CampusWatch Complaint: "UC Irvine's Anti-Israel, Anti-American Hate-Fest"Historians in the News
On January 31, 2009, a conference took place at UC Irvine (UCI) titled,"Whither the Levant? The Crisis of the Nation State: Lebanon, Israel, Palestine." Organized by the Levantine Cultural Center of Los Angeles and the Middle East Studies Student Initiative, the conference featured two documentaries about the 2006 war in southern Lebanon, three panel discussions, and a number of Middle East studies academics. In spite of the neutral sounding title, the conference was a one-sided exercise in bashing Israel and America.
The general theme was that Israel is an oppressor and deliberately murders innocent Palestinians, aided and abetted by an imperialistic America. California State University-Stanislaus political science professor As'ad Abu Khalil, for example, claimed that civilian casualties by Israel are"never accidental." UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg made a macabre remark about Israelis"dancing on the blood of Palestinian children" and called for the prosecution of Israeli"war criminals." David Theo Goldberg, director of the University of California Humanities Research Institute, referred to Jews, and particularly Ashkenazi Jews, as racists. Nubar Hovsepian, associate professor of political science and international studies at Chapman University, described Israeli soldiers as"Israeli terrorist soldiers" and accused the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) of warning civilians to evacuate and then bombing the evacuation routes.
Self-described"independent scholar" Norman Finkelstein was by far the most obnoxious, living up to his reputation for arrogance and condescension. He droned on endlessly, going over his allotted time and attacking others with prepared quips designed to evoke laughter. But not everyone was amused. After hogging the microphone to the obvious annoyance of conference moderator and UCLA history professor Mark LeVine, Finkelstein began a new topic only to be cut off abruptly and left to sit sullenly with his face in his hands.
Meanwhile, UCI sociology lecturer Chuck O'Connell seemed to have walked into the wrong conference. When it was his turn to speak, he launched into a rambling diatribe about labor unions, the minimum wage, racism, distribution of wealth in the U.S., nationalism, the U.S./Mexican border, and for good measure, one or two references to the Middle East. He concluded by stating that this wasn't the talk he had intended to give, but it was the talk we got.
Seemingly oblivious to the ascendance of the Obama administration, panelists focused obsessively on George W. Bush, with O'Connell, LeVine, and Finkelstein all calling him an"idiot" and Finkelstein calling Dick Cheney a"thug and murderer." When LeVine asked the audience if anyone disagreed with the latter assessment, I raised my hand and offered the name of Saddam Hussein as an alternative. I was ignored.
Later, the audience submitted written questions for the panelists and one of mine was selected. I asked,"Do you condemn statements and chants heard recently at anti-Israel rallies in Ft. Lauderdale and Los Angeles such as 'Go back to the ovens,' 'You need a bigger oven,' 'Long live Hitler,' 'Go Hitler,' and 'Go Nazi Germany'? Secondly, don't you think these statements discredit your cause?"
The question was given to Finkelstein, who responded,"First of all, it's not my cause." He disclaimed any knowledge of the statements, but said that he suspected they were"99% made up…a pretext or excuse to change the subject" and that the perpetrators might have been"pro-Israel provocateurs masquerading as Arabs." He never condemned the statements and his dismissive and conspiratorial response caused the audience to erupt in applause.
There was nothing educational about this conference. Overwhelmingly one-sided against Israel, it was simply an exercise in indoctrination.
Not a single participant spoke in defense of Israel or even acknowledged its right to exist, and many of them demonstrated a visceral hatred for the Jewish state.
There wasn't a lot of love expressed for America either, which was generally portrayed as a willing imperialistic accomplice in an Israeli campaign of death and destruction against the Palestinian people.
There was much talk of peace, but nothing was said about Israelis' right to live in peace within their own borders. There was also discussion about the killing of innocents, yet rocket attacks and suicide bombings against Israeli civilians never entered the conversation.
None of the speakers expressed any support for a two-state solution. In broaching the possibility of a"one-state solution" in which Jews and Arabs would live together peacefully, no one mentioned the Hamas charter, which explicitly calls for the obliteration of Israel and of the Jewish people, as well as the imposition of an Islamic state.
No one spoke out against Hamas and Hezbollah or their oppression of fellow Muslims.
Most importantly, no one mentioned the 800-pound gorilla in the room: worldwide Islamic terrorism and jihad.
In its stated goal of emphasizing"pathways to diplomatic, non-violent solutions to the region's problems," the conference failed miserably. But then again, giving a platform to the most biased, politicized academics in the field of Middle East studies is hardly a recipe for success.
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Randll Reese Besch - 2/24/2009
Dear Gary Fouse/FrontPage Magazine,
As one of the main organizers of “Whither the Levant? The Crisis of the Nation-State: Lebanon, Israel, Palestine,” I feel I should speak up. My knee jerk reaction was to ignore your comments as it just adds more fuel to your nonsense.
First, I want to thank you for your in depth critique of our conference. Although I do not agree with any of your comments, I think the contrary that our conference generated much fodder for thought.
Second, as Levantine Cultural Center and UC Irvine’s Middle East Studies Student Initiative (MESSI) wished to make this a successful event, the director of Levantine and I personally took head counts to see the number of attendees—with the ebb and flow of new people coming in for the various events, the total numbered 400. At one point we had a full room (300 seats).
Third, as for pro-Israel representation, the director of Levantine contacted the Aardvarks for Israel and Hillel on numerous occasions to ask that they recommend names to counter the so called "pro Palestinian leftist argument,” and yet only one suggestion was given to us in a three-month period, and the person was unable to make the engagement.
Fourth, the intent as usual with FrontPage Magazine is to detract from the solidarity of all our speakers in protest of the horrific genocide of the Palestinian people, and further suggest that there is discontent among us. I am referring to your comment on Norman Finkelstein’s “obnoxious and arrogant demeanor” that annoyed Mark LeVine. During Norman’s contested tenure, Mark LeVine fully gave his support.
Fifth, as usual with you folks—to use one of your favorite verbial expression—you like to “bash” Norman Finkelstein but solely on a personal basis, never his beliefs or statements. Am I to assume you cannot refute them. The usual string of mantras is “self hating Jew,” who imbibes his speeches with Der Sturmer messages (by the way Professor Dershowitz referred to Der Sturmer as Der Stutterer—I suppose we can rely on him to always mangle his words, as he confused Orwell’s turnspeak for “newspeak”). It never ceases to amaze me how you at FrontPage Magazine never deal one on one with the issues that the speakers present, always to heap mountains of character assassinations.
Sixth, I met Dr. Finkelstein for the first time and I find him to be a well reasoned and a flexible person with whom to work. Perhaps, some folks find him arrogant, but Norman is a very serious person who spends an inordinate amount of time preparing his speeches. For this reason, he is very critical when speakers do not make a dedicated effort to do the same.
Seventh, when I first became acquainted with Norman Finkelstein’s work, I scrutinized his statements very carefully. In my thorough research, I found that he provided an accurate account of the 242 resolution. I might be paraphrasing here, but when Norman states that Israel wants peace on their “own terms” he is absolutely correct. Before I explain some biographical information is warranted here. I am of Lebanese/Arab American heritage. My father’s first cousin was a well respected, professional diplomat that in the 1960s served in the capacity as a Third Secretary to the UN, in subsequent years as an ambassador from Lebanon to Iraq, Greece, and Germany, but headed the Arab delegations to the Madrid talks in 1992. Most certainly he would be characterized as a man of moderate political leanings. At the time the Arab delegations included discussions of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza as well as Southern Lebanon, my cousin most compellingly referred to Israel as wanting a “hegemonistic peace.”
Eighth, you omitted one important detail. You fixated on Norman “sitting sullenly with his face in his hands”. You certainly have mischaracterized him. He maintained a low profile, sitting at the end row during our second panel discussion. After the second panel finished, members of the audience literally flocked to his side asking him a plethora of questions regarding the crisis in Gaza.
It is no wonder that you at FrontPage Magazine are quivering in your boots: your support for Palestinian injustice and Apartheid is dwindling. More so than with the Lebanon-Israel War in 2006, a sizeable number of Jews around the world has expressed solidarity with Palestinians from the US, Canada, Europe and Morocco. Both Norman and my friend, the director at Levantine, had immediate relatives that perished in the Holocaust, but they had the intestinal fortitude to fight in the struggle against the annihilation and oppression of the Palestinian and Lebanese people. Thank god that people like this have given Arab Americans a voice.
PhD, Urban Education, Policy and Planning
Maybe you should have looked around before using the kind of Zionist is right always mag to respond to this. Rather like having the Klan evaluate an NAACP meeting as far as I am concerned. Very bad work. How about telling us what "Campus Watch" is and its affiliations would help?
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