Middle East studies in the News
Anti-Semitism on Campus: A Clear and Present Danger [incl. George Saliba, Hamid Dabashi, Joseph Massad, Steven Salaita, MESA]
by Aron Hier and Harold Brackman
[Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from the report, "Anti-Semitism on Campus: A Clear and Present Danger," which can be accessed in its entirety here.]
PROFESSORS WHO MARCH IN LOCKSTEP AGAINST JEWISH RIGHTS
Colleges and universities are triadic institutions that depend on the professionalism and passionate commitment to education of faculty, students, and administrators.
Unfortunately, the many in the U.S. professoriate seem to be having increasingly difficulty finding the conviction to stand up against anti-Semitism including Jew hatred masquerading as "anti-Zionism."
At virtually all universities, Middle East Studies Departments, organized into professional associations like the Middle East Studies Association [MESA], have been transformed since after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War from an emphasis on regional scholarship to agitation and propaganda against Israel and often the U.S. As Professor Bernard Lewis has documented, these trends were cemented by Columbia Professor Edward Said's theory of "Orientalism" blaming all the Middle East woes on European, U.S., and Israeli actors. Lewis concludes that: Mideast Studies programs have been distorted "to a degree of thought control and limitations of freedom of expression without parallel in the western world since the eighteenth century."
It is important to note that this is not just an intellectual trend but a political one financed by Saudi and other Gulf State money as well as generous federal government grants. In addition to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, funders include Title VI Centers for Middle East Studies at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, and others.
In the classroom, Jewish and Israeli students have been targeted for humiliation and ostracism. At Columbia University, a student's conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Middle Eastern Studies Professor George Saliba ended with him telling her: "You have no claim to the land of Israel. You have no voice in this debate. You have green eyes. You're not a Semite. I have brown eyes. I am a Semite." Professor Joseph Massad shut up an Israeli student taking his course by asking: "How many Palestinians have you killed." The Chair of Columbia's Middle East and Asian Language Department (MEALAC) wrote in an Egyptian newspaper: "Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left . . . deep marks on the faces of Israeli Jews, the way they talk, the way they walk and the way they greet each other. There is a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of a culture." Former Columbia Anthropology Professor Nicholas De Genova chimed in with "the state of Israel has no claim to the Holocaust."
PROFESSORS WHO MARCH IN LOCKSTEP AGAINST JEWISH RIGHTS
Mideast scholars—many of whom have carried over their hatred of Israel from that strife-torn region to American campuses—not only use their academic positions and memberships in departments and national and international professional associations to promote their extreme political agenda. When 500 so-called scholars called for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, Professor Martin Kramer, the president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and the former director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told the Jerusalem Post: "I can think of no more dire threat to the academic freedom of Israeli scholars, than for their institutions to adopt any form of political orthodoxy. Many of the boycotters hail from the Arab Middle East. They wish to impose the same intolerant conformism that rules Arab universities on Israeli academia. The effort will fail."
Mideast scholars also exploit connections with scholars and organizations in other disciplines. Since 2007, the influential Modern Language Association (MLA) has featured pitched battles over divestment resolutions, pushed by its Radical Caucus, that have nothing to do with the study of modern languages. In January 2014, it devoted its entire opening session to a panel featuring papers skewering Israel. When Professor Barbara Harlow was asked why ignore the world's most egregious human rights offenders were ignored and Israel singled out, she responded blithely "Why not." Her response followed in the tradition of Professor Curtis Marez, president of the American Studies Association (ASA) which adopted an anti-Israel divestment resolution about the same time. His response to a similar question: "You have to start somewhere." Under a barrage of criticism, the ASA announced that, in the name of free speech, it would allow Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before its membership—but only if he billed himself as "Mr. Netanyahu"—not the Prime Minister of Israel.
While ASA had no scholarly credibility concerning the Mideast, over 100 librarians claiming such credibility because of their regional interest signed a statement announcing that henceforth they would not consider putting on the shelves books published by what they deemed "pro-Israel" presses. Commentary magazine rightly labeled this a step on the road to book burning.
When anyone speaks up against such politicizing of scholarship and teaching, the American Association of University Professors—over the protest of members such as Cary Nelson—decries such talk as a breach of "academic freedom" and the sin of Islamophobia. Steven Salaita was denied tenure by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champagne after the revelation of his tweets such as "too much of Israeli society is cheering the bloodletting in [Gaza] for me to make a firm distinction between the government and the people." In another, responding to the kidnapping of Israeli boys, he said, "You may be too refined to say it, but I'm not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing." In another, he asked, "At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?" He also reposted this statement, in a context that left no doubt he endorsed it, on journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who has evidently been too critical of Hamas: "Jeffrey Goldberg's story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv." Salaita not only sued the university but wealthy (Jewish) donors whom he accused of conspiring to deny him his rights. His anti-Jewish conspiracy theory resonated on the academic left.
A similar anti-Israel petition, distributed on the extremist Jadaliyya website, was signed by 500 historians, of varying degrees of professional reputation, only a few of whom specialized in the Middle East. Recovering leftist historian Ron Radosh entitled his analysis of their petition: "Historians for Hamas." Fortunately, the mainstream American Historical Association refused to move such a petition by a vote of 144 to 51.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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