campus.

  6. I would think that campus student organizations likely have various conditions that they have to meet to be granted recognition as student organization. With that, they are lended the right to use campus spaces to meet, maybe have an office space, and to post flyers. At least I think that is the case.
    If so, then attempting to prevent a university class from taking place would be a pretty serious violation of those conditions.

  7. ” . . . signed by, among others . . . Noam Chomsky, the longtime critic of American foreign policy who is now a University of Arizona laureate professor.”

    I suppose Chomsky could condemn the course and the instructor without also supporting the disruption of the course. I’d like to think that that is his position, considering how he himself has endured similar treatment over the years, and his emphasis on the U.S. applying to itself the same standards it has imposed on others.

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