October 29, 2002

Watching the watchers

University of Chicago professors who teach or write about Israeli-Palestinian relations and the place of Israel in the Middle East now find themselves with an audience besides that of their students and peers: Campus Watch.

The Web site was founded by Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and columnist for the New York Post and the Jerusalem Post. Its stated purpose is to "monitor and gather information on professors who fan the flames of disinformation, incitement and ignorance. Campus Watch will critique these specialists, and make available its findings on the internet and in the media." Disinformation, incitement and ignorance, in the parlance of Campus Watch, is anti-Israel sentiment, something which runs counter to "American interests on campus."

It is a shame that Pipes, who once taught at the University of Chicago, has chosen to link incitement and ignorance with dissent. Pipes brings members of the academic community to task for opposing the Gulf War in the face of support from America as a whole and for investigating the role of U.S. foreign policy in stirring violence against American targets. The suggestion that academic debate should never run counter to popular opinion is surprising; that it comes from a member of the academic community and a former member of our own institution is shocking.

Rashid Khalidi, a professor of Near Eastern Language and Civilization in the University and a frequent target of Campus Watch "campus surveys," has found himself the target of slander and electronic identity theft since being featured on Campus Watch. While Campus Watch does not encourage such responses, the site clearly supports an atmosphere of condemnation, not argument.

Professors such as Khalidi put their reputations on the line whenever they teach a class or publish an article, be it scholarly or popular. Campus Watch's campus surveyors—who report "anti-Semitic" statements or opinions from professors and classes—are held to no such standards, instead submitting reports anonymously to the Web site. Campus Watch is entitled to the same rights that free speech guarantees for its targets, and its basic intent to bring academic discussion to the popular forefront is not misguided. It should, however, look to the standards of academia as a model, not as a danger.