Middle East studies in the News
How The Academic Left Came To Hate Israel [incl. Juan Cole, Joseph Massad, Joel Beinin, Norman Finkelstein, Jennifer Loewenstein]
by Richard L. Cravatts
On campuses today Israel is regularly, though falsely, condemned for being created "illegally" – through the "theft" of Palestinian lands and property – and thus has no "right to exist."
The government is accused of a "brutal," illegal "occupation" of Palestinian lands, of being a "colonial settler state," a Zionist "regime," a land-hungry nation building an "apartheid wall" as a further land grab, a usurper of property that was lived on and owned by a Palestinian "people" "from time immemorial."
Zionism is regularly equated with Nazism, and the perceived offenses of Israel's government and military are likened to Nazi crimes against humanity; the notion is that Israel is creating a "Holocaust in the Holy Land" through "ethnic cleansing," an ongoing "genocide" of Arabs, and the elimination of the rights of an innocent, "indigenous people" who merely seek self-determination and the peaceful creation of a Palestinian homeland.
It was not always thus. Prior to the 1967 war, Israel still garnered sympathy and admiration from the non-Muslim world that saw its pluck and ability to bring a vibrant democracy to the desert as being enviable and praiseworthy. Still weak and living in a perilous realm surrounded by hostile, totalitarian regimes, Israel could count on the liberal Left for support and an ideological nod of approval.
But thanks to its ascension to a status as a militarily and economically powerful nation, coupled with the successful propaganda war waged against it by its Arab neighbors and jihadist foes, many of Israel's sympathizers began to lose their affection for their former Middle East favorite and instead began conflating their negative views of the United States, capitalism, and imperialism (defined as "occupation" in the case of Israel) with the Jewish state.
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Why the animus against democratic Israel in academe as the nation defends itself from an unending campaign of aggression from Arab countries? One trend that has permeated the university and which has had a subsequent influence on the way Israel is perceived was the coming of two watchwords of higher education: diversity and multiculturalism.
The language of multiculturalism on campuses is sprinkled with the linguistics of oppression, coaxing students in newly-identified victim groups to see themselves as deserving of protection and special political, racial, and cultural recognition.
The obsessive reverence for multiculturalism on the part of universities has also meant that liberal faculty members have come to embrace attitudes that give equal value to very different cultures and nations, a factor that has led – as it did before when the Left embraced the ideology and overlooked the barbaric excesses of Communism – to a dangerous acceptance of radical Islam as equal to and compatible with the culture, values, and ethics of Western democracies.
In United in Hate: The Left's Romance With Tyranny and Terror, his examination of the traditional impulse of the Left to align itself with political movements with values foreign and antithetical to those of most Americans, Jamie Glazov saw a direct causal link between an acceptance of defective ideologies by the Left as part of the process by which it rejects democratic Western ideals and a slavish fondness for what he characterizes as the "Left's sacred cow of multiculturalism."
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The visceral hatred by the Left of its favorite hobgoblins, imperialist America and its codependent oppressor, Israel, finds similar expression from morally defective professors such as Juan Cole, who in his writings regularly takes swipes at Israeli and American defenses while simultaneously excusing Arab complicity for violence or terror.
In fact, according to Cole it is the militancy of the West that causes the endemic problems in the Middle East, and makes America guilty for its moral and financial support of Israel.
"When Ariel Sharon sends American-made helicopter gunships and F-16s to fire missiles into civilian residences or crowds in streets," Cole wrote in 2004, "as he has done more than once, then he makes the United States complicit in his war crimes and makes the United States hated among friends of the Palestinians. And this aggression and disregard of Arab life on the part of the proto-fascist Israeli Right has gotten more than one American killed, including American soldiers."
This cultural condescension – the disingenuous lie from the Left that all cultures are equal but some are more or less equal, to paraphrase Orwell – leads liberals into a moral trap where they denounce Israel's military self-defense as being barbaric, criminal, and Nazi-like (because Israel is a powerful, democratic nation) and regularly excuse or apologize for genocidal Arab terrorism as an acceptable and inevitable result of a weak people suffering under Western oppression.
In fact, when a professor such as Columbia University's Joseph Massad writes about Palestinian terror, he essentially justifies it by characterizing the very existence of Israel as being morally defective, based, in his view, on its inherent racist and imperialist nature.
"What the Palestinians ultimately insist on is that Israel must be taught that it does not have the right to defend its racial supremacy," Massad wrote during the 2009 Israeli defensive incursions into Gaza, "and that the Palestinians have the right to defend their universal humanity against Israel's racist oppression."
The charge of racism also enables liberals to excuse the moral transgressions of the oppressed, and, as an extension of that thinking, to single out Israel and America for particular and harsh scrutiny owing to their perceived "institutionalized" racism and greater relative power.
The self-righteousness leftists feel in pointing out Zionism's essential defect of being a racist ideology insulates them from having to also reflect on Arab transgressions, since, as Ruth Wisse pointed out in If I Am Not For Myself: The Liberals Betrayal of the Jews, liberals can excuse their own betrayal of Israel by holding it fully responsible for the very hatreds it inspires.
"Ascribing to Israel the blame for its predicament, democratic countries can pursue their self-interest free of any lingering moral scruple," Wisse wrote. "Israel is examined for its every moral failing to justify policies of disengagement, while the moral failings of Arab countries are considered no one's business but their own, so that their blatant abuses of human rights should not get in the way of realpolitick."
Coupled with academia's fervent desire to make campuses socially ideal settings where racial and cultural strife cease to exist is the other newly-popular impulse to inculcate students with a longing for what is called "social justice," a nebulous term lifted from Marxist thought that empowers left-leaning administrators and faculty with the false ethical security derived from feeling that they are bringing positive moral and ethical precepts to campuses.
For the Left, according to David Horowitz, a former radical leftist turned conservative, social justice is "the concept of a world divided into oppressors and oppressed." Those seeking social justice, therefore, do so with the intention of leveling the economic, cultural, and political playing fields; they seek to reconstruct society in a way that disadvantages the powerful and the elites, and overthrows them if necessary – in order that the dispossessed and weak can acquire equal standing.
In other words, the Left yearns for a utopian society that does not yet exist, and is willing to reconstruct and overturn the existing status quo – often at a terrible human cost – in the pursuit of seeking so-called justice for those who, in their view, have been passed over or abused by history.
And in the minds of academic leftists, there are no superior national behaviors; all nations are equal in value and in the court of world opinion. This contorted reason is commonly referred to as "moral relativism," and is a seminal cause of the way Israel's actions in defending itself against genocidal Arab aggression over 60 years are seen to be no different from homicide attacks on Israeli civilians initiated by its enemies.
This rationalization, that violence is an acceptable, if not welcomed, component of seeking social justice – that is, that the inherent "violence" of imperialism, colonialism, or capitalism will be met by the same violence as the oppressed attempt to throw off their oppressors – is exactly the style of self-defeating rationality that in this age has proven to be an intractable part of the war on terror. America-hating and Israel-hating academics have not infrequently wished for harm to come to these countries at the hands of the victim groups to whom they readily give their sympathies.
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For Glazov, sympathy for jihadists is part of an enduring ideological legacy, and "the Left clearly continues to be inspired by its undying Marxist conviction that capitalism is evil and that forces of revolution are rising to overthrow it – and must be supported."
Joel Beinin, for instance, a self-avowed Marxist and former president of the Middle Eastern Studies Association, specifically excused Palestinian violence during the first Intifada in a piece titled "Was the Red Flag Flying There?"
"Palestinian attacks on civilians (and even armed soldiers) were widely condemned as terrorism by international opinion and media," Beinin wrote, but terrorism was clearly the "Palestinians' primary weapon of resistance" given the political impediment they faced; namely, the "colonialist thrust of the Zionist project" and the complicity of hegemonic, imperialist powers in inspiring the terror wrought against them.
Similarly, Joel Kovel, the rabidly anti-Zionist professor who was finally fired by Bard College in 2009 because of his ideological excesses, has seen terrorism as the logical, and excusable, end result of occupation – something for which, in his view, not only Israelis but all Jews must share in the blame.
"Why have a substantial majority of Jews," he wrote in Tikkun magazine, "chosen to flaunt world opinion in order to rally about a state that essentially has turned its occupied lands into a huge concentration camp and driven its occupied peoples to such gruesome expedients as suicide bombing?"
Most curious has been the betrayal of Israel by some liberal Jews who, poisoned by a pathology that enables them to deflect the hatred of others by absorbing it themselves, have reacted by attacking the Jewish state, the hatred of which is unavoidably tarring them, as Jews, in a prejudice they are unwilling to have be directed at them.
In their zeal to confirm that their liberalism is pure and that they still reflexively support victims, not oppressors, some of these Jews have betrayed Israel and Zionism, to use Ruth Wisse's words, by attacking today's core source of Jew-hatred: Israel. Normal Finkelstein, as one example, late of DePaul University and the author of the invidious screed The Holocaust Industry, has made a career as an ideological hit man against Israel, using the fact that his parents were Holocaust survivors to inoculate himself from charges of anti-Semitism, even while he demeans the Holocaust, praises Hizbullah as morally upright freedom fighters yearning for peace, and lectures on campuses about the irredeemable evil of Israel, the racist character of Zionism, and the complicity of Jews who actually support the Jewish state.
Finkelstein's mentor, MIT's Noam Chomsky – whom Harvard's Alan Dershowitz has called the "godfather" of anti-Israel thought – when he is not lecturing on the evils of American capitalism and its ruthless lust for "empire," busies himself by blaming Israel for every problem of the Middle East's highly dysfunctional, authoritarian regimes.
Professor Jennifer Loewenstein, director of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Wisconsin, has glorified Palestinian resistance and the yearning for Arab self-determination while describing Israel as a nation that "speaks with a viper's tongue over the multiple amputee of Palestine whose head shall soon be severed from its body in the name of justice, peace and security."
Then there was the late Tony Judt of New York University, who claimed Israel is "an oddity among nations" that no one wants to have in existence "because it is a Jewish state in which one community – Jews – is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place."
The nearly total rejection by the Left of any recognition of goodness on the part of Western countries, favoring without hard judgments severely flawed societies of the Third World is, according to commentator Melanie Phillips, symptomatic of academics' belief in their own moral superiority, a feature which, at least in their own minds, gives them a more genuine and principled worldview.
"In the grip of a group-think that causes them to genuflect to victim-culture and the deconstruction of western morality and the concept of truth," Phillips writes, "a dismaying number of our supposedly finest minds have been transformed from people who spread enlightenment to those who cast darkness before them."
Dr. Richard L. Cravatts is director of the Communications Management Program at Simmons College and serves on the board of directors of both Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the Investigative Task Force on Campus Anti-Semitism and on the academic advisory board of the Lous D. Brandeis Center for Human Righrs Under Law. This essay is adapted from his new book, "Genocidal Liberalism: The University's Jihad Against Israel and the Jews."Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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