The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Attacks on Academic Freedom Are a Sign of More to Come

May 20, 2024

Ilan Pappé, until recently an Israeli history professor, came to Detroit to speak on the war in Gaza. Government agents stopped him at Detroit Metro Airport and grilled him about his opinions on Israel’s attacks on Gaza and his connections with Arabs and Muslims in the Detroit area. They confiscated his phone and copied its contents before returning it to him.

Pappé is the son of Holocaust survivors who fled to Palestine from Nazi Germany and has long been an outspoken critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, but has also been critical of Hamas. He currently lives in England after being forced out of his university position in Israel over his stance. After being let go, Pappé spoke to pro-Palestinian protesters in Ann Arbor on the 76th anniversary of the Nakba, when Palestinians were first driven out of large parts of the newly-formed Israel. He later also spoke in Dearborn, Detroit and Ferndale.

The government’s mistreatment of Pappé is just the latest in a widespread pattern of attacks on academics who have dared to criticize U.S.-Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Professors at Columbia University, Texas Tech, New York University, University of Arizona, University of North Carolina, and Washington University in St. Louis have been suspended or fired over comments they’ve made critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza—some for simply discussing civilian casualties there, and some never even given clear reasons for being disciplined.

In late March, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order claiming to address acts of antisemitism on college campuses, calling on universities to establish “appropriate punishments, including expulsion from the institution.” He specifically named the Palestine Solidarity Committee and Students for Justice in Palestine, and said they should be disciplined for violating these principles. Like so many supposed “fighters” against antisemitism, he failed to mention anything about the violence directed against Palestinians in Gaza by the Israelis.

All these attacks on academic freedom being carried out at colleges across the country represent the latest version of the McCarthyism of the 1950s. Fortunately, faculty members at several schools have taken up the examples provided by the many student protests and begun fighting back themselves. They have conducted walkouts and work stoppages at Columbia, Barnard College, and the University of Texas, among others. They are right to do so.

These protests may seem distant in the lives of many workers, but we should all take note that the same wealthy ruling class behind these attacks will be even more ready to attack workers when we carry out fights to improve our own wages and working conditions.