Middle East studies in the News
Editorial questions Beinin's political stance
by Bob Borek
History Prof. Joel Beinin was harshly criticized in The Stanford Review last week for a supposed pro-Palestinian bias in teaching his courses.
The editorial, entitled "Joel Beinin Does Not Deserve Tenure," was written by Daniel J. Jacobs, a professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Florida and a member of the Stanford Class of 1982.
Jacobs saw articles that Beinin sent to The Daily and posted on the Internet and read an unfavorable review on Amazon.com of Beinin's book, "The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora."
Last spring, Jacobs took Beinin's online course, "Palestine, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict," which is sponsored by a consortium composed of Stanford, Yale and Oxford.
"I am not a Middle East scholar," Jacobs said. "I took the class because I had read many of the major sources through 1985 and needed an update."
Jacob's editorial focused mainly on points of misinformation in lecture and in a video narrative distributed to the class. One of the cited errors caused the video tape to be recalled and edited. Beinin claimed that the United States had spent about a trillion dollars on aid to the Jewish State since 1948, when in reality the number is closer to $80 billion.
"The issue is not Beinin's position in favor of Palestinian claims over Israeli ones, but of his mediocrity as a historian," Jacobs wrote.
In an interview with The Daily, Professor Beinin said, "The one correct thing in Dr. Jacobs's article is that I confused 100 million and one billion. I wrote to him over a year ago apologizing for this error, and I asked that it be corrected in subsequent versions of the course."
Jacobs also drew attention to Beinin's involvement with several different activist causes, most notably his defense of Sami Ali-Arian, whom Jacobs called an "alleged Jihad terrorist."
One student, who asked to remain anonymous, attended several sessions of Beinin's course this quarter and said that he was disturbed by Beinin's obvious pro-Palestinian stance.
"Even though I agree with Beinin politically, I felt that his political stance hampered his ability to teach the class objectively," said the student.
Sophomore Tim Caflisch, who is currently enrolled in Beinin's course, was quick to jump to his professor's defense.
"Jacobs' editorial does not affect my view of the class at all because he was factually incorrect on a lot of his attacks toward Prof. Beinin," Caflisch said. "By taking Beinin's comments out of context, Jacobs' article begins to look more like a witch hunt than anything else."
One of the examples that Caflisch cited was Jacobs' claim that Beinin said that the modern Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanites. Caflisch said that less than an hour before he read the article, Beinin explicitly claimed that the modern Palestinians are not descendants of the Canaanites or the Philistines.
Jacobs did not suggest any specific solutions, but did say that the problem of biased professors goes far beyond Stanford.
"Beinin states that he presents a narrative, not a balanced or fair history in his lecture," Jacobs said. "On the Internet he is quoted as stating that he considers himself an activist. Beinin and many historians see no contradiction between the two. That is decidedly not true."
In response, Beinin told The Daily, "Everyone who deals with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has a point of view. Mine is that I favor peaceful coexistence of the two peoples on the basis of equality and a solution to the conflict based on the principles of human rights and international law."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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