Norton Mezvinsky: Has He Gone too Far in His Criticism of Israel?

Historians in the News

Jonathan Calt Harris, managing editor of Campus Watch, in (March 8, 2004):

Central Connecticut State University, situated in New Briton and making up one part of a four-campus state university system, has a pattern of acute political bias when it comes to the Middle East.

Campus Watch began posting articles on CCSU as early as June 2002, and added a full survey page in January of 2003.

CCSU offers neither a prominent scholar in Middle East studies nor an established program in this field. Rather, it makes its mark through teach-ins and conferences; events run more like political rallies than scholarly inquiries. Then, far from doing anything to stem these tendencies, documents made available to Campus Watch reveal an administrative pattern – that goes all the way to the top of the university system administration – of ignoring this bias, concealing it, and rewarding it.

On November 8, 2000, CCSU faculty members Ghassan El-Eid and Norton Mezvinsky, plus Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiya, and Stephen Fuchs, a local rabbi invited at the last minute, held a “teach-in” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict co-sponsored by the college’s Center for International Education.[i] Some faculty cancelled classes and required their students to attend the event, with the result, notes Barry Gordon of the media watch group Promoting Responsibility in Middle East Reporting (PRIMER), that “a captive audience was subjected to seventy minutes of anti-Israel rhetoric, and then ten minutes of the pro-Israel perspective.”[ii] The central theme of the event was to compare Israel with Nazism and apartheid.

(The full PRIMER report is available at Campus Watch at

[Editor: One of the speakers at the event, Norton Mezvinsky, is a professor of history at CCSU; Harris identifies Mezvinsky as "an anti-Zionist" who "lionizes Elmer Berger, an agitator who denied the existence of a Jewish people." Mezvinsky is co-editor of a "collection of articles in 1989 titled Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections."]

According to teachers’ reports, Mezvinsky informed the class that “the well-armed and well-funded Israelis,” fought the Palestinians in 1948, but did not mention that armies of five Arab countries first invaded the U.N.-sanctioned Jewish state. He blamed only Israel for the Palestinian refugee problem and never mentioned the estimated 800,000 Jewish refugees simultaneously expelled from Arab lands. Mezvinsky accused Israel of granting minimal rights to non-Jews, despite the fact that Arab citizens of Israel vote, sit in parliament, and have greater political and religious freedoms than do other Arabs anywhere else in the Middle East.[xv] “One of the things that Mezvinsky said over and over again is that Israel is a terrorist state,” one participant recalls....

So great was the public outcry over Mezvinsky’s lecture, however, CCSU momentarily awoke. The event’s organizer, Richard Benfield was quoted in the New Briton Herald calling Mezvinsky’s lecture “more inflammatory than informational.”[xx] President Judd scolded Mezvinsky. “From what I have been advised,” wrote Judd, “you breeched [sic] the tenets of what I asked the faculty in this program to do.”...

In December of 2002, Norton Mezvinsky was rewarded for his extremism by being named a “CSU Professor,” an honor “reserved for faculty members who fulfill the highest ideals of outstanding teaching, scholarly achievement and public service.”[xxiv] An associate professor of history at CCSU, Katherine Hermes, declared Mezvinsky “everything that a CSU professor stands for.”

Even apart from the record noted above, this honor is puzzling. Mezvinsky’s 1999 book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel, co-authored with the late Israel Shahak, offers his interpretation of religious groups in Israel; it is noteworthy primarily for its erroneous depictions of Judaism. Mezvinsky declares that “For religious Jews, the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value; for Likud, it has limited value.”[xxvi] He asserts that under Jewish law, “the killing by the Jew of a non-Jew under any circumstances is not regarded as murder.”[xxvii] He inaccurately puts forth fringe views as representative of the Israeli polity, for instance citing rabbi Yitzak Ginsburgh, a radical theocratist who lauded Baruch Goldstein and wrote “Jews killing non-Jews does not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion and the killing of innocent Arabs for reasons of revenge is a Jewish virtue.” Mezvinsky falsely protrays this as a widespread Israeli opinion.

(Mezvinsky claims the quotations are out of context. I made several attempts for him to respond to the above quotations, but he made untenable demands to have his comments presented unedited and unabridged that I could not accept.) Diana Muir, a frequent reviewer for the Boston Globe and Christian Science Monitor, finds that Mezvinsky’s book frequently substitutes his bias for knowledge. “Beyond the malicious absurdity of its premise,” wrote Muir, “Mezvinsky’s work is riddled with undocumented slurs and falsehoods presented as fact.”


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Jessica M. Ramer - 12/23/2004

I read your article with great interest as I know Norton Mezvinsky personally. I published a one-paragraph account of my experiences with him in an review of his book.

I later got two very angry voice mail messages telling me that he had retained a lawyer and would sue if I didn't remove the post within a week. The deadline he offered me fell on Christmas Eve day. I wondered why if he had retained a lawyer that *he* was contacting me instead of the law firm to which he had paid money.

Given the situation outlined above, I really can't comment too much.