Campus Watch Research
Boston U.'s Irene Gendzier: U.S.-Israel Alliance Built on Oil
by Mara Schiffren
[Ed.: FPM title, "Boston University's Irene Gendzier on Oil, Israel, and 'Palestine.'"]
High praise from the former PLO spokesman for Gendzier's new book, Dying to Forget, Oil, Power, Palestine and the Foundations of U.S. Policy in the Middle East. A mix of students, colleagues, friends of the author, and the public totaling about forty-five squeezed into a tight space on the second floor of a bookstore near Columbia.
Gendzier began by lamenting the recent ISIS attack on Paris, only to pivot to the upheaval currently overwhelming the Middle East:
This welling of empathy for ongoing conflicts, confined to countries where the Arab world is battling itself and creating new refugees, allowed her to invoke the manufactured refugee crisis of the post-WWII Palestinians. Tellingly, she made no mention at this point to the Jews of the Middle East or Europe, notoriously uprooted and displaced following WWII. It was an early predictor for the lack of objectivity she displayed throughout the talk.
From 1945-1948, Gendzier contended, there was a stable policy in place among the "very, very few people who constituted the special experts" in the U.S. State Department regarding the evolving situation in Palestine. The underlying question was how the U.S. moved from what she viewed as a favorable approach to the nascent Arab-Israeli conflict, with strong, repeated support for the Palestinians, to the beginning of a relationship between the U.S. and Israel that ostensibly left the Palestinians behind. What tipped the status quo?
To answer, Gendzier turned to Saudi oil and its significance for the region. "Oil is a weapon of war," she announced in stentorian tones, recounting its importance in implementing successful U.S. foreign policy, including both the Marshall plan and the Far East. Because of its key role, the CIA feared that U.S. support for Partition would "alienate Arab [oil] producers." Eventually, however, the Americans realized they "had the whole thing reversed":
In other words, instead of deferring to Saudi interests to maintain American regional dominance, as U.S. policy makers had initially done, they were free to pursue their own interests. Left unspoken—and it would certainly weaken her argument—was the corollary: the aforementioned pro-Palestinian policy positions were constructed with a view to pleasing the Saudis so as to strengthen U.S. oil interests. Was she afraid that oil would taint the Palestinian position?
Gendzier recounted that Truman ended by supporting Israeli independence, despite tremendous opposition from his secretaries of state, defense and his Joint Chiefs of Staff. However, it was only in 1949, the year following Israel's victory against her Arab adversaries, that the U.S. formulated a policy to ally with Israel. The rapidity of this complete turnaround initially "shocked her," she admitted.
During the question and answer period, when Gendzier was speaking more loosely, she revealed that Israel's military prowess had an impact on U.S. administrators:
Her withering tones rendered nefarious a simple fact: Israeli competence drew the attention of U.S. policy makers, who saw it as extremely useful for American positioning in the Middle East. Thus, at this time of strong realpolitik, a closer relationship between the U.S. and Israel was initiated.
No discussion of this period by today's academic apologists for Arab terror would be complete without mention of "Jewish terrorists," and Gendzier was no exception:
By implication, she viewed both Israel and America, which she described as remaining "in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," as terrorist states. Meanwhile, she omitted any malfeasance on the Arab side.
Despite the veil of historical objectivity, Gendzier's prejudices were evident. Throughout the talk, she distanced herself from the Israelis, while expressing unequivocal empathy for the Palestinians. She referred to Jews in Israel as "Zionists"—a term that has taken on a demeaning connotation among her academic cohort—or as outsiders, in contrast to the ostensibly indigenous Palestinians. For instance, "The discussion is of a political conflict among incompatible groups: one, the people who live in the land, the other is the Zionist Movement."
This hardly painted a balanced picture, but it was clear she was not interested in balance, but in redressing what Middle East studies practitioners view as a primordial sin committed against Palestinians by the alliance between the U.S. and Israel. Be it oil or Zionism, for such scholars, a hidden, immoral reason for the strong U.S.-Israeli alliance must be uncovered and condemned. Under such an academic regime, objective scholarship is an impediment to the further politicization of the discipline.
Mara Schiffren, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard University in the Study of Religion, is currently working on a book about historical Israel. She wrote this essay for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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