The Petition Middle East Scholars Would Rather Forget





Mr. Kramer, the former director of the Dayan Center for Middle East Studies at Tel Aviv University, is author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America.

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Among the predictions about the war that didn't pan out, there is one that hasn't been subjected to post-war ridicule, but that very much deserves it. This is the December letter, signed by over 1,000 academics, predicting and warning against Israel's possible "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians in the "fog of war." The letter ended with this recommendation: "We urge our government to communicate clearly to the government of Israel that the expulsion of people according to race, religion or nationality would constitute crimes against humanity and will not be tolerated."

The United States made no such communication to the Israeli government, yet lo and behold, no expulsion took place. In the "fog of war," the Palestinian street demonstrated wildly for Saddam, Palestinian politicians jockeyed for position, and Israel prepared with gas masks and duct tape, like a proper ally/client of the United States. All of this was completely forseeable by anyone with an iota of expertise, experience, and common sense. It was not foreseen by many of America's leading Middle East "experts," who put their names to this ridiculous letter, and who in fact seem to have initiated it.

One of the original signatories was Zachary Lockman, professor of Middle Eastern studies and history at New York University. Lockman justified the letter in this way:

People [in the Israeli government] have been calling for expulsion for years, but the Israeli government, including Sharon, realizes that it would not be acceptable under normal circumstances. But in middle of a war in Iraq, especially if they attack Israel, there would be panic and one can imagine all sorts of horrible scenarios. The public could countenance this, or the U.S. could turn a blind eye.
My comment back in December: "Let me not put too fine a point on it: anyone signing this letter, effectively condemning Israel in advance for something it has no intention of doing, is either an ignoramus or a propagandist." Now that we are after the fact, it's a point worth reiterating.

I sorted out the Middle East "experts" among the signatories and listed them back in December, so I won't waste space here. But let me just list the original signatories (eight of fifteen) who are professors of Middle Eastern studies:

Joel Beinin, Stanford
Beshara Doumani, UC Berkeley
Zachary Lockman, New York University
Timothy Mitchell, New York University
Gabi Piterberg, UC Los Angeles
Glenn E. Robinson, Naval Postgraduate School
Ted Swedenburg, University of Arkansas
Judith Tucker, Georgetown University

And among the "additional signatories," special mention should be made of Laurie Brand, University of Southern California, who is president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

These people have (once again) brought shame on their discipline. Those among them who claim special expertise on Israel and its policies have discredited themselves as interpreters and teachers of that country's politics and society. And they are now collectively in the moral position of owing apologies to the Israeli people and the Israeli government--of Ariel Sharon. I suggest they make them at the next MESA conference.


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T. Herzl - 5/6/2003


Haaretz, not Fox.

That was a response, for the second time, to one question and one
misspelled gripe about nothing.

If Jonathon has learned that there are sources of information besides the Likud Party propaganda machine, this thread will have served a small useful purpose.


Jonathan Burack - 5/5/2003

What's brainless is this last as a "response" to anything I said. I think we've reached the end of the road on any usefulness in this liittle thread.


T. Herzl - 5/5/2003


Fox News is not for people who are brainwashed, it is for people who are brainless. For more relevant and informative coverage try
http://www.haaretzdaily.com/


Jonathan Burack - 5/4/2003

T. Hertzl. There are a few problems with this part of your last post...

"which could have come straight out of the Ariel Sharon Disinformation Ministry ("large portions" of Arabs want to "kill Jews", etc.) ignores the real issue, about which Jonathon's first paragraph reveals continued confusion (or maybe it is brainwashing)."

First, and fortunately, Israel, unlike most of the other nearby nations, does not have anything that could be characterized as a Disinformation Ministry. It has a remarkable free and varied press. In fact, I get my view of what large portions of the Arabs want in a variety of ways, for example, by watching (on CNN, BBC, Fox, etc.) what happens on the so-called "Arab Street" whenever someone blows up a few Jewish teenagers on purpose -- dancing, cheering, naming streets after the martyrs, etc. Quite reputable polls also often show fairly large proportions of Palestinians in favor of suicide bombing. MEMRI regularly reports on professors and Islamic leaders all over the Arab world repeating the blood libels about Jews mixing the blood of Arab children, etc., etc. -- with NO Arabs ever speaking up to denounce such Nazi-like forms of anti-Semitism. I won't join you in flinging the term brainwashing around, but I do wonder where YOU get your evidence against the obvious depth and breadth of the death wishe directed toward Israel's Jews throughout the Middle East. I have to admit I see this evidence just about everywhere I look, certainly not from some imagined Ministry of Disinformation.


T. Herzel - 5/4/2003


Jonathon's second paragraph, which could have come straight out of the Ariel Sharon Disinformation Ministry ("large portions" of Arabs want to "kill Jews", etc.) ignores the real issue, about which Jonathon's first paragraph reveals continued confusion (or maybe it is brainwashing).

I will try to put it more simply: Ariel Sharon is NOT the same as Israel. The government of Israel is NOT the same as the people of Israel. The people of Israel is NOT the same as "Five million Jews". The general interests of five million Israeli Jews (if such general interests are even ascertainable) are not necessarily always 100% identical to the best interests of American taxpayers.


Jonathan Burack - 5/3/2003

T. Herzl, I am trying to see where I am confused. You tell me there is a "difference between standards for judging particular governments and standards for judging entire populations." You then characterize the Sharon government as "whatever war criminal the paranoid Israeli electorate happens to choose."

It seems to me it is you who are confusing governments with people here. Paranoid? You know what they say about paranoids having real enemies? I repeat, 5 million Jews surrounded by 300 million Arabs, a large portion of whom wish the Jews dead. I add to that, a slew of wars Israel did not seek, and then offers of 97% of the land for peace (as you title your post) only to be followed by babies, children, old people targeted for slaughter on the order of an equivalent to the World Trade Center here just about every month. Paranoid? This is how you see it?


T. Herzl - 5/3/2003


Jonathon, your comments are confused. There is a difference between standards for judging particular governments and standards for judging entire populations. The set "critics of Israel" includes many who are not supporters of Edward Said.

It ought to go without saying that democratic governments are supposed to behave better than non-democracies. Otherwise what would be the use of democracy ? The absurd notion that whatever war criminal the paranoid Israeli electorate happens to choose, within the ultimately democratic but nonetheless quite byzantine Knessett labyrinthe, ought to therefore automatically have keys to the U.S. Treasury, as long as his regime is not as terroristic as Ghaddafy's Libya or Saddam's Iraq (or Islamic Jihad or Hamas) is long overdue for consignment to history's junk heap (whatever ostriches at HNN might try to argue).


kvetch - 5/2/2003

Wait, isn't it important to remind people where they went wrong,
if only to warn others not necessarily to take "experts" too seriously?


Jonathan Burack - 5/2/2003

Given that you have 5 million Jews who wish to be let along surrounded by 300 million Arabs, a majority of whom wish to see them dead, I'd say it's a minor miracle that the worst you can say of them is they are "mildly atrocious."

I know it seems obvious to you, but I think it is intriguing that this democratic nation's status as an ally of the democratic U.S. seems to you to justify holding it to a higher standard than Saudi Arabia and Iraq. You confirm my point about double standards precisely. And the irony is, that in doing this, you actually imply that we are superior to the Arab world -- a view I do not share. I thought this was the sort of "Orientalism" the followers of Edward Said like to charge against the backers of Israel, not its detractors.


T. Herzl - 5/1/2003


There is no question that, compared to Saudi Arabia or Saddam's Iraq, the Likudnik Greater Israel movement is only mildly atrocious. But, are these appropriate comparisons by which to judge America's number one "ally" ?


Jonathan Burack - 5/1/2003

What I said was the petitioners were "indifferent" to and "complicit" with anti-Semitism, not that they themselves were anti-Semites. I stand by those statements. The petitioners would mostly, no doubt, call themselves anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. However, what I would ask them (and Mark) is what other regime has ever been the subject of a petition accusing them IN ADVANCE of genocide? How else but by a unique form of animus can one explain this?

This petition carried to absurd lengths the already outrageous double standard to which Israel is regularly subjected by its anti-Zionist critics -- for instance in the regular charge now that Israel practices apartheid even though its parliament seats Arabs (the only truly effective parliament in the region to do so, actually), its courts regularly give Arab petitioners access to justice decided independently of the government (a right also that no other Arab citizenry enjoys) -- and despite the hideous apartheid-like practices employed against Jews elsewhere all over the Middle East (to say nothing of such apartheid-like practices as Saudi Arabia's refusual to allow Christian, Jewish, or other relgious adherents even to practice their faiths, etc.). There is a point where the enormity of such a double standard applied to the only Jewish nation in the region cannot reasonably be explained in any other manner than as a form of anti-Semitism, or as I said, utter indifference to anti-Semitism. I stand by this charge.


Mark - 5/1/2003

To be sure, the Middle East "experts' were way out of line with such commentary and apologies are owed. However, to assume complicit anti-Semitism from such a document is untenable and runs the risk of fomenting further unneeded religious tensions. To criticize Israeli policy (even incorrectly) does not constitute anti-Semitism just as it does not necessarily constitute pro-Muslim sentiments. Such unsubstantiated interpretations add "unwanted and unneeded fuel" to the Arab/Israeli conflict by bolstering religious tensions that further retard negotiations.


Joel Johnson - 4/30/2003


One so-called "expert" denounces a bunch of other "experts".
Informational content = 0%
Propaganda content = 100 %
Value to historians = 0
Value to Ariel Sharon = dubious, despite Kramer's evident intent.

Shame on HNN. There are plenty of interesting historical issues relating to Israel and the Mideast, and no need to waste our time on this pitiful and meaningless in-fighting.


Jonathan Burack - 4/29/2003

It should not be enough for these professors to simply acknowledge a mistake. My guess is they will not even do that. However, this particular prospective charge is much worse than a mistake. It is a disgraceful abuse of professorial prestige in that it claims a right to slander in advance. In effect, it does the Queen of Hearts one better. Rather than sentence first verdict later, it claims a bogus capacity to issue the verdict in advance of any crime at all!

Moreoever, while I have no doubt the signers of this petition will recoil from charges of anti-Semitism (after all, they have the fig leaf of their "israeli colleagues" warning them of this crime of the century to come), they are nevertheless complicit with anti-Semitism. Their selective outrage at Israel, directed here at it for a purely hypothetical crime, can only be explained by anti-Semitism or at least utter indifference to anti-Semitism. Nazi-era levels of anti-Semitism are floating around the Middle East and parts of Europe these days. This anti-Semitism has a limitless capacity to spin wild claims based on vile myths. Did the petitioners not pause to think how their reckless charges might take on a life of their own in this hate-filled context? That they did not is clear. That they did not is what makes them complicit with anti-Semitism. Shame indeed.


Jonathan Burack - 4/29/2003

It should not be enough for these professors to simply acknowledge a mistake. My guess is they will not even do that. However, this particular prospective charge is much worse than a mistake. It is a disgraceful abuse of professorial prestige in that it claims a right to slander in advance. In effect, it does the Queen of Hearts one better. Rather than sentence first verdict later, it claims a bogus capacity to issue the verdict in advance of any crime at all!

Moreoever, while I have no doubt the signers of this petition will recoil from charges of anti-Semitism (after all, they have the fig leaf of their "israeli colleagues" warning them of this crime of the century to come), they are nevertheless complicit with anti-Semitism. Their selective outrage at Israel, directed here at it for a purely hypothetical crime, can only be explained by anti-Semitism or at least utter indifference to anti-Semitism. Nazi-era levels of anti-Semitism are floating around the Middle East and parts of Europe these days. This anti-Semitism has a limitless capacity to spin wild claims based on vile myths. Did the petitioners not pause to think how their reckless charges might take on a life of their own in this hate-filled context? That they did not is clear. That they did not is what makes them complicit with anti-Semitism. Shame indeed.


fascinated - 4/29/2003

So what do U.S. mid-east experts in the academy think about what's going on in Iran?

I stumbled across this article, which lays out that apparently there is a press for a national referendum in Iran on whether or not to normalize relations with the U.S.

http://www.iran-press-service.com/articles_2003/Apr-2003/iranian_proamericanism_25403.htm

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