Pro-Israeli campaigners appear to be hunting for another scalp in their assault against free speech. The victim this time is a tenured Columbia university professor whose crime was nothing more than to speak out against Israel.
A network of pro-Israel activists surged against comments made by Iranian Professor Hamid Dabashi on social media. The professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at the New York University posted remarks criticising Israel for its campaign against the Iran nuclear deal. It's speculated that Trump was heavily influenced by Tel Aviv in his decision to pull out of the deal which is universally seen as a good thing for global security.
Venting his frustration over the collapse of the nuclear deal on his Facebook page, Dabashi described "the Zionists the Saudis and the US necons" – three groups that were the only ones opposed to the nuclear deal with Iran- as "laughing hyenas". He denounced them as being "stupid" and "ignorant" and said that they were "fucking with the wrong country".
In a separate comment he made remarks following revelations in the New York Times, which discovered that opponents of the Iran deal had hired investigators to dig up dirt on officials working under Barack Obama's administration in order to discredit them and eventually kill the deal.
Reacting to the revelation that detailed reports were being compiled – for what one assumes is an attempt to blackmail US officials – by a private investigations firm established by former intelligence analysts from the Israel army, Dabashi ventured that the "ugly name of Israel" appears on "every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act". The Times article also mentioned that the same Israeli firm, Black Cube, was hired to gather dirt on women accusing Harvey Weinstein, the movie mogul, of multiple instances of sexual misconduct.
These revelations followed the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The British data analytics company also employed Israeli firms to orchestrate campaigns against political opponents and to harvest millions of user data on social media with the aim of manipulating their vote.
Dabashi's comments were condemned by the pro-Israel campaign group as anti-Semitic. They appear particularly outraged by his suggestion that "die hard Fifth Column Zionists were working against the best interest of America and for the best interest of Israelis." The group which calls itself Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), "a non-profit organisation that brings together alumni to fight the anti-Semitism" sent a petition seen by MEMO calling on Columbia University to "unequivocally condemn" Dabashi for his "anti-Semitic postings" and to "relive" the professor of his teaching duties until he "commits to ending his anti-Semitic remarks".
MEMO contacted Dabashi about the allegations, which he strongly rejected. He described the "Zionist organisations" leading the attack against him as "morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt." The likes of ACF, he said, "had reduced to a monosyllabic automaton with Tourette's syndrome hurtling the terrorising accusation of 'antisemitism' against anyone critical of the criminal atrocities of their favourite settler colony". The accusation was being hurled at anyone and everyone including the pop artist Shakira and the Argentine national football team, Dabashi pointed out.
Dabashi explained that "under ordinary circumstances these false accusations are obscene but at a time when the Israeli army is slaughtering peaceful Palestinians protesting in Gaza they are positively revolting."
Over the specific allegation he said: "I am critical of all state violence and all violent ideologies – without a single exception – I criticise Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and the US even more than I do Israel. That does not make me anti-Iranian, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, or anti-American".
Dabashi thinks that what annoys these pro-Israeli organisations is the fact that he is "vehemently pro-Jewish and anti-Zionist". They are not so bothered when it's the other way around, he observed pointing to "nefarious anti-Semites like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon, or even neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer and Sebastian Gorka" who Dabashi says "hate Jews but love Israel".
Explaining his thoughts further on the marriage between the far-right and Israel he says: "I am pro-Jewish and anti-Zionist precisely the same way that I am pro-Muslim and anti-ISIS [Daesh], pro-Iranian anti-Islamic Republic, pro-Egyptian anti-Egyptian junta of General Sisi, pro-Arab against all Arab dictators — I am in short severely critical of all state violence and all militant ideologies without a single exception— I hate absolutely no human being — simple as that!"
His answer to the "insidious charge" he says is very simple: "Not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. The most notorious Zionists have always been in fact Christian. There are plenty of Hindu and Muslim Zionists too — and platoons of good old atheist and agnostic or as they call themselves 'secular' Zionists." He points out that
today the richest and most powerful Zionist is not Sheldon Adelsohn. It is in fact Mohammad Bin Salman who is a Muslim.
Dabashi is another victim of the assault by pro-Israeli organisations on free speech. In the US, the campaign to narrow the space for Israel's harshest critics represents a stark contrast. While attempts to silence academics critical of Israel has become a feature of universities both sides of the Atlantic, the US is the only country which appears to think that protecting Israel takes a greater priority than protecting the American people.
Gun control laws in the US always get shot down because opponents say it violates the Second Amendment. But it appears that when it comes to protecting Israel, rights protected under the First Amendment are not so important. Americans in at least 20 states are banned from exercising their right to boycott who they wish in order to protect Israel. The Congress has also seen several attempts by staunch supporters of Israel from both major parties pushing through a federal bill that will criminalise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Critics insist that the legislation would violate speech enshrined within the First Amendment.
In Columbia University, at least, Dabashi is confident that "such winds" will not "shake" the university. The institution, he tells me is "solid" and "is in capable hands". His advice was "not to overestimate the power of those who attack us."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.