"How could you report the war in Iraq if you sided with the Americans?"
"How can you say that George Bush is better than Saddam Hussein?"
These are some of the milder questions I received from an audience of some 150 undergraduate students from Tel Aviv University's Political Science Department. The occasion was a guest lecture I gave last month on my experiences as an embedded reporter with the US Army's 3rd Infantry
Division during the Iraq war.
Many of the students were visibly jolted by my assertion that the patriotism of American soldiers was inspirational. The vocal ones among them were appalled when I argued that journalists must be able to make moral distinctions between good and evil, when such distinctions exist, if they wish to provide their readership with an accurate picture of the events they describe in their reports.
"Who are you to make moral judgments? What you say is good may well be bad for someone else."
"I am a sane human being capable of distinguishing good from evil, just like every other sane human being," I answered. "As criminal law states, you are criminally insane if you can't distinguish between good and evil. Unless you are crazy, you should be able to tell the difference."
When the show was over, and the students began shuffling out of the lecture hall, a young woman approached me.
"Excuse me," she said with a heavy Russian accent. "How can you say that democracy is better than dictatorial rule?"
"Because it is better to be free than to be a slave," I answered.
Undeterred, she pressed on, "How can you support America when the US is a totalitarian state?"
"Did you learn that in Russia?" I asked.
"No, here," she said.
"Here at Tel Aviv University?"
"Yes, that is what my professors say," she said. In the weeks that have passed since I gave that lecture, I have not been able to get those students out of my mind.
While campuses throughout the Western world are known as hotbeds for radicalism, it is still hard to believe that Israeli students, who themselves served in the IDF, and who as civilians have experienced more than three years of unrelenting terrorist attacks on their cafes, night clubs, campuses, highways and public buses, could subscribe to such views.
How can they believe it is impossible to make moral distinctions between those fighting terrorism and totalitarian regimes and those perpetrating terrorism and leading such dictatorships?
It is an open secret that many of the most prominent Israeli academics and professors are also identified with the radical leftist fringes of the Israeli political spectrum.
The Hebrew University's Political Science Department was dominated for years by the leaders of Peace Now. Tel Aviv University's Social Science and Humanities Faculties are the professional home to some of the leaders of the even more radical Ta'ayush and Yesh Gvul organizations.
Israeli professors have signed petitions calling for boycotts of Israeli goods. Some have even supported the boycott of Israeli academics by foreign universities and academic publications.
Israel Radio reported this week that the letter written by 13 reservists from the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit in which they announced their refusal to serve in the territories was written for them by a Tel Aviv University professor.
Prof. Rafi Yisraeli from the Hebrew University notes, "It is ironic that the university presidents and Minister Natan Sharansky are now organizing a campaign to stop the boycott of Israeli academics in foreign universities.
A year ago, I discussed the issue, as well as the rampant anti-Semitism on European campuses ,with the president of the University of Paris. He told me, 'What do you want from us? All we are doing is repeating what we hear from Israeli professors.'"
Case in point is Tel Aviv University law professor Andrei Marmor.
Marmor is currently a visiting faculty member at the University of Southern California Law School. Recently he published a policy paper at USC where he argues that Israel's territorial claims to land it secured during the 1948-49 War of Independence are no different from its claims to land secured in the 1967 Six Day War. In his view, both are illegitimate.
Marmor goes on to argue that Zionism cannot claim to be a liberal movement unless it accepts the "right of return" of Palestinians to Israel.
In the mid-1990s, a Tel Aviv University graduate student conducted a survey of the political views of university professors.
The student discovered that not only were the professors overwhelmingly self-identified with far left and Arab political parties, most also expressed absolute intolerance for the notion that professors with right-wing or even centrist views should be allowed to teach in their departments. "Over my dead body," said one.
All of this is well known. Yet knowing of the professors' radicalism, and seeing the effects of such dogmatic views on university students, are different things.
Since my exchange with those students, I have spoken to professors and students at the five major liberal arts universities in Israel to try to understand how the intellectual tyranny of the radical Left on campuses impacts their educational and professional experiences.
Students speak of a regime of fear and intimidation in the classroom. Ofra Gracier, a doctoral student in Tel-Aviv University's humanities faculty explains the process as follows:
"It starts with the course syllabus. In a class on introduction to political theory for instance, you will never see the likes of Leo Strauss or Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman. You will only get Marx and Rousseau and people like that. So, if you want to argue with Marx, you are on your own. You don't know anything else.
"But say you want to dispute your professor. I was taught this class by Yoav Peled, an avowed communist. He was explaining why capitalism is evil. I mentioned the Asian economic miracle South Korea, Japan, Singapore.
He went nuts and spent the rest of the class screaming at me.
"Then there is the grading system. In a history course I took, I took a Zionist line in a research paper. My professor gave me a low grade and explained that my grade was the result of my argument.
"Most people toe the leftist line even when they disagree because of the grade discrimination. If you get low grades, you can't get accepted to a master's program and if, in the master's program you get low grades you won't be accepted into a doctoral program."
Avi Bell, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University's Law School, relates a separate but related problem. "Last year I taught a course on the legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Most of my students were clearly Zionists and also knowledgeable about Israeli history.
And yet, when I received their seminar papers at the end of the term, I saw that most of them wrote anti-Zionist arguments.
"The reason this happened is because there is a dire lack of scholarship in certain areas. For instance, if you want to research the issue of Palestinian policies of land discrimination against Jews, you have to go to primary sources.
No one has written a book about it even though it is a huge issue. But if you want to research the question of alleged Jewish land discrimination against Arabs, you have a bookshelf full of books at your disposal."
Indeed, Dr. Martin Sherman of Tel-Aviv University's Political Science Department was unable to get the university's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies to publish his original work on the hydro-strategic impact of a Palestinian state on Israel. Sherman, with degrees in physics and geology
and practical experience as a water adviser in the Ministry of Agriculture, is a recognized expert in the field.
"My paper showed conclusively that the establishment of such a state would involve the transfer of control over 60 percent70 percent of Israel's water sources to the Palestinians. They wouldn't have it. I was strung along by Shai Feldman [the head of the Jaffee Center] for months and months, until it was finally made clear that it wouldn't be published."
Citing alternate publications in research papers is also not allowed. Another graduate student explained that her professor gave her a low grade on a paper because she cited research published in Netiv magazine. "That is a right-wing propaganda sheet, published in the Occupied Territories," she was told. Her argument that most of Netiv's articles are written by academics and are based on original research didn't matter.
She ran into a similar problem when she cited an article published in the Shalem Center's journal Azure.
Most of the academics and students that I spoke with were happy to discuss their situations and yet averse to the notion of being quoted by name. "I am up for tenure," and "I still need my dissertation proposal approved," were some of the most frequent explanations.
A survey carried out by the left-wing Israel Democracy Institute on Israeli attitudes toward the state was published on Thursday in Haaretz.
According to the findings, a mere 58% of Israelis are proud of being Israeli, while 97% of Americans and Poles are proud of their national identity.
Mexicans, Chileans, Norwegians, and Indians all have higher degrees of pride in their national identities than Israelis. Is it possible that our academic tyrants have something to do with the inability of 42% of Israelis to take pride in who they are?