Joel Beinin: Under Attack for Criticizing Israel and the U.S.

Historians in the News

Alyssa A. Lappen, at (12-21-04):

He denounces American “imperialism” on Al-Jazeera Television. A former Zionist, he refers to jihadist suicide bombers as “martyrs.” He praised Mideast scholars for ignoring the issue of terrorism, and he regularly repeats the most twisted and paranoid claims of Islamist regimes as though they were historical fact. He is Stanford Middle East history professor Joel Beinin, and his influence extends far beyond his classroom.

If one individual can showcase all the flaws of Middle East Studies in academia, Joel Beinin is that man. A former president of the Middle East Studies Association, Beinin teaches Middle East history at Stanford University. This professor’s politics color his work; the result is mediocre scholarship, baseless conspiracy theories, and partisan classroom instruction.

Beinin’s biography reads like a parody of an American radical. Born in 1948 to Labor Zionist parents,[1] he experienced an ideological transformation at age 22 while living on Kibbutz Lahav. Beinin joined the “New Left” at Hebrew University, then migrated to Trotskyite anti-Zionism and finally to Maoism.[2] A Marxist ever since,[3] he received his BA, MA, and Ph.D. from Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Michigan respectively. He has received Ford Foundation funds, and has taught in France, Britain, Israel and Egypt.[4]

Beinin and his wife Miriam support the Jewish Voice for Peace,[5] a Bay area group and reported Palestinian front.[6] The professor appears regularly on radical Radio Pacifica,[7] although he refuses many local invitations to legitimate debate.[8] Beinin blames the United States for major problems facing the Middle East, and he attributes U.S. actions to aggression and ill will. Just a few examples of his most outrageous actions include:

Before the 2003 Iraq war, Beinin appeared on Al-Jazeera to condemn U.S. “imperial” policy in the Arab world. President Bush, he informed his Middle Eastern audience, planned to establish “a puppet regime” in Baghdad to benefit U.S. oil interests and force what he called “Israeli dictates” on the Palestinians.[9]

After the war began, Beinin accused Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other U.S. policymakers of collusion with “Israel’s Likud Party”[10] and asserted that the U.S. and Israel had collaborated with Arab regimes to block “democracy and economic development in the Arab world.”[11] Beinin insisted that the U.S. was bent on showing “the overwhelming military power of the US…to make and unmake regimes and guarantee access to oil.”[12] American conservatives, in his opinion, wanted to ensure that “Islamist forces would forsake legal political action and engage in armed struggle.”[13]

Beinin rejects critical thought regarding terror, and with it any opportunity to sensibly evaluate the current U.S. war. He mocks this effort as “terrorology.” A year after 9/11, he actually congratulated fellow MESA academics for their “great wisdom” in refusing to examine terrorism, much less address what nearly all agree is the gravest national security threat to the United States.[14] ...

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