Academia Website Hosts Anti-Israeli Israeli Writer — And Then It Doesn’t
While ex-Israeli Avigail Abarbanel and her ilk do merit academic study as part of an examination of what turns people against their own, this article is not about her. It is about her nearly successful attempt to legitimize her hate-filled anti-Israeli propaganda as academic works worthy of citation in scholarly journals. I am referring to articles she published in electronic intifada and mondoweiss. She opened a page on Academia, a popular site on which scholars upload their articles to share with colleagues and potentially engage in fruitful dialogue. On the About page, we see the importance of this site:
Academia is a platform for sharing academic research. Academics have uploaded 22 million papers, and 31 million academics, professionals, and students read papers on Academia every month.
It is in everyone’s interest, therefore, that the site be kept free of propaganda disguised as scholarship.
My friend and colleague, Dr. Orli Peter, was horrified when someone shared with her a link to an article Abarbanel had uploaded to the Academia site, entitled, “An obituary for Sheldon Adelson by a former Israeli.” The article was originally published on Mondoweiss and you can read it here, if you want. Horrified that such a piece may be proferred professional legitimacy, Orli sent an message to the website admin and gave me permission to copy it here:
Hi, I was stunned to see an article sent to me from Academia from Mondoweiss– a known hate site as mentioned in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/05/04/mondoweiss-is-a-hate-site/).
This site is renown for spewing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and they have spread their articles on your site. Here is what I was sent from your site. https://www.academia.edu/44982624/An_obituary_for_Sheldon_Adelson_by_a_former_Israeli? [this is now a dead link]
Note that the author is Avigail Abarbanel, and a close look at her listings shows she posted many articles on your site from this hate site.
Out of respect, I am writing you first in hopes that you can stop your site from being used for political propaganda and hate, rather than legitimate research. Please let me know what action you will take. I’ll check back next week in hopes this is resolved.
Thanks so much,
Dr. Orli Peter
That very same day, Orli received a reply:
Hi Orli J Peter,
Thanks for letting us know. This paper and profile have been flagged pending review. These papers should no longer be visible or appear in searches on the site.
Let us know if we can assist you with anything else.
Academia Customer Success
The next day, Orli responded thus:
Alberto, thank you for your prompt response.
For your information, I see this same self-described and unaffiliated scholar posted other work from a propaganda outlet, The Electric Intifada. She is using your site to spread hate as exemplified by the title of one of her papers, “Survival Instinct or Jewish Paranoia.” [The original articles can be found here, if you are inclined to read it.] Would you promote an opinion piece on your site entitled “Black Paranoia” or “Hispanic Paranoia” or “Trans Paranoia?” This is not only offensive, but can be dangerous. I thought this was an academic site, but none of the articles from the hate sites, Mondeweiss or Electronic Intifada, are scholarly work, they are opinion pieces based in hate, published in hate sites, and now on your site.
Thank you for insisting this be reviewed. I have alerted other academics and reporters about this, and I hope it is resolved in the next week.
Orli received no more responses from Alberto, but a simple search reveals that, not only were the offending articles taken down, but it appears that Abarbanel’s entire account was deleted from the site. In fact, a Google search today does not give away the fact that Abarbanel ever had a profile on that site. It appears that Academia worked very quickly to have that information scrubbed from Google, something that normally takes a while. Sites the size of Academia cannot be expected to police every supposed academic who signs onto the site, but it is good to see that a single letter raising their awareness of misuse of their site was sufficient for them to remedy the issue.
The other popular site for scholars is Research Gate and Abarbanel has an account there. There are only two papers currently on that site, both of which were published in legitimate academic journals. As she was probably advised by Academia that her account was being taken down, she may have quickly removed from Research Gate potentially offending articles that may have led to the same ban. From now on, Abarbanel is free to publish her hate-filled propaganda against the land of her birth anywhere but on websites dedicated to sharing scholarly works; to these she should have no access.
Orli would like to make it clear what her issue was with Abarbanel’s papers:
I encourage academics to criticize anything and any country as long as their criticism is based on scientific principles– empirical research, logical thinking, and skeptiscism. If we allow propagandists to manipulate academic websites to spead hate-filled material that violates these pillars of scientific thinking, we surrender to forces that want to cloud truth in their own self interest. It’s imperative we push back forcefully to preserve academic integrity and credibility.
Unfortunately, even without the legitimacy given by sites such as Academia and Research Gate, articles from Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss, as well as the third popular anti-Israeli propaganda site, +972, find their way into seemingly serious academic research reports. For example, in my critique of an academic article published by the Journal of International Women’s Studies accusing Israeli soldiers of racism, I noted how an article from Electronic Intifada was used to support the authors’ contentions as if it was historical fact. Similarly a student paper that had been proudly uploaded to the Reed University website as an example of student excellence also used Electronic Intifada as if it was an acceptable source. (And I have critiqued other articles that cite from these propaganda sites as if they were legitimate scholarship.)
Use of non-academic sources as support in academic articles should be disallowed by those who review scholarly papers before they are accepted for publication. There are specific studies, however, in which the use of such sources would be legitimate — that is, in articles that analyze media reporting, and therefore, analyze news sites, or those that are studying sociological or other relevant aspects of propaganda sites. But to cite Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss or +972 as if they provide accurate data that can support papers written by historians, political scientists and more is an insult to serious scholars.
We all need to act as Orli Peter did — when we see an attempt legitimize propaganda as proper scholarship, we need to do something about it. Taking Abarbanel’s profile down from the Academia site is a small but significant step in the battle against the propogation of hate as if it was bona fide academic writing.
Feature Image Credit: screenshot from Academia website