Back in January I posted on a collection of images that when coupled displayed the parallels between Israeli actions today and the atrocities committed during World War II.
It transpires that William I. Robinson, professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara, created the juxtaposition of images comprising the Holocaust and the recent Gaza Conflict as part of his teaching materials.
Naturally, he is now bowing under the equal pressure of criticism and applause for his plucky controversy.
On a personal level I find such methods captivating: when I taught a class on the Intifada I utilised images that some (oddly, mature students) stated were ‘traumatising’; my argument was that war is not clinical and clear-cut.
It is messy, shameful, upsetting, and people lose lives, loves, and livelihoods.
By university level we have a duty to present the facts and if a degree of reality can be infused, then imagery is often the most influential means to do so.
The original piece also comprised an article denouncing Israel’s offensive, stating that: “Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw — a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide.”
Shortly after, two Jewish students dropped the class citing they felt intimidated by the professor’s message, before contacting the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which advised them to file formal complaints with the university.
In their letters, senior Rebecca Joseph and junior Tova Hausman accused Robinson of violating the campus’ faculty code of conduct by disseminating personal, political material unrelated to his course.
Robinson, 50, who is Jewish, called the accusations and the campus investigation an attack on academic freedom.
And in a statement that makes me squeal “Yes!” over and over like an agitated monkey, Robinson responds that:
The whole nature of academic freedom is to introduce students to controversial material, to provoke students to think and make students uncomfortable.
I could not agree more: the most memorable lectures and best teachers are the ones that have made my jaw strike the desk at least once during a lecture.
The battle has since been taken online with the Wiesenthal Center posting a lambast on YouTube, Jewish Students Under Siege from Professor at UC Santa Barbara, while Robinson’s supporters have responded with the website Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at UCSB.
This is becoming an alarmingly common phenomena in United States academic circles, more so as it heralds a burgeoning tolerance of censorship.
We cannot change history: just as the actions of the Nazis are noted, so too must the present atrocities against the Palestinians be condemned.
It’s not anti-Semitic or bad teaching pratice: it is merely an uncomfortable truth portrayed in a candid manner.
And if it ensures that the gist of the class is remembered, then Robinson fulfilled his obligation as a lecturer.