No Debate Allowed at Anti-Israel UCLA ‘Debate’

piterbergOutside of the United Nations, few institutions are as dedicated to anti-Israel rants as the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES). A recent CNES conference titled “The Settler Colonial Paradigm: Debating Gershon Shafir’s ‘Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict’ on its 25th Anniversary,” was a case in point.

The mouthful of a title refers to University of California, San Diego sociology professor and director of the human rights minor Gershon Shafir’s 1995 book, Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Ignoring 3,000 years of archeological evidence connecting Jews to what is now the land of Israel, Shafir’s unoriginal thesis was that carpet bagging Zionists bought up land and displaced indigenous Palestinians. Calling the conference a “debate” was a misnomer, for that typically requires at least two opposing views. In this case, the Israeli Gershon Shafir offered the Palestinian point of view and none of the speakers’ contested him.

Of the twenty-five or so attendees, at least half were middle-aged and half were presenters, moderators, and other faculty. About five people under thirty showed up, including Shafir’s daughter and her boyfriend, both of whom looked bored.

UCLA history professor and CNES director Gabriel Piterberg, speaking on the second panel, declared that, “Zionism is a rupture from Judaism, and certainly a rupture from Rabbinic Judaism.” He managed to conclude that this uniquely Jewish movement could be considered “Protestant,” and described Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto as “a classic in its own right.” Piterberg, who was born in Argentina and grew up in Israel, described himself as a “Palestinian historian”; despite consorting only with likeminded academics, he then castigated “self-designated New Israeli historians” as “insular.”

He offered the usual anti-Israel canards, including the “false Zionist narrative of the 1948 war,” the “Israeli plan to carry out an ethnic cleansing,” and, bizarrely, the “elitist, Marxist, feminist colonization.” He referred to Israel’s founding as the “Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe” and claimed the “Jewish National Fund” was responsible for “helping settlers buy up land” to “displace” Palestinians.

Next up was Beshara Doumani, director of Middle East studies at Brown University, who coupled harsh criticism of Israel with environmental tropes. After accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing and genocide, he suddenly lamented that “climate change is creating new forms of displacement,” although, he added, the “consequences are not clear.”

He described the two sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict as “one based on hard facts [and] one based on memories” and bemoaned the mythical “settler colonial nature of the Zionist project.” His incisive summation was, “I don’t have a conclusion.”

Doumani conceded that he was “not a historian,” and that “I’ve never done any research on the period after 1860 until now.” In what could have been the tagline for this very conference, he noted that “The more people study” this issue, “the less we know,” before asking rhetorically, “How do they know I am not making any of it up?” Doumani then made one of the more revealing statements of the day:

If the world was black and white we would never have a job. Historians, what they really do is erase. That is their number one job.

David N. Myers, chair of the history department at UCLA, showed up very late to deliver the keynote address. He briefly described honored guest Gershon Shafir as a man without “bombast,” “facile reductionism,” “sloganeering,” or “generalizations.” In his remarks, Shafir quickly disproved at least one of Myers’s assertions, as his voice was too quiet to offer bombast. He did, however, thrice reference the “occupied territories” rather than the “disputed territories.”

Shafir then got confused and briefly disagreed with his entire narrative, stating that, “The Hebrew language does not have a term for conquest” before reversing himself and adding, “It does not have a term for occupation, but does have a term for conquest.” His ramblings did little to enliven the audience, at least one member of which, Stanford University Middle East history professor Joel Beinin, appeared to be taking a nap.

While Shafir was supposed to be the focus, the speakers fawned over Areej Sabbagh-Khoury, a young Arab-Israeli woman who is project coordinator for the Mada al-Carmel Arab Center for Applied Social Research in Haifa and a PhD candidate at Tel Aviv University. A key moment in the seminar came when she asked her fellow speakers when exactly the Palestinians became indigenous and none of them, despite basing their entire narrative on the “indigenous Palestinian” story, could answer the question.She had no idea herself, nor an idea how to find the answer.Perhaps that’s because the assertion that they’re indigenous is based not on historical research but on modern misinformation.

The conference was rife with such lapses, but an absent-minded, biased professor is no less damaging than an effective one. Spreading the false narrative of Jews as colonizers and Palestinians as victims, Middle East studies academics are able to corrupt generations of impressionable young minds. And taxpayers are left footing the bill for what amounts to anti-Israel propaganda.

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

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  • herb benty

    Bible: “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”.


    Hypocrite Gershon Shafir is a racist and brutal settler and occupier – of Native American land.

    Gershon must leave North America and head to his ancestral home in Eurabia.


    Gabriel Piterberg – Happy Eternal Nakba!

    Please cease your racist, brutal occupation of Native American land in America AND Argentina – and return to your ancestral home in Russia/Poland.

  • PAthena

    Note that Arab enemies of Israel and Jews have hijacked the term “Palestinian.” The terms “Palestine” and “Palestinian” were synonymous with “land of the Jews” and “Jews” from the time that the Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Judea to “Palestina” in 135 A.D., after he had defeated the last Jewish rebellion under Bar Kochba. He wanted to eradicate all memory of Judea; he outlawed Judaism and renamed Jerusalem “Aelia Capitolina,” his gens name war being “Aelius.” Great Britain was awarded the “Palestine Mandate” after
    World War I, to be “the homeland of the Jews.”
    Calling Arab enemies of the Jews and Israel is a consequence of Soviet propaganda. Gamal Nasser of Egypt and the Soviet Union, haters of Jews and of Israel, in Cairo in 1964, founded the “Palestine Liberation Organization” (P..L.O.) whose name shows its Soviet origins. It came to fame by its massacre of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, since which time these Arabs have been miscalled “Palestinian,” with phony history and propaganda.

  • Americana

    It doesn’t matter if there was 3,000 years of archaeological evidence of Jewish occupation of that area. The Jews have been gone from that area for as long as they lived there. There is no interpretation of national provenance that allows a nation to return out of the blue and insist on its own self-determined geographic footprint in a region without accommodation of the current inhabitants. Whether Israel wants to acknowledge this or not, there is a huge danger in insisting that this is the right of the Israeli nation to pursue nationhood in this manner. King Solomon would have a field day w/the two nations if they presented their cases for nationhood and their rights to this land. I’m not sure what his decision would be but I think they’d both be surprised.

    • Shel_TR

      Your comment is absolutely factually incorrect.

      Jews have had continuous, uninterrupted residency for thousands of years in Jerusalem, the Galilee, Be’er Sheva, Hevron and numerous other places in Israel (i.e. the depth and breadth of Israel). Their residency in the entirety of Israel was curtailed only because Jews were forced out of some parts of Israel by the Islamic conquest of the ME (circa 800 CE). Jews have every right to the land.

      This does not minimize the Palestinians right to self-determination. Two states for two people.

      • Americana

        What does this mean to you in terms of regional provenance: “Their residency in the entirety of Israel was curtailed only because Jews were forced out of some parts of Israel by the Islamic conquest of the ME (circa 800 CE). Jews have every right to the land.”

        I’m not factually incorrect but we differ in our interpretations of what “uninterrupted Jewish residency” means or entitles the Jews to decide upon in the region given that the Jewish state was conquered thousands of years ago and was then dispersed by choice and by forced diaspora as slaves. You wish to ignore the fact that the Jews lost the land aeons ago and that subsequent inhabitants have not been a Jewish majority that constitutes a continuous national provenance. This is a Gordian knot of geographic hegemony where only enormous honesty will provide an appropriate answer.

        I see great hazard in Israel insisting on ignoring the Palestinians. Whether you consider them a legitimate Arab minority or not, that’s what they consider themselves and that’s what they’re considered by other Arabs so, by self-identification alone, Israel must concede to their recognition of themselves as a political incarnation in the 20th century. Besides, the Israeli government is already dealing w/the Palestinians as a political body so pretending their status as a people is still disputable is mendacious at best. As inherently risky as a two-state solution is, I don’t see there being another way forward.

        • Anamah

          The “Palestinians”never existed before Arafat…

          • Americana

            The fact there was no cohesive recognized political entity that was proclaimed the Palestinian people means nothing since their nationhood was implicit in their geographic presence. Their political entity was confirmed when the British partitioned Palestine as they did. The reality is there are no ways to sociologically identify peoples as to their geographic rights if they don’t have a state of their own. But the fact these Palestinians were present there and had been present there for thousands of years must weigh in the equation regardless of their own political self-description. They were abandoned by their fellow Arabs, but they did not choose to abandon their homes except out of fear and out of the hope that their fellow Arabs could rectify the situation. I believe if the Israelis faced the same circumstances, they would do the very same thing in an attempt to repossess their land.

          • aspacia

            And he was Egyptian!

        • aspacia

          The solution would be that the vast ME governments and people allow their brethren to settle in these lands as Jews allowed Jews to settle in tiny Israel.

      • WhiteHunter

        I can’t help wondering whether “Americana” agrees with the late Helen Thomas, the venomous, Jew-hating hag who snarled that the Jews should “get out of Palestine” and “go back to where they came from.” Asked where that was, she sneered, “Germany and Poland.”

        If the “Palestinians” cared at all about “land” other than as a slum with open sewers running through the streets and a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians including babies lying asleep in their cribs, they wouldn’t have destroyed the carefully tended citrus groves and greenhouses left behind for them when Israelis were removed BY THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT in fulfillment of an ill-advised agreement with the “Palestinians.”

        If the “Palestinians” were a civilized people, they would not have danced in the streets in savage jubilation and given candy to their children at the news of the 9/11/2001 slaughter by their coreligionists of 3,000 Americans. The video footage of this obscenity is easily available on YouTube for anyone who disputes that it ever happened–and could easily be repeated with the next terrorist massacre.

        And if the “Palestinians” cared about children at all, they wouldn’t raise their own to be Jew-hating suicide bombers parading proudly in explosive vests and brandishing AK-47s.

        Netanyahu put it best when he said that there can be no peace between Israelis and the “Palestinians” until they “love their own children more than they hate us.”

        • Americana

          Let’s not leave it up to question. I’m NOT in favor of Jews “returning from where they came from.” Besides, the process of nation building has gone full cycle, and Israel is established as a flourishing environment for the Jewish people. I’m certain that the presence of Israel will only help the Palestinians to achieve a better future for themselves if they invest their energies into reconstructing their society rather than continuing to focus on the past.

          But in order to continue flourishing, Israel cannot ignore the past. Israel does have to confront what has been done to the Palestinians in order to secure Israel’s existence. No amount of deflection and name calling and whatever else is produced as misdirected action on behalf of Israel will help the Israeli government avoid tackling this issue of the Palestinians into the foreseeable future. That is what we’re talking here — the continuation of this incredibly perilous political and sociological teeter totter that the Israelis and its Jewish supporters throughout the world — believe can be kept in balance. I don’t believe its equilibrium can continue to be taken for granted and I believe I’m right to be worried.

        • aspacia


    • aspacia

      Jews have been a presence in Israel for thousands of years.

      • Americana

        Jews have been a MINORITY presence in the region for thousands of years. They certainly haven’t been the holder of the land rights to the region for the last thousands of years. There has been no continuous Judean kingdom in the region. Judea was conquered and become several other nations in the interim between the last Judean kingdom and the present day former Arabic state. There has to be a modicum of honesty from both sides to achieve an equitable peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Given the demographic circumstances, it’s simply not possible to lie about one’s land rights and present a tiny demographic presence of Jews throughout as indicating overwhelming land rights and the presence of a Judean kingdom.


          Land Rights?

          Who did the Arabs buy the land from?

          Arabs/Muslims stole the Land the Israel just as they steal everything else in the Middle East, Africa, Eurabia, Far East.

          As for the claim of “the Religion of Peace”, there should be a lawsuit over False Advertising.

        • mozart

          You are ignorant and ignoring facts. If I steal your land and my descendants squat on it, is it still LEGALLY your land? YES, it is. Read Joan Peters’ fabulously researched treatise “From Time Immemorial” which proves who has rights to the land of Israel. Read the Arabs’ own description of who the so-called “Palestinians” are. I think you are a closet hater of my people, better expressed as an anti-Semite. We can smell you for miles…

          • aspacia

            Yes mozart, I am beginning to believe your statement as well. Most “Pals” are Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, etc. It is unfortunate that these countries fail to absorb their Muslim brethren, and sorely discriminates against them. There are a couple of documentaries citing this fact.

        • aspacia

          Americana, you claim that the prosperous minority, who made the land bloom have no right to a political Jewish state, the only one in the world that currently exists. I guess Americans, Canadians, Mexicans, Normans, Australians and numerous other conquerors have to right to the land.

  • Demo P. Seal; PouponMarks

    Uh huh. Nota bene that UCLA Jewish Professors are almost all uniformly Democratic/Socialist/Marxist/Communist/Progressive, are anti-Israel, anti-America and worship Marx, not Moses as a prophet. As they kneel is supplication to Islamists/Muslim Brotherhood psychopaths, the last words they will probably utter will be, “Death to America and Christianity”.

  • Shel_TR

    A couple of observations:
    – Golub’s article contains much less arrogance and condescension than other conference reviews published by FrontPage Mag / Campus Watch. Much appreciated!
    – The great majority of the reviews demonstrate that anti-Israel conferences that occur at Californian universities are sparsely-attended. It also seems that they induce NO new adherents to the anti-Israel cause. They also do a poor job of energizing any of the “faithful”. Overall, the enterprise is quite flaccid.

  • wileyvet

    The “Palestinians” and surrounding Arab armies launched a war of extermination against the Jews, after their whole hearted support of N#zi Germany, and the full extent of the Holocaust was then known. If they had succeeded in doing so, I suppose that the Arabs and leftists would not consider this to be a catastrophe. Just a matter of restoring Arab’s convoluted idea of honour.
    Apparently the history of Arab and Islamic imperialism is of no importance as to how huge swathes of formerly non-Arab and non-Muslim land became Islamicized.
    Conquering, slaughtering and subjugation of hundreds of millions of people in the name of Islam and Allah, is not worth comment or examination. The only thing that matters is the displacement of genocidal Arabs during a war that they initiated, in order to murder and confiscate Jewish property.
    The murderous tendencies and vicious enmity towards Jews has its origins in the prophet Muhammad, and is codified in the Koran, during his Medina period. He took a predominately Jewish town and ethnically cleansed it. He did the same to Khaybar. Khaybar, incidentally is a name “Palestinians” use to taunt the Israelis, when they are exercising waves of violence, and inciting their people to kill Jews. To them, it is a glorious time in their history, when Jews were massacred and their property taken by Muslims.
    Today there are 1 million Arabs with Israeli citizenship, enjoying all the benefits of a modern, democratic nation and the higher standard of living that goes with it. Something no Arab country has provided for its own citizens. Meanwhile there are virtually no Jews left in any Arab country, as they were ruthlessly persecuted after 1948, creating over 800,00 refugees, which, unlike Jordan, Egypt or Syria, Israel absorbed, so today Jews aren’t lying around in squalid camps bemoaning their fate.
    An Arab created Islam and Islam is responsible for the culture that permeates the Middle East. Islam has condemned the rest of the world for not accepting it, and is sworn to fight all until Islam rules. The Jews being the sworn eternal enemy of Muslims, and Israel being an affront to Islam is the root of the problem. Muslims have been killing Jews and each other for 1300 years before the advent of Israel. Their nakba is just smoke and mirrors, to obfuscate that it is Islam that compels them to murder, and to justify any atrocity that really stems from the injunctions of their prophet.

    • Americana

      The ancient waves of Islamization weren’t what was responsible for the loss of Judea as a Jewish kingdom. What has happened subsequently in the region is not possible to cut apart and historically reassemble without looking at all strands of the Gordian knot that is the history of the Middle East. The first thing to acknowledge is that the Judeans lost that empire thousands of years ago. The conquest of the ancient Judean empire is waaaayyy beyond the historical reach of justifiable reincarnation as its supposed original geographic footprint, especially given the present ethnic and religious balance within the region. So, what are the options?

      The hideous process of Islamization of regions during the push for Muslim proselytization doesn’t mean that can be used as the deciding factor in constructing nations around Israel in the present tense. As for condemning the wars the Arabs have chosen to fight, absolutely, the Arabs were wrong to pursue that course but there were no early signs of negotiating a Palestinian state and that oversight is the underlying canker of everything that’s occurred between the Palestinians and Israel above and beyond the religious resentment.

      • aspacia

        The USA created sovereign lands for the Native Americans albeit too little too late. Israel tried to do the same in Gaza but their thanks was in the form of rockets and hate speech.

        • Americana

          Very true, aspacia. But that is partly because the amount of land the Palestinians were given was far too little in comparison to what they lost. This is an horrific situation from which these countries must attempt to extricate themselves but each nation has to do its share. I think Israel must remember what it was willing to do to accomplish its founding when it evaluates the Palestinian attempts at irregular warfare.

          • aspacia

            Regardless of the land concessions and the help Israel provides to the Arabs there will never be peace. Read PMW and MEMRI for insight. Muslims cannot tolerate Jews in the ME.

            Most of the land designated to Israel was given to Jordan and the Hashemite king. Israel returned the Sinai. Also, all the Arab military attacks were repulsed hence they resort to attacking Israeli citizens and children. Frankly, why are you attempting to understand this savagery?

          • Americana

            I’m fully cognizant of how the savagery works in terms of justification, I’m trying to prevent further savagery continuing into the foreseeable future. This idea that the Jewish deed to the land holds true from thousands of years ago is just not on, not in terms of current understanding of provenance and land rights nor in terms of how we persuade the Arabs to renegotiate a Jewish nation alongside a Palestinian one.

          • Jesse Kaellis

            It’s not about land. Giving up land won’t bring peace to the Middle East. You sound like just another egg head.

          • Americana

            It is about land. Or Caroline Glick wouldn’t be writing a book titled “The Israeli Solution.” The fact it’s about land as well as religion is undeniable considering there have been Muslims and Jews living there peaceably together for millennia and it’s only been since the formation of Israel that things have become this dire. Even if we eventually have to approach this from another direction, the Palestinian state is the first step which must be tried before we discard it and proceed on to another step.

          • T100C1970

            Americana and Jesse are both right. (a) It is about land, but (b) there will never be peace with the “Palestinian” muslims until they control 100% of what is now BOTH Israel and the occupied territories and Israel ceases to exist. (And even if that were to happen, the Palestinians, Syrians, Jordanians, and Iraqis would still find some reason to fight each other on a regular basis just like they always have. )

          • aspacia

            No it is not! Why no demand for a Pal homeland until after 67? Egypt controlled Gaza and Jordan controlled the West Bank for many years and both expelled or murdered Jews in the areas and destroyed church’s, synagogues or simply forbade their repair.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            “It is about land. Or Caroline Glick wouldn’t be writing a book titled “The Israeli Solution.” The fact it’s about land as well as religion is undeniable considering there have been Muslims and Jews living there peaceably together for millennia and it’s only been since the formation of Israel that things have become this dire.”

            The land is strategic for Israel and tactical for jihadis.

          • Jesse Kaellis

            It is not about land per say, but is about strategic security boundaries that Israel can’t afford to give up. Why can’t some of these other Middle East countries give up land for a “Palestinian” homeland? Look at a map. Besides which, no amount of concessions over land will ever bring peace to that region because “Palestinians” are inculcated towards being permanent victims and psychotic haters. PS: you are a stupid man.

          • aspacia

            Untrue! Rothchild and other Jews purchased the land from the Ottoman. Additionally, there was no political boundaries for most of the ME until the end of WWI. Jordan is new, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc. Why is there no Muslim protest against any of these new land and Muslim fury is mostly directed to Israel. It is part of the Qu’ran and hadith to destroy Jews that’s why. Why don’t you admit this?

          • objectivefactsmatter

            It was a good faith gesture from Israel to restart the “peace framework” and they did nothing but behave as always and prove that they always negotiate and promote their agendas in bad faith.

            Between the Oslo Accords and the withdrawal from Gaza, anyone that hasn’t learned those lessons is brain dead.

            Excuses are never ending. You can’t build anything with excuses. You sure can’t build any kind of viable state if all you create is violence and phony pretexts for more violence.

  • Anamah

    I would say that this one is no more an American institution.
    It became not only anti Israel but also anti American.
    Totally corrupted!

  • Aterg

    I had a good laugh, but also was sad to see “educated ” so called historian so misinformed and frankly so stupid that they did not even recognize how ignorant they are. Thank yo for this article, you made my day. Perhaps just reading the Old Testament would have given them some more information , Embarrassing not only for the speakers but for the University,

  • What Bias

    As a graduate of UCLA, I can honestly say, Eric Golub is out of his fucking mind.


      Socialist Bias,

      Happy Eternal Nakba!

  • Douglas Mayfield

    As one who has engaged in “sloganeering” or “generalizations” about Islam, let me do so again.
    It is an observable fact, reinforced by the news every day, that Islam demands of its followers that they murder or enslave anyone who disagrees with them.
    Those who are to be murdered or enslaved even include members of a different Islamic sect who may differ in the slightest in their interpretation of Islam.
    Israel is country in which there is respect for freedom and individual rights.
    All countries in which Islam is pervasive are observably some form of slave state.
    Those slave states, whether religious or secular, are often mired in bitter murderous civil war between various Islamic sects over the most trivial differences in religious thinking. (Move to Iraq or Syria, anyone?)
    In summary, Western culture based on freedom and individual rights, wherever you find it around the world, is vastly morally superior to the vicious, primitive, savage, murderous belief system known as Islam.
    Based on what we learn every day, if you don’t get that, you’ve resigned from the human race intellectually and morally.

  • garyfouse

    Good work, Eric. I saw Piterberg’s act when he came to speak at UC Irvine a few years back. They are all a bunch of mad hatters in my book.

  • Tina Trent

    Do an FOIA and find out how much the taxpayers got soaked for this conference. We paid for it.

    Of course professors’ salaries are public record too.

  • panola60

    Liberals and Islamic extremists are sooooooooooo racist

  • objectivefactsmatter

    Another way to spot stealth jihadis is the way that they apply neo-Marxist paradigms to nearly every conflict but especially in Israel.

    Short version? Successful people are the oppressors. Period.