Leftist American academia demonizes Israel

Ha'aretz (www.haaretzdaily.com) has a good article that describes how the leftist American academia demonizes Israel:

While support for Israel among the general public in America has only increased during the past year - according to most of the public opinion surveys that have been conducted there - in the leftist circles of the intelligentsia in the United States a campaign of hatred and delegitmization is being conducted against it. This campaign, which gained momentum after September 11, in fact began after the Gulf War. Israel was perceived as the major cause of suffering in the Arab states, and therefore as the factor behind their desperate behavior. [...]

Recently in the humanities faculties in the United States anti-Israeli and anti-American theories and basic assumptions have been disseminated, which are usually attributed to intellectual circles in Europe. "The post-colonialist vision has prevailed for many years now in academia as a means of understanding texts," says Professor Robert (Uri) Alter, a lecturer in Hebrew literature at the University of California at Berkeley. According to the standard bearers of post-colonialism, "The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are perceived as people of the Third World and as victims of colonialism. According to their mistaken concepts on race, the Arabs are perceived as dark-skinned and the Israelis as white - the last offshoot of Western colonialism." [...]

Those who come in contact with these theories are mostly young students who are easily influenced. A first-year student, a boy of 18 from a traditional Jewish home, showed up one day at Professor Alter's office at Berkeley, in a state of shock after the class in which he was studying had accepted calmly the section man's comparison between Israel and the Nazis. Nevertheless, thus far most students have not been swept up into anti-Israeli activities. At Columbia University, lecturers have cancelled classes to participate in pro-Palestinian demonstrations, but the students did not follow them.

I receive many emails from leftists students who hate Israel with a passion. Some even say they are Jewish - but I question their positions. These Israel haters never spoke in support of Israel before the Palestinian violence started, so why should we listen to them today?

The fact is they know very little about Israel and the Middle East and their leftist political opinions are what guides them in their hate of Israel (and Jews).

I copy the full article below.





Demon Israel' and the ivory tower
Ha'aretz - 8/19/2002, By Noga Tarnopolsky
http://www.haaretzdaily.com/
hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?
itemNo=198969&sw=demon

Dr. Shira Wolosky, a lecturer in literature at the department of American studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found it hard to understand why no one present got up and protested and why such silence prevailed at a conference held a few months ago at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"It was a conference on "The Narrative of Identity," relates Wolosky, "and there was a young woman from academia there who spoke about censorship in the media. She said that they deal with the Twin Towers all the time and play down the attack on the Pentagon, because they do not want bin Laden to be perceived as a military commander who attacks justified military targets. Then she added that the brutal Israeli occupation is what is responsible for attacks in the United States. I sat there in total shock. Never mind the attack on Israel, but why didn't any of the people present get up to defend the United States? Afterward, when I asked my colleagues why they hadn't reacted, they answered me that anyone who holds those opinions can expect a brilliant career in American academia."

Last vestige of colonialism

While support for Israel among the general public in America has only increased during the past year - according to most of the public opinion surveys that have been conducted there - in the leftist circles of the intelligentsia in the United States a campaign of hatred and delegitmization is being conducted against it. This campaign, which gained momentum after September 11, in fact began after the Gulf War. Israel was perceived as the major cause of suffering in the Arab states, and therefore as the factor behind their desperate behavior.

Recently in the humanities faculties in the United States anti-Israeli and anti-American theories and basic assumptions have been disseminated, which are usually attributed to intellectual circles in Europe. "The post-colonialist vision has prevailed for many years now in academia as a means of understanding texts," says Professor Robert (Uri) Alter, a lecturer in Hebrew literature at the University of California at Berkeley. According to the standard bearers of post-colonialism, "The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are perceived as people of the Third World and as victims of colonialism. According to their mistaken concepts on race, the Arabs are perceived as dark-skinned and the Israelis as white - the last offshoot of Western colonialism."

Academics with marginal status

This position has generally not attracted a following outside the universities. "People in academia in the United States have very, very marginal status," says Wolosky. "Their only way to feel politically relevant is through ephemeral pseudo-political rhetoric, which though it is harmful is very far from real political involvement."

In contrast to Europe, where the intellectuals are afforded pulblic status, the positions of professors in the United States do not reach the ears of the people in positions of power. Even in the corridors of prestigious universities like Harvard and Stanford, no one believes that the president of the United States takes an interest in the debate between Edward Said, the important post-colonialist thinker at Columbia University in New York, and Professor Fuad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University in Washington, who calls for Western democracy in the Arab states.

Those who come in contact with these theories are mostly young students who are easily influenced. A first-year student, a boy of 18 from a traditional Jewish home, showed up one day at Professor Alter's office at Berkeley, in a state of shock after the class in which he was studying had accepted calmly the section man's comparison between Israel and the Nazis. Nevertheless, thus far most students have not been swept up into anti-Israeli activities. At Columbia University, lecturers have cancelled classes to participate in pro-Palestinian demonstrations, but the students did not follow them.

Marjorie Perloff, a lecturer at Stanford University, argues that most of the attacks on Israel in academia stem from the fact that "the students who demonstrated against the Vietnam War are now about 50, and they dream of a return to the glory days when anti-American positions were considered bon ton. In my opinion, these same academics tend to attack Israel because of the similarity between the two countries. The universities are similar and the curricula are similar and they look like us - and therefore every anti-Israeli demonstration is in fact and anti-American demonstration."

Never mind the facts

Israeli academics who taught this past year at American universities were surprised at the strength of the anti-Israeli propaganda. For Dr. Liora Brosh, who teaches comparative literature at a college that is part of the New York State University system, since September 11, the academic year was "a nightmare. An entire year of attacks, even in the corridors, even in staff meetings and conferences. There are posters hanging calling for action against Israel, courses on the `narrative' of the Palestinian struggle. In fact, there is an unquestioned assumption apparently that Israel and the Israelis are the bad guys. Of course, it is all presented in academic language that is neutral and supposedly free of political positions. But what comes out of this neutrality is that the state of Israel is a classic colonial project, and according to the post-colonialist approach, it has no right to exist."

Literature Professor Dan Meron has been lecturing for many years at the Hebrew University and at Columbia University in New York. "It is very difficult for Israelis in the American academic arena," he says. "To understand this you have to distinguish between the public and the media, which more or less are sympathetic to Israel, and the very harsh anti-Israeli propaganda that is disseminated in academia. This is propaganda that comes wrapped in an academic hue, as an intellectual attack against Zionism and against the state of Israel." This year Meron offered his students a course on the history of Zionism to counter "all the courses that condemn it."

Professor Moshe Idel, a lecturer in Jewish thought at the Hebrew University, taught at a number of American universities during the past year. "In American academia there is a demonization of Israel. At lunch they would talk about the 500 killed in Jenin as if it were a fact. At least 50 percent of the people bought the Arab propaganda, and even when the facts became known, no one retracted anything he had said."

Marjorie Perloff also argues: "They aren't looking for facts. They just want to express firm and self-righteous geo-political opinions, and hope to influence someone. There is a large degree of ignorance about the subject. Most of the professors who attack do not know anything about the history of the state of Israel, but they are big experts on theories like Marxism or post-colonialism. There is quite a lot of anti-Semitism here."

Sympathy in the social sciences

It is hard to understand what the comprehensive practical suggestion is to counter the anti-Israeli propaganda in American academia, if there is any such suggestion. A look at the many pamphlets that were distributed there this year - including those that called for a boycott of Israeli academics (it must be noted that among the signatories to them were Israeli academics) - and a survey of the Internet chat rooms devoted to the subject have come up with nothing. In almost every chat and every pamphlet there is a sentence - polite, distant, academic - that compares Israel to the Nazis in Germany or to the whites who ruled South Africa. It is not clear whether Israeli democracy or its multi-cultural make-up is known to the writers. The word "occupation" is repeated in them many times, but it is not exactly clear what they mean by it and it is apparent that most of the writers are not familiar with the geographical dimensions of the state of Israel or with the history of the conflict. "The occupation of a native people" - this has been Israel's main policy aim throughout its history, according to these texts.

And if the problem is an occupation, the solution is clear: Leave. "The extremists among those who hold these ideas don't care where the Israelis will go," explains Alter. "They see us as a demographic mistake - Europeans mixed with Americans who settled on Arab lands that don't belong to them. When a state of Palestine arises from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, the Jews will be able to stay there as a minority or get visas to someplace else."

The anti-Israeli spirit at humanities faculties in the United States is especially evident in comparision with social science faculties. There, after the terror attacks of September 11, the Israelis were perceived in a different way, among other things as experts on terror and dealing with it. Akiva Cohen, a professor of communications at Tel Aviv University, taught at Columbia University last year alongside Professor Dan Meron. According to him, "I did not feel any expression of anti-Israeli sentiment there, at least not at the journalism school. "

His wife, Dr. Esther Cohen, a clinical psychologist who worked at New York University, found herself becoming overnight the local expert on traumatic states in children. "Anyone who has worked in Israel is apparently an expert on trauma," she says. "There was astonishment at our experience. The principal of one school told me that I come from a different planet, when I advised him to hold a discussion in the classroom after the death of the father of one of the children in the terror attack. `But it's a personal thing,' he said to me. They didn't understand much, but they were very open."

According to Professor Avraham Balaban, who has been teaching for 15 years at the University of Florida, the difference between the humanities and the social sciences stems from "the nature of their methods. In the social sciences they like to work with measurable and quantifiable data. The method is focused and systematic. In the humanities, the post-colonial theory is not linked to data or facts, but to gut feeling. The interest is in the narratives and the processes and it is very easy these days to adopt the Palestinian narrative."

However, in rare cases the political circumstances have also led to positive sentiments. Professor Nurit Gertz of the film department at Tel Aviv University taught last year at Yale University in Connecticut. "I taught a course on Palestinian and Israeli film. I was sure it was going to be very difficult. The lesson on September 11, which took place during the attacks without us knowing about them, was an excellent lesson. At the end of the semester we succeeded in understanding the two sides and the two stories through film. We learned to listen, and we saw the two wars - the War of Independence and the Nakba [the Catasrophe] - as the same event."

With respect to the attacks that were directed against Israelis this year, Gertz says: "It's fascism to identify me with the state, as if all of us were Sharon and all of us were soldiers. I am partner to some of the criticism that was directed at Israel, but not to the total rejection of the society and everything in it."

Posted by David Melle
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