Hi everyone, I hope your Wednesday isn’t as rainy and cold as mine has turned out to be.
Now, as you’ve probably noticed, this is not normally a political blog. But I have discovered something rather appalling today, and as I can’t comment directly on the offending piece (not being a member of blogspot.com), I need to utiliste my own blog to air my feelings.
One of the modules I’m currently studying for my degree is, as I’ve said before, “Mandate Palestine and Beyond”, and am taught by Dr. Claudia Prestel. It’s my favourite module of my course so far, and I’ve really enjoyed both the weekly classes and the wider reading I’ve done. But today I came across a blog post, written in January of this year, by an Australian academic whose blogging moniker is Daphne Anson, which claims that Dr. Prestel, among other things, feeds us, her students, full of anti-Israel propaganda and teaches us to “demonise and delegitamise” Israel as a nation. The multitude of comments the blog has recieved, mostly agreeing with the writer, continue to speculate on the skewed, extreme nature of her teaching – one commentor wonders whether students will get marked down for not agreeing with Dr. Prestel’s “extreme” views and whether students will be “too intimidated” to do anything other than “tow the party line” in our assessed pieces, another thinks that she and her family should have their Israeli citizenship withdrawn, yet another calling her “a potential murderer.”
This really can’t be let lie. I read this with my eyes almost popping out of my skull. But I’ve since had my lunch and calmed down a bit, so now I’m not quite so incandescent with rage, I can do my little bit to put this record straight.
Anson’s comments are phenomenally insulting, both to Dr. Prestel and to her students. Firstly, we are NOT fed propaganda. Our course is as balanced as it is possible to be when dealing with such a contentious subject. Our key texts are three memoirs, one written by a Palestinian woman now living in Britain, one by a Zionist Jewish man of Eastern European descent who was born and still lives in Jerusalem, and one by a man whose parents were Palestinians and was born in Jerusalem but was brought up in Cairo. Over the module as a whole, we do focus slightly more on the experience of Palestinians than of Israeli Jews, but the experiences of the two groups are so fundamentally intertwined and influenced by each other that you cannot study one without the other. Of course we discuss crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians, but it’s a two-way street – Palestinians who commit crimes against Israelis are not spared criticism.
Secondly, we are being taught to be critical, to think, write and discuss critically, read widely and come to our own conclusions on the material that we study. We are taught to question everything that we read, whether extremely pro-Israel or extremely pro-Palestine or anywhere in between. We certainly do not have Dr. Prestel’s own views pressed upon us as the “right” opinions, and never has it been implied, or even occurred to any of us, that we would receive less marks if we dared to be critical of anything she has said – for example, we have never discussed the One State Solution that Anson claims Dr. Prestel endorses (as we have never discussed it, I don’t know whether this is true or not, but the answer is irrelavent as it does not impact on her teaching). We are not so many nodding dogs who can’t form their own opinions. Frankly, I find the implication from Daphne Anson’s writing that I am too stupid or easily led to make up my own mind on what I’m learning about the history of Israel and Palestine and its implications for the future incredibly offensive. Any conclusions that we come to on this topic are our own, not Dr. Prestel, and if Anson and her ilk don’t like what we come up with, it is not as a result of biased teaching.
In response to the University of Leicester’s official response to the blog post, Daphne Anson claims that she was not in fact accusing the university itself of “indulging in anti-Israel propaganda”. But that really doesn’t float. A university is one huge, often sprawling body made up of academics and students united in their pursuit of knowledge, many of whom will never meet each other, but slandering one teacher immediantly implicates the institution as a whole. I’m sorry Anson, but you were implying that the University of Leicester partakes in propaganda by its continued support of Dr. Prestel, and I can assure you that we do not.
So, in short, back off. Dr. Prestel is a passionate, engaging teacher who, while having strong views herself (which anyone is entitled to have, teacher or not), does NOT impose them on her classes. I am proud to have been taught by her, and to be a University of Leicester student, and I don’t quite know how another academic can justify being quite so insulting to another.
Over and Out.