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Investigation of professor is urged

Law center that tracks hate groups wants to know if anti-Semitism is being taught.

April 25, 2007|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Tuesday called for an investigation into the campus activities of Kevin MacDonald, a Cal State Long Beach psychology professor whose writings about Jews have been used to support the views of white supremacists.

Of particular concern, according to a center report to be published this week, are MacDonald's theories suggesting that "Jews, who have typically been in the minority in countries around the world, are compelled by an evolutionary strategy that makes them push for liberal policies, like immigration and diversity, with the intent of weakening the power of the majority that rules them."

The law center, which has collected statistics for years on what it considers hate groups, wants Cal State to look into what MacDonald is teaching students and wants to shine a light on his voluminous writings on Jews.

"What we would like to know is why the university seems intent on protecting Kevin MacDonald rather than looking at his possible violations of policy in the classroom," said Heidi Beirich, the center's deputy director and author of the report. "Our primary intent is not to get rid of Kevin MacDonald, but to show the world who he is, what he is doing."

In an interview in his office Tuesday, the tall, lanky MacDonald -- a fully tenured professor with a doctorate in behavioral sciences from the University of Connecticut -- insisted that although he has written books on what he calls the evolutionary psychology of Jews, "I have never talked about Jews in my courses."

But he acknowledged that his scholarly research has convinced him that not every instance of anti-Semitism is "irrational."

"Jews, as a group, have interests that sometimes conflict with the interests of the people they live among," said MacDonald, who teaches students seeking a degree in child development. "In general, Judaism is considered a complex and successful survival mechanism, and at times they've been victimized for it. I do think there is a biological element at work here that's existed throughout the centuries."

As for the law center report's allegation that his work has been used to lend a kind of legitimacy to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, he said, "I do not agree with all the views people have, but there is little I can do about that."

Beirich sees it differently: "Not since Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' have anti-Semites had such a comprehensive reference guide to what's 'wrong with Jews.' His work is widely advertised and touted on white supremacist websites and sold by neo-Nazi outfits like National Vanguard Books, which considers them 'the most important books of the last 100 years.' "

One of MacDonald's essays on Jews is highlighted on the official website of former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke, who said it contains "a deeper intellectual understanding of the nature of Jewish supremacism and its implications for European Americans."

MacDonald, 63, is no stranger to controversy. In 2000, he testified on behalf of David Irving, a controversial World War II historian who suffered a stinging defeat in a London courtroom in a libel suit he filed against another writer who described him as a Holocaust denier. Irving also served 13 months in prison in Austria after pleading guilty to denying the Holocaust, a crime in that country.

MacDonald's actions caused an uproar on the Cal State campus and the creation of rules regarding the use and abuse of academic material. They included a warning that it is unethical for faculty to allow their work to be used to support groups that disseminate racial or ethnic superiority or racial or ethnic hatred.

Yet, in a recent posting on his website, MacDonald said that "I would like to suppose that my work on Judaism at least meets the criteria of good social science, even if I have come to the point of seeing my subjects in a less than flattering light. In the end, does it really matter if my motivation at this point is less than pristine? Isn't the only question whether I am right?"

That kind of talk makes some of his colleagues in the psychology department at Cal State Long Beach uncomfortable.

Professor Martin Fiebert said he welcomed the law center's report about his colleague of 20 years. "I think exposing bigotry and cultural insensitivity is a good thing to do," he said. "It may help him sell more books, but it will also reveal his views to a larger audience."

Fiebert added: "The most troubling development lately has been that [MacDonald] is widely cited in neo-Nazi and white supremacist web pages. Some of their issues were framed around his willingness to say that being anti-Semitic is a sort of badge of courage.

"But even talking about these things is tricky," he said. "The last time things heated up, Kevin went to his lawyer, then came back and said if his job was threatened, he'd sue. So people stopped talking about Kevin MacDonald."

Cal State Long Beach psychology professor William Kelemen said MacDonald's notions about Jews "make me uncomfortable."

"It's a radioactive topic," he said, "and it's drawing a lot of attention, most of it negative.

"What is bizarre about it all," he added, "is that these controversies seem to surface every few years, yet no one seems to know what to do about it."

In a prepared statement Tuesday, university officials would say only that "academic freedom does not constrain or restrict the spectrum of knowledge, whether that knowledge is popular or unpopular."

Beirich, however, said, "As it stands, a student cannot get a degree in child development at Cal State Long Beach without taking a course taught by MacDonald. We have no idea what those students are hearing or being taught, because no one is overseeing what goes on in there."

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louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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