IN ACADEMIA, HIRING TOKEN JEWS
By Asaf Romirowsky
Yet, many of these Israeli academics have built their reputations on scholarship that is harshly critical not only of Israeli policy, but also of Israel's very existence. Anti-Israel scholars who hail from Israel are cited favorably by the entire range of Israel's critics, from pro-Palestinian groups like PSM, the Committee to Stop Demolition of Houses in Palestine, the Committee to Stop Torture, and Breaking the Silence to Jewish anti-Zionist groups like the American Council for Judaism, from neo-Nazis to Islamists.
The international standing of such scholars received a boost in the mid-1980s with the rise of the socalled "new historians" in Israeli universities. These scholars sought to debunk what they claim is a distorted "Zionist narrative" in Israeli historiography. In practice, they twisted the history of Israel's rebirth by, among other tricks, dismissing the efforts of the Arab states to destroy the new-born Jewish state as a Zionist myth, and claiming that Israel is built on ethnic cleansing and brutality towards the Palestinians.
Given this hostility to Israel's very existence, Middle East studies departments in the United States are tempted to hire anti-Israeli Israelis: they inoculate the employer against charges of anti-Semitism, while seemingly legitimizing their claims of ideological balance gained through presenting an Israeli viewpoint. All this is achieved without changing the radical, anti-Israel, Arabist prejudices of their departments.
This problem is noted by leading Middle East historian Efraim Karsh, who in his book, Fabricating Israeli History, observes that propaganda in the field of Middle East Studies has become the accepted norm. In other disciplines, this would have created a serious crisis of credibility. Yet, Karsh notes:
Today, these "new historians" teach at many North American and European universities. In practice, it ensures that students are taught an ahistorical, one-sided interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Some recent examples illustrate the problem.
Ilan Pappe, formally of Haifa University and now with the University of Exeter in England, was one of the driving forces behind the academic boycott movement against Israeli academics that began in the United Kingdom. Pappe believes that Zionism is a genocidal, racialist movement. Here he describes the founding years of the Jewish state:
Neve Gordon, of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan this academic year. He has been described by Alan Dershowitz as, "One of the world's most extreme anti-Israel academics, [an academic who] belongs to the class of rabidly anti-Israel far-left professors whose trademark is the delight they take in comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany." Gordon believes:
Oren Yiftachel, a geography professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a Diller Visiting Professor at the University of California at Berkeley, states:
Sanford and Helen Diller endowed Yiftachel's position at Berkeley. Helen Diller admits that she was motivated by the pro-Palestinian activism on campus:
Her comments, though well-intentioned, illustrate the core assumption that the presence of an Israeli scholar guarantees ideological balance in a department.
Sanford Diller has noted the risks involved in trusting the university to fulfill his and his wife's wishes, and stated that it was never their foundation's intent to supply a platform at Berkeley for someone of Yiftachel's views, to which he and his wife are strongly in disagreement.
In Middle East studies, politicized writing and teaching have displaced scholarship, and academic freedom has been redefined as the liberty to dispense with academic standards. Hence, Middle East departments at Columbia, University of Michigan, Georgetown, and elsewhere are populated or even run by individuals like Rashid Khalidi, Juan Cole, and John Esposito. Hiring token Israeli Jews who share their views eliminates debate, while providing the illusion of balance.
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Asaf Romirowsky is a Campus Watch adjunct scholar for the Middle East Forum and the Manager of Israel and Middle East Affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The foregoing article by Asaf Romirowsky was originally published in the Washington Times, August 4, 2008, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-ŕ-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/1965)
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