Middle East studies in the News
Mideast Views Hard to Discern
by Shuan McElhenny
A recent WSN article reporting an anti-Israel bias investigation at Columbia University ("NYU reflects on Columbia bias probe," Nov. 11) promptly dismissed any suspicion that similar sentiment could be present at NYU.
As a whole it is true that our university's faculty has no anti-Israel animus. Yet both at NYU and in general, gauging feelings toward Israel is not as simple as taking a straw poll. In the United States, at least, only an extreme fringe will ever come out and roundly denounce Israel. Instead, anti-Israel opinions tend to be expressed through a seemingly benign terminology that can hide deeper antagonistic sentiments.
The Middle East struggle always conjures militant images, but the conflict has a public relations dimension that is just as important. World opinion strongly affects the strength or weakness of each side, and as a result, phrases are strategically inserted into the global dialogue to color the conflict in one way or another. Often, this terminology hosts great distortions that are manipulative and prevent an honest discussion.
For example, in a WSN interview ("Take Five: After Arafat, what will change?" Nov. 11), NYU professor Timothy Mitchell repeatedly referred to Israel's presence in the West Bank as an "occupation." The term has become so common that Mitchell likely did not mean anything by it, but the characterization of Israel as an occupier is nothing short of slanderous.
Jews' roots in the Middle East trace to Biblical times, and the 1917 Balfour Declaration included what would later become the West Bank in the territory outlined for a prospective Jewish state. The West Bank was only made free of Jews in the years between the 1948 and 1967 wars, when it was under the administration of Jordan, which captured it from Israel in the 1948 war.
The Israeli "occupation" is only the beginning. One could write a dictionary of terms that have been mangled to delegitimize Israel's existence and actions, but I'll mention only a few. The Israeli security fence is commonly referred to as a "wall" or even "the apartheid wall," although it is, in actuality, a fence, except for about five miles of concrete wall to prevent snipers from firing on Israeli highways.
The onslaught of terrorist attacks following the collapsed 2000 Camp David peace accords, wherein Israel's offer to cede the West Bank was rebuffed, has become known as an "intifada," an Arabic word that implies an unarmed rebellion, though a wave of suicide bombers indiscriminately attack Israeli civilians.
The "Right of Return," the claim that descendants of Israeli Arabs who were displaced in the 1948 war for independence may return to the country, bears no legitimate classification as a "right." The 600,000 displaced Israeli Arabs were offered return, and 200,000 have been accepted. Now, 5 million descendants of those who did not return are claiming that same right, even though no other refugee descendants, in all of the numerous post-World War II displacements, have been offered such status.
Furthermore, anti-Israel sentiments can be betrayed not so much through one's statements but through what goes unmentioned. It is unfair to critique Israel's military actions without citing the constant terrorist threats that make military action necessary. It is absurd, yet also common, for critics to characterize Israel's actions as arbitrary by simply not acknowledging those who would kill Israeli citizens and erase all of Israel if given the opportunity.
I am not attempting to reveal any sort of deep-seated anti-Semitism at NYU, because none exists. But the university community does itself no favors by placing a veneer of academic neutrality on a faculty and student body that is bound to contain partisans. It may be comfortable to simply state we are all seeing both sides clearly, but there is no doubt that there are people at NYU who bear ill will toward Israel.
While all are entitled to their opinions, we must stay focused on facts and history in order to stop the distortion of words and concepts, and instead speak clearly on the issues. •
Shaun McElhenny is a columnist for Washington Square NewsNote: 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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