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Israel “has built a whole national mythology out of the City of David” in a “weaponization of myth,” stated Israel-hating Tufts University professor Thomas Abowd on March 17 at Washington, DC’s anti-Israel Jerusalem Fund think tank. Condemnation of “Israeli Colonial Racism” described in a Powerpoint presentation formed his lecture’s central theme, which incongruously presented Jews as colonial usurpers in their own ancestral national homeland before an audience of about twenty.
Abowd presented material from his bizarrely titled book, Colonial Jerusalem: The Spatial Construction of Identity and Difference in a City of Myth, 1948–2012. An opening slide of a map depicting “Jerusalem from 1948-1967” portrayed Israeli Jews as imperialists in a Zion where the “new Israeli state occupied the west side, the Jordanian state the east side.” Although Hebrew-founded Jerusalem is of central importance to Judaism and has had a restored Jewish plurality/majority since the mid-nineteenth century, he rejected calling Jerusalem Israel’s “eternal, immutable capital.” Quoting the late anti-Israel charlatan Edward Said, Abowd dismissed this claim as among “representations that exist outside of history.” Carrying revisionist history to absurd heights, he speculated during audience questioning that the centrality to Judaism of the Western Wall, a remnant of the Jewish temple destroyed in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., is an “invention of relatively recent construction.”
Abowd condemned Israeli destruction of a 700-year old Arab neighborhood (originally founded by Moroccans) facing the Western Wall immediately following Israel’s 1967 liberation of Jerusalem from Jordanian control. This clearance—pictured on his book’s jacket—facilitated the development of what he cynically called a “religio-national space” in a plaza in front of Judaism’s central national and religious shrine. Another of his Powerpoints, however, showed a 1920s photo of Jews praying at the Western Wall while crowded into the narrow alley that ran between the wall and residential buildings. This image demonstrated the difficulties, including Muslim harassment, Jews in the past faced in accessing the Western Wall in a city with numerous overlapping archeological layers of development.
Abowd’s criticism of the “Zionist project” extended to the rest of Jerusalem. “Zionist planning circles” have “radically transformed the demographics” of Israel’s capital, he claimed, by placing “Jewish settlers” in areas called “neighborhoods,” supposedly to create a “friendly little place.” The result has been “one of the most segregated cities in the world,” more so than Detroit, with “segregated, policed, and surveilled” streets. Abowd failed to mention that communal self-segregation is often the Middle Eastern norm, due in part to Islamic strictures limiting interactions with non-Muslims.
Facts did not impede Abowd’s false narrative, as he repeated the canard that the Simon Wiesenthal Center was building a Museum of Tolerance on the site of the Muslim Manilla Cemetery. He also claimed that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, occupies farmland once belonging to the Arab village of Sheikh Badr, one of many lost by Arab refugees during Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Yet the Knesset’s site is leased from the Greek Orthodox Church. He also lamented a public park and bird sanctuary amidst Sheikh Badr’s ruins and former fields without explaining the impropriety of this development in metropolitan Jerusalem, as if all such former village sites were sacrosanct.
For Abowd, Jerusalem manifested Zionism’s “logical elimination” of a local culture under racism that was “explicit and implicit in Israeli laws.” Like the French settlers of colonial Algeria, Israeli Jews “just want the indigenous population out,” he asserted. Zionist settlement, however, actually attracted Arab immigration to Palestine and Israel’s Arab population has grown despite refugee flight in 1948. Israel’s Arab population, combined with Arabs in the Palestinian territories under Israeli military control, forms the basis of “demographic time bombs” he cited correctly as being commonly discussed in Israeli politics. Such themes reflect legitimate Israeli concerns of maintaining a state both democratic and majority-Jewish--not racism as he alleged.
Moving beyond Jerusalem, Abowd’s false charges included the slander that Israel discriminates against the purchase and leasing of land by Arabs while ignoring how Palestinian authorities have imposed death penalties upon those who sell land to Jews. “Exclusionary” by-laws of iconic Zionist organizations like the Jewish National Fund reserved land purchased with private diaspora Jewish contributions for Jewish settlement. Such restrictive covenants affecting about thirteen percent of Israel’s territory (not ninety percent as Abowd falsely alleged) face increasing Israeli legal challenges, as do wills in the United States making inheritance conditional upon marrying a Jew. (Muslim institutions in Israel also reserve their land for Muslim Arabs.)
In Abowd’s vision of Israel, Jewish citizens have no national link to their land, but sought for no logical reason to conquer a dry, resource-poor area. He mocked the Bible as a “celestial real estate guide” and derided that in Israel “even in secular schools the Bible was taught as history,” as if the Bible had no historic value among other abundant evidence of the ancient Hebrew presence in Israel. Such erroneous and ahistorical beliefs inform propagandist Abowd’s ominous call for a “full or partial decolonization of Palestinian land,” part of the ongoing work by many Middle East studies professors to insidiously delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state.
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project; follow him on twitter at @AEHarrod. He wrote this essay for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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