Middle East studies in the News
Colonizing Barnard [on Nadia Abu El-Haj]
The news, coming over the weekend, that Barnard College has granted tenure to an anti-Israel anthropologist, Nadia Abu El-Haj, is a setback to those who had hoped that the tide of anti-Israel sentiment at Morningside Heights would begin to recede after President Bollinger's welcome of President Ahmadinejad. Press coverage of Ms. El-Haj's case in the Nation and the Jewish Week (by the same reporter, no less) has sought to portray her opponents as McCarthyites and has insisted that she has been falsely accused. In fact, she is on the record accusing Israel of being a colonial project.
This is a point to mark. Martin Kramer, who is the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, made the key point when, in a remarks published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, he wrote, "The tragedy of the academy is that it has become home to countless people whose mission is to prove the lie that Zionism is colonialism. Thus research is undertaken, books are written, and lectures delivered to establish a falsehood." He called the idea that Zionism is colonialism "the root lie."
This is the lie that Ms. El-Haj is dedicated to promoting. In her book "Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society," she writes, "The colonial dimension of Jewish settlement in Palestine cannot be sidelined if one is to understand the significance and consequences of archaeological practice or, far more fundamentally, if one is to comprehend the dynamics of Israeli nation-state building and the contours of the Jewish national imagination as it crystallized therein."
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, nonsense. The Jews of Israel are no more colonizers than the Indians were in America. They lived there thousands of years ago. They never left, except for brief periods during which they were expelled by actual colonizers. There's been much debate over Ms. El-Haj's Hebrew skills; what concerns about her skills is not so much her Hebrew but her English, particularly her ability to understand the plain language meaning of the word "colonial" and how it does not apply to Jews returning to Israel from exile elsewhere.
The fact is that the Zionist movement that created the Jewish state in the land of Israel is the 180-degree opposite of a colonial movement. It was — as Menachem Begin used to phrase it when we spoke with him — a national liberation struggle. So when one is confronted by a left that sides with every national liberation struggle save for the one in respect of the Jews, it's no surprise that people start to wonder about underlying motives. The real colonizers right now are the oil-rich Arab potentates that are pouring funding into American universities, hoping to brainwash our students with claptrap about Zionists being colonizers. Looks like the Barnard trustees fell for it, in the last year that President Judith Shapiro, herself an anthropologist, was on the job.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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