I.F. Stone, journalist hero – and KGB spy

I. F. Stone

On this site we’ve discussed Oliver Stone and Sharon Stone, but one Stone we haven’t yet gotten around to is the journalist I.F. Stone (1907-89). Which is odd, because this particular Stone could very well have been the mascot of this website, a dubious honor we awarded at the outset to Walter Duranty, the New York Times Moscow correspondent who systematically whitewashed Stalin’s crimes and sang his praises in America’s newspaper of record.

It is no exaggeration to say that Stone was revered. In 1999, New York University’s journalism department named his newsletter, I.F. Stone’s Weekly, which he published from 1953 to 1971, the second most important American journalistic periodical of the twentieth century. In 2008, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University began awarding the I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence.

Independence: that was the word they invariably used when describing Stone. That, and words like “rectitude” and “probity.” His New York Times obituary began as follows: “I. F. Stone, the independent, radical pamphleteer of American journalism….” It went on to call him a “maverick” and praise his “integrity.” The London Times entitled its obituary “I.F. Stone: Spirit of America’s Independent Journalism”; the headline in the Los Angeles Times obit called him “The Conscience of Investigative Journalism.” A posthumous editorial in the Boston Globe began with this statement: “For thousands of American journalists, I.F. Stone represented an ideal.”

In fact, he was a KGB spy.

A brief bio: the son of Russian immigrants (his birth name was Isidor Feinstein), Stone quit college to become a journalist. He served for a time as editor of the New York Post, then worked as a staffer and/or contributor to The Nation, New Republic, PM, and other left-wing political journals before starting his own weekly. Throughout his long career, he was known for his strong leftist leanings.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, he was an ardent supporter of the newly born State of Israel, but later became one of its fiercest critics and an outspoken champion of the Palestinian cause. He was also a vocal opponent of the Korean War and Vietnam War. Nobody who read his work could mistake him for anything but a far leftist with (usually) an obvious soft spot for the Soviet Union.

John Earl Haynes

All along, a few canny observers suspected that Stone was working for the Kremlin. In 1992, not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, credible-sounding reports began circulating to the effect that Stone had been a KGB man. John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, and Alexander Vassiliev finally coughed up the goods in their 2009 book Spies, about KGB operatives in America. Stone, it turned out, had been on the Kremlin’s payroll as a full-fledged spy beginning in 1936 and ending perhaps in 1938, perhaps several years later. (On this question the records have yet to yield a definitive answer.) “Stone assisted Soviet intelligence on a number of tasks,” wrote Haynes and his co-authors, “ranging from doing some talent spotting acting as a courier by relaying information to other agents, and providing private journalistic tidbits and data the KGB found interesting.”

In other words, this widely venerated pillar of integrity and personification of independence was in fact a secret Kremlin operative. Spies established this fact beyond question in 2009. It is interesting to note that this information has not made much of a dent in Stone’s reputation among true believers on the left. Harvard did not change the name of its medal for journalistic independence, and none of the people who have won the award since 2009 have declined to accept it.

Then again, many of those winners – including Putin apologist Robert Parry, socialist radio host Amy Goodman, and Nation editor and publisher Victor Navasky – are precisely the sort of “journalists” who wouldn’t much mind having their name associated with that of a Soviet spy. Which is precisely why we’re here at this website, writing about these unpleasant people and their unpleasant antics day after day.  

Sunsara Taylor’s war on “the war on women”

We’re spending this week in the constantly agitating company of tireless activist Sunsara Taylor, a longtime member of Bob Avakian’s Revolutionary Communist Party. Over the years, she’s been the public face of a number of different groups purportedly dedicated to fighting different injustices. These days, as we’ve seen, she’s a spokeswoman for Refuse Fascism, which seeks to unseat President Trump (who, she argues, is worse than Hitler) and replace him with (who else?) Bob Avakian. Years ago, as we saw yesterday, she was involved in End Pornography and Patriarchy, a bold campaign to end America’s “war on women,” which, again, only Avakian could put a stop to.

taylorwarAnother group on Taylor’s résumé was “The World Can’t Wait,” which was active around 2007 and which was one of many organizations protesting America’s war in Iraq. Indeed, it’s hard not to feel that the real point of “The World Can’t Wait” was to bring in members who were motivated by antiwar sentiments as a first step toward recruiting them into the RCP. Taylor “spoke at over 50 campuses” in an effort to “Drive Out the Bush Regime” and thus bring an end to the war. In connection with this antiwar effort, she and her colleagues also made a practice of shouting down politicians who were trying to deliver speeches. “The World Can’t Wait” made a good deal of noise during George W. Bush’s presidency but seems to have disappeared into the ether by the time Barack Obama took office.

sunsBut Taylor didn’t go away. After putting in a good few months trying to stop America’s wars in the Middle East, she shifted gears and threw herself, heart and soul, into an effort to rid the planet of religion. This movement was tied in with the publication of Avakian’s 2008 book Away With All Gods: Unchaining the Mind and Radically Changing the World. Just as “The World Can’t Wait” seemed to be a transparent attempt to exploit the antiwar movement to gain RCP converts, so Away With All Gods and the attendant activism comes off as a painfully obvious effort to swell RCP ranks by piggybacking onto the then-hot atheism movement spearheaded by Christopher Hitchens, whose bestseller God Is Not Great had come out in 2007, and Richard Dawkins, whose The God Delusion appeared in 2008.

Last year found Taylor involved in yet another crusade. In the months prior to the election that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office, Taylor was busy helping to run the RCP’s “Get into the Revolution Organizing Tour.” Along with her RCP comrade Carl Dix, she traveled from campus to campus around the U.S., trying to convince students “to become communists and kill off America.” On to that triumph tomorrow.

Loving the Black Panthers?

She studied PR and “Leadership Studies” at Hampton University, then got a Master’s Degree in “Music Business” at NYU. She’s now at Yale, earning another Master’s – this one in Divinity. She “loves good music, down time with friends, & ice cream!” Sounds like a good life.

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Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes

And she seems like a good person. Last year she and several other Yale Divinity School students went to Flint, Michigan, to “hold a pastors roundtable conversation on the intersection of ecology and theology and distribute water filters and hygienic items.” She explained her motivation as follows: “As a Christian, I find that everything I do is affected by my faith. In this instance, I wanted to see the Christian community rally around these residents to make change. I was seeing assistance here and there from other organizations but I didn’t see any support from the church universal. While the church does overseas mission work well, we sometimes ignore the needs of our own nation. I didn’t want to see that happen any longer.”

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Wilkes on The O’Reilly Factor

So it was a shame to hear what Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes had to say in mid February during an appearance on Fox News’s The O’Reilly Factor. Wilkes, a bright-eyed young black woman who exuded cheer and charm, was there to talk about a couple of Yale-related news stories. The first story concerned an effort by students and faculty to remove the name of John C. Calhoun from one of Yale’s residential colleges. Calhoun was one of the great statesmen of the nineteenth century, serving as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, Senator from South Carolina, and as Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, he was also a slave owner, which is why a movement arose to change the name of that college. When asked by host Bill O’Reilly, Wilkes affirmed that she supported the change. But that’s fine – something that reasonable people can argue about.

On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers' agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding.
Armed Black Panthers take over the California State Capitol on May 2, 1967, to protest a gun-control bill

It was what she had to say on the second topic that was so disturbing. Wilkes, it emerged, was one of a group of students at Yale who wanted to hold a campus event marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Black Panthers. Some of them, including Wilkes, had recently crossed the country to attend what was apparently a sort of learn-in at the Oakland Museum. Their goal was “to learn the history” of the Panthers; they went, she said, “as student archivists.” “Did you come away with a favorable impression of the Black Panther movement?” asked O’Reilly. “Oh, absolutely!” gushed Wilkes. O’Reilly then played a tape of Black Panther co-founder Stokely Carmichael ranting about “the honkey” (a Black Power-era term for white people). After also mentioning the killings and violence committed by the Black Panthers, O’Reilly asked: “How can you look favorably upon that group?”

Not entirely seeming to grasp the question, Wilkes started to comment about the “long history of racism in this country.” Interrupting her, O’Reilly suggested that the Panthers themselves were racists. She rushed in quickly to insist that they weren’t anti-white but pro-black. “It makes me a little uneasy,” said O’Reilly, “that a very intelligent woman like yourself could even think that these people were worthy of being considered in Black History Month.” Wilkes either was genuinely surprised by this point of view or did a very good job of feigning surprise – or perhaps she was just mocking him: “Oh, that’s INTERESTING!” she replied. “Oh, REALLY?”

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The Black Panthers in their heyday

And that was pretty much the gist of it. O’Reilly was kind and respectful to Wilkes, apparently having pretty much the same reaction to her that we did: that while it’s disturbing to hear anybody praising the Black Panthers, it’s especially disturbing to see a young black woman who seems so decent and well-meaning celebrating their memory. Perhaps instead of devoting so much time to the study of PR, the music business, and so on, she would have done well at some point to read one or two honest, comprehensive histories of the Black Power movement. She wouldn’t have even had to go all the way to Oakland to find copies of them.

Hugo’s fans: where are they now?

The headlines don’t mince words. “Socialism in Venezuela: No toilet paper, TV, or long distance call service.”  Venezuela nearing total ‘collapse.’”  “Venezuela’s Collapse Brings ‘Savage Suffering.’” “Venezuela has a crazy new plan to save electricity.” (The “plan” is to change the country’s time zone.)

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Nicolás Maduro

It was only a couple of years ago – but seems much, much longer – that celebrity fans of chavismo in the U.S. were still proudly proclaiming their support for the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Consider the March 2014 letter written by a bunch of Hugo’s stateside admirers to members of the U.S. Congress, chiding them for the passage of H.R. 488, a bill expressing support for Venezuelans “as they protest peacefully for democratic change and calling to end the violence.” The letter fiercely defended the chavista government, stating that it “may have legitimate reasons for arresting and detaining” many opposition members, and accused the U.S. Congress of “politicization of human rights.” In a classic change-the-subject gambit, the letter asked why the Congress was exercised about human rights in Venezuela and not, say, in Colombia or Peru? And in conclusion, the letter warned that “Congressional resolutions steeped in hyperbolic rhetoric that portray Venezuela as a repressive government or even a dictatorship threaten to undermine the integrity of the U.S. Congress in the eyes of our Latin American neighbors.”

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Hugo with Danny Glover

Who were the signatories of this missive? The big names were actor Danny Glover, director Oliver Stone, and aging hippie Tom Hayden. But there were also several academics, some of them pretty big names in their fields – George Ciccariello-Maher, a political scientist at Drexel; Arturo Escobar, an anthropologist at Chapel Hill; Dan Kovalik of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law; Miguel Tinker Salas, a historian at Pomona; Sinclair Thomson and Greg Grandin, both historians at NYU; John Womack, Jr., a retired Harvard historian and economist; Gilbert M. Joseph, a historian at Yale; and Gerardo Renique, a historian at CUNY.

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Dan Kovalik

Where are these champions of chavismo now? Where, c’est-à-dire, are the schmoes of yesteryear? A few quick Google searches suggest that, of all these admirers of the Bolivarian Revolution, Kovalik is one of the two or three buffoons on the above list who’ve weighed in most recently on Venezuelan affairs. And what did Kovalik have to say? Scribbling in the Huffington Post in December, he lamented the opposition’s victory in the parliamentary elections: “Ultimately, it is the impoverished people of Venezuela who suffered the biggest loss in the recent elections, for the Chavista revolution has been focused on improving the once-neglected poor of Venezuela.” Kovalik was, at that point, still making great claims for the economic results of chavismo: “the Chavista government has done a laudable job in greatly reducing poverty and in reducing economic inequality.”

Then there’s Grandin. We’ll get around to him tomorrow. 

“More pro-Kremlin” than Stephen F. Cohen

Yesterday we were introduced to the American Committee for East-West Accord (ACEWA), which is yet another brainchild of NYU Kremlinologist Stephen F. Cohen and his heiress wife Katrina vanden Heuvel, and which is obviously meant to be a vehicle for spreading pro-Putin propaganda far and wide. We also met Gilbert Doctorow, who, with Cohen, is listed as the group’s co-founder, and who, as it turns out, is even more fervent an apologist for Putin than Cohen.

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Gilbert Doctorow

Since November, Doctorow has been writing regularly for a website called Russia Insider. His contributions, not to put too fine a point on it, read like Kremlin press releases. Last November, for example, he attributed the European Parliament’s overwhelming vote in favor of two resolutions condemning Russia to “a Cold War mentality that never faded since 1989.”

A week later, Doctorow blamed anti-Putin attitudes among left-wing U.S. peace activists on “years of denigration and information warfare coming from Washington,” including “propaganda about an authoritarian regime that allegedly jails dissent, about homophobia and about conservative family values of Russia’s silent majority, not to mention about greedy, raw capitalism.” Doctorow argued that Putin has in fact promoted “peace and international cooperation, justice and indeed human rights,” and is the only head of government on the planet who’s “directly challeng[ing] American global hegemony.” For these reasons, he argued, Putin should be treated by sensible stateside peace-lovers not as a bad guy but as a hero.  

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Anne Applebaum

In January, Doctorow penned a column that was one long, drawn-out sneer. The topic: a book called Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia? by Karen Dawisha. He smeared Russia expert Anne Applebaum, author of the magisterial, Pulitzer Prize-winning Gulag: A History, as a “blowhard” for the crime of favorably reviewing Dawisha’s book in the Washington Post. And he made a mocking reference to “the saintly Khodorkovsky” – meaning human-rights activist and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Putin robbed of billions of dollars and then tossed into prison on trumped-up charges. Doctorow lamented that once reliably left-wing American media, such as the New York Review of Books and PBS, have now “join[ed] the jackals” who engage in “Putin bashing.” 

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Moscow Victory Day Parade, 9 May 2015

And on and on it goes. In May, after attending the Moscow parade marking the 70th anniversary of victory in World War II, Doctorow gushed exuberantly over what he described as Putin’s ascent to the very “heights of statesmanship”: by allowing ordinary citizens to march in the parade while holding up photographs of their relatives who’d died in the war, the Russian leader had driven home “the point that this is a day for every Russian family and not just a pompous show of military capability for the high and mighty to strut on the stage.”

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Sochi Olympics opening ceremony, 7 February 2014

If at the Sochi Olympics, enthused Doctorow, Vlad had sent a message “that Russia has its own traditions of both popular and high culture but is open to the world and hospitable to all,” in Moscow, his people had pulled off the parade at “a supremely professional level” and shown “very great respect for the spectators, both those on the Square and the others watching it on their television as I did.”

Ugh. It’s the kind of cringeworthy bootlicking that’s rarely found outside of the propaganda organs of totalitarian states. And it raises certain questions. Such as: can this guy really be such a convinced disciple of Putin? Or is he on the payroll? Have Stephen F. Cohen of NYU and Princeton, Katrina vanden Heuvel of The Nation, her rich dad, Bill Bradley, and others in fact chosen to hitch their wagons to a paid Kremlin operative?

We don’t know the answers to these questions. But we can say one thing, for which we’ll provide more evidence tomorrow: when it comes to propagandizing for Putin, Doctorow churns it out as naturally as a slug leaves a slime trail.

Professor Cohen’s latest pro-Putin project

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Stephen F. Cohen

There’s no keeping up with the multitudinous mischievous machinations of veteran Kremlinologist Stephen F. Cohen. Russia’s thug-in-chief, Vladimir Putin, has no more high-profile apologist anywhere in the Western world than the 76-year-old NYU and Princeton prof. Every time we turn around, Cohen – almost invariably in league with his moneybags wife, Nation publisher/editor Katrina vanden Heuvel – has come up with some new stunt, some new angle, some new scam designed to pump up ol’ Vlad’s image in the West.

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Cathy Young

In mid October, Cathy Young reported at the Daily Beast on one of Cohen’s latest capers. It appears that back in the Cold War days, Cohen helped found something called the American Committee on East-West Accord (ACEWA), one of those groups that, in the name of peace, “consistently urged U.S. trade, foreign policy and arms control concessions to the USSR.” Established in 1974, the ACEWA was shuttered in 1992, in the wake of the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Now Cohen, along with some allies, appears to be reviving the ACEWA – kind of. The name of the new organization, the American Committee for East-West Accord, is almost exactly identical to that of the old one – the only difference is that “on” has been replaced by “for.” (The change, Cohen explains, reflects his desire to be “more proactive.”) The group, whose stated objective is to promote “open, civilized, informed debate” on U.S.-Russian relations and ensure “a conclusive end to cold war and its attendant dangers,” had its formal launch in Washington, D.C., on November 4.

WASHINGTON - MARCH 25: (AFP OUT) Former US Senator and NBA player Bill Bradley speaks during a taping of "Meet the Press" at the NBC studios March 25, 2007 in Washington, DC. A former Democratic presidential hopeful, Bradley spoke about his new book, "The New American Story." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images for Meet the Press)
Bill Bradley

As Young notes, the whole thing “couldn’t sound more benign.” The seven-member board includes some soothing, solid establishment names: Bill Bradley, the former U.S. Senator from New Jersey; Jack Matlock, the former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union; and John Pepper, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble.

But Cohen is one of two official co-founders, and this is plainly his baby. The other co-founder is something of a wild card: he’s Gilbert Doctorow, whom Young describes as a “Brussels-based U.S. expatriate and self-styled ‘professional Russia-watcher.’” Vanden Heuvel, though not officially affiliated with the ACEWA, is a major player, promoting the venture in The Nation and “mentioning the group’s activities to her contacts in Congress.” Also heavily involved is vanden Heuvel’s dad, former UN ambassador William J. vanden Heuvel: he’s on the group’s board, was identified as the group’s president in its incorporating papers, and has allowed the address of his philanthropy, the Melinda and William J. vanden Heuvel Foundation, to be listed as the ACEWA’s Manhattan address.

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William and Melinda vanden Heuvel

To our surprise, Cohen, in a conversation with Young, actually tried to walk back some of his own more outrageously Putin-friendly statements – though not very effectively. He admitted that when discussing Putin’s invasion of Crimea on TV, he’d been “insufficiently critical of Russia’s contribution to the crisis,” but maintained that he’d taken a strong pro-Putin line as a “conscious strategy” intended to counter what he saw as the mainstream media’s excessively anti-Putin spin. “Russia’s side of the story was not being told, and I knew I was going to get grief for trying to tell it as I understood it,” Cohen insisted. He added that if he’d been insufficiently nuanced, it was, well, because his TV time is always so brief. In response to his claim, Young pointed out that Cohen has been just as uncritical of Putin in his articles for the Nation, where his wife gives him enough space to be as nuanced as nuanced can be.

Cohen’s efforts at backpedaling are, it must be said, rather entertaining. But the major accomplishment of Young’s article is to draw our attention to Doctorow, Cohen’s co-founder. Unlike Cohen, Doctorow has virtually no profile in the U.S. He maintains his own blog, writes for an obscure Russian news and opinion website, and last year contributed an article on Putin to the Nation. There’s pretty much only one reason he’s worth paying attention to – and that reason is that, as Young puts it, he’s even “more pro-Kremlin” than Cohen.

How pro-Kremlin? We’ll get into that tomorrow.

Fortune cookies: U.S. colleges in China

ci2We’ve been looking at NYU, Yale, and other major U.S. universities that have sold their souls for Arab petrodollars. Another top source of dirty money for these schools’ ambitious, ethically challenged administrators is the People’s Republic of China, which sponsors so-called “Confucius Institutes” – centers for the study of Chinese language and culture – at around campuses in the U.S. The American host universities for these centers, as Shaun Tan has noted, “must sign a ‘memorandum of understanding’ endorsing the ‘one-China policy’ that precludes recognition of Taiwan as a state.” As Jim Sleeper wrote earlier this year, the Confucius Institutes

ci1sometimes muscle out American host universities’ own independent scholars on China, not only by offering them free Chinese language instruction but also by pressuring them to disinvite uncongenial speakers and cancel public discussions of “forbidden” topics, including Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen. CI directors monitor the work and pronouncements not only of their own teaching staff but also of their nominal American colleagues, who, if they criticize China, may suddenly find it difficult to obtain visas to continue research there. The effect is to “intimidate and punish” scholars, Chinese and Western, who challenge Beijing’s agendas.

Tan recalls that when Chinese Premier Hu Jintao spoke at Yale, audience members weren’t allowed to ask questions and protesters were kept away from the site of his speech, lest he be inclined to “rethink his recent decision to allow Yale to be the first foreign university to trade on China’s heavily regulated stock market.”

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NYU-Shanghai

We’ve already seen how John Sexton, the simpering fool who runs NYU, has kowtowed to UAE sheiks in order to establish NYU-Abu Dhabi. But that’s only one chapter in the shameful history of Sexton’s selling out. In 2013, he also presided over the founding of an NYU branch campus in Shanghai. Sexton was plainly not troubled by China’s severe limitations on academic freedom. Indeed, he seems quite happy to help enforce them not only in China but in New York: in June 2013, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng said Sexton’s administration had yanked his NYU fellowship and his Manhattan apartment in order to placate his former torturers in Beijing.

Earlier this year, notes Sleeper, China’s Education Minister forbade the country’s universities from using “textbooks promoting Western values…in our classes” or permitting classroom “remarks that slander the leadership of the Communist Party of China” or “smear socialism.” How can any university worthy of the name operate under such restrictions?

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Xia Yeliang

Then there’s the Xia Yeliang incident. In October 2013, Xia, an economics professor at Peking University (PKU), was fired, apparently in retaliation for his “outspoken” opinions. Members of the faculty at Wellesley College, which had just signed a deal with PKU, wrote a letter of protest to that university’s president, calling the dismissal “such a fundamental violation of academic freedom” that they “would find it very difficult to engage in scholarly exchanges with Peking University.” Impressive. But Wellesley, alas, was the exception that proved the rule. As Peter Ford reported in the Christian Science Monitor, almost fifty American institutions of higher education had deals with PKU at the time of Xia’s firing, but only two (the other was the University of Virginia) spoke up about it.

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Susan Reverby

What does it mean for us to rent our reputation abroad?” asked Wellesley history prof Susan Reverby. “At what point does one side go over a line that the partner organization does not think should be crossed?” Sleeper, noting that Stanford University “has a $7 million center at Peking University,” quoted Stanford dean Richard Saller‘s less-than-stirring statement on Xia’s dismissal: “We went into our relationship with Peking University with the knowledge that American standards of academic freedom are the product of 100 years of evolution. We think engagement is a better strategy than taking such moral high ground that we can’t engage with some of these universities.” (Translation: ka-ching!)

And Xia himself? He told Ford that fifteen years earlier the administrators of PKU “thought they should listen to the West….But today so many famous universities want to cooperate with PKU…[that] they think they can set the rules.” On that point, the folks at PKU would seem to be entirely correct.

No gays, no Jews, no worries: NYU in Abu Dhabi

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John Sexton

In a revealing 2008 New York magazine piece about NYU’s sellout to Abu Dhabi, Zvika Krieger quoted dopey NYU president John Sexton‘s blithe admission that students and faculty at NYU-Abu Dhabi would be subject to “the normal laws of that society” – for example, the UAE’s criminization of homosexuality and its ban on Israelis. As one NYU math professor, Sylvain Cappell, noted, “Israelis are gigantic figures in academic life, and if we held conferences in certain disciplines, it would be an embarrassment not to be able to have Israeli participation.” Krieger wondered “how the Jewish members of NYU’s board of trustees engaged the mental gymnastics necessary to process the U.A.E.’s disconcerting tolerance of anti-Semitism.”

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NYU-Abu Dhabi

Sexton, however, refused to see any problems here: “I would say to any student here that wants to go to the Abu Dhabi campus, ‘Go.’ Gay students, Israeli students, I refuse to think in those categories.” Never mind that the police and courts and prison authorities in the UAE do think in those categories. Mubarak Al Shamesi, Abu Dhabi’s education honcho, told Krieger that “NYU was aware of our local culture and rules and guidelines, and our policies on Israelis or homosexuality were clearly not a concern for them.”

This, as Krieger underscored, from a university that had been named the most gay-friendly in the United States.

Recently, Jim Sleeper, who teaches poli sci at Yale, wrote an article in which he expanded on Shaun Tan’s and Zvika Krieger’s criticism of Sexton. Noting that the campus of NYU-Abu Dhabi “is the product of a kleptocracy,” Sleeper pointed out that the compromises entered into by Sexton & co. “involve not just academic life but the virtual indentured servitude of thousands of laborers from Southeast Asia who have been imported to construct the campus.”

Nasser bin Ghaith, one of the five political activists pardoned by the United Arab Emirates, speaks to Reuters at his home in Dubai November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Nikhil Monteiro
Nasser bin Ghaith

Although NYU-Abu Dhabi is still a relatively new institution, it’s already been the locus of several major compromises. In 2011, Nasser bin Ghaith, who taught at the Sorbonne’s Abu Dhabi branch, was arrested and tried “for supporting democratic elections.” Human Rights Watch urged NYU and other UAE-based Western colleges to come to Bin Ghaith’s defense; but, as Jackson Diehl reported in the Washington Post,

NYU joined with the Sorbonne in throwing Bin Ghaith overboard. A Sorbonne statement said the university had “no authorized means to express an opinion” because the charges against the professor were “external to his academic activities.” NYU also declined to make a statement; a spokesman said it fell outside NYU’s “core mission.”

In 2012, Ursula Lindsey, a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, paid a visit to the NYU-Abu Dhabi campus. Among her observations: faculty members “use caution in broaching topics such as AIDS and prostitution; the status of migrant laborers; Israel and the Holocaust; and domestic politics and corruption. Any critical discussion of the Emirates’ ruling families is an obvious no-go zone.” In 2014, Matt J. Duffy, who had taught in the UAE, called NYU-Abu Dhabi’s “pledge of ‘academic freedom’ …essentially worthless because powerful figures [in the Emirates] can make arbitrary employment decisions with absolutely no recourse.”

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Andrew Ross

Sleeper has cited the case of NYU American Studies professor Andrew Ross, who publicly “called attention to the labor abuses” in the UAE and who consequently was banned from Abu Dhabi in March of this year. That’s not all: “In the United States, Ross was followed by a private investigator; and a reporter who had worked with the New York Times on a story about the Abu Dhabi campus said that a representative of the United Arab Emirates had offered him payments to write more positively about the government.” Worst of all, “President Sexton’s handling of reports about those abuses and of NYU’s complicity in them are troubling.” Quelle surprise!

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Sorbonne-Abu Dhabi

No, NYU isn’t the only university to engage in this kind of whoring. But at least some other whores are honest about what they’re doing. “Sexton,” wrote Krieger,

is unwilling to concede that he is in thrall to petrodollars. But the Sorbonne, which opened a campus in Abu Dhabi in 2006, is quite open about having sold itself to the highest bidder. “It is a pity, but I must say that we are only in Abu Dhabi because Abu Dhabi proposed to pay for all of our expenses,” says Daniel Balland, director-general of the Sorbonne in Abu Dhabi. “If we got the same offer from Doha or Cairo, we probably would have said yes, too.”

John Sexton’s Abu Dhabi “courtship”

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John Sexton

We’ve been looking at the sordid story of NYU president John Sexton‘s acceptance of Abu Dhabi dough in exchange for his university’s ethical reputation. In both Shaun Tan’s and Zvika Krieger’s retellings, Sexton comes off as an utter fool – and, needless to say, a useful stooge of the first water. Here’s Krieger on Sexton’s first rendezvous with his desert prince, otherwise known as Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan:

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan

The way Sexton describes his Abu Dhabi courtship is oddly rapturous. Meeting with the crown prince in his opulent majlis social hall was, Sexton says, “electric.” He believes he connected to the prince metaphysically: “The crown prince told me that he felt it in my handshake, in my eyes, in my aura at that first meeting.” And perhaps most significant to Sexton, when they prepared to part ways, the prince said, “What, no hug?” (Sexton is famous for hugging most everyone in sight.) “I knew right then and there,” Sexton remembers fondly, “that we had found our partner.”

Imagine: this idiot is the head of a leading American university. Tan picks up the story:

Having decided on his plan, Sexton pushed it through with autocratic fervor. “It was negotiated secretly and announced to the rest of us with only a veneer of serious faculty consultation, but we knew it was a fait accompli,” said a senior NYU professor who declined to be named because of “a sense that people who get on Sexton’s wrong side get punished.” Indeed, reservations about the project seemed to batter uselessly against Sexton’s bewildering naïveté. “The Crown Prince chose us,” Sexton said, “and he wants us to be the best.”

At the same time, Sexton warned students and faculty at the new campus that they couldn’t criticize Abu Dhabi’s leaders and policies without repercussions. However, he denied that such restrictions would betray the spirit of a liberal arts college. “I have no trouble distinguishing between rights of academic freedom and rights of political expression,” he said.

Before you continue reading, chew over that one for a few seconds.

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Mary Nolan

Krieger attended an NYU faculty meeting at which news of the Abu Dhabi deal caused “outrage.” “To many faculty,” he wrote, “the Abu Dhabi project embodies the worst of John Sexton’s indulgences and the short-sightedness of his glory-seeking ambitions.” Mary Nolan, a longtime NYU history professor, described NYU-Abu Dhabi as “a quintessentially Sexton operation. He thinks he has some sort of a missionary calling, but he operates in a very autocratic manner. Deans are kept on a very short leash, and faculty governance has been absolutely gutted.” 

nyu (2)Some NYU professors wondered if Sexton’s own course on “Supreme Court and Religion,” or other courses on “Theories of Gender and Sexuality” and “The Constitution in the Age of Terror,” would “be welcome in a country that lacks an independent media and judiciary or a separation of church and state.” (Krieger noted that two years earlier, “a foreign lecturer at a university [in the Emirates] was dismissed for showing and discussing controversial Danish cartoons that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad.”)

As we’ll see, those professors’ concerns were more than justified.

NYU: The Big Apple of academic sleaze

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John Sexton

In his devastating 2012 article “Dangerous Liaisons,” about the moral and intellectual compromises that major American universities have made in order to squeeze money out of rich foreign autocrats, Shaun Tan devoted a few paragraphs to NYU president John Sexton. If virtually all of America’s major universities have been known to sell out their principles as long as there’s enough cash on the table, NYU is arguably the most notorious offender in this regard. Often it seems to be a money-making enterprise first, a real-estate operation second, and a university (at best) third. And when it comes to licking the boots of creeps with deep pockets, the suits at NYU are especially quick to drop to their knees.

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NYU’s Bobst Library

But even for those familiar with NYU’s history of sleaze, the story of Sexton’s sellout to Arab fat cats is a head-turner. First, get a load of this, from a 2008 New York magazine article by Zvika Krieger entitled “The Emir of NYU”:

John Sexton’s office, which sits on the top floor of NYU’s Bobst Library and boasts an impressive view north to Washington Square Park, has recently begun to resemble a shrine to Abu Dhabi. The university president has installed a massive Oriental rug, a gift from the crown prince, on one entire wall. On another hangs a framed portrait of the sunglasses-clad founder of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In the center of the room is a large framed photograph of an Emirati woman, hand covered in a henna tattoo, gazing provocatively from behind a sequined veil.

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Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan

The reason for this nauseating display? Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, had plunked down $50 million to establish NYU-Abu Dhabi, which, on its opening in 2010, became “the first liberal arts college outside America.” Bankrolled completely by the Abu Dhabi government, NYU-Abu Dhabi was, in Tan’s words, “Sexton’s brainchild, conceived through his mad obsession with dethroning what he calls ‘the holy trinity’ – Harvard, Yale, and Princeton – from their perch at the pinnacle of American education.”

Back to Krieger’s 2008 piece: Sexton “has taken the thirteen-hour flight to the desert emirate four times over the past two years to personally broker the deal with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. He refers to his trips there as a ‘spiritual experience’ and sees the project as honoring his late wife.” Sexton even planned to teach a course of his own in Abu Dhabi, flying back and forth every other weekend:

“I can’t wait to teach my class over there,” he exclaims, his face flushed with excitement as he throws his feet up in the air and falls back in his chair.

Don’t worry. There’s more.