It is time to admit that there is something very rotten in our universities. The growth of intolerant, self-righteous, elitist movements that are willing to have their vision imposed and all dissent silenced through the existence of ‘on campus bullying’. For someone who is not ‘of the same mind’ as the ruling class on campus, a university becomes a difficult, if not scary place to be. In effect some universities have simply become places of extremism, intimidation and indoctrination. True ‘free thought’ is no longer welcome or acceptable.
What makes it more serious, is that this intellectual thuggery has placed itself behind a protecting, yet false veneer of ‘academic freedom’. Whenever I interact with Heads of Departments, all academics themselves, they see any attack, in any way, on any principle, as an attack on what they refer to as ‘academic freedom’. This in turn sets off the ‘campus dogs’, who without restraint attack all and any critics.
In preparing this article I searched through emails from scores of academic institutions, and did not find a single one, anywhere, from any university, that did not reference ‘academic freedom’ somewhere in the response, regardless of the issue I had raised. ‘Academic freedom’ is an all-purpose disclaimer, a way to forgive any behaviour, yet as these people disregard the very notion of what constitutes academia, true ‘academic freedom’ is the very thing being dismantled under their watch.
The rise of soft science, social science, may be an inevitable consequence of the university responding to market forces, but it creates a shift from a university environment that seeks to investigate and then understand, to one that believes it already ‘knows’ and wishes to provide itself with legitimacy. As more and more political activists engage academia for the primary purpose of providing legitimacy for ‘the cause’, the university campus becomes the academic version of a police state.
Nothing highlights this better than the rise of anti-Zionism on campus and the forced silencing of the pro-Zionist voice. In this ‘new world’, academic rules, academic ethics, become an obstacle to be overcome, a problem that gets in the way of the activist’s goal of being able to show just how right they are. Academic freedom to these activists is a one-way street, like the fascist who wishes to speak freely but denies that same freedom to others. The heckler’s veto is not an exercise in freedom of speech because its intent is not to have the hecklers’ voice heard, but rather to stop someone else being able to have a voice, just like the BDS strategy against Zionism. This is the world of self appointed, self-righteous, absolutism.
The most recent episode occurred in the last few days, and relates to a PhD student at the University of Bath. Hilary Aked is an activist who for years has promoted her cause, regularly writing pieces either against British Zionist groups or attacking Islamophobia. Even when still studying for an MSc at SOAS in 2009, Aked referenced the Palestinian cause in a campaign letter. Some of her greatest personal achievements have come when she can connect her two pet causes together. Hilary’s profile on her Twitter page informs us she is a ‘NCTJ-qualified journalist’ who writes for Spinwatch, Electronic Intifada and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. It also tells us she is a ‘PhD student researching UK pro-Israel lobby’ with a link to her University of Bath academic page at the Academia.edu website.
In July, PhD student Hilary Aked sent out an email to various grassroots Zionist groups as part of the research for her PhD. An image of this email is below.
As can be seen Hilary is researching ‘the evolution of Israel advocacy and how it works’, with ‘particular interest in the engagement with BDS’. Within the arena of academic freedom, there is no problem with any study of any group, but clearly here, you would question the motive. Is Aked’s intent to add to the fountain of knowledge or is it to strengthen her political cause? How would Aked the activist react as Aked the academic when dealing with material that weakened the anti-Zionist cause? Would it make the ‘cut’?
It is important to clarify, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with Aked’s political position, I have no problem with Aked the activist, nor with Aked the academic. We are all used to activists who spew their hatred out to anyone who will listen. The issue comes in the crossover, or where the two roles meet. As an activist, Aked wishes no goodwill on Zionist groups, yet as an academic who interacts with these groups, she has specific responsibilities dictated to her by ethical conduct required of any academic engaged in research. Notice for example her reference in the email she sent, to both ‘anonymity’ and ‘standards of ethical research’.
As a side note in must be pointed out, that as a PhD candidate engaging research participants, this email is particularly weak. Aked’s ethical academic obligations go far beyond those noted in the email. This for example from the ‘Code of good practice’ at the University of Bath:
5.2 “Researchers must actively respect the human rights and dignities of all those involved in any project and must appropriately address questions of consent, capacity, power relations, deception, confidentiality and privacy.”
And in the misconduct section:
6.2e “Intentional misuse or unauthorised disclosure or use of data or information generated through research”
As it happens, few grassroots groups responded to the email. A proper search of Aked’s profile would show just why they should refrain from doing so. How anyone can expect Hilary Aked to produce a research paper worthy of note at the same time as she openly lambasts most of the potential contributors is beyond me. Having said that, Dr Jason Hart the ‘departmental Director of Studies for PhD students’ at the University of Bath, has signed the Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions petition (no 399). So the man overseeing her studies is himself part of the Hecklers veto against Zionism, and Hilary Aked is starting to look like a spiritual child of the University of Bath, the same way that anti-Zionist students coming off the conveyor belt at Exeter are Illan Pappe’s academic children.
North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI) did not receive an email directly from Hilary, but a co-chair responded to Aked’s request via Twitter. In turn, Aked acknowledged that she had not sent an email to NWFOI, but invited them to participate in the research:
Note that the ‘challenges’ reference in the NWFOI tweet is taken straight from the ‘priorities and challenges’ sentence in the research request for interview email, notice too, that at this point, Aked is firmly wearing her academic hat. Hilary then moves on to her field of interest:
The ‘IsrAction day’ referred to in the Tweet is a pro-Israeli day of action and a response to BDS. It is also a day of charity, through which Israeli goods are purchased and then donated to good causes. As it is directly connected to both Israel advocacy and the engagement with BDS, this day is central to Aked’s primary research criteria. The day itself was held last Sunday 13/12/2015 and was apparently an oustanding international success.
The exchange between Aked and NWFOI moved to email and Aked focused on the issue of funding for IsrAction day. At this point however, red flags should be raised. Although invited to participate in the academic research and responding, Aked the academic failed to follow through by not formally acknowledging this exchange was part of the research. There was in effect ‘no reading of rights’ (no explanation of ethical obligations). It seems Aked had switched hats without telling anyone. She cannot do this of course, but with the state of UK academia the way that it is, all semblance of order has dissipated
Having seen the entire exchange, I can say NWFOI were not overly forthcoming, and from an academic perspective, they had provided little of worth or note. However, if you were a gutter journalist, it would be possible to use what they had given to draw incorrect assumptions and build conspiracy theories. So, 3 days prior to IsrAction day, UK based anti-Israel activist, Hilary Aked, wrote a gutter piece of journalism in Electronic Intifada that attacked both the day of charity and the organisations behind it. This in itself is no surprise, as someone who views Israel’s very existence as a stain, Hilary Aked will go for anything and having seen this day on the horizon, it was probably too good an opportunity to miss. Yet within the article she has used information provided in confidence for her academic research. True too, that she both named the source and discredited them:
The piece itself is poppycock because it is based on a childish calculation of ‘if A is no, then B must be yes’, which may create a sound-bite for a gutter journalist out to smear those she does not like, but will not work well in an academic research paper. She also took an annual budget and claims that the entire thing was blown on a single day and all went to a single organisation (hence the entirely unsupported claim that Sussex Friends of Israel received the entire annual budget). It is simply shameful reporting. So the intent here is clear, Hilary Aked wanted to have an article published a few days before a pro-Israel campaign that set out to both smear the day and those behind it. The problem is, that those behind it provided information to Hilary Aked the academic with all the implied and concrete protection that ethical research provides. What happened for example to the option of anonymity referenced in the invitation email? Let’s not forget the rather glaring issue, that this article publicly and deliberately sets out to harm a participant in the research with the very information that the participant provided to that research. What has happened to the ethics behind research?
This highlights so much of what is wrong with academia today. Complaints have been made to the university over this, but with an academic mentor and supervisor at the University of Bath that supports a boycott of Israel and probably sympathises with her opinions, I doubt much will come of it. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Aked will gain credit as having had one of the ‘Zionist’s’ attack her, she will get a few slaps on the back from her fellow activists and the university will hide behind a wall of academic freedom that is entirely irrelevant in this case. The ‘campus dogs’ will then attack anyone who criticises and everyone will go on as if this PhD candidate actually understands what academic research truly entails.
The true meaning of this, is that Jews, especially Zionists need to wake up to the fact that UK academia is a hostile environment. It is a train wreck. It is not even willing to adhere to its own rules in when and how it attacks. I personally am suggesting both publicly and privately that pro-Israelis engaged in research with academics should understand that there is a fair chance that their participation is being used to actually do them harm. Just look at how NWFOI’s single comment was taken out of context and thrown publicly into a article to deliberately discredit them and others. I know some of those I have spoken with are currently withdrawing from research and they have notified the academics to explain the withdrawal. The very least we should expect of academia, is that they should follow their own rule book. Even this it seems is a step too far for them to go.
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