Joel Beinin creates a skirmish over academic freedom

Historians in the News

Google “Joel Beinin” and prepare for a war of words.

“If one individual can showcase all the flaws of Middle East Studies in academia, Joel Beinin is that man,” proclaims Campus-watch.org, a right-wing website affiliated with the neoconservative activist David Horowitz.

A tenured Stanford University professor who is Jewish and a Middle Eastern history expert, Beinin has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward Palestine. As a result, he has been a frequent target of accusations his views are anti-Semitic, among other things. A second article on Campus-watch.org calls him an “apologist for terrorists.”

On Nov. 3, Beinin brought that controversy to Oregon when he visited Portland State University as a candidate for a tenure-track appointment in PSU’s history department.

Two weeks later, the repercussions are still reverberating on campus—testament to Beinin’s notoriety and the volatility of Mideast studies at universities nationwide.

“This is one of those flashpoints,” says professor Ken Ruoff, chairman of the search committee for the appointment in PSU’s history department. “This is the real test [of academic freedom].”

One of four candidates for the appointment, Beinin says two PSU professors asked him his political views on Israel. If that’s true, such questions would be inappropriate hiring considerations, says Gregory Scholtz, a director at the American Association of University Professors.

“Particular political views are irrelevant,” Scholtz says.

But in an email to members of PSU’s history department as well as one of the other job candidates, Beinin accuses PSU of holding his political views against him and disregarding the principles of academic freedom separating politics and scholarship. Yet he never let it get that far.

On Nov. 4, less than 48 hours after visiting the campus and giving a public lecture to students and faculty members on the “political economy of Islamic social movements” as part of the job application process, Beinin said he no longer wanted the appointment. (Beinin declined to discuss the matter, but others have said he was considering the post because he has family, including a son, in Portland. Also, PSU offers a focus on modern Middle Eastern history that Stanford lacks.)

“Regretfully, I feel I have no choice but to withdraw my name from consideration for the modern Middle East position,” Beinin wrote in the Nov. 4 email obtained by WW (see the entire email below). “At all levels at PSU there is a serious lack of appreciation for academic freedom. This is especially unfortunate for a public institution.”...

Related Links

  • Campus Watch: Everybody's Always Picking on Joel Beinin
  • Read entire article at Willamette Week

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