Jadaliyya’s Environment Page editors condemn the harmful and slanderous attacks by the David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC) against Dr. Samer N. Alatout. Professor Alatout is Associate Professor of Community and Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison who studies water, environmental politics, and borders in the Middle East and the United States. The DHFC has falsely accused Professor Alatout of antisemitism and included him in its list of “Top Ten Jew-Hating and Terror-Promoting Professors.” An online campaign on Facebook against Professor Alatout has ensued, targeting the UW-Madison affiliated community with the DHFC’s inflammatory charges. The Middle East Studies Association of North America’s Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) has denounced the DHFC’s incendiary defamation of Professor Alatout as “an effort by that notorious organization to harass and muzzle faculty members who express opinions about Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East with which it disagrees.”
We affirm CAF’s 3 June letter to the University of Wisconsin–Madison protesting the DHFC’s attack on Professor Alatout. As the letter highlights, the DHFC is a disreputable organization known for launching defamatory attacks against faculty and students across institutions of higher education in the United States. Their activities have entailed “compiling McCarthyite lists of students, professors, and administrators and plastering campuses with posters accusing them of being subversive.” The organization promotes anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate speech and activities on university campuses.
This attack on Professor Alatout is part of a broader strategy to criminalize and delegitimize Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) organizing, anti-Zionism, and broader Palestine solidarity advocacy on US campuses as antisemitic. Such smear campaigns, which spuriously claim Palestine solidarity organizing is “hate speech” particularly harm Palestinian academics and faculty and students of color. The DHFC’s incendiary allegations against Professor Alatout and the other scholars named in their blacklist take place amidst heightening suppression of Palestine solidarity work and other social justice movements under the Trump administration.
As academics and journalists working on environmental issues in the Middle East and North Africa, we further condemn this attack on Professor Alatout as an attempt to discredit and defame scholarship that rejects imperialist and colonialist environmental framings. It is no coincidence that these false allegations are directed against Professor Alatout, a scholar whose work interrogates the intersections between settler colonialism, environmental injustice, and dispossession in Palestine and North America. Professor Alatout has brought together activists from Palestine and across the Middle East and United States to produce precisely the kind of engaged and vital scholarship on water to which we are committed.
The issue of Palestine reveals most starkly the limits of freedom of speech within US universities. We reject an exceptionalist approach to the intensified suppression of scholars who work on Palestine, including Dr. Alatout. Instead, we consider this attack to have grave implications for all scholars dedicated to environmentally just futures across the Middle East and North Africa and beyond. We therefore call on the University of Wisconsin–Madison to publicly provide their institutional support for Professor Alatout as he faces these incendiary attacks and harassment.
 Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira, editors. The Imperial University: Academic Repression and Scholarly Dissent (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press, 2014)