The body set up to deal with student complaints in England and Wales has found that Warwick University was right to stand by a professor who Israel lobby groups accused of bias.
Smadar Bakovic, an Israeli masters student formerly at Warwick who also works for an anti-Palestinian media group in Jerusalem, complained to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator last year. The OIA says she was unhappy that the university “refused to criticize” Professor Nicola Pratt for giving her dissertation a mark of 62 percent.
Bakovic claimed that Warwick’s complaints committee “did not make any provision for compensating me for the unsatisfactory teaching” — despite the fact the university allowed her to rewrite her dissertation with a new supervisor in 2011.
“She also seeks financial compensation,” the OIA’s Complaint Outcome stated last week.
Pratt is a supporter of boycotts of Israeli academic institutions. According to the new finding, Bakovic cited Pratt’s description as an activist in the “international peace/anti-war movement” on the university website as grounds for changing supervisors. According to Bakovic, the document states, this was an indicator of being “prejudiced in her views about Israel and Israelis.”
Soon after Bakovic went to the Jewish Chronicle in 2011 as part of her campaign against Pratt, an online petition to fire her was set up — apparently by a former leading figure in theZionist Federation. Bakovic also apparently set up a Facebook page calling for the same.
The OIA’s new finding says that there is no evidence for Bakovic’s complaint that the rewritten dissertation’s higher mark (71 percent) shows Pratt’s mark for the original was “biased marking”:
we are not persuaded that there is sufficient evidence to establish that Professor A’s [Pratt’s] marking was in fact biased. The dissertation was blind marked by a second marker who marked it only slightly higher than Professor A. Ms Bakovic had the benefit of two markers’ feedback, and the input of a new supervisor, and more time in revising her dissertation. It would not be surprising if this contributed to improvement of the work and a higher mark.
But the OIA did find that the department should have changed Bakovic’s supervisor when she asked them to back in 2010. Warwick’s complaints committee had also found this, which is why they allowed the dissertation to be rewritten under a new supervisor in 2011.
But the OIA ruling states that the “distress and inconvenience” of pursuing her complaint was not “fully addressed by the University’s remedy.” As such they recommended Warwick provide an apology and £1,000 ($1,550) in compensation.
The framework the OIA works within was established by law in 2004, but the body has no regulatory powers to punish or fine.
Warwick’s head of communications Peter Dunn responded in an email to The Electronic Intifada:
The University is very pleased to note that the OIA have rejected almost the entirety of the complaint, in particular the allegations of bias.
The University will of course give due consideration to the single criticism made by the OIA that the student was not sufficiently compensated by the University Complaints Committee for her experience in pursuing her original complaint within her department.
It emerged last week that another Israel lobby group has been pushing the case forward —UK Lawyers For Israel.
The group apparently emailed its allies claiming “Ms Bakovic submitted a complaint to the OIA with the assistance of members of UK Lawyers for Israel” and congratulating her for “standing up for her rights.”
They also seem to have published the full outcome on their Dropbox account, despite the fact the OIA does not publish its outcomes. They “would never identify the student,” a spokesperson confirmed to me. (Pratt is only identified as “Professor A” in the outcome document.)
The OIA spokesperson also said that this case was not entirely closed and that both parties now had the chance to respond with limited factual corrections.
When Bakovic initially went to the press, The Electronic Intifada quickly discovered that she worked for Media Central — a “free or low cost” fixer’s agency run by Israeli propaganda group Honest Reporting (she apparently still works for them). Honest Reporting’s managing editor is Simon Plosker, an Israeli army propaganda officer who works in their press office on reserve duty.
Honest Reporting responded to The Electronic Intifada’s expose of their employee by denying they had anything to do with her campaign against Pratt.
The Electronic Intifada wrote to Bakovic asking how involved UK Lawyers For Israel has been in the case, but received no reply.
Nicola Pratt declined to comment.
Sabotage and monitor
The decision surely marks another defeat for anti-Palestinian groups’ “lawfare” strategy, in which legal threats are made against Palestine solidarity activists.
Earlier this year, a pro-Israel teacher’s long legal campaign against the University and College Union was completely defeated. Ronnie Fraser’s claim was dismissed by a tribunal as “an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means.”
The fallout to that case seemed to have involved a combination of intra-Zionist back-biting, buck-passing and denial.
In 2011, Bakovic let it slip in the Jewish Chronicle that she monitored the university’s Palestine solidarity movement while she was there: “I knew Prof Pratt because whenever there was an anti-Israel event at the university I went along and she was often there” (my emphasis).
Pratt was one of many academic signatories to a seminal letter in the Guardian during the 2008-09 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, which asserted that “if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides … against Israel, and with the people of Gaza and the West Bank.”
In the Reut Institute’s now-infamous 2010 report on how to counter the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to hold Israel accountable, the influential think tank advised Israel to “sabotage” the movement of solidarity with Palestine.
One of the many examples it gave of possible counter-strategies was “Mobilizing and training civil society partners … for example students and faculty in academia.”
More recently, renewed Israeli efforts to establish “covert” units of students run in “semi-military” style to spread propaganda from the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office have made headlines.
The Electronic Intifada had previously exposed such Israeli efforts, which also implicate the National Union of Israeli Students.