Speaking Truth To [The Ivory] Tower


As we prepare to light the sixth Chanukah candle tonight, here’s a Maccabee-esque story about the few prevailing against the many – a lone Israeli student taking a year to fight an unfair system, and winning. On the downside, it’s only a partial victory, as the university is shamefully backing this ‘professor’, who is an affront to academic integrity, and has forfeited the privilege of guiding the careers of rising young academics like Smadar Bakovic.

Israeli postgraduate student Smadar Bakovic

This is Smadar’s story, as chronicled in this CiFWatch post.

An Israeli postgraduate student at Warwick University (in Coventry, UK)  recently prevailed in efforts to have her dissertation re-marked to a distinction after it was originally given a poor mark by a professor who promotes academic boycotts of Israel.

Smadar Bakovic had repeatedly told the school she was uncomfortable with the professor, Nicola Pratt, overseeing her master’s dissertation on Israeli Arab identity.

Professor Pratt is an anti-Israel activist who, following Operation Cast Lead, was one of more than 100 academics who wrote to the Guardian saying “Israel must lose” and calling for the UK to implement BDS against the Jewish state.

Ms Bakovic, 35, who lives near Jerusalem, spent a year challenging Warwick’s original rejection of her appeal against the decision to allow Professor Pratt to supervise her.

She was told last week that her re-marked dissertation had obtained a distinction, with a score 11 points higher than the original mark given by Professor Pratt.

The fact that her score jumped dramatically when two neutral parties re-marked her dissertation is already pretty damning, and Smadar fills in some additional details and background about this shameful abuse of academic power in an excellent interview by Adam Levick. Here are 2 excerpts:

Adam Levick: First, congratulations on your success in having your dissertation re-marked to a distinction after it was originally given a poor mark by Professor Pratt. How do you feel about prevailing?

Smadar Bakovic: It was a hard, frustrating year. I had to spend a whole year writing letters and reports to the university, and even had to appear in a video-conference with the university’s Complaints Committee, in order to persuade them that an injustice took place. A WHOLE YEAR.

I did this for myself, for Israel, for Jews and for all other minorities all over the world who are being discriminated on the basis of where they come from or anything else. I am sure that had I been gay or black and professor Pratt were to sign petitions to boycott all gays and/or blacks, the university would have kicked her out a long time ago, and petitions would not be necessary, as the act would have been so disgraceful to the university.

But Israel and Jew hatred are a free for all – not meaning that all British people are racist, but there is definitely an atmosphere within UK academia and other fields such that one can be anti-Semitic without paying the consequences. As if there is justice for all, BUT for Jews and Israelis. I feel great. I won the battle. But the war is not over yet.  The most disgraceful thing is that the university is STILL backing Pratt and saying that she is “exemplary.” Would the university defend her were she against ANY other minority? No. Pratt would be already looking for a new job.

I first came across Pratt when one evening, there was an event in which the Palestinian society (can’t remember its name) invited a Jew from Jews for Justice for Palestinians.

The message the event sent to the audience was: Israel should not have been established (but since now it is too late for that, some political solution should be reached), it is a murderous Apartheid regime, etc….Professor Pratt was the moderator for this.

She was also connected to other activities on campus, so I knew this was something she was regularly involved in. Then, when I saw that she was allocated to me, a red light came on immediately, and I did some research about her on the Internet.

It took me exactly 2 seconds to see exactly what she was about – one of the largest supporters of the academic (and other) boycotts of Israel, who signs petitions accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and being an “Apartheid state.” Even she (on her site on the Warwick page) calls herself an activist.

I then knew that I was dealing with a self-defined anti-Israel academic, who really calls to boycott Israeli academia, meaning Jewish Israeli academia, which makes her also an anti-Semite.

If I were Muhammed Jaber but with an Israeli passport, then I am sure Nicola Pratt would not at all object to having me in the university, even if I were to apply from an Israeli institution which she calls to boycott. Additionally, Pratt, in her feedback of my dissertation said that I was pursuing Israeli and Zionist lines and perspectives.

What is a Zionist perspective, or an Israeli one?

Obviously, she doesn’t acknowledge that Israel is a pluralistic, democratic state, so there are MANY different opinions about everything. She also put down anything I wrote which was even slightly from the Israeli perspective and said “surely this is the perspective of the Israeli government.” (And she reduced points for this).

AL: I was very moved by the fact that you said you fought this battle for Israel. Can you please elaborate?

SB: Nicola Pratt, and those who think like her reject Israel’s right to exist and especially to exist as a Jewish state, separate Israel from all other states. In effect, what they are saying is that Zionism, which represents the national aspirations of the Jewish people, is illegitimate, evil and racist. But yet they have no problem with their own states having been born out of nationalism…or being defined as a Christian [or Muslim] state (in name, in customs, in the way of life…).

This has only one answer: if Israel should not exist and Jews should not be able to define themselves as they want, then Jews themselves don’t have a right to exist as free people, as this is the only place they have where they can be guaranteed to live freely without the oppression of anti-Semitism. If Israel won’t be a Jewish state, then we all know what will happen to the Jews who reside there.

Pratt calls to boycott all Israeli institutions, in EVERY way – not to accept applications, not to host Israeli professors, to stop any UK and EU cooperation between themselves and Israel. ONLY Israel. It is not like she is saying, look the Middle East is all violent….look what is happening now with the Arab Spring…..thousands are being killed…..let’s boycott them all. No, to her ONLY Israel is the problem in the region. This is not only anti-Israel bias, but also blatant anti-Semitism….singling Israel out as the Jew among nations, where everyone else is pure, and Israel is bad. This is unacceptable.

There’s a lot more great stuff in the interview. I encourage you to read it all.

For a while now, academics have been granting themselves a special dispensation to cross the lines of professional integrity and objectivity when it comes to Israel, and ONLY Israel. Smadar’s story is but the latest egregious example.

Universities are supposed to be safe havens for dissenting opinion – a place to explore and express unpopular views without being silenced or penalized for holding those views, especially when the truth is on their side. But people like Nicola Pratt are making sure that theirs is the only kind of ‘acceptable’ dissenting opinion allowed on college campuses these days.

In so doing, Pratt and her ilk have transformed their role in academia. They narcissistically see themselves as valiant underdogs fighting a shadowy, Jooooo Zionist-controlled power structure, but BDS-advocating professors polemicists like Pratt are no longer the dissenters: They are the ones who wield the power, and they desperately need the truth spoken to them.

Kol Hakavod, Smadar!

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