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This foundational bias against Israel and the United States, an embrace of tactics of terror as a legitimate means of addressing grievances and achieving self-determination for the Palestinians, a misreading or intentional misrepresentation of history and international law—all of these create an ideological stew that one can hardly assess as balanced, let alone the proper intellectual temperament for scholars.
What is the final effect of this bias in Middle East studies, coupled with lavish funding of professorships, research centers, conferences and symposia, and entire academic departments? According to Martin Kramer, whose book Ivory Towers in the Sand is the most comprehensive and valuable overview of the subject, the entire field of Middle East studies has been devolving; its academics are, increasingly, mediocre scholars with politicized teaching agendas all conforming to similar worldviews and political agendas, who have not only become “obsessed with the obsession” of Palestine and Israel, but have been, in Kramer’s view, incompetent in their failure to see the implications of nascent Islamism and being caught completely off-guard by its transformation into lethal jihad.
FP: How is campus anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism based on centuries of dangerous anti-Semitic distortions of history and fact?
Cravatts: Those who support the Palestinian cause, and who in that process often become the enemies of Israel, have been successful in the weakening Israel by constructing a false narrative about the Jewish state and its place in the Middle East. Many of the tropes repeated in the war of ideas against Israel are drawn from, and often are new versions of, classic anti-Semitic images, accusations, and biases. The charges come from different quarters and with various intents, but the cumulative effect is the same: vilifying Israel for the purpose of delegitimizing it and helping to make it a pariah in the community of nations.
So the BDS movement uses as a central charge the fact that Israel is a racist, apartheid regime that has dispossessed the Palestinians and now oppresses them and deprives them of self-determination and basic human rights. The plight of the millions of refugees is laid at Israel’s door, and no culpability is ever assigned to the Arabs for their intransigency in making peace and their repeated rejection of statehood when it was offered to them on multiples occasions. Unable to make the case for the Palestinian state in the court of world opinion, Israel’s defamers regularly refer to malignant Jewish power in being able to control the media, influence governments to do its will, and shape foreign policy for its own benefit as the reason Israel prevails and Palestinian statehood has not been realized. Scholars publish books which purport to prove that the Jews have no historic connection to Jerusalem and the Holy Land and are merely interlopers on stolen land, or that a secretive, powerful cabal of Jewish individuals and organizations, an Israel Lobby, work behind the scenes to manipulate U.S. foreign policy to for the benefit of Israel and Jews and to the detriment of America. Other academics claim that the Holocaust is exploited by rapacious Jews to justify Israel’s existence and to extort moral and material gain from the world. Many in the Arab world, and some in the West, while they minimize or deny the Holocaust, are eager to depict Israelis as the new Nazis, with the Palestinians as the new version of Jews—this time crowded together in Gaza instead of Auschwitz.
While it is usually no longer acceptable in the West to be blatantly anti-Semitic, it is clearly acceptable, and even admirable, to be ideologically opposed to the existence of Israel, the Jewish state, particularly if all the negative attitudes and images I’ve catalogued here are believed to be true. But the old tropes of the malignant Jew, the crafty Jew, the rapacious and powerful Jew, these old tropes have re-appeared, dressed in new clothing but built on the same lies, biases, and hatreds.
FP: What is the impact this will have, if unchecked, for the future of the region, for America and for the future of Middle Eastern democracy?
Cravatts: The campus war against Israel and Jews is indicative of the devolution of higher education, where scholarship has been degraded by bias and extremism on the part of a Leftist professoriate with a clear political agenda that enlists Israel as the new villain in a world yearning for social justice. University leaders and other stakeholders have been noticeably feckless in moderating this radicalism, either because they are unaware of how whole fields of study have been hijacked by academic frauds and morally incoherent scholars, or because they sympathize with the intellectual approach of their faculties and have become complicit in the production of pseudo-scholarship, academic agitprop, and disingenuous “learning experiences” which have a one-sided, biased approach to understanding the Middle East, and particularly the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
That all this is taking place in the rarified air of college campuses, where civil discourse is the expected norm and scholarly inquiry is the anticipated intellectual product, makes the seething hatreds and bias against Israel and the Jews all the more unexpected and morally dangerous. One would hope this battle would not have to be waged again, that college students, Jews and non-Jews alike, would not have to be confronted with “the longest hatred” once again, this time conflated with the very survival of a tiny democratic Jewish state, precariously coexisting amid a sea of jihadist foes who seek its very elimination.
One would hope, too, that a new generation of college graduates—who enter the world as journalists, politicians, diplomats, professors, even parents—would not have been poisoned during their college experience with distortions about Israel and its history, that young people do not learn about the Middle East through a prism of bias and propaganda, and leave their universities after graduation despising, distrusting, and vilifying a nation for no other reason than it happens to be lived in by Jews.
FP: Arab leaders turn a blind eye to Palestinian pleas for humanitarian assistance. Why do they do this if they claim to care about the Palestinians so much? Why is the Left silent about this?
Cravatts: Journalist Abu Toameh, after touring American campuses and observing the anti-Israel activism thought that those who supported the Palestinian cause in the West were misdirected, if not disingenuous. “What is happening on the U.S. campuses,” he wrote, “is not about supporting the Palestinians as much as it is about promoting hatred for the Jewish state. It is not really about ending the ‘occupation’ as much as it is about ending the existence of Israel . . ,” and “we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.” What Toameh say about academia can also be said about Arab leaders, and in fact for any who aligned themselves against Israel and for the Palestinian cause.
Jordan could have created a Palestinian state in the West Bank at any time between 1948 and 1967 when it controlled that territory, just as Egypt could have facilitated the creation of a Palestinian state in Gaza during that same period when it had sovereignty. But neither did. Why is that? For the same reason that millions of hapless Palestinians have been made to languish in refugee camps for generations: because the issue of greatest importance to many in the Arab world and in the West is not creation of a Palestinian state, at all, but the extirpation of the Jewish one. The Palestinian cause and the homeless Palestinians themselves are useful as ideological weapons in the increasing war against Israel. They are important, not because their supporters genuinely care about their self-affirmation and statehood, but because they are a visible, effective tool with which to continually shame Israel and marginalize it in world opinion. And the Left, ever favoring the Third-world victim, cannot and does not hold the Palestinians liable for their own woes, assigning that blame instead to Israel for its oppression, militancy, racism, apartheid, and obduracy in not granting the Arabs yet another state. Arab leaders, eager to deflect attention away from the pathologies of their own failing authoritarian rule, of course are interested in focusing instead on the purported defects of the Jewish state.
FP: What are some solutions you can offer for how the tide can be turned in terms of the campus jihad against Jews?
Cravatts: If universities do not or cannot see that what they describe as mere critiquing of Israel and Zionism has frequently devolved into raw anti-Semitism, and that the prevalence of this hatred on campus is causing discomfort and intimidation to Jewish students, there has to be a significant reassessment of academia’s failure to provide an truly inclusive learning environment for its entire student bodies, not just its preferred victim groups. No one is expecting, or even asking for, an end to serious discussion about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict; but to allow egregious, hate-inspired speech and actions to occur as part of that discussion is to enable true anti-Semites to slither into the academy under false pretenses.
University officials have characteristically been morally blind when it comes to identifying anti-Semitism on campuses―disguised as anti-Israelism―and denouncing it for what it actually is. This craven moral approach is troubling, not only because it allows true anti-Semites to escape condemnation for their utterances and venomous attacks on Israel and Jews, but also because diversity-obsessed universities are normally hyper-sensitive and vigilant in immediate responding to hate speech or prejudice when other victim groups are involved. This situation should change, even if trustees and other external stakeholders have to apply pressure.
Boards of trustees, alumni, parents of students, and other stakeholders of universities have abandoned their responsibility to insure that campus communities are kept free of hate speech, violent behavior, intimidation of students, or other actions that adversely affect learning and living, regardless of how the perpetrators of these offenses claim to be protected by academic free speech. University officials at many universities have clearly failed to uphold their own regulations and student codes that are designed to protect all within the academic community from serious intellectual, psychological, or physical discomfort—and that lapse in leadership should stop. In fact, universities’ failure to create “safe” academic environments may constitute a violation of federal law. An April 2006 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights entitled “Campus Anti-Semitism,” and prepared in response to the volatile situation at UC Irvine, found that “[m]any college campuses throughout the United States continue to experience incidents of anti-Semitism, a serious problem warranting further attention,” and that it is possible that “this behavior may constitute a hostile environment for students in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” something that should be of concern to university officials.
Many pro-Israel students and faculty, Jews and non-Jews alike, have been slow to speak back forcefully and defend Israel when it is attacked on campus in speeches, classrooms, student newspapers, conferences, and other events. Some are merely disinterested because they are out of touch with Middle East politics, and do not participate either way. Some are reticent so they do not draw attention to themselves, lest they be attacked for not showing concern for the Palestinian plight. Others have been cowered into silence because they are afraid of retribution, censure, humiliation, or physical attack. But speaking back in defense of Israel is necessary and vital, particularly given the sheer bulk of propaganda, lies, distortions of history and fact, and alternatives narratives which have been artfully constructed for over sixty years by Israel’s mortal foes.
FP: Richard Cravatts, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
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