Tag Archives: Gaza

ON CLASSROOM “DISCUSSIONS” And Academic Freedom

I have been taken to task by some academics because I objected to Professor Robinson sending an email to his students in which he compared the Israel invasion of Gaza to the “Holocaust.” I have been told my comments infringe on the right to free speech by Professor Robinson and that subsequent comments by me that many students fear contradicting what professors say in class indicates that I am a vindictive educator who refuses to allow students to voice opposing viewpoints from my own.

Few who have commented actually examine the nature of what is termed a “classroom discussion.” Let me identify several versions of what is termed a “classroom discussion.”

1. Teacher Lecture With Discussion: In this form of “classroom discussion,” a professor presents a lesson and asks questions. Statistically, about 95% of the questions posed in this form of “discussion” consist of students recalling what the professor said in his lecture. A few questions ask for meaning, and unless the student is brain dead, the response is to repeat the point made by the professor.

2. Discussion About Readings: In this form, students are assigned a reading and the professor asks questions about what was read. Statistically, 95% of questions posed are for recall of what was read. Or, professors ask the ever famous, “what was the main point?” of course, the professor has his own idea as to what is the “main point” and students learn to give it back to him.

3. Present An Issue For Discussion: Ordinarily, the issue is related to what is being studied. However, teachers also pose an issue that may not directly be part of the curriculum. The quality of the discussion is related to student knowledge about the issue. Obviously, if they don’t know too much about the issue, students will struggle.

4. Present An Issue Arising From What Is Being Studied: This discussion arises from an issue that is linked to the course of what has been read or discussed in previous sessions.

5. Present An Issue That Is Controversial: “Should We Have The Death Penalty?” type of discussion in which students offer their views but do not have to support them with evidence.

Let’s examine what is meant by “discussion.”

The basis of a “classroom discussion” depends on willingness of students to voice opinions. But, if you examine time allocated between posing a question, waiting for a response, if none given, then posing the question to someone else, it comes to about five seconds. In other words, “discussions” favor students who are glib and speak quickly. A thoughtful student who needs time to reflect is punished by the system known as “discussion.”

Professor Robinson’s “discussion” centered around an issue that was not studied in class, students had no exposure to a multiple range of ideas, but were being asked to quickly respond. There is no doubt, the “discussion” awaiting Robinson would have involved a few students and would not be characterized by reflective thinking. I suspect there would have been emotional comments, and Robinson would have dominated and imposed his views due to greater knowledge of the subject. Please do not misinterpret my comment about “imposing views,” most professors do so because they know more than students.

Allow me to use a favorite classroom “discussion” topic: “Should the United States Have Dropped the A Bomb on Japan?” I have heard this “discussion” at least twenty five times. Students are asked their “opinion.” Of course, students have no knowledge of the military campaign in the Pacific, the deadly struggle to take the island of Okinawa which witnessed the introduction of Kamikaze pilots who killed five thousand, no information as to military estimates of casualties if an invasion occurred, and, no information as to the thinking of Japanese leaders even though we have English translations of Japanese Cabinet meetings. Teachers beam with pride as their students, “discuss.” Of course, the “discussion” is merely sharing of ignorance.

I suspect a “discussion” in the class of Professor Robinson as to whether the Israel invasion of Gaza was analogous to the Holocaust would have been analogous to the Atomic Bomb “discussion.” His students know nothing concerning Nazi plans for killing Jews, no knowledge of the stages of the Holocaust, etc.. I have been told students study the Holocaust and know about it. In most “study” of the Holocaust, students see a film, read Anne Frank and may have guest speaker who was a survivor of the Holocaust. They don’t know a damn thing about the process of the Holocaust. The remark by Professor Robinson has to do with the process of the Holocaust, not the experiences of those who endured it.

Is my complaint concerning the email a violation of academic freedom? I don’t believe Professor Robinson should be fired, I don’t disagree with his right to comment about anything under the sun. I believe he is guilty of poor teaching, lack of respect for his students, and allowing his emotions to take over in an academic setting. His remarks were flippant, he never offered his students an intellectual presentation, and took advantage of their lack of knowledge. There was absolutely no chance for an academic centered discussion concerning his remarks to occur in his class. He was emotional and was seeking emotional remarks from his students, not intellectual centered ones.

I have been a Dean, I have spent years as the head of our local chapter of the AAUP which guards the rights of faculty. Academic freedom also entails responsibility to the rights of students and to respect their right to an academic centered education. I have yet to read any comment from those who disagree with my views as to the rights of students to have professors who are engaged in the marketplace of ideas rather than emotional outbursts concerning the latest issue which arouses their concern.

I wonder if those who support Robinson would support a bigot who disparages blacks or Hispanics on ground he has a right to his opinion. Larry Summers, while president of Harvard, was blasted by the Harvard faculty because he made remarks they viewed as insulting to women. I disagreed with his views, but the Harvard faculty was furious and wanted him fired. I suspect when college faculty discuss “academic freedom” they mean there are ideas that can be expressed and their ideas that can not be expressed.

Professor William Robinson Violated Academic Freedom

I have taught for 52 years and worked with 15,000 students but never in my career did I ever violate academic freedom in the manner displayed by Professor William Robinson, a Jewish professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Robinson, and his defender Noam Chomsky, have raised the banner of academic freedom. Unfortunately, it was Robinson who violated this concept, not those attacking him. Professor Robinson was teaching a course, “Sociology of Globalization” and during this course, he sent an email to all students in his class which claimed; “Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw- a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease, and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide.” He compared the Israel invasion of Gaza to the Holocaust.

Professor Robinson is either, (a) ignorant of the Holocaust, (b) stupid, (c) a malicious sick man. Let’s examine the manner in which he violated his role as a professor.

1. He sent an email to all students which meant his views impacted the entire class and it was impossible for a student to respond to the entire class.
2. This was not a class dealing with the Holocaust so Professor Robinson did not have any awareness of the knowledge base of his students regarding the Holocaust or even what they knew about what is meant by genocide. We can assume a high percent of his students did not have this knowledge and thus were unable to refute the professor’s ignorant statements.
3. A professor has the power of giving a “grade” which means there is no level playing field when he introduced a controversial issue. Students responding to him risked having grades lowered if they challenged their professor on a topic that was NOT part of the curriculum.
4. A professor with a sense of intellectual honesty should have provided students readings, videos or access to opposing views if he wanted to introduce this comparison. The majority of his students lacked knowledge and his responsibility was to ensure they would be in an intellectual position to respond in an informed manner.

I do not know if Professor Robinson is an anti-Semite. I do know in this incident he displayed poor teaching procedures and displayed an ignorance of the Holocaust that is inexcusable for a college professor.

Did Israel Army Kill Civilians In Gaza?

The ongoing arguments concerning behavior of Israel soldiers during the invasion of Gaza still create tension. The Israel Defense Force (IDF) has been conducting a study as to claims that innocent civilians were killed during Operation Cast Lead. IDF Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenazi insists “the IDF is a moral army, but it is possible mistakes were made and innocent people were hurt” but he does not believe there was any systematic attempt to kill Gaza civilians. General Ashkenazi believes the operation was a success and that is the reason southern areas of Israel are not witnessing ongoing rocket attacks.

The bottom line is that at least 800 civilians were killed in an operation in which fewer than 20 soldiers died including several from friendly fire. The disproportionate figures suggest not sufficient attention was paid to preventing civilian deaths. Some eye witnesses in the IDF insist they witnessed civilians being killed. The IDF says there were no such deaths.

Perhaps it is time for an independent body to conduct the investigation.

UN Security Council Orders Investigation Of Gaza Crimes

Richard Goldstone, a Jewish judge from South Africa, has been appointed by the Security Council to conduct an investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel forces during their invasion of Gaza. Goldstone was a former prosecutor of war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia and is respected as an honest man who seeks the truth. Israel has rejected prior demands from the Security Council for investigations about its actions. An Israel spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, Yiga Palmor, claimed the “committee is instructed not to to seek out the truth but to signal out Israel for alleged crimes.”

The investigation should be broadly concerned with any evidence of war crimes committed by any group during the Gaza invasion. If Israel soldiers committed war crimes there must be punished just as Hamas forces should be identified if they committed war crimes.

It would help if the Security Council would also institute investigations of war crimes in areas such as Uganda or Congo.

Israel Gaza Plan- Protect Soldiers-Civilians??

Amos Harel, writing in Haaretz, reveals the Israel General Staff was quite aware there would be extensive civilian casualties and planned that soldiers would advance behind a “rolling curtain” of aerial and artillery fire with first consideration in the operation the safety of Israeli soldiers. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkennazi made clear, “unlike in Lebanon, the civilians in Gaza won’t have many places to escape to. When an armored force enters the city, shells will fly because we have to protect our people.” Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Secretary Tzipi Livni promised to support the plan since they feared heavy casualties would impact the upcoming election.

Israel intelligence Shin Beit defined the “enemy” as anyone connected to Hamas regardless if they worked in a welfare agency or were a member of an armed force. The person who made the final decision to fire at a target was not the commander on site but someone in the command center miles away. Testimonies of members of the IDF reveal forcing civilians to enter homes and get people to come out or firing at medical personnel and killing of innocent civilians.

The only way Israel can fulfill its destiny as a center of moral behavior is to conduct a thorough investigation and punish all those who were responsible for violating international law. Unfortunately, those on top such as senior military commanders will escape unpunished.

Did Israel Hit Sudan Convoy?

The government of Sudan charged that Israeli planes struck a convoy carrying arms which was in Sudan and headed to deliver their cargo to Gaza. According to a CBS report, 39 people were killed in the assault which occurred shortly after the invasion of Gaza concluded. “A convoy of vehicles carrying illegal weapons was bombed near the Sudanese-Egyptian border in mid-January,” according to a Sudanese official. Israeli army officials refused to comment. However, Israel newspapers claim there is an international network which has been organized to deliver weapons to Palestinians.

The unanswered question is whether Israel believes it has the right to strike any nation anywhere on grounds it is defending its national interests. Certainly, that is what George Bush claimed as justification for invading Iraq. The danger is at some point attacking other nations will result in a counter bombing which could escalate into wider war.

Oliphant Oirks Some American Jewst

Pat Oliphant has been around most of the 20th century dispensing his comic views on the state of the world. The Los Angeles based Simon Wiesenthal Center is a wonderful organization that does outstanding work has denounced an Oliphant cartoon which depicts a goose-stepping uniformed figure wheeling a fanged Star of David that menaces at small female figure labeled, “Gaza.” According to the Center, Oliphant’s cartoon reminds them of anti-Semitism that filled the streets of Berlin in the thirties and led to the Holocaust. During the past few years, Muslim groups have denounced Danish cartoonists for portraying their religion in a derogatory manner. If Danish cartoonists can lambast Muslims, Pat Oliphant can jibe at Israel.

It is a cartoon, for goodness sake. It is good old Pat Oliphant who has been doing this for nearly half a century. A little common sense will make clear Oliphant is not an anti-semite, he is an anti-pomposity person. Draw on, Pat.

Hamas Says It Does Not Want Rockets Fired

Many Middle Eastern leaders are seeking to find new ways of ending conflict in the Middle East and bring about some type of agreement between Israel and Palestinians. Great Britain has announced it will enter discussions with Hamas political leaders and even allowed a prominent Hamas official to speak in London. After recent rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza, the Hamas leadership made clear it will not support such violence. “Regarding the report about rockets fired from Gaza, we emphasize that these rockets have no link to any of the Palestinian resistance groups and are being fired at the wrong time. We emphasize that the security agencies are investigating who is behind such acts.”

There is evidence Hamas understands it has to make moves to reflect a regional desire for peace and it most probably is ready to enter into what is termed a long term truce with Israel. Hopefully, if negotiations between President Abbas of Fatah and Hamas can conclude with some form of compromise, the stage will be set for serious negotiations with Israel. Perhaps, the modern problem is the inability of Israel to enter into such an agreement.

Tony Blair On How Not To Further Peace Efforts!

Tony Blair, former prime minister of Great Britain currently serves as the envoy of the Quartet of Middle East Mediators, which is working to establish conditions for peace in the region. Months after the Israel invasion of Gaza, Mr. Blair decided it might be time for him to actually find out what is going on in the area. “I waned to come to hear for myself, first hand, from people in Gaza whose lives have been so badly impacted by the recent conflict.” He apparently did not think Gazans might be curious that an important official who is charged with furthering peace did not believe it was necessary to go to Gaza during the fighting and lend his good office to peace efforts. Blair, who has continually followed the leadership of George Bush made clear he had no plans to visit with Hamas officials.

It is about time the UN and the European Union, and any other body interested in attaining peace in the Middle East got rid of Blair whose incompetence in this position is only matched by his incompetence in the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq. How can anyone achieve peace in the region without dialoguing with Hamas?

Secrets Of Israel’s Invasion Of Gaza Finally Revealed!

The Israel government insisted the only solution to dealing with rocket attacks from Gaza was to invade the area and employ a strong hand approach which would result in large numbers of deaths. It is now revealed that Hamas attempted to conduct secret talks with the Israel government in the weeks leading up to the invasion. Senior officials in Hamas were ready to enter into negotiation with Israel due to their increasing frustration with Egypt’s role as a mediator that apparently were going nowhere. Gershon Baskin, a veteran Israeli peace activist and a member of the family of Prime Minister Olmert were at the center of these efforts. A major issue in addition to rocket attacks was the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and Baskin said he tried three times to get discussions about these issues but the Israel government would not cooperate. Baskin tried to open secret talks and link a prisoner exchange that would involve Shalit as well as establish a cease fire.

Bashkin’s efforts extended for months and at times his efforts were blocked by Hamas and at other times by the Olmert government. He had excellent connections with Hamas but they were never used by the Israel government. As the crisis deepened he involved a member of the Olmert family but was not able to get the government to hold off on the invasion and the result was death and destruction.

Any human life is precious and no one with any sense of decency would allow a person to die without being concerned. A single Israel soldier’s life is as important as a single life of a Muslim person. Cease fire should have been the major thrust of peace negotiations, not the life of a single person. That might come across as cruel and insensitive, but 1,300 humans died in the Gaza invasion including a dozen Israelis.