Middle East studies in the News
'Censoring Palestine' Event at UC Berkeley Claims Denial of Free Speech from Perch at Prestigious Taxpayer-funded Venue
by Lee Kaplan
Billed as a project of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project at UC Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender Project and led by Hatem Bazian, the official title of this event was, "Censoring Palestine at the University, Free Speech and Academic Freedom at the Crossroads."
Of interest was that the event was held at Berkeley's prestigious law school, in a lecture hall that was provided free of charge to the organizers at the taxpayer's expense. This very holding of such an event implied there was no censorship going on and the location provided a prestigious venue. The event also showed there was no denial of free speech or academic freedom either, but these were the themes of the entire day, that Pro Palestine activists are being denied their rights in speaking up about Palestine in the Israel-Palestine conflict, their free speech is being prevented intentionally and their academic freedom also denied. This is allegedly being done by campus administrations who are under pressure from Jewish groups and foundations across the US with the help of sympathetic administrations in the colleges. This allegedly creates an atmosphere of "Islamophobia" which results not only in persecution of Muslims but of women also as explained below.
Hatem Bazian, the founder of Cal SJP in 2000 that led to SJP chapters in 80 campuses across the US, led the presentation. Bazian also founded American Muslims for Palestine which was also listed as a co-sponsor. AMP is a front group for Hamas according to terrorism researcher Steven Emerson. Other sponsors included CAIR-Bay Area, UC Berkeley's Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies and Near Eastern Studies Department , UC Berkeley's Center for Race and Gender, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace- Bay Area, Cal SJP and U.C. Berkeley's Muslim Students Association.
Although the event was to begin at 9am sharp, it did not really start until 9:45 am. The number of attendees in the beginning were eight, counting the speakers. The attendance swelled to no more than 25 people, including the speakers during the entire day with some people going in and out between panels. Of interest was the number of Jewish women, mostly academics, who participated in and spoke at this event. Liz Jackson, a Jewish attorney and former member of Cal SJP while an undergrad who now heads the "Palestine Legal Project" led the first panels.
From the beginning, the speakers all claimed to BDS movement and pro-Palestine activists in the United States are in no way anti-Semitic. It was said by all, that anti-Semitism was just a diversion to smear the activities of BDS and the pro-Palestine that is merely a "human rights" movement. There was no mention of terrorism at any point during the day. Israeli military abuses in Gaza were discussed several times with no mention of rockets fired into Israel before the last three wars. Accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing by Israel were casually mentioned and accepted by those in attendance without dispute.
The first panel featured Yaman Salahi, a lawyer with the Asia Law Caucus, Liz Jackson, as moderator, and Taliah Mimalek of Cal SJP. Rahim Kurwas, head of UCLA SJP and a member of SJP National's Steering Committee was scheduled to speak but did not show up for the conference.
Salahi was sued by this writer for defamation and business interference in 2006 when he was head of the Cal SJP as an undergrad when he launched attacks on my reporting SJP activity, I collected $8,000 in damages from him as a result. An article about this is at Frontpagemagazine.com titled, "My Day In Court" and written by me. Salahi was a pre-med student back then but must have been inspired by the court case to study law because now he was a staff attorney with the Asian Law Caucus and a Yale Law School graduate. Salahi has a cloe relative in London who is the head of the Ikwhan, The Muslim Brotherhood there.
Salahi, Mirmalek and Jackson all spoke the same theme of Jewish groups using pressure to stop pro-Palestinian activists from voicing support for Palestine in the academy. "You have to be crucified by Zionists" one of them said and all nodded in agreement. A complaint was voiced that academics had to have tenure before they could speak honestly about Palestine for fear of reprisals.
Stand With US was mentioned as a pro-Israel entity that actively attacked pro-Palestine activists and sought to silence them. Accusations of genocide were hurled about as usual and the Academy allegedly held an atmosphere of paranoia when it came to Palestine advocacy it was claimed. This was declared racist by the panel as well, and Talia Mirmalek even accused Israel of seeking to create new laws disallowing Palestinians to reproduce to keep the population down in the Middle East that was being promoted on US campuses. The invitation of Bill Maher for Cal's commencement was brought up as an example of Islamophobia after the campus administration refused to cancel his commencement speech.. Mirmalek also told a tale of a woman with a clipboard at a checkpoint demonstration who was taking names of students involved with the demo. She claimed it was determined the woman was an employee of Stand With US sent to spy on them "We don't have any money" she cried whereas people like this SWU woman were funded by outside money. She claimed a fear of retaliation because of groups like SWU that made the campuses "unsafe for Palestinian activism." (Of interest is that pro-Israel students have been physically attacked more than once at Cal that resulted in lawsuits against the University and SJP. The courts threw these out, but the Media has spoken continuously of Jewish and pro-Israel students being "unsafe" on campus. Was Mirmalek taking this story and reversing it to her advantage?).
A call was put out for providing more institutional space for pro-Palestine advocacy on US Campuses The recent war in Gaza led to a rise in activism that then led to a rise in repression it was claimed.
The next panel, titled Typology of Palestine's Censorship of the Academy, had a Palestinian activist from the UK, Professor Hilary Aked who presented a detailed study of funding in the UK by pro-Israel advocacy groups that sought to fight BDS and Palestinian advocacy. Ms. Aked did not tell the audience, but she is funded by George Soros and His Open Society to do this, that also probably paid for her trip from the UK. (Pressed by me outside who funded the trip, she refused to answer and ran away).
Persecution of Palestine activists was said to have increased after the Reut Institute determined BDS could have long term negative effects on Israel's public image and economy. As a result, it was claimed, there was a larger movement underway by Jewish interests to condemn people who talk about human rights and Palestine on campus both in the US and the UK.
There was a list of tactics presented during the panel to do this used by anti-BDS and pro-Israel forces using false claims of anti-Semitism to distract from Islamophobia:
Sami al Arian was mentioned as being prosecuted because people spied on prayer mosques on campus and how people had called the FBI about him (he pleaded guilty). Students are being unfairly scanned to check for terrorists or if they have connections to Hamas, it was claimed. All of these were examples of Islamophobia further compounded by trumped up accusations of anti-Semitism to divert from such activities. It easa further stated that the BDS movement and anti-Israel demos are "100% nonviolent human rights activism." This flew in the face of incidents even at UC Berkeley where Jewish students were physically assaulted on campus during an Israeli Independence Day celebration as well as other incidents).
Stephen Zunes, Chair of the Middle East Studies Department at the University of San Francisco, then spoke about Jews always being behind Islamophobic attacks of Palestinian human rights activists yet he and the movement were not anti-Semites. Zunes claimed that Professor Daniel Pipes once called him "one of he most dangerous Middle East studies Professors in the nation" (Pipes denies he said this and thinks Zunes is overinflating his ego). Zunes always manages to attack Jews while claiming he's not an anti-Semite. In the past he used to say he was opposed to the Palestinian "right of return" but at this event he supported it, apparently wanting to be included in the party. Zunes presentation was title "Balancing Moderates with Extremists: How Academic Administrators Demand Inclusion of Supporters of Occupation." He then went on to cite nonspecific examples of colleges where the administrations required BDS and Pro-Palestinian activists mute or change what they said In order for permission to demonstrate. He did not elaborate but it was clear he was referring to events such as Israeli Apartheid Week or references to genocide and ethnic cleansing Israel was accused of. These accusations are blatant lies since Israel does not practice apartheid and there has been no genocide or ethnic cleansing by Israel nevertheless these are included at all campus demos to demonize Israel. Zunes objected to some campuses that would not allow the student body to be exposed to such shibboleths which he considered "censorship" in the academy. He accused this as being the result of Jewish pressure groups either blackmailing or threatening college administrators in some way and not being an obligation to stick to the truth in the Academy. I've seen Zunes over the years and the man has become very erratic. He grimaced and did things with his hands throughout the event, squinting and making contorted faces as if he suffers from Tourette's syndrome. He did these contortions during his speech and when other spoke. The man clearly is disturbed.
Professor Lara Deeb, Chair of the Anthropology Department at Scripps College, Professor Jessica Wagner, an Anthropology Professor at Northwestern University and Professor Deborah Gordon, Chair and Associate Professor. Center for Women's Studies and Religion Department at Wichita State University joined a panel where they were joined intermittently by a "Jewish Anthropology professor from UC Santa Cruz, Lisa Rofel."
Gordon spoke from the audience and also on the panel where she attacked the Clarion Fund and the film Honor Diaries. She also declared presentations by anti-BDS and pro-Israel groups of Honor killings as blatant Islamophobia by the opposition. She expressed umbrage that white people would dare to criticize how Muslim men treat Muslim women. She expressed no indignation about honor killings or clitoris surgery declaring mentioning such things was a form of Islamophobia put to good use by pro-Israel groups. She linked this to Clarion's film Honor Diaries that she felt was misrepresenting the Muslim world tht she explained she experienced firsthand having been there as part of her "studies." This woman was not a Muslim nor wearing a hijab. Since most of the academics in attendance were of Jewish descent, she might even have been Jewish. This part was unclear. She also criticized Ayan Hirsi Ali as a sensationalist also used to exploit Islamophobia (Ali herself had clitoral surgery as a child and experienced threatened honor killings as a young woman). Gordon's presentation, being a woman herself, was surreal. She titled her "paper" Islamophobia in Zionism's Retort to Palestine on Campus and spread some anecdotes about her promoting BDS and anti-Israela civism at Wichita State University.
Jessica Winegar and Lara Deeb both voiced no objections to Gordon's position on Honor Killings. Winegar complained that the National Anthropological Association had voted against BDS against Israel by 700 votes. She pointed out that those Anthropologists who got up to speak in defense of Israel were "clearly all Israelis." She expressed hope that by reintroducing a resolution in favor of BDS by her professional association she could get them on board with BDS throughout the US college system. Lisa Rofel also bemoaned the pervasive Islamophobia sweeping the Academy and the country being brought by pro-Israel (she meant Jewish ) groups. She mentioned that Sami al Arian had been arrested and imprisoned in the United States "for doing nothing" (al Arian, in fact, plead guilty to being the US head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and that he was responsible for arranging a terrorist attack that killed over 100 people, some of them Americans. The courts screened a video of him at a Palestinian fundraiser as evidence where he asked for a $500 to pay so that a Palestinian can "knife a Jew" over in Israel) . Al Arian's conviction was again considered the result of Islamophobia, not murder or terrorism orchestrated by the Jewish cabal. Also mentioned was the case of Steven Salaita who was fired as a professor at the University of Illinois Champaign after he was caught sending anti-Semitic tweets out over the Internet. Salaita too was a victim of Jewish interests who are controlling the universities when it comes to BDS or anti-Israel actions it was said.
The last presentation featured Professor Richard Falk and was titled Censoring Palestine at the University: Free Speech and Academic Freedom at the Crossroads." Falk is Professor Emeritus in International Law at Princeton University but has a reputation as an anti-Semite. He served as a special UN dignitary for Human Rights in Gaza and has consistently blamed Israel for violating human rights of the Palestinians. Once up to speak, Falk decided to abandon his original topic claiming it had all been covered earlier at the conference and he would speak extemporaneously about Gaza. He began to complain that Israel had launched four wars against Gaza and was guilty of gross human rights violations, "genocide, and ethnic cleansing." He never mentioned rockets fired into Israel, kidnapping of Gilad Shalit or any other incursions by Hamas not provided any examples of "ethnic cleansing" or "genocide". Falk was in his own little world and had a cult audience to listen enraptured by every word.
Incredibly, Falk went on to praise the Goldstone Report that was repudiated even by Judge Goldstone as replete with false testimonies and outright lies that accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. "Several NGO's sent Judge Goldstone a letter from Breaking the Silence" Falk said, "and that led to the discovery of human rights violations in Gaza" But Falk never bothered to mention that Breaking the Silence's letter was replete with eye witness accounts of human rights violations when the witnesses were not even in Gaza during the war. "International law is 100% on the side of the Palestinians in Gaza," he declared. That Falk would even praise the Goldstone Report after Judge Goldstone himself repudiated the document was surreal. Falk was little more than a cheering section for Hamas at this event.
Falk was followed Rabab Abdulhadi who introduced herself as Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies/Race and Resistance Studies at San Francisco State University. Her "paper" was Resisting the New McCarthyism, Campus activism and Zionist backlash at San Francisco State University. Abdulhadi whined that her academic freedom at SFSU had been violated by anti-BDS and pro-Israel voices at SFSU, notably AMCHA and Stand With Us but never went into specifics, only saying that the President of SFSU had told her he was solidly behind her academic freedom. The actual story, not presented that day was Abdulhadi had spent $6,000 of taxpayer money for a trip to the Middle East to meet "in solidarity" with Laila Khaled, a Palestinian terrorist who was the first to introduce airplane hijackings to the world. Khaled was under house arrest in Jordan. Khaled saw no need to mention this in her presentation, just that anti-BDS and pro-Israel forces had gone after her as part of Islamophobia.
The evening concluded with a presentation by Hatem Bazian titled Institutional Gatekeepers and Seamless Censorship. Bazian spoke of a silent movement that made academic papers in support of Palestine as not being taken seriously. He described working on papers that he claimed were never even read and his acolytes at this event nodded their heads in agreement. Bazian contended that academic freedom was being violated by anti-BDS and pro-Israel groups in American colleges on an ongoing basis and that was pervasive from the administrations on down. To hear Bazian tell it, BDS activists and pro-Palestinian students are constantly harassed, underfunded, under threats, fearful for their jobs and prevented from speaking academic truth by Islamophobic attacks from pro-Israel (translate this as Jewish) special interest groups. Given the almost daily reports of anti-Israel pro-BDS demonstrations being held on campuses all over the US and Canada, the entire conference was surreal. It was more of a cult meeting than an academic event. Bazian concluded calling for even more academic work be done exposing Islamophobia and stemming the tide.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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