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Monday, August 4, 2008

The wrong kind of Jew?

In an opinion piece in today's issue of the Washington Times, Asaf Romirowsky, manager of Israel and Mideast affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, laments that too many "anti-Zionist" Israeli scholars are being allowed to teach in American universities.

Romirowsky says:

The international standing of such scholars received a boost in the mid-1980s with the rise of the so-called "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 dismissing the efforts of Arab states to destroy the newborn Jewish state as a Zionist myth, and claiming that Israel is built on ethnic cleansing and brutality toward the Palestinians.

Actually, this is a distortion of the views of the "new historians," who don't deny that the Arab states sought to annul Israeli's declaration of a Jewish state on territory where many residents were not Jewish, but who have also concluded that the Arab invasion did not take place until after the widespread attempts at ethnic cleansing had begun. Among the historians Romirowsky singles out is Ilan Pappe:

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. Mr. Pappe believes that Zionism is a genocidal, racialist movement. Here he describes the founding years of the Jewish state: As resistance to colonialism strengthened, the Zionist leadership became convinced that only through a total expulsion of the Palestinians would they be able to create a state of their own. From its early inception and up to the 1930s, Zionist thinkers propagated the need to ethnically cleanse the indigenous population of Palestine if the dream of a Jewish state were to come true.

This is a fairly sloppy representation of Pappe's conclusions in "The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine" (for example, Pappe demonstrates convincingly that the efforts to ethnically cleanse the Palestininians began in earnest after the declaration of the Israeli state in 1948, and before any Arab armies invaded in what was really an incompetent and half-hearted effort), but it captures the gist of his position. Another objectionable scholar:

Neve Gordon of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was a visiting professor at the University of Michigan this academic year. Mr. Gordon believes that Israel is not a democracy and that Israel controls the Palestinian population in the occupied territories without giving them political rights. Accordingly, the notion that the occupation is provisional or temporary should be considered an illusion concealing the reality on the ground.


Whether or not Israel is a democracy is a matter of definition--should the fact that Arabs and Jews cannot marry be included?--but the rest of Gordon's views are pretty mainstream among scholars of the region these days. As for Pappe, I have read many, many criticisms of his book but not one that actually refutes his conclusions nor the sources that he relies on for them--most notably, the diaries of David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, which are explicit on the need and desire to expel as many Palestinians as possible.

One last scholar is mentioned:

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 that: The failed Oslo process, the violent intifada and - most acutely - Israel's renewed aggression and brutality toward the Palestinians in the occupied territories, have cast a dark shadow over the joint future of the state's Palestinian and Jewish citizens. He also says that actual existence of an Israeli state (and hence citizenship) can be viewed as an illusion, and that Israel has ruptured, by its own actions, the geography of statehood and maintained a caste-like system of ethnic-religious-class stratification.

I don't know if this is an accurate statement of Yiftachel's views, but I would argue that they are demonstrably correct.

I think the good news in all this is that criticism of Israeli government policies is no longer taboo, but has become mainstream in academia. That is good news for Israelis, Palestinians, and Jews in general, because peace can come to the region only if the truth on the ground is acknowledged.

By the way, Romirowsky is also identified as an "adjunct scholar" for Campus Watch, a project of the neoconservative Middle East Forum, headed by Daniel Pipes. Campus Watch came under considerable fire several years ago for compiling "dossiers" on academics in deemed objectionable. In the face of charges of McCarthyism the group has toned down its tactics in recent years, although it still has a pretty distorted view of academic freedom, as this lastest piece demonstrates.

6 comments:

terryt said...

"I think the good news in all this is that criticism of Israeli government policies is no longer taboo, but has become mainstream in academia. That is good news for Israelis, Palestinians, and Jews in general, because peace can come to the region only if the truth on the ground is acknowledged".

Brilliantly put. And without "the truth on the ground" being acknowledged there is the everpresent danger of 'antisemitism' (leaving Arabs out of the definition of Semite) rearing its ugly head again. well, I suppose one could say it already has in some parts of the world.

I've long thought the only real longterm solution is a combined state with Jerusalem being an international capital of some sort, even just for the Abramhic religions.

terryt said...

By the way. I forgot to mention: great blog.

Michael Balter said...

Many thanks for your comments and the kind words, terryt. And I agree with you that a single, binational state is the only just and historically tenable solution. Because of the Holocaust, Israeli Jews got a major pass from the "international community" on setting up a state based on ethnicity; that the Nazis had done just the same thing seemed to have gone unnoticed, and such a notion was also (eventually) rejected during the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Richard said...

If the descendants of the Plymouth Brothers came back and claimed my land (actually my mother's) in Devon, England, should I be angry?
http://www.pilgrims.net/plymouth/history/

And then gave me a long spiel about their god-given rights - should I be angry?

This is a purely colonial issue, and is going to end in the usual disaster

Richard said...

A single binational state doesn't work. Look at what happened to Czechoslovakia.

If Palestinians are brought into the voting process, then that's the end of the exclusive Jewish State

When the US finally wakes up to the amount of money and weapons it's putting into this tiny little Levantine state, and how much it costs, and what it's losing in consequences - (think Iraq war) then that's the end of the exclusive Jewish State.

terryt said...

"Look at what happened to Czechoslovakia". Religion again! Can we ban it somehow? We'd have a hell of a job defining each belief as being or not being a religion though.

Seems different religions lead to more strife than do any other differences.