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.

Having covered earlier this year a “Gaza and Human Rights” symposium at UCLA that was widely criticized for devolving into Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism, I attended this event with a watchful eye.

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:

Antecedent conditions lead to a critical juncture which leads to structural persistence which leads to a reactive sequence which leads to an outcome.

At one point, he almost managed to offer a pro-Israel sentiment, but then backed away:

I have all kinds of things to say about [Palestinian] violence, but I would get some ugly looks if I do.

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:

Black labor and red people’s land has been used for white people’s benefit.

The primary goal is not the exploitation of labor. It is the seizure of land.

Half of the Jews are Arabs, so the Jewish/Arab conflict makes no sense.

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:

In 1948 Jews succeeded in getting rid of many indigenous Palestinians, but they can’t kill them all. This is the logic and contradiction of the Zionist project.

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:

Israeli settlers are running around like R2D2. [I guess that would make C3PO a colonizer, since he was British.]

Israel looted Palestinian land after 1948. It was colonial sexual excitement.

Like an adulterous woman, the nomads moved forward.

Picture an Oriental Jewish woman fantasizing about a man with a mustache.

Likud policies are about exerting sexual power.

And perhaps most outrageously:

A proper white woman must become a Moroccan slut to experience true physical pleasure.

Beinin emoted that:

Amos Oz is the Israeli author I most love to hate. We need an extra five minutes to expose his racism and misogyny.

While Lorcin noted helpfully:

Sexual anxiety creates a fear of Arabs and Muslims.

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:

Sexual anxiety leads to the politics of this moment. Periods of calm mean that there is no need for “Frenchness.”

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:

The logic of settler colonialism is “eliminationist.” [That is not an actual word, but why let that stand in the way of making a good point?]

As “proof,” he cited the work of Columbia University Arab studies professor Rashid Khalidi:

In 1884, violence occurred two years after Zionists arrived in Palestine.

Beinin followed Khalidi’s incorrect assertions with his own:

The Nakba [or catastrophe, used by radicals to describe Israel’s founding] occurred in July, 1948. Yitzchak Rabin expelled 50,000 Palestinians.

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.

Piterberg stated:

We all write about the settlers, but none of us write about the indigenous population. This could be for a variety of reasons.

To which Hale replied:

We are only interested in the settlers because we are careerists. That is unkind, but true. There is plenty of material on the indigenous people; we just ignore it.

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:

Stand With Us [a pro-Israel organization] are the White Citizen’s Council without the sheets. They are McCarthyists.

The ZOA [Zionist Organization of America] are Nazis.

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.

Eric Golub is the publisher of the Tygrrrr Express blog. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

  • abrahamstubenhaus

    Thank you for reminding us what already knew about, but your article saved us from forgetting completely!Clearly, "political correctness" which I hate anyway, but which is loved by all the liberals, is totally forgotten when it comes to Jews. It's okay to bash Jews because it's been happening for a few thousand years and these haters in your article and pictures are just the newest editions to the typical, expected, ordinary haters. There are even Jews amongst them who enjoy showing off how "open" minded they are while they strut and expose themselves for the Jewish Uncle Toms they are.

  • Laurie Cardoza-Moore

    The “new” anti-Semistism in alive and well on UCLA's campus. My question is, where were the Christians standing in defense of their Jewish brethren and the State of Israel? If Christian's do not rise-up in this hour to uphold a biblical worldview, who will?

  • therealend

    I don't see how anyone could attract much of a following with this seminar. These people are sub-pathetic. It's amazing that you can get that far in life with so little intellect or talent.

  • williamsmart

    Maybe you'd not noticed – the Palestinians are not simply the indigenous people from 1400 years ago, but most people now accept they've been there for 3,000 years plus. They're the Jews of Jesus's time and probably the Canaanites before that. There was no ethnic cleansing in 70 AD. The entire basis of modern Israel is fraudulent.

    Hence, the Zionists are indeed colonialists. Furthermore, after 120 years of having it all their own way, they're losing militarily. Most Israelis now know they'll end up having to return to Russia and America, there's no future for them as a pariah state.

  • CowboyUp

    You'll know if Israel ever loses militarily, because it won't be there anymore. You'll know when they are losing, because the arabs won't be squeeling for another cease-fire. Don't get your hopes up though, because the hostiles surrounding Israel wouldn't stand for the cultural changes required for the them to field a military capable of defeating the IDF.

    Most of the Israelis I've talked to aren't going anywhere, pariah state (hilarious considering the states that call them that) or not.

    Jews colonizing Judea, or Jerusalem, is kinda like Greeks colonizing Athens, it makes no logical sense. It probably takes a degree in ME Studies to come up with a post that ignorant.

  • maryallene

    Excellent content, beautifully written. You are a pro, Mr. Golub. Your article is an example of what journalism should be.

  • Raymond in DC

    I was doing grad work in International Politics and, in fact, helped teach a course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict (yes, that's what we called it then) at the time of the UN's “Zionism is racism” resolution. That was disturbing enough, but few of us could have imagined how far “scholarship” would fall within our lifetimes. My students at least were fortunate to have been spared such nonsense as described here.

    As outrageous as these gatherings are, let's not forget that parents of college students and all of us as taxpayers are paying for these nutjobs.

  • PAthena

    Don't insult Uncle Tom, who is a Christ-like figure in Harriet Beecher Stowe's “Uncle Tom's Cabin.”
    These Jew-haters are Jews-of-convenience, who claim to be Jewish in order to bash Jews. They are better described as Communists, sinning the Soviet line on Jews and Israel.
    As for “indigenous” inhabitants: Arabs are not the “indigenous” inhabitants of Eretz Yisrael (if “indigenous” means “ancient,” since no human being has just sprung from the soil) – the Jews are. The phony propaganda calling Arabs who live in what was the Palestine Mandate “Palestinian,” is history rewrite, caused by the Soviet Union and Nasser in Cairo in 1964, when they founded the “Palestine Liberation Organization” (P.L.O.). The name “Palestine” always meant “land of the Jews” or “the Holy Land” since 135 A.D. when the Roman Emperor Hadrian, after defeating the last Jewish rebellion led by Bar Kochba in 135 A.D., renamed Judea “Palestina” in order to eradicate all memory of Judea and the Jews (he also outlawed Judaism. “Palestinian” was always synonymous with “Jew.” The Zionists wanted the “Palestine Mandate” because it was to be the homeland for the Jews.

  • williamsmart

    It is hasbara to blame “the Arabs” for rejecting a solution that the Yishuv had no intention of accepting. Partition would enable the terrorists to ethnically cleanse the 225,000 Palestinians left stranded in the new Israel, which would be a stepping stone for seizing all of it. David Ben-Gurion was quite open about it (and about rejecting every other UN Resolution – so don't try to pretend you have any intention of abiding by resolutions or law!)

    The Zionists had never been interested in peaceful co-existence – Jabotinsky in 1923 was a relative dove “Zionism is a colonizing adventure and therefore it stands or falls by the question of armed force. It is important to build, it is important to speak Hebrew, but, unfortunately, it is even more important to be able to shoot – or else I am through with playing at colonialization” compared with those who came later, the terrorists who attacked the British even as they were fighting Hitler and went on to carry out assassinations all over Europe.

    And you've failed to notice that Israelis now almost all accept that they didn't come from Palestine, overwhelmingly they're descended from converts (many of them not even that!). The Hebrew book “When and How the Jewish People Was Invented?” was published yesterday in English as “The Invention of the Jewish People” and is selling like hot-cakes all over the world.

  • williamsmart

    You too will be interested to read “The Invention of the Jewish People” by Shlomo Sand, out in English for the first time yesterday. It only pulls together what scholars have known for years, there was no Exodus, no “Solomon's Temple”, no ethnic cleansing by the Romans and the first-class population of Israel is overwhelmingly descended from converts.

    Meanwhile, the US is not going to bomb every rocket-making factory in Iran and Syria and Russia and China in order to stop Israel's neighbours getting the technology to defend themselves. In 2006 the Lebanese discovered that, if they want Israel to leave them alone, they can enforce it.

  • PAthena

    Williamsmart is not so smart, engaging in history-rewrite. A letter in the Wall Street Journal of Tuesday, November 10 (I think) rebuts Shlomo Sand. Does Williamsmart think that the Bible is fiction? Note that the Bible never refers to “Palestine” or “Palestinians,” only to “Philistines” who were defeated by Kings David and Saul. (Herodotus refers to them as Greeks living on the coast.) So the Arabs who now call themselves “Palestinians” have no claim to being descendants of Canaanites or of the ancient Jews. Modern Jews are not mainly descendants of converts, but descendants of the Jews in the Bible. (There have been some converts.)
    Williamsmart also insists on rewriting the history of the Roman Empire, as well as that of Assyria (which conquered the northern kingdom of Israel) and Babylon, which destroyed the first temple of Solomon. See the latest on this in Biblical Archaeology, September/October 2007, about the defeat of the second Jewish revolt by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 A.D.

  • ilonaisrael

    Its another way of anti-israel propaganda, this time its kinda of Pseudoscientific researches.

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