The ASA’s next boycott!

Dear Fellow Members of the American Studies Association (ASA),

We are pleased to report our progress toward our next boycott resolution. As you know, our president, Professor Curtis Marez, gained some notoriety from a quote given by him to the New York Times. He had been asked why, given the widespread abuse of human rights around the world and especially in the Middle East, the ASA had chosen to boycott only Israeli universities. His answer: “One has to start somewhere.”

This prompted questions as to where we would go next. So we took our lead from a statement by Professor Marez: “We are targeting Israeli universities because they work closely with the government and military in developing weapons and other technology that are used to enforce the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.” In that spirit, we have decided that our next boycott should be leveled against additional universities that collaborate with their governments and militaries in developing weapons and other technology used to violate human rights around the world. And since we are the American Studies Association, we have decided to focus our quest in these United States, where perhaps, right under our noses, universities are falling short of our own new standards of academic virtue.

Our attention has been drawn to the University of California at San Diego—where, so it happens, Professor Marez chairs the department of ethnic studies. We begin with a basic data point, taken from a 2012 press release by the UCSD News Center under the headline: “UC San Diego Maintains Strong Ties With Department of Defense.” The item notes that UCSD (itself situated on a former marine base) “has maintained a strong connection with defense initiatives for the military and U.S. government over the past five decades…. During this fiscal year alone, the Department of Defense has granted more than $60 million to support various basic and applied research studies at UC San Diego.” To this must be added grants from defense contractors, who are thick on the ground in San Diego.

After an intensive internet search, we have discovered where some of this funding is going. The 2012 news item, quoted above, mentioned that the most recent DoD grant, for $7 million, went to a team of physicists, biologists, chemists, bioengineers, and psychologists, “to investigate the dynamic principles of collective brain activity.” Nothing could sound more sinister. (Although our critics, pointing to our earlier boycott resolution, have claimed that “collective brain activity” does not have much potential.) Social scientists are also doing their share. For example, there is the political scientist doing a DoD-funded project on “cross domain deterrence,” in collaboration with the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories. (E.g., you threaten a student with a failing grade, and they threaten back with harassment charges.) And there is the economist, funded by DoD and Homeland Security, asking “Can Hearts and Minds be Bought? The Economics of Counterinsurgency in Iraq.” (In a word: yes, but every academic dean knows that anyway.)

However, there are projects far more ominous than “collective brain activity,” such as weapons systems, and particularly drone warfare. San Diego is the nation’s biggest center of military drone production, with the massive presence of General Atomics and Northrop Grumman, the two leaders in the field. General Atomics makes the Predator and the Reaper, Northrop Grumman makes the Golden Hawk and the Hunter. We remind our members that in the fall, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued reports on civilian casualties in U.S. drone strikes in North Waziristan (Pakistan) and Yemen, respectively. Both reports are replete with disturbing case studies. Amnesty expressed “serious concerns that the USA has unlawfully killed people in drone strikes, and that such killings may amount in some cases to extrajudicial executions or war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law.” Human Rights Watch concluded that “US statements and actions indicate that US forces are applying an overly broad definition of ‘combatant’ in targeted attacks… These killings may amount to an extrajudicial execution.” We have already received direct calls from Waziri and Yemeni civil society organizations, demanding our action. (We discount the one that began: “Oh, ye unbelievers of the ASA…”)

Just how much contract research on drones is done by UCSD? In July 2012, MuckRock News made a request under the California Public Records Act (the California equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act), asking to see “all contracts between UCSD and government agencies or private corporations for services relating to aerial drones, UAs, UAVs and UASs (‘drones’).” A year and a half later, UCSD has yet to produce any contracts, claiming that it is backlogged with other requests.

Nevertheless, your association has managed to uncover some specific instances. In 2006, the university’s Structural Engineering Department did a project to boost the payload of the Hunter. According to Northrop Grumman, the project helped to “add additional communications, intelligence and weapon payloads to the Hunter, expanding the capabilities of the fighter.” (Here is a photo of the Hunter on campus.) UCSD has also had a partnership with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in which students worked on “damage detection for composite wings of the Predator UAV.” Interest in this subject continues, and two Predator wings were recently installed at the university for testing. (Here is a photo of two students posing with the wings.)

We intend to keep digging, but we believe this is enough to justify action. Remember the words of Professor Marez: “We are targeting Israeli universities because they work closely with the government and military in developing weapons and other technology that are used to enforce the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.” Given that UCSD works closely with the U.S. government and military in developing weapons and other technology employed by the United States (including the CIA) to perpetrate extrajudicial executions and other violations of international humanitarian law, UCSD is obviously a candidate for boycott by the ASA. Our standards, to be compelling, should be consistent.

We have also been apprised of the following, by the Students for Justice in Palestine at UCSD: “UC San Diego is built upon indigenous Kumeyaay land just as Israel is built upon indigenous Palestinian land.” This being so, there are even further grounds for implementing a boycott, as UCSD stands on occupied Kumeyaay territory. Even the chancellor’s residence sits in the midst of a Kumeyaay cemetery. We know the analogy is not perfect: if you drop a shovel in indigenous Palestinian land, you might still strike an ancient Jewish grave. Nevertheless, we believe the parallels are compelling, and that this is further reason to boycott UCSD.

We are certain no difficulty would be caused to Professor Marez were his university to be boycotted. This would only preclude “formal collaboration” with his institution, so he could continue to participate in our annual conferences. And we are certain the pressure on him would lead him to stand firm in the faculty lounge and confront his scientific colleagues, and above all the chancellor of UCSD. The chancellor himself is a computer engineer who spent years working at the Department of Defense (at DARPA, its basic research branch), and later served as an adviser to DARPA on unmanned combat air systems. But we are sure our boycott, and the persuasiveness of Professor Marez, would lead the chancellor to reverse the university’s immoral course.

An ASA boycott of the University of California at San Diego would be a bold act, demonstrating our adherence to consistent principle and our solidarity with the peoples of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen, who live in constant fear of deadly U.S. drone attacks. In protesting these U.S. government violations of international humanitarian law, we have to start somewhere. Fellow members: let us make clear, in no uncertain terms, that we do have the courage to speak truth to power, even if it means sawing off the limb on which we sit!

Don’t we?

This parody first appeared on the Commentary blog on January 7.

Israel’s summer wars

“The Israelis tend to launch their wars of choice in the summer, in part because they know that European and American universities will be the primary nodes of popular opposition, and the universities are out in the summer. This war has nothing to do with captured Israeli soldiers. 

—Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment, July 23, 2006.

The Winograd Commission, the Israeli body established to investigate the political and military management of the war in Lebanon, released its interim report today. The material includes the minutes of a crucial Israeli General Staff meeting in the lead-up to the war. They shed new and damaging light on its conduct, and they confirm the obvious: Professor Cole is supremely well-informed about Israel’s inner workings. It’s uncanny.

Chief of Staff: Good morning. At the top of the agenda, I want us to take up a crucial issue, related to the timing of our planned operation in Lebanon. We’ve already considered several key factors: the preparedness of our troops, the situation on the ground in Lebanon, coordination with the Americans. But there’s a paramount matter that I want to revisit before we present the plan to the Cabinet. It’s the academic calendar in foreign universities.

Neutralizing anti-Israel professors has always been a key ingredient of our strategy. We all know how vastly influential they are: just think of Juan Cole, Rashid Khalidi, Norman Finkelstein. So part of our strategic doctrine in past years has been to launch operations in summer, when academics are non-operational. Even the French work harder in summer. That’s partly why two of my predecessors chose June to launch the Six-Day War and the 1982 Lebanon war.

But it’s an issue I feel we should revisit. We take a slice of our strategic doctrine from the Americans. Our own intelligence was surprised three years ago, when the Pentagon informed us that Operation Iraqi Freedom would be launched in March, smack in the middle of the academic year. All our early estimates assumed that the Americans would hold off until after the last graduation ceremonies in June.

For our discussion today, I’ve invited Gentleman C, head of Middle East 101, the Mossad unit that tracks American and European academics. I think we’d all benefit greatly from his insights in planning the timing of our operation.

Gentleman C, why don’t you give us a quick summation of your analysis?

Gentleman C: On the table before each of you, you’ll find a comprehensive study compiled by Middle East 101, looking at the academic year factor in Israel’s wars since 1948. What we’ve done is a statistical comparison of the amount of anti-Israel verbiage expended by American and European professors in all of Israel’s wars. I draw your attention to Table 8. You’ll see that in every war, our military operations have taken less incoming criticism during summer months. We call this the “Away From My Desk” effect. Professors on summer break are less likely to write op-eds and show up in the media. There aren’t any students to attend their campus teach-ins, and there’s no student press to cover them.

Bottom line is that summer remains an ideal time to launch a war. The operational readiness of academe is at its lowest.

Director of Military Intelligence: May I? I have a lot of respect for my opposites in the Mossad, and especially Middle East 101. They do fine work. And I take my beret off to their targeted character assassination of Juan Cole. If it weren’t for the Mossad’s clandestine efforts, Cole would be at Yale. As you know, it’s vitally important to keep people like Cole outside the 200-kilometer-radius security zone we try to maintain around New York City.

Chief of Staff: Here, here.

Director of Military Intelligence: That said, we in Military Intelligence don’t share the Mossad’s assessment of the “Away From My Desk” effect. It may be true that the professors manage to fire off more rounds of criticism during the academic year. But these are mostly short-range projectiles—teach-ins and classroom agitprop that don’t have a range beyond the campus. Most academics are too preoccupied during the school year to get off medium- to long-range op-eds in the New York Times or The Nation. They’re too busy preparing lectures, fixing syllabi, keeping office hours, or quashing rivals in faculty committees.

We think that during the summer, the quality and range of attacks against us actually increase. You’ve got professors with lots of time on their hands, and the more senior, tenured ones are looking for distractions from their bigger projects. In particular, we think a summer war could expose us to sustained assault by academic bloggers.

GOC Southern Command: I thought sustained blogging by a professor was pretty much tantamount to a suicide bombing.

Director of Military Intelligence: There’s ample evidence for that. But we’re talking about a group of highly ideological and thoroughly indoctrinated fanatics. They’re quite willing to sacrifice career prospects in order to advance the cause. The tenured ones, of course, think they’ve already died and gone to heaven. They spend most of the year in classrooms full of near-virgins. It’s almost impossible to deter a tenured professor.

We think the ideal time for an operation is the very first month of the fall semester, in September. This is crunch-time for professors, who’ve got to get all their courses up and running, make sure textbooks are in the stores, solve scheduling conflicts, and suck up to new deans and chairpersons. About the only thing professors manage to put on paper in September is their signatures on drop/add forms, and maybe the occasional petition.

GOC Home Front Command (with alarm): September? We’re not going to launch a war of choice right in the middle of the Jewish holidays, are we?

Gentleman C: With all due respect, I think my friend from Military Intelligence underestimates the travel factor in summer. Middle East 101 tracks the movements of professors throughout the world. The highest-caliber ones are the most likely to disappear in summer for weeks on end, on “research” trips to London or Provence. We know from intercepts, and satellite surveillance shared with us by the Americans, that a lot of them aren’t even near a library or archive. Their spouses have real jobs and need real vacations. We’ve seen major blogs shut down entirely for the better part of the summer.

Director of Military Intelligence: Maybe, but a lot of these professors travel in summer to the Middle East—Beirut, Damascus, Amman. If we launch a summer operation, they’ll suddenly become on-site resources for the media. If they have to evacuate Lebanon, that becomes a story in itself. Let’s not forget how Rashid Khalidi got started: Beirut, summer of 1982.

Gentleman C (with irritation): Well, who was it who let Khalidi escape from Beirut?

Director of Military Intelligence (raising voice): Oh? Who authorized Edward Said to make a visit to Israel? You didn’t have to be a prophet to predict the outcome of that.

Chief of Staff: Gentlemen, please, let’s not get sidetracked by past mistakes. Lord knows we’ve made plenty of them—bungling the recruitment of Joel Beinin, letting Ilan Pappe do cushy reserve duty, and the list goes on. Look, I’d like to continue this discussion all morning, but we do have other issues on the agenda, like the extent of air power we’ll need to dislodge Hezbollah. I see the Commander of the Air Force is looking at his watch. Too bad we can’t solve the campus problem with air power.

Commander of the Air Force (dryly): Don’t say can’t. We haven’t tried.

Chief of Staff: Well, I’m going to conclude this discussion. My view is that we should stick with what’s worked for us in the past. We’ll propose to go in summer. If we ever do a complete overhaul of doctrine, we can reconsider. But I think Gentleman C has made a compelling case, and the empirical data speak for themselves. Agreed?

Director of Military Intelligence: Let the minutes show that I think otherwise.

Chief of Staff: Duly noted. Oh, and by the way, Gentleman C, what’s your assessment of what Juan Cole might do when we move?

Gentleman C: There’s some debate in our shop as to whether he’ll stick to Iraq, or blog furiously about Lebanon. If he Lebanonizes his blog, it’ll be a problem for us, but it’ll take some heat off the Americans. They’ll be grateful, and we can trade on that for things we need. Like bunker-busters.

Chief of Staff: Splendid. Juan Cole might turn out to be one of our biggest assets. “The work of the righteous is done by others.” (Laughter around the table.)

List Me or Else

The following was reportedly retrieved from the bottom of the mailbag of Campus Watch.

Dear Campus Watch,

I am outraged that you are listing professors with whose views you take issue. This is an appalling McCarthyite tactic, which is designed to shut people up and stifle free speech. It is a serious infringement of academic freedom, of the sort academe hasn’t witnessed since the terrible 1950s. You can be sure that I will be urging the American Association of University Professors, the Middle East Studies Association, and any association that includes Joel Beinin, to pass a resolution of condemnation against your despicable website.

Having said that, I notice that my name has been omitted from your list. This causes me considerable angst. For some years now, I have been more Palestinian than the Palestinians in advocating their rights—their right to a state, their right of return, their right to preferential campus parking. And there’s more. I’ve taken the lead on my campus in showing respect for Islam. In my noon class, there is even a prayer break, and the two sections are divided into male and female. And I have invited Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, and Sami Al-Arian to speak, all on the same subject: “America’s War of Aggression against [speaker: please fill in the blank].”

So just what do I have to do to get on your list? I’ll be coming up for tenure in a couple of months, and a listing on Campus Watch would really help me out. I have a patchy publications record, although I’ve signed an impressive number of petitions. (In our department, we have a special section on our c.v.’s for “petitions signed.” It’s got the same weight as a co-publication.) Problem is, ever since Campus Watch appeared, getting listed there trumps everything else. My departmental chair has told me quite bluntly that without an entry at Campus Watch, my file will be borderline. Some of my senior colleagues are also cold-shouldering me. They see my omission as a sign of a certain lack of commitment to the profession.

In short, by leaving me off, you’ve effectively blacklisted me. It’s a notorious McCarthyite tactic, for which I intend to propose that Campus Watch be condemned at the next annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors, the Middle East Studies Association, etc.

Unless, that is, you include me.



John Jones (Abu Courtney)
Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Narratives
Center for Middle Eastern Studies (excluding Israel)
Lower Michigan University
Dar al-Harb

UPDATE: I’m informed that this letter has been posted on at least one other site, on the presumption that it’s authentic. It’s a parody, folks. I’ll let you guess who wrote it.