In Western universities in particular, the charge is often made that Israel represses the academic freedoms of Palestinians. This accusation, Eve Garrard notes, is a tactical one that Israel-haters in the academy use to explain their obsession with the Jewish state. But in his recent book Not in Kansas Anymore, Cary Nelson shows that, while the state of academic freedom at Palestinian universities is indeed dismal, it is not so because of Israel. Gerrard writes in her review:
In fact, much of the conflict in Palestinian universities is not focused on Israel at all. There is violent conflict between groups that support Fatah and those that support Hamas, and also between splinter groups within these broader affiliations. Academic freedom for faculty is eroded because they are afraid of being branded by students as collaborators or “normalizers,” which can put their lives in danger. Administrators are too frightened to enforce respect for freedom of expression, and with good reason.
Another locus of academic unfreedom resides in the curriculum: some of the more practical and technical subjects are adequately delivered, but in other cases the curriculum is corrupted by anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic indoctrination. Nelson cites . . . some literature teaching sessions at the Islamic University of Gaza. The tormented forcing of discussion (of a humorous children’s poem about cats!) into anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic conclusions is a quite extraordinary example of indoctrination, one that should cause any teacher of literature to weep with despair at the distortion of education that it represents.
Nelson concludes, persuasively, . . . that the assumption that Palestinian universities are educational institutions just like Western ones is simply false, as is the assertion that their academic freedom is undermined solely, or even primarily, by an aggressively militaristic Israel.