According to its mission statement, Brandeis University was founded to “embody its highest ethical and cultural values and to express its gratitude to the United States through the traditional Jewish commitment to education.” The school pledges that its faculty will “bring newly minted knowledge straight from the field or lab to the graduate and undergraduate classrooms.”
But newly uncovered emails distributed to an official university faculty listserv, comprised of a number of well-known Brandeis professors, show the narrow agenda of the professoriate. That agenda was on full display when 87 professors signed onto a petition protesting the honorary degree slated for women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “We cannot accept Ms. Hirsi Ali’s triumphalist narrative of western civilization, rooted in a core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples,” the petition stated.
But that was just the beginning. A secret Brandeis faculty listserv tells the rest of the story.
This listserv, entitled “Concerned,” was created in 2002. It began “out of concern about possible war with Iraq.” It contains 92 subscribers, including professors from outside of the university. Participants express their fear and disdain on issues ranging from United States foreign and domestic policy, the “American system,” and “the Israelists,” to “President ‘Obomber'” and ” Hillary ‘Obliterate Iran!’ Clinton.”
“Houston, we have a problem,” warned Mary Baine Campbell, a Brandeis English professor. “Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims to have had a difficult early life, and it may be true. However, she’s an ignorant, ultra-right-wing extremist, abusively, shockingly vocal in her hatred for Muslim culture and Muslims, a purveyor of the dangerous and imaginary concept, born of European distaste for the influx of immigrants from its former colonies, ‘Islamofascism’ – which has died on the vine even of the new European right wing. To call her a ‘woman’s rights activist’ is like calling Squeaky Fromm an environmentalist.”
“To honor someone at graduation who is notorious for inciting hate, defending violence and insulting the bearers of one of the world’s most populous faiths, including many students and faculty, not to mention parents, is not ‘hosting.’ It’s complicity in defamation,” she added.
Other professors seemed to be on the same wavelength — left even of far-left politicians like President Barack Obama. Professor Donald Hindley, who too signed the petition against Hirsi Ali, frequently derides President “Obomber,” while Campbell claims Obama “has shown himself so far unable to resist the imperialist POV of the Congress, the defense industry and his own administration” with regards to Iran.
Professor Emeritus Bob Lange wonders if Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) will stand against allegedly hawkish foreign policy, questioning if she “has the needed values, experience, and courage to be the president to stand up [to] the American powers that want to keep us on our violent criminal path.”
Members of the listserv move beyond disdain for American politicians and into outright anti-Israel rhetoric. When three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Hamas operatives, Professor Hindley expressed his apathy about Palestinian terror and their disdain for Israel, attacking “The Vile, Terrorist Israeli Government.” Hindley’s controversial attitude towards Jews was particularly inflammatory in a 2007 listserv email with the subject line, “Plant a Tree, Bury a Palestinian.”
“Zionist olive trees grow wondrously on Palestinian corpses,” he contested. “In that way, we combine great trees with our own holocaustic ethnic cleansing.”
The listserv doesn’t restrict itself to foreign policy. It also offers a safe space for the most extreme perspectives on issues like climate change. “At a time when we are literally facing the possible end of human life on this planet unless we ACT within the next two decades (yes, it is that dire!!), Brandeis University should be a shining light for others,” warned Sabine Von Mering, Associate Professor of German and Women’s and Gender Studies. “Brandeis MUST be at the forefront of divestment, because Climate Change is a SOCIAL JUSTICE issue: Poor and indigenous people around the planet are frontline victims of climate change. They need all of us to act now.”
There is little room for dissent, as “Concerned” co-creator Gordon Fellman explained in a 2009 email: “it is rude to post a recipe for pork roast on a vegetarian listserv or an orthodox Jewish one, or right wing harangues on the concerned list.”
Daniel Mael is a student at Brandeis University. He is also a reporter for TruthRevolt.org and a contributor to the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Correction: This article originally and erroneously attributed a quotation from Professor Mary Baine Campbell to Professor William Flesch. The author apologizes for the error.