So far as I know, it [Bard's Myths and Facts] is a reliable source, perfectly reputable," he said.Puleeze....
Thursday, November 29, 2007
What Can Be Learned from the Hannah Diskin Affair at GWU
The Washington Jewish Week, a center-right community newspaper that I receive gratis, for some reason, published an article this week about a George Washington University Instructor who quit teaching her class on the Israel-Arab confict after students complained to the chair of the Political Science department that the class was one-sided and biased in favor of Israel. The students were left in the lurch, and the university had to find a substitute. This, according to the WJW, admittedly not the most reliable of newspapers. The instructor, Hannah Diskin, was described by the WJU as "visiting from Hebrew University". and a "postdoctoral fellow" funded by Mitchell Bard's American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. And indeed, Dr. Diskin is listed as a postdoctoral fellow for the current year on the AICE website. Cecelie Surasky has a convenient summary of the matter on her wonderful Muzzlewatch blog. But I looked a little more closely at the matter and didn't like what I saw. Let's start with some facts that escaped the notice of the WJW reporter, Eric Fingerhut regarding Dr. Diskin. (Mr. Fingerhut deserves considerable credit for pursuing the story.) These facts are culled from Dr. Diskin's cv which appears not on the Hebrew University website, but -- surprise!-- on the website of the West Bank Ariel College of Judea and Samaria. (Yes, that's the one that calls itself a "university center", despite that it is not recognized as such by the Israel Council of Higher Education) First, Dr. Diskin, who is listed by AICE as an "AICE supported postdoctoral fellow" at GWU this year, received her doctorate from Tel-Aviv university over twenty-five years ago. Generally, the limit for eligibility of postdoctoral fellows is seven, maybe, nine years. Why would AICE award somebody like Dr. Diskin a posdoctoral fellowship? Second, Dr. Diskin is not on the faculty of Hebrew University, so she cannot be described as "visiting from Hebrew university." Her cv lists her as having a "teaching position" at Hebrew University from 1992-2005 in the Political Science department. That is usually code for being an adjunct instructor. Her husband, Avraham Diskin, is a professor in that department and a former chair. He is a visiting professor at GW this year. (Oddly, this was not mentioned in the WJW article.) In fact, if I understand her employment history correctly, she has never been more than an adjunct at Hebrew University or any other university inside or outside of Israel. From 2001 she is listed as the Director General of a publishing company. Third, Dr. Diskin's area of scholarly expertise -- according to her publication history -- is Polish-Christian relations. The only book that she has authored by herself is entitled, The Seeds of Triumph: Church and State in Gomulka's Poland -- a book that was published twenty years after she received her doctorate. She has coauthored with her husband several articles in one of his main areas of scholarly expertise, the Israeli electoral system. She has not authored a single article on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as far as I know. I want to be very careful about what I say here. The fact that Dr. Diskin has never had, apparently, a permanent university position, does not in itself exclude her from being an effective teacher, or for that matter, a competent scholar. There are many fine scholars in Israel who, for various reasons, are without a permanent tenure home. (I cannot refrain from saying that the plight of women academics in Israel is particularly pronounced, but I have no idea whether that is relevant in this case.) I also don't think that her political views, which I obviously don't share, are particularly relevant to the question -- provided that she keeps them to herself. My problem is not with Dr. Diskin, but with GW, which allowed an advocacy operation like AICE sponsor an adjunct instructor who is an expert in Polish-Christian relations to teach a class on the Arab-Israel conflict! I won't even begin to comment on the appropriateness of her assigning as one of the two books in the class, Mitchell Bard's Myths and Facts, a highly biased and one-sided polemic that has no academic value whatsoever. Bard's organization sponsors her, and then she turns around and assigns Bard's book? Nor will I speculate that the position was arranged for her by AICE as part of a package deal that brought her husband and her to GW on her husband's sabbatical. That is not the issue. Had she been teaching in her field of expertise, or even in her area of teaching competence, without such tendentious sources, then who would have cared? When are universities going to learn that they cannot be cavalier with accepting money from outside organizations that fund teachers who, based on the news report, do not meet the minimum standards of objectivity? Assigning the Bard book in a college classroom, if true, is a big smoking gun. Most amusing, though predictable, is the reaction of Daniel Pipes. Pipes has lead a crusade against what he calls biased Middle East professors. One would have thought that he would have been the first to criticize Dr. Diskin's use of Bard's one-sided work -- after all, the assumption is that as a scholar, he would oppose tendentiousness on both sides, right? But no -- apparently, alleged advocacy and biased teaching is ok when you are on the side of Israel. Pipes was quoted as saying,