Israeli Diplomat Pressured UNC to Cancel Grad Student Instructor's Course on Israel-Palestine Conflict

Historians in the News
tags: University of North Carolina, academic freedom, Israel-Palestine Conflict

THIS AUGUST, Israeli consular officials in the southeast U.S. arranged meetings with a dean at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to discuss a graduate student teaching a course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to two UNC professors with knowledge of the meetings, who asked for anonymity for fear of retribution, the Israeli official accused the Ph.D. student of antisemitism and said she was unfit to teach the course.

The intervention by an Israeli government official, Consul General to the Southeastern United States Anat Sultan-Dadon, followed a pressure campaign by right-wing pro-Israel websites and an advocacy group to remove the graduate student, Kylie Broderick, from teaching the history department course called “The Conflict over Israel/Palestine.” The websites and pro-Israel advocacy group pointed to postings Broderick had made on Twitter that criticized Israel and Zionism and, without evidence, cited the postings as evidence of antisemitism.

In addition to the intervention by the Israeli government, the school faced pressure from a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the two UNC professors told The Intercept. The professors said Rep. Kathy Manning, D-N.C., also met with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to exert pressure over Broderick’s course.

“It is not a new phenomenon where outside parties have tried to stifle academic freedom on this subject,” Broderick said. “But these people have never seen me teach, never seen my past evaluations which have said that I treat students fairly, and thus have no right to dictate what I say inside the classroom.”

Israel-Palestine has become one of the most politicized areas of academia, with periodic firings of professorsprosecutions of students, and even the maintenance of public blacklists helping impose an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship over the topic. Even by that standard, the intervention of Israeli government officials directly with an American university over the teaching of a course represents a troubling new threat to academic freedom.

“I think that a representative of a foreign government attempting to police an academic class is, in the first place, ridiculous, and an obvious overreaction to what is essentially an issue that started on Twitter,” Broderick said. “I also think it is strange that the Israeli consulate general was granted an audience. If this was a class on Hungary or Australia, would the university have permitted the attempted interference of a foreign government? The fact that this meeting happened at all is clearly a threat to academic freedom.”

The controversy started over several tweets sent by Broderick that were highly critical of Israel and U.S. foreign policy, including support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. Broderick rejected accusations leveled by Israeli consular officials that her criticisms of Israel on social media constituted antisemitism. “A critique of Israel and the political ideology of Zionism does not constitute bigotry any more than a critique of Iran, which calls itself an Islamic Republic, constitutes an Islamophobic attack,” Broderick said. ”States are not religions, nor are states a people.”

BRODERICK HAD EXPECTED scrutiny some of her teaching, as Israel is always a hot-button issue in the United States. What she did not was the degree to which the smear campaign against her would balloon, up to and including interventions from officials of two governments.

Read entire article at The Intercept