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Controversial listserv exposed

By web

Section: News

October 3, 2014

In mid-September, Brandeis made national news regarding thousands of newly uncovered emails from a faculty listserv on topics ranging from Israeli politics to the decision to rescind Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s invitation to receive an honorary degree at commencement last spring.

The listserv, entitled “Concerned,” was founded in 2002 by faculty members “out of concern about possible war with Iraq.” There are 92 subscribers, which are made up of mostly faculty and some students and also include some professors from outside the university.

Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC), co-creator of the listserv, said that since then it has grown to people posting articles regarding education, the Middle East, war, politics and art.

“We made the decision in the beginning to open it up to anyone who wanted to join us,” said Fellman. “It’s meant to be an informative listserv, and that’s what it’s been.”

Fellman said that there are no specific guidelines to what people can post, although it is considered to be a progressive listserv.

“Fox News loves sensationalism. That’s what they do,” said Fellman. “On one or two occasions, one or two professors say something that they shouldn’t, and they want to make a novel out of it.”

Daniel Mael ’15, president of the Brandeis Republicans and a writer for TruthRevolt and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, was the first and only student to gain access to the archives of the listserv. He has made TV appearances on Fox News, Sun News and The BBC and his writing has appeared in FoxNews.com, Breitbart, The Daily Caller, TownHall, The Jerusalem Post, NewsMax, The Times of Israel and The Jewish Press among others publications.

In July, Mael was featured on Sun News to discuss the chain of emails.

“What has emerged is a stream of anti-Semitic bigotry that is being exchanged between professors,” said Mael in his interview.

Mael published some of the contents of the listserv on Breitbart.com, a conservative news and opinions website, questioning a “narrow agenda of the professoriate.” He wrote that “members of the listserv move beyond disdain for American politicians and into outright anti-Israel rhetoric.”

Mael thinks that students may have difficulty learning in a setting that has a professor with the kind of strong opinions on Israel that Fellman shared with the listserv.

“I don’t know how any person, Jewish or not, that opposes bigotry, could ever step into a class of his ever again,” said Mael in his interview with Sun News Network.

Fellman said that this progress of events has been “blown out of proportion” and that there is an underlying issue at hand. He said that there is a conflation of criticizing Israel with criticizing Israeli politics.

“I want to emphasize that this is criticism of Israeli politics and practices, not Israel,” Fellman said.

Fellman went on to talk about the issue of civility and free speech.

“There’s been a shift here at Brandeis from the substance of the issue to the civility of the discourse,” Fellman said. “People have a right to say what they want to say and no one should be penalized for that. That is something that should be accepted.”

Fellman spoke about the donor base at Brandeis and how it might be affecting this issue at hand.

“What’s happening at a lot of universities, and Brandeis is not exempt from this, is that people who donate to the university may feel concerned about this and start setting mandates,” Fellman said. “We are so grateful to our donors, from providing scholarships to buildings, but there is not one consensus on Israel. Brandeis is funded by Jews in a larger community, but views on Israeli politics run all the way from the far right to the far left. ”

In the last issue of The Hoot, the English Department wrote an op-ed supporting the “principle of scholarly free speech and free inquiry.” The department asks President Lawrence to publicly support professors in their right to freedom of speech.

“We hope you will swiftly and publicly clarify the right of professors to express opinions and explore ideas without fear of reprisal,” the op-ed states. “And that you will make a public statement—not just orally to the faculty, but in a form that will reach the wider Brandeis community and beyond—that defends Brandeis faculty members when they are attacked for expressing their views.”

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