"Sharoni, a professor of gender and women’s studies who was raised and previously taught in Israel, is co-founder of the group Faculty Against Rape and a supporter of the BDS movement. She’s long written and spoken about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of gender, but it’s comments she made earlier this year that sparked what she calls a campaign of harassment. In an interview with an online magazine, The Establishment, about why feminists should care about the conflict, Sharoni compared victim blaming in rape cases to public attitudes about Palestinians.
“This is the assumption that Palestinians basically bring the violence on themselves. It’s similar to telling the survivor that it’s what she was wearing, that she gave mixed messages,” Sharoni is quoted as saying. “For example, ‘They didn’t agree to the partition, they’ve rejected attempts to make peace, they elected for Hamas …’ There’s no responsibility and no accountability for the perpetrator of violence, even though that perpetrator is breaking international law.”
Sharoni added, “In addition to blaming the victim, Palestinians are not believed, which is the same with survivors. ‘They’re exaggerating, it’s not that bad, because Israel is a democracy.’ It’s actually very similar to saying, ‘No, he’s actually a nice guy,’ about a man accused of rape.”
The interview was later posted to Alternet and caught the attention of bloggers. They included Jay Taub, who wrote a post called “Simona Sharoni Should Resign From the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.” Critics took to Twitter, as well, and Sharoni said some sent physical threats via email.
Sharoni and the association say she contacted several university leaders to inform them about the situation in April, and to ask them to affirm Plattsburgh’s commitment to academic freedom. She says she’s received no official response.
Last week, Sharoni received an email from Sean Brian Dermody, a vice president for administration, informing her that someone had made a series of open-records requests about her hiring, continued employment and conferences attended while at Plattsburgh. He said he was reviewing the request and in the meantime asked her to gather the records in question and be prepared to turn them over. A second email from Dermody said to gather all correspondence about her hire, Sharoni said.
“It appears to us that these [open-records] requests are part of the continuing campaign to harass and intimidate Sharoni because she has expressed certain political views,” the association wrote in its letter to Plattsburgh. “We therefore call upon university officials to exercise extreme caution and responsible judgment in reviewing and approving [such] requests for records pertaining to Sharoni, so as not to be complicit in furthering the campaign of harassment being waged against her.”
The letter also calls on Plattsburgh to “publicly and vigorously affirm its commitment to the principles of free speech and academic freedom as well as its intention to defend Sharoni and other faculty members against harassment and threats by politically motivated individuals and groups based outside the university community.”
Sharoni said via email that while she was quoted accurately by The Establishment, blogs have distorted her comments to make a direct comparison between Israel and rape -- not just how people talk about the conflict. “I am on record about not using rape as a metaphor for violence,” she said. “The point of the interview and the talk that it was based on was to compare discourses about violence.”
The professor said she is so far the subject of five open-records requests from someone affiliated with group she believes to be pro-Israel (that could not immediately be confirmed). It's "clear that the main goal behind this request is to intimidate me and damage my scholarly reputation by painting me as a subversive ‘troublemaker’ on my campus and more broadly,” she said. “All the information requested should be protected. The fact that a senior scholar like myself -- a tenured full professor with international reputation -- is being subjected to such requests has a chilling effect on junior scholars.”
She added, “The first question I asked during my faculty orientation at Plattsburgh in 2007 was about academic freedom. I don't think it is too much to expect that an institution that I have contributed to, as a faculty member and department chair, would issue a statement denouncing the vile threats directed at me last spring, which included rape and death threats, and affirm their support for free speech and academic freedom.”
Ken Knelly, a spokesman for Plattsburgh, said the university “will continue to review records and make determinations of disclosure in accordance with New York State law,” which operates on the presumption of access."