In the phrase "post-Zionist Pantheon" the word "pantheon" is marked in blue, indicating that it is linked to another bit of information for whoever wants to bother to read it. This phrase appeared on the home page of Middle East scholar Martin Kramer in an article entitled "How NOT to Promote Israel Studies." A click on the word "pantheon" takes the reader to the English version of Neri Livneh's article in Haaretz entitled "Post-Zionism Only Rings Once" in the Weekend Magazine about the new historians and the post-Zionist ideas that are held by some lecturers at universities in Israel.
Among other names mentioned in the article were those of Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris (before he published his new book and his new approach concerning the "historic mistake" of the non- expulsion of all the Arabs from Israel), Tanya Reinhardt and Orly Lubin. But Kramer vents his particular fury on Professor Oren Yiftachel, of the geography department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, or more precisely - at the University of California at Berkeley - which invited Yiftachel for a year of lectures paid for by a fund established by Helen Diller, a Berkeley alumna.
Diller, who donated $5 million to set up a permanent framework for visiting professors from Israel is quoted in Kramer's article as saying: "I feel, through education, both sides will come out with a more positive approach to the situation. I'm hoping to even get the (pro-Palestinian) students to take the courses."
"Well, that's not likely to be a problem," scoffs Kramer, "because Berkeley's academic committee chose Professor Oren Yiftachel as the first Diller Visiting Professor. Yiftachel is ... a shining light in the post-Zionist pantheon, a "critical scholar" whose criticism runs overwhelmingly in one direction: against Israel.
To prove this, Kramer brings citations from Yiftachel in which he ostensibly argues, among other things, that former prime minister Ehud Barak's offers to the Palestinians were humiliating. "Yiftachel was the kind of Israeli that an Edward Said-boosting, Saudi-connected Middle East center could not only tolerate, but embrace."
This wild attack on Yiftachel is only one aspect of Kramer's academic struggle, and not the most important. With respect to the direction of the curricula at Middle East studies departments at all the universities in the United States, Kramer is the partner to the outlook and Internet site of another neoconservative, Daniel Pipes, called "Campus Watch."
Under the heading "Mission Statement," the editors of the site clarify: "Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum (Daniel Pipe's research institute in which Kramer also participates), reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them."
The project addresses five problems that Pipes and Kramer believe affect Middle Eastern studies in the United States: "analytical failures, the mixing of politics with scholarship, intolerance of alternative views, apologetics and the abuse of power over students."
What has made the proprietors of the site particularly angry? This is extensively adumbrated in a book that Kramer has devoted to Middle East studies in the United States entitled "Ivory Towers on Sand," in which among other things he writes that the new elite of Middle East studies in the United States have failed in posing the right questions, at the right time, about Islamism: They have understated the influence this phenomenon had in the 1980s, they did not present its role correctly in the early 1990s and they smoothed over the increasing potential of this phenomenon to cause terror against America at the end of the 1990s.
Kramer casts personal aspersions on well-known Middle East scholars like John Esposito (who, he says, has never studied or taught at a major center for Middle East studies or Richard Bulliet, who was the head of the institute for Middle East studies at Columbia University and scornfully dubs those who identified trends of reform in the Islamic movements "Islamic Lutherans."
Professor Zachary Lockman of the department of Middle Eastern history at New York University replies, noting that Kramer himself was a researcher at the Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, the heir to the Shiloah center for Middle Eastern and African Studies named after Reuven Shiloah, the founder of the Israeli intelligence community.
The names of this institute, notes Lockman, reflect its function not only as a research institute but also a major site where military, intelligence and Foreign Ministry people can interact with researchers who study issues that are relevant to policy. Lockman offers this model as a possible explanation for Kramer's demand to create a relationship between research institutes and the administration whereby the research institutes would answer to the state's needs.
While Lockman agrees with some of Kramer's points, his main argument is against the latter's attacks on the majority of the members of Middle East research institutes and his sweeping statement that they are a bunch of leftists, in thrall to Edward Said's theory about the West's orientalist perception of the East. He reminds Kramer that the role of academic researchers is not to predict the future but rather to explain the past. Lockman says that Kramer's book affords a banal perspective in that he states that the theories, paradigms and models are distorted and useless because they stand in the way of the direct and precise approach of the reality that he and others like him believe they hold.
Even blunter is Professor Joel Beinin of Stanford University, a Middle East scholar who heads the prestigious Middle East Studies Association (MESA), who says that after the attack of September 11 a group of neo-conservatives who have close connections began a ceaseless attack on American researchers who study the Middle East.
But it turns out that not only Middle East researchers are on the cross-hairs of the neo-conservatives, but also researchers from Israel. Thus, for example, Oren Yiftachel was asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire on his political tendencies, to state whether he justified Palestinian violence and give his opinion on all kinds of other matters before the Jewish students' organization on the Berkeley campus would give its approval to a lecture that he gave. Yiftachel refused to fill out the questionnaire and the organization withdrew its sponsorship. Yiftachel's lecture nevertheless proved a great success.
But the debate among the scholars is not in the realm of theory. The arguments of Daniel Pipes' and Martin Kramer's Campus Watch indicate the political direction of the debaters. They say that many American researchers of the Middle East have no respect for the national interests of their country and use their authority in order to scorn these interests, and that the professors of Middle East studies are an almost monolithic bloc of leftists. They accuse these professors of forcing their opinions on students and punishing opponents by lowering their grades.
Kramer and Pipes do not explain how exactly it happened that the Pentagon's own "Middle East experts" were unable to assess correctly the developments in Iraq, did not understand Turkey's positions before the war and believed that the occupation of Afghanistan would neutralize the terrorist organizations.
It is doubtful that the opinions of researchers like Pipes and Kramer could serve as a knowledge base for the administration when they present Islam as a single monolithic bloc and the Al Qaida organization as representing all the organizations of radical Islam. An outlook that attributes to Islam as a whole rooted in "personality characteristics" does of course concord with the "clash of cultures" theory propounded by Samuel Huntington but it ignores the profound differences in the existing perceptions in Islam.
"Criticism is the life breath of academia in a free society," says Dr. Yoram Meital of the Middle East studies department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who is now on sabbatical at Northeastern University in Boston. "Thus the call by researchers like Kramer and Pipes to re-examine research and teaching in Middle East studies ... However, the motives of these critics, and especially their proposal to work through legislation, are unacceptable. The argument by supporters of the law concerning the `lack of patriotism' of a large portion of Middle East researchers shows that it is not the study of the field that concerns them but rather the political opinions of some of their colleagues ... Studies that are committed to a particular position will damage the quality of research and teaching in Middle East studies."
The dispute has recently moved into the political arena. In October, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the higher education law, known as Title VI.
According to this provision, universities receive federal aid of tens of millions of dollars as support for international studies, including Middle East studies. The proposed amendment, which is now awaiting Senate approval, proposes the establishment of a Higher Education Advisory Council that would "provide recommendations to the Secretary and the Congress for the improvement of programs under the title and to ensure programs meet the purposes of the title."
This advisory body would be made up of seven appointed members, and their aim would be to help the national effort to educate and train citizens to take part in the internal security effort. The practical translation of this is that universities at which the Middle East studies departments do not meet the vague criteria will not be able to enjoy federal aid. In other words, the proposed legislation would ensure that the academic research body will be "government directed" or at least directed by national interests as they are currently defined.
The proposed law could have a huge effect not only on American researchers. Researchers from all over the world, including Israel, who come to universities in the United States are liable to be required to reveal their political tendencies and their opinions of American policy before they are able to be visitors at advanced studies programs in the United States. And all this is happening at a time when U.S. President George W. Bush wants to export democracy, freedom of speech and the promotion of academic studies to the countries of the Middle East.
Roll out the Bar'el
By Martin Kramer
My Sandstorm entry on "How Not to Promote Israel Studies" got the attention of Zvi Bar'el, Ha'aretz correspondent, who made it the peg of an article that oozes bias and misinformation. I'm no more than a local phone call away from Bar'el, and I get calls from journalists around the world about what he labels my "academic struggle." But I guess a chat with me just would have complicated things. This is a cheap import of the irrational hysteria unleashed on the far left by HR3077. Israeli scholars, concludes Bar'el, "are liable to be required to reveal their political tendencies and their opinions of American policy before they are able to be visitors at advanced studies programs in the United States." Give me a break.
Sat, Mar 13 2004 3:44 pmNote: Postings in "Campus Watch in the Media" do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch.
receive the latest by email: subscribe to campus watch's free mailing list