Ted Asregadoo speaks to Professor William I. Robinson about his six-month ordeal defending his right to academic freedom and free speech against a coalition of groups that comprise part of the Israel lobby in the US.
The ongoing battle between the Israeli government and Hamas in the Gaza strip is a humanitarian crisis that much of the world recognizes, but few in the United States dare speak of. Those who accuse Israel’s government of war crimes, advocate divesting from the country’s economic sector or highlight the utter brutality Israel’s military inflicts on Palestinians in Gaza City often come under attack for voicing their views. William I. Robinson is one of those people. He is a professor of sociology at U.C. Santa Barbara, and five years ago when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza City, Professor Robinson wanted to discuss the incursion in one of his classes. He put together some newspaper articles and a photo essay and sent it to his students as part of the course’s optional reading list for a class meeting. Two of his students launched a formal complaint about the optional readings, claiming that Robinson violated the Faculty Code of Conduct was guilty of anti-semitism.
The uniqueness of this case is that the charges leveled at Robinson were part of a coordinated effort by the Israel lobby in the US to get him fired. Moreover, the influence of the lobby went beyond an external pressure group to one where members of the university faculty and administration were actively working with the lobby to get Robinson to “repent” (a word they used) or terminate his employment with the university. There were secret meetings, trumped up charges, and intimidation efforts to silence Robinson – and if it had been for the efforts of colleagues, faculty, and students, the Israel lobby might have succeeded in getting Robinson fired or forcing his resignation.
Robinson’s ordeal is one that highlights the McCarthy-like tactics the lobby uses to silence Israel’s critics, but it’s also the story of how democratic efforts can repel the chilling effect these tactics have in universities, the media and even in the political realm.