Thursday, October 25, 2007

Middle East Studies Profs Make Unfounded Claims that They're Smeared by Critics

A group of professors, mostly from the humanities and with a large contingent from Middle East studies, have formed the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University. They claim that "outside groups" are "seeking to influence what is taught and who can teach." It's the subject of this story in the web magazine Inside Higher Ed.

But the professors aren't concerned with generic complaints; their real target is more specific. Although Campus Watch isn't mentioned, the Committee clearly alludes to it:

Unfortunately and ironically, many of the most vociferous campaigns targeting universities and their faculty have been launched by groups portraying themselves as defenders of Israel. These groups have targeted scholars who have expressed perspectives on Israeli policies and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with which they disagree.

Aside from there being nothing ironic about that claim, there is also nothing true about it. CW does not target anyone for disagreeing with Israeli policies or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. W

e critique professors of Middle East studies for myriad problems in their writing and teaching, whether Israel is involved or not.
Yet the Committee's first two complaints deal directly with Israel:
*unfounded insinuations and allegations, in the media and on websites, of anti-Semitism or sympathy for terrorism or "un-Americanism;"
*efforts to broaden definitions of anti-Semitism to include scholarship and teaching that is critical of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and of Israel;
Among the signatories (there were 173 as of Wednesday morning) are several professors of Middle East studies. Among them are: Gabriel Piterberg of UCLA; Magid Shihade of UC-Davis; Lisa Hajjar of UC-Santa Barbara; Gil Anidjar of Columbia; Laurie Brand of USC; Joel Beinin, listed as at Stanford, although (for now at least) at the American Univ. in Cairo; Lawrence Davidson of West Chester Univ.; Elliott Colla of Brown; Ahmad Dallal of Georgetown; Mark LeVine of UC-Irvine; Zareena A. Grewal of Yale; Suad Joseph of UC-Davis; Lila Abu-Lughod of Columbia; and others.

Since so many professors of Middle East studies are signatories, let's see if the charges made by critics of contemporary academe are in fact "unfounded," and if the term "anti-Semitism" is in fact tossed around so loosely. Here are just a few examples; judge for yourselves:

Juan Cole of Michigan, writing at his blog on Sunday, Oct. 21:
No one in the US media ever talks about Zionofascism, and the campus groups who yoke the word 'fascism' to other religions and peoples are most often trying to divert attention from their own authoritarianism and approval of brutality.

Joseph Massad of Columbia, writing in Al-Ahram Weekly this past March:
Israel is willing to do anything to convince Palestinians and other Arabs of why it needs and deserves to have the right to be racist. Even at the level of theory, and before it began to realise itself on the ground, the Zionist colonial project sought different means by which it could convince the people whose lands it wanted to steal and against whom it wanted to discriminate to accept as understandable its need to be racist.

Same man, same paper, December, 2004:

All those in the Arab world who deny the Jewish holocaust are in my opinion Zionists.
Saree Makdisi of UCLA, writing on his blog in April:

[Israel's] demand that its 'right to exist' be recognized reflects its own anxiety, not about its existence but about its failure to successfully eliminate the Palestinians' presence inside their homeland — a failure for which verbal recognition would serve merely a palliative and therapeutic function.

Scott Alexander of the Catholic Theological Union of Chicago, speaking in June, 2004, as an expert witness in the defense of Fawaz Damra, charged with immigration fraud and ties to terrorists:

[W]hen Palestinians refer to Jews as 'descended from apes and swine' or encourage support for those who 'kill Jews,' they do so with the reasonably justifiable self-image of victim and persecuted, not of victimizer and persecutor.
Omid Safi of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, speaking to the Associated Press in June, regarding the recent Pew Research Center Poll showing that 26 percent of American Muslim between the ages of 18 and 29 say that suicide bombing is justified in at least some circumstances.

Given what's happened in Iraq and Palestine, I would be shocked if there wasn't discontent.

Rashid Khalidi of Columbia, speaking of the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, on National Public Radio:

[T]his has to be laid at the doorstep of Bush administration and Israeli government policy, they almost willed this result.
Winfield Myers is director of Campus Watch.

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