Middle East studies in the News
'One-state solution' prejudiced
by Jeremy Golubcow-Teglasi
I don't know all that much about Rashid Khalidi or his academic output. I understand, however, that he is a vocal advocate of the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, i.e. he proposes that Palestinians and Israelis form a single bi-national state rather than coexist as two separate, sovereign nations. I dissented from yesterday's editorial because I think the Board is troublingly sanguine about the implications of Professor Khalidi's position.
The Board declares that "it should not matter whether Khalidi . . . supports a one-state solution. Then, two paragraphs down, the Board acknowledges that "when a professor preaches hate . . . a line of mutual respect and decency has clearly been crossed." If we put these assertions together, we arrive at a key assumption of yesterday's editorial: Advocacy of a "one-state solution" is not tantamount to "preaching hate."
I disagree. I believe that there is something hateful or disrespectful about the proposal that the Jewish state be eliminated. The one-state solution is not just a bad idea; it is also a bigoted one.
I know this claim is likely to resurrect a debate that flared in these pages in November 2003 over the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. My claim was then — and is still now — that Jewish identity is inextricably linked to Jewish aspirations for national self-determination in some portion of their ancestral land. To hate and negate that aspiration is to hate Judaism. Thus, I agree with Martin Luther King Jr.'s pronouncement: "anti-Zionist is inherently anti-Semitic, and ever will be so."
It is crucial, in this vein, that we not conflate anti-Zionism with criticism of Israel. I understand "criticism of Israel" to mean objections to actions taken by the Israeli government; obviously, there is nothing inherently bigoted about that sort of criticism. But anti-Zionism means something quite different: It means objecting to Israel's right to continue to exist as a Jewish state.
The Board misses this point entirely. They characterize the charges against Khalidi as part of a witch-hunt against scholars who have "been known to express criticism of Israeli politics." But the Board fails to appreciate that advocacy of a one-state solution has very little to do with "criticism of Israeli politics." The basic premise of the one-state solution is that the mere existence of Israel is repugnant — i.e. the very creation of a "Jewish state" was illegitimate and the mistake should be corrected. Advocates of the one-state solution aren't critics of what Israel does; they are critics of what Israel is.
We can almost see where the anti-Zionists are coming from. Zionism is nothing if not a nationalist ideology, and the intent and effect of nationalism is to define an exclusive "us" against an external "them."
This all seems rather sinister until we realize that every nation-state in the world is founded on the same basis. We can strive to cultivate forms of nationalism that are humane, peaceful and respectful of others; but we cannot have nations without nationalism.
On some level, we all get that. We are not in the habit of deeming some states illegitimate in their very existence and asking those states to kindly disappear. We are not in the habit of telling extant nations that they have no right to the national identity they have constructed.
Israel is the only exception. Israel is the only state in the world that is routinely chastised for presuming to exist.
Given the singling out of the Jewish state, it seems reasonable to be wary that some sort of animus may be at work.
I have no quarrel with the Board's admirable dicta on the value of academic freedom. But I cannot adopt the Board's blasé attitude toward the actual merits of the one-state solution. In our zeal to defend professors' freedom to express their views, we mustn't abdicate our responsibility to expose the prejudice that may permeate highly touted scholarship.
Wherever we draw the line between academic freedom and hate speech, I think it utterly irresponsible to write an editorial about Rashid Khalidi that does not take the substance of his proposals very seriously.
In my view, professors who advocate the one-state solution in the classroom necessarily teach their students to misunderstand or trivialize Jewish identity. That should be a strike against Professor Khalidi's candidacy.
I am not arguing for censorship within the academy. There is a critical difference between trying to silence a professor and choosing not to hire him. We can resolutely affirm Khalidi's right to free speech without offering to pay for his soapbox.
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