By Shaun Bishop
January 29, 2003 9:00 pm
Since Sept. 11, 2001, they’ve faced hate mail, ridicule
and threats because of their controversial views, yet many UCLA
professors continue to teach and express themselves on their own
Repeatedly-targeted history professor Gabriel Piterberg, who
openly voices his anti-Israeli views, thinks the criticism
he’s received regarding these opinions has had subtle effects
on his life.
Piterberg’s history seminar, “Myths, Politics, and
Scholarship in Israel,” was once omitted from a list put out
by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, a list that included every
other class at UCLA with Israel as its main subject matter.
“I’d like to believe it was an innocent
mistake,” Piterberg said.
Though he can’t prove it, Piterberg believes the center
left his course off the list because his open criticism of U.S.
foreign policy and Israel has been documented on a pro-Israeli Web
site known as Campus Watch.
“It isn’t (the center’s) business whether the
views are of one sort or another,” Piterberg said.
The center could not be reached for comment.
Criticized heavily in the media as blatant McCarthyism, Campus
Watch was started by Daniel Pipes, the director of a pro-Israeli
think tank known as the Middle East Forum.
The site originally included dossiers on eight professors whom
the site labeled as “apologists for suicide bombings and
militant Islam” because of their political views.
The dossiers were taken down after scholastic backlash from
academics defending the original eight, but the names of 185
professors and researchers worldwide who wrote in still remain on
the site’s “black list” as sympathizers to
Palestinian and Islamic violence in the Middle East.
“There is an atmosphere since Sept. 11 (2001),
there’s an attempt to silence views that are not palatable to
certain other views,” Piterberg said.
Piterberg eventually wrote a letter to his colleagues in the
UCLA department of history, whom he said were sympathetic to his
situation. Eventually the center issued an apology and added the
course to the list.
But the problems didn’t stop there, as Piterberg’s
letter was intercepted by Campus Watch and subsequently ridiculed
in an article by Martin Kramer, an associate of Pipes and editor of
a MEF-backed journal known as Middle East Quarterly.
Kramer said in the article that neither UCLA nor Piterberg were
ever mentioned on Campus Watch before his letter since “he
really is too small a fry to warrant his own mention.”
Piterberg maintains he was listed on the site.
Kramer has also targeted James Gelvin, a history professor at
UCLA currently researching and teaching in Beirut, Lebanon. Kramer
said negative student reviews of Gelvin on Bruinwalk.com show a
bias in his teaching.
Gelvin was undeterred.
“What really irks those guys is that I don’t use my
classroom for political purposes, and thus my lectures don’t
advance their political agenda,” Gelvin said in an e-mail,
also adding that Kramer has never attended his lectures.
“For example, in my classes I frequently use the word
“˜Palestinian’ as a noun. For those guys, it can only be
used as an adjective modifying the word
“˜terrorist,'” Gelvin said.
While Campus Watch’s self-stated mission is to
“monitor and critique Middle East studies in North
America,” the site does not contain criticism of professors
who are pro-Israeli or who advocate U.S. foreign policy ““
just those in opposition.
“That is not the defining characteristic,” Pipes
said in his defense.
The overarching concern for many is the eventual
“chilling” of free speech and curbing of
Professors in other departments have received criticism as well,
and have reacted similarly to Piterberg and Gelvin.
“That doesn’t stop me from writing my book, just
because they write nasty e-mails,” said African American
studies director Darnell Hunt.
The First Amendment protects professors the same as any other
citizen, but criticism from outside sources may prompt some
professors to censor themselves for fear of attracting negative
attention, even if their constitutional rights aren’t being
As the director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender
studies, James Schultz often finds himself amid politically-charged
topics, but said critics haven’t affected him much.
“We all have opinions, but the important thing is that
they be open to discussion,” Schultz said.
“That’s the point of education, to be able to think
critically about these things,” he said.
Fourth-year political science and history student Carmina Ocampo
said she thinks a professor’s view in the classroom is
acceptable and appropriate.
“It’s unrealistic for someone to be an instructor
and be purely objective. It helps a lot to hear other points, it
helps me argue my point better,” Ocampo said.
Hunt, like many professors, appreciates his right to express
himself as an educator, especially when facing criticism.
“Given academic freedom, the genie’s out of the
bottle, people may say things that offend you. I guess that price
is worth what you get,” Hunt said.