Israeli Anti-Zionists finding niche in Academia as
ROMIROWSKY: In academia, hiring token Jews
Anti-Zionists provide illustory balance
Monday, August 4, 2008
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict long ago
spilled over into America's education departments of
Middle East studies. In an attempt to appear balanced in the
face of charges of anti-Israel
biases, some departments or programs of Middle East studies have
added Israeli scholars to their ranks - a move that at first glance
Yet many of these Israeli academics have built
their reputation on a scholarship that is harshly critical not only
of Israeli policy, but of Israel's very existence. Anti-Israel
scholars who hail from Israel are cited favorably by the entire
range of Israel's critics. These range from pro-Palestinian groups
like the Committee to Stop Demolition of Houses in Palestine, the
Committee to Stop Torture and Breaking the Silence to Jewish
anti-Zionist groups like the American Council for Judaism. They also
include neo-Nazis and Islamists.
The international standing of such scholars
received a boost in the mid-1980s with the rise of the so-called
"new historians" in Israeli universities. These scholars sought to
debunk what they claim is a distorted "Zionist narrative" in Israeli
historiography. In practice, they twisted the history of Israel's
rebirth by dismissing the efforts of Arab states to destroy the
newborn Jewish state as a Zionist myth, and claiming that Israel is
built on ethnic cleansing and brutality toward the Palestinians.
Given this hostility to Israel's very
existence, Middle East studies departments in the United States are
tempted to hire anti-Israeli Israelis. They inoculate the employer
against charges of anti-Semitism while seemingly legitimizing their
claims of ideological balance gained through presenting an Israeli
viewpoint. All this is achieved without changing the radical,
anti-Israel, Arabist prejudices of their departments.
This problem is noted by leading Middle East
historian Efraim Karsh, who in his book "Fabricating Israeli
History" observes that propaganda in the field of Middle East
studies has become the accepted norm. In other disciplines, this
would have created a serious crisis of credibility. Yet, Mr. Karsh
notes, this is not so in contemporary Middle East studies. For such
is the politicization of this field that the new historiography's
partisanship has been its entry ticket into the Arabist club and its
attendant access to academic journals, respected publishing houses
and the mass media.
Today, these "new historians" teach at many
North American and European universities. In practice, it ensures
that students are taught an ahistorical, one-sided interpretation of
the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Some recent examples illustrate the problem:
Ilan Pappe, formally of Haifa University and now with the University
of Exeter in England, was one of the driving forces behind the
academic boycott movement against Israeli academics that began in
the United Kingdom. Mr. Pappe believes that Zionism is a genocidal,
racialist movement. Here he describes the founding years of the
Jewish state: As resistance to colonialism strengthened, the Zionist
leadership became convinced that only through a total expulsion of
the Palestinians would they be able to create a state of their own.
From its early inception and up to the 1930s, Zionist thinkers
propagated the need to ethnically cleanse the indigenous population
of Palestine if the dream of a Jewish state were to come true.
Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University of the
Negev was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan this
academic year. Mr. Gordon believes that Israel is not a democracy
and that Israel controls the Palestinian population in the occupied
territories without giving them political rights. Accordingly, the
notion that the occupation is provisional or temporary should be
considered an illusion concealing the reality on the ground.
Oren Yiftachel, a geography professor at
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a Diller Visiting Professor
at the University of California at Berkeley, states that: The failed
Oslo process, the violent intifada and - most acutely - Israel's
renewed aggression and brutality toward the Palestinians in the
occupied territories, have cast a dark shadow over the joint future
of the state's Palestinian and Jewish citizens. He also says that
actual existence of an Israeli state (and hence citizenship) can be
viewed as an illusion, and that Israel has ruptured, by its own
actions, the geography of statehood and maintained a caste-like
system of ethnic-religious-class stratification.
Sanford and Helen Diller endowed Mr.
Yiftachel's position at Berkeley. Helen Diller admits that she was
motivated by the pro-Palestinian activism on campus: With the
protesting and this and that, we need to get a real strong Jewish
studies program in there, she said, expressing the hope that it will
be enlightening to have a visiting professor and that it would calm
down the situation on campus. Her comments, though well intentioned,
illustrate the core mis-assumption that the presence of an Israeli
scholar guarantees ideological balance in a department.
Sanford Diller has noted the risks involved in
trusting the university to fulfill his and his wife's wishes, and
stated that it was never their foundation's intent to supply a
platform at Berkeley for someone of Mr. Yiftachel's views, to which
he and his wife are strongly in disagreement.
In Middle East studies, politicized writing and
teaching have displaced scholarship, and academic freedom has been
redefined as the liberty to dispense with academic standards. Hiring
token Israeli Jews who share these views eliminates debate while
providing the illusion of balance.
Asaf Romirowsky, an adjunct scholar for
Campus Watch, is manager of Israel and Mideast affairs for the
Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
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