Campus Watch Research
Israel-bashing at UCLA
by Eric Golub
Last week, the Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) co-sponsored a seminar with the ungainly title, "Invasion Is a Structure, Not an Event: Settler Colonialism Past and Present." It was billed as a "two-day event organized by Gabriel Piterberg," a notoriously anti-Israel UCLA history professor. True to form, the seminar featured some of the most politicized and biased academics in the field of Middle East studies.
The audience of around 30 included perhaps 15 professors and a cadre of the aging hippie revolutionaries (not mutually exclusive groups) one grows accustomed to seeing at anti-Israel events.
UCLA professors, perhaps aware that they are now being monitored, have become somewhat wary. The panel included Jewish and Israeli speakers in an attempt at "diversity," but as is typical in academe, it was intellectually homogeneous. The "Jewish perspective" was represented by the far left of the political spectrum and differed little from the so-called pro-Palestinian perspective. To the extent any true debate existed, the seminar was an exercise in the indefensible vs. the incomprehensible.
New York University Middle Eastern studies and history professor Zachary Lockman introduced the indefensible by labeling Israel the "Zionist entity" and the "Zionist project," while referring to Palestinians as the "indigenous people." He claimed that "Israel can be compared to South Africa" because it "uses coercion" and concluded that "colonialism is Zionism."
University of California, San Diego sociology professor Gershon Shafir provided the incomprehensible as his "rebuttal." His defense of Israel was as weak as his communication and organizational skills.
Shafir began by quipping, "I didn't expect such a large crowd. I only brought five handouts." In looking at his own notes, he said, "I can't read this."
He was self-deprecating and generous in his praise of his opponent Lockman, who was neither. As he put it, "I'm not from New York. I can't speak as quickly."
Shafir's academic jargon rendered syntax worthy of a mathematics class:
At one point, he almost managed to offer a pro-Israel sentiment, but then backed away:
He then looked at the other professors, who motioned for him to sit down. So much for intellectual diversity.
Patrick Wolfe, a history professor at La Trobe University in Australia, spoke next. He said he had no stake in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which led me to wonder, "Then why are you here?"
It turns out he was there to offer the Marxist position, including the following:
As to the latter, it makes plenty of sense. Arabs are murdering Jews, and Jews are against this.
Making less sense was Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin, who chaired the next panel. He began by praising Lockman and then claimed, against all evidence, "It is extraordinary to have such a rich discussion of the issues."
Sticking to his usual biases, Beinin juxtaposed current Israeli leadership with Israel's founders, to the detriment of the former: "The young Turks are militarizing the conflict to advance themselves."
At this point Piterberg opined that, "Increased settler movement is meant to spread Judeo supremacy at all costs."
And Lockman chimed in:
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities history professor Patricia Lorcin spoke about sexuality in colonial Algeria. She managed to unite Lockman and Shafir, both of whom desperately wanted her presentation to end: It was a distraction from bashing Israel.
Piterberg, who was slated to discuss leftwing Israeli writer Amos Oz, offered bizarre and at times, tactless thoughts instead. Here is a sampling:
And perhaps most outrageously:
Beinin emoted that:
While Lorcin noted helpfully:
UCLA anthropology professor and chair of CNES's Faculty Advisory Committee Sondra Hale, trying to reign in the discussion, asked, "How does that relate to settlers?"
Without missing a beat, Lorcin replied, "Demographic promiscuity."
Rounding out the panel's apparent preoccupation with sex, Lorcin added:
I'm not sure if this was intended as praise or an insult, but it was at least consistent with everything else she said.
Having had his fill of sex talk, Beinin moved on to implicitly accusing Israel of committing genocide:
As "proof," he cited the work of Columbia University Arab studies professor Rashid Khalidi:
Beinin followed Khalidi's incorrect assertions with his own:
Then he added, "I am not here making a pacifist solution," which drew loud laughter from the professors, some of whom have a history of justifying violence against Israelis while decrying Israeli self-defense.
When somebody asked about problems with Palestinian leadership, Beinin replied, to more laughter, "Some things I don't discuss in black and white." Apparently, Beinin only applies this approach to discussions of Israel.
The conclusion of this bizarre conference was stunningly and unintentionally honest.
To which Hale replied:
The question of which peoples can be declared "indigenous" aside, she is absolutely right in admitting that criticizing Israel on campuses is good for business, not to mention much easier than rigorous, objective research.
The lowest moment of the conference occurred during a break, when Sondra Hale conversed with two women in the audience. Speaking loud enough for everyone to hear, Hale, showing her true colors, made the following outlandish statements:
Moreover, she agreed with the other two when they said that "Zionists are more despicable than Baathists. If we could just use the courts, we could make the Zionists feel the financial sting."
Some portions of the seminar were less harmful than silly. For instance, a couple people were simply outraged that the coffee cups they were using were not biodegradable.
Yet beyond the oddball assortment of environmentalists, Marxists, and supporters of Algerian eroticism, the bulk of the seminar hewed tightly to its clear and harmful purpose: demonizing and delegitimizing Israel. It's a further sign of the continued politicization of Middle East studies.
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