Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Don't Confuse Diversity with Bias

I am reposting my op-ed on academic bias at Tel Aviv University, in response to the piece in Haaretz -- MSK.

Don't Confuse Diversity with Bias (originally published in the Jerusalem Post, January 2004)

I am a recently tenured member of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University, the department that is the focus of Caroline Glick's "Academic Gulags." I am also a conservative, an opponent of a Palestinian state, a supporter of Jewish settlement in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza -- and I have not hesitated to air my political views since joining the department in 1995. I have written for the neo-conservative Weekly Standard, and have received funding from such well-known conservative institutions as the John M. Olin Foundation and the Heritage Foundation.

Nor am I the token conservative in an otherwise solidly far-left department. One colleague, a strong cultural Zionist, participates in a seminar at the conservative Shalem Institute in Jerusalem. Another, while dovish politically, works on the politically incorrect topic of sociobiological explanations for warfare. Yet another has, in her scholarly publications, defended the Israeli right to retain the settlements. Nor are we monolithic in our political affiliations and political activities: members of the department have been linked to political parties from the right, the center, as well as the left, advising figures from former IDF Chief of Staff Raful Eitan to Likud's David Levy to former Labor Party foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami.

We Tel Aviv political science professors are active in presenting Israeli affairs from diverse points of view both at home and abroad. My colleague Gideon Doron defended Israel and the Sharon Government in an internationally publicized debate with Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi last year at the University of Colorado. Another colleague, Yossi Shain, has defended Israeli policy on ABC's Nightline and other major media outlets.

Ms. Glick found that some of our students echoed back to her the teachings of Yoav Peled. I am not surprised: Professor Peled is, without a doubt, the most influential teacher in our department  not because his views are echoed by other members of the faculty, but because he does the best job in his lectures of marshaling arguments and evidence in support of them. To the rest of us, who disagree with him about everything from the virtues of capitalism to the Palestinian right of return, Professor Peled's influence is only a spur to us to do a better job in researching, writing, and presenting alternative understandings that we find more plausible. Professor Peled is also the strongest voice in the department for the maintenance of unimpeachable academic standards and the place of the liberal arts in our curriculum, to an extent that even I, a former student of the late Allan Bloom's, am sometimes hesitant to echo.

Yoav Peled is indeed a Marxist, a supporter of concessions to the Palestinians, and has even spoken out for "regime change" in George W. Bush's United States. Professor Peled is also a captain in the Israel Defense Forces reserves, a former El Al air marshal, and the son of one of the most prominent generals in IDF history, Motti Peled. Somehow I doubt that many such figures can be found in America's academic left.

Are alternative views to Yoav Peled's welcome at Israeli universities? My experience of the past decade, a tumultuous decade for Israel, as we all know, indicates that such views are more than welcomed; such views are rewarded by Tel Aviv's Department of Political Science. My department values diversity of viewpoint and excellence in research and presentation above criteria of political correctness whether leftist or conservative. By following that policy, we have become the leading political science department in Israel.

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