Academic dishonesty is not academic freedom

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In a notable incident in 2023, a professor at Harvard was placed on administrative leave for falsifying data in psychological experiments about dishonesty. Sadly, there have been numerous cases of similar fraud over the years where academics fabricated, falsified, or modified data – approximately 2% of scientists have admitted to engaging in such questionable practices.

Determining dishonesty in social sciences research is challenging due to the subjective nature of interpretation. Generally, there is more latitude for [biassed] opinion of events to creep into a lecture of history, for example, compared to astrophysics.

However, there are some aspects of history, geography, and politics that are empirically verifiable and presenting them in a dishonest manner is akin to the academic misconduct of fabricating data from an experiment.

One example of this would be Holocaust denial. There is abundant, triangulated evidence – much of which was documented by the Nazis themselves – to support the facts of a systematic mass murder of approximately six million Jews in Europe.

Hence, it is a fluorescent stain on the reputation of the New Zealand academy that Canterbury University is the only tertiary institution in the Western World to have an awarded degree for Holocaust denial. It was written by Joel Hayward, who subsequently taught students at Massey University and then discovered his new self in the Middle East where he converted to Islam and became an Imam. Hayward’s thesis was supervised by Dr Vincent Orange and externally assessed by Dr John Jensen of the University of Waikato.

Another academic at the University of Canterbury, Associate Professor Jeremy Moses, may also be breaching academic standards. Information obtained under the Official Information Act suggests there was gross bias in one of his lectures. For example, Moses presented a distorted history via maps that have been extensively debunked. MSNBC issued an apology for airing the “not factually accurate” maps in 2015, and McGraw-Hill Education withdrew a textbook and planned to destroy all remaining copies because a review found the maps “did not meet our academic standards”.

Moses also told his class that ”…it’s very hard to tell the difference between the acts of violence that have taken place. Are we really pretending that civilians in Gaza are not being terrorised by the Israeli government at the moment?…” This argument is similar to the Dresden Defence that some Nazis tried to use, claiming that the allied bombing of Dresden was as bad as the Nazi atrocities. The Nuremberg judges saw it differently – they clearly said:

“A city is bombed for tactical purposes… it inevitably happens that nonmilitary persons are killed. This is an incident, a grave incident to be sure, but an unavoidable corollary of battle action. The civilians are not individualized. The bomb falls, it is aimed at the railroad yards, houses along the tracks are hit and many of their occupants killed. But that is entirely different, both in fact and in law, from an armed force marching up to these same railroad tracks, entering those houses abutting thereon, dragging out the men, women and children and shooting them”. [emphasis added]

It would be interesting to see Associate Professor Moses’ lecture recording(s) in full. Despite Moses saying he is “happy for everyone to see what I teach, Canterbury University has refused to release them, stating “Publishing these lectures to parties outside of the University would unreasonably prejudice the commercial position of the University.”  It is worth noting that Canterbury University embargoed Hayward’s thesis for 7 years before it could be found and publicly critiqued.

Moreover, Associate Professor Moses has also posted mis/disinformation on his social media. For example, Moses expressed disdain that New Zealand abstained on a United Nations General Assembly Resolution about “the Syrian Golan”, writing “Between this and Collins’ openness to AUKUS, it’s already clear that the new NZ government will be much more willing to fall in line with US interests. The next few years could kill off the ‘independent’ and ‘honest broker’ identity once and for all.”

What Associate Professor Moses fails to mention is that New Zealand has abstained on that particular resolution since at least 2015. It has nothing to do with a new government. The reason given by MFAT for the abstention in 2015 was a rare admission that “the current [resolution] text is imbalanced”.

Arguably, a more egregious error is Moses’ claim that Israel’s war with Hamas is “about land theft and colonisation after all”. This is an opinion that he attempts to evidence with a post by Israeli Prime Minister who wrote in Hebrew:
“…מניח הערב את אבן הפינה בעוטף עזה ליישוב ״אופיר״” along with a picture of himself and others breaking ground. The Google translation of the text was “Tonight, the cornerstone is laid in the Gaza Strip for the settlement ‘Ofer’…”. However, anyone who understands Hebrew – or does a simple internet search for the story – will have understood that the translation should be “Tonight, the cornerstone is laid in the Gaza Envelope (land within Israel, near the border with Gaza) for the settlement of ‘Ofir’…”. Indeed, a ‘community note’ in X clarified this for people who also spread the same false information about a new Israeli settlement within Gaza.

Associate Professor Moses has also publicly expressed antisemitic sentiments. In a podcast, he endorsed the vile comparison between Hamas and the Warsaw Ghetto Jews, and on social media he reposted a comment that “It’s impossible not to draw comparisons w [sic] the Holocaust… civilian men stripped naked in a big ditch held at gunpoint…” above an image of IDF soldiers standing over men who had surrendered. While most soldiers in active combat hold guns, the comparison breaks down at the most important difference that the IDF soldiers did not execute the men who surrendered – many of whom are likely to be Hamas terrorists – like the Nazis did to innocent Jews.

The moral inversion of likening Israel to Nazis is a form of “perpetrator-victim reversal”, with origins in Soviet-era antisemitic propaganda. The inaccurate comparison is a form of ‘softcore’ Holocaust denial because it downplays the historic record of the Holocaust. Holocaust scholars are more likely to find similarities between the Nazis and Hamas in their ideological desire to kill Jews, their indoctrination and the methods they used.

Another senior academic who has been spreading false information on social media is Associate Professor Moses’ colleague, Professor Richard Jackson (University of Otago).

Professor Jackson wroteIt turns out that when you do some academic research, you find that the argument that Palestinians teach their children to hate is completely wrong. In fact, it’s Israel that does that. It’s [sic] educational system is deeply racist”, with a link to another post endorsing Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s work claiming a racist Israeli education system.

A quick internet search reveals that Professor Peled-Elhanan’s findings are deeply flawed. Serious investigations into the Israeli curriculum have found the “​​curricula are generally vehicles for teaching peace and tolerance”. On the other hand, even the United Nations has expressed concern “about the existence of hate speech in [Palestinian Authority]… school curricula and textbooks, which fuels hatred and may incite violence, particularly hate speech against Israelis, which at times also fuels antisemitism.” 

Professor Jackson has also reversed the truth in another public post on X, urging us all to “Do some research. Investigations show the [Hamas use of] human shields argument is bollocks. In fact, the only evidence shows that it’s the IDF that uses human shields…”

The most cursory research endeavours will reveal report after report after report after report that shows Hamas using human shields. Even Hamas leaders admit their strategy relies on using human shields. Professor Jackson is correct, however, that there is some evidence the IDF used human shields – a practice that the IDF issued an immediate and unequivocal order to cease in 2002.

Professor Jackson’s inversion of the truth is unbecoming of any serious academic. As is Associate Professor Moses’ spreading of falsehoods, and his endorsement of antisemitism.

We contacted Associate Professor Moses and Professor Jackson for comment. Only Associate Professor Moses responded. He did not engage at all with any of the substantive issues, but made the following comment (reproduced here without edits):

“Pro-Israel activists like David Cumin from the Israel Institute of New Zealand exist to spread propaganda and manipulate the public narrative in Israel’s favour. One of the ways they do this is through attempts to intimidate and harass academics who don’t share their views by poring over social media posts, lectures, or other forms of commentary, trying to find any kind of hook that they think can be used to ridicule or shame that person. A recent article by Jack Poulson and Lee Fang provides clear evidence of how these kind of tactics are encouraged by Israeli government and military officials and sections of the tech industry in the United States. The irony of all of this – as has become glaringly evident over the past two months – is that the IINZ and associated social media profiles are full of comments and articles that support, deny or excuse the graphic, daily evidence of mass atrocities that we have been witnessing in Gaza for the past 67 days. Any number of these could be characterised as mis- or dis-information, including but by no means limited to the claims that the IDF has acted with concern for discrimination or proportionality. But in any case we’re now in a situation where I think the majority of the public would recognise the rigid pro-Israel positions taken by IINZ as extremist, mass atrocity denialism. Their attempts to smear critics of Israel’s actions as antisemitic, pro-terrorism, or propagators of disinformation in this context are frankly unsustainable or hypocritical and will rightly be dismissed by any fair-minded person with a modicum of insight into what is currently taking place. Neither I, nor anyone else who has campaigned with the aim of bringing an end to this vicious attack against the Palestinians in Gaza (alongside increasing settler and military atrocities in the West Bank), has reason to feel ashamed for doing so. The fact that we now have the formerly staunchly Israel-supporting governments of New Zealand, Australia, and Canada starting to stand against the ongoing bombardment of Gaza and joining 153 of 193 states in the UN General Assembly in calling for an immediate ceasefire is a part of the growing, undeniable evidence of this.”

When asked for any specific examples of specific posts from IINZ that he thought were incorrect. He was unable to provide any. 

According to Moses, the “Holocaust Education Centre” – possibly he means the Holocaust Centre of New Zealand, as there is no ‘Holocaust Education Centre’ in New Zealand I am aware of – also wrote to him, saying “In our work to highlight the insidiousness of modern antisemitism and how it can exploit the legitimate critique of Israel to reintroduce antisemitic tropes into public discourse, we intend to use examples from the podcast publicly as illustrations. We are writing to give you the opportunity to comment before we do that…”. 

Moses wrote “This is how pro-Israel harassment works.” and added “There is absolutely nothing of substance in any of the claims they make, but that’s not the point. The idea is to make me not want to bother dealing with this anymore and stop criticising Israel. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. In fact, I’ll use this in my teaching.”.

Moses also spearheaded an open letter claiming that challenging his views was “intended to denounce, discredit, defame, defund, intimidate, silence, and potentially even create conflict within the university community…” and the letter goes on “…We are always open to respectful, sincere and challenging engagement with our teaching and research, in accordance with the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression. We do not, however, believe that ad hominem attacks on those critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank meet that standard or are of value to society.” This letter is similar to the one promoted by Dr Lally in support of Hayward’s Holocaust denial thesis.

It is also notable that Associate Professor Moses signed the Hendy-Wiles letter denouncing the views of the ‘Listener Seven’, who expressed concerns about mātauranga Māori being taught as equal to science. Karl du Fresne called the Hendy-Wiles letter “an unprecedented pile-on”.

Pointing out incorrect information in public posts from senior academics, exposing egregious bias and disinformation in their lectures, and uncovering antisemitic expressions is not intended to intimidate or harass any reasonable person. My hope is that Associate Professor Moses meets minimum academic standards and ceases to present false or egregiously biassed propaganda in his classes, and on his social media.

Earlier this year, a student complained about bias similar to Moses’ in a lecture at Massey University. The department conducted an independent review of the material and concluded that the material did not meet their standards and committed to ensuring it was “framed more carefully” in future. That is an excellent outcome that ensures Massey does not drop their academic standards.

In contrast, in the same podcast where he endorsed the grotesque comparison between Hamas terrorists and Warsaw Ghetto Jews, Moses also interpreted my attempts to seek clarification and point out issues as “trying to make me nervous and cautious about what I say about this in the future, and I’m just not willing to accept the terms of that”.

So at least one Canterbury University lecturer does not feel the need to be careful about sensitive topics, and it seems he will continue to present false propaganda, unbalanced perspectives, and possibly antisemitism to his classes. We will continue to call it out when we see it.