A pro-Hamas Left emerges among historians, complains Jeffrey HerfHistorians in the News
tags: Israel, Palestine, Gaza
On July 31, 2014, a group of left-leaning historians called “Historians Against the War” posted an open letter to President Obama denouncing Israel’s actions in the Gaza War and calling for a cut-off of American military assistance to Israel. On August 13, the letter was posted on the website of the History News Network. On August 13, the signers reported that “in less than twenty-four hours over two hundred US, based [sic] historians had signed the letter.” This remarkable turnout depended on the mobilization of an already existing network of an academic Left that emerged in opposition to the war in Iraq and that stays in touch via a website called “The Hawblog.” On August 14, the blog announced that more than a thousand historians had signed the statement, including a large number from Mexico and Brazil.
With a brief and unconvincing effort to sound balanced, the statement deplored “the ongoing attacks against civilians in Gaza and in Israel” but then turned its fire on Israel for what it called “the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.” The signers were “profoundly disturbed that Israeli forces are killing and wounding so many Palestinian children.” They found “unacceptable the failure of United States elected officials to hold Israel accountable for such an act” and demanded “a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a permanent end to the blockade so that its people can resume some semblance of normal life.” Further, they urged the President to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel until there is assurance that it will no longer be used for the commission of “war crimes.” “As historians,” they concluded, “we recognize this as a moment of acute moral crisis in which it is vitally important that United States policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict change direction.”
It is old news that an academic tenured Left has a foothold in departments of history in the United States, as well as in Latin America. Also familiar is the deception involved in presenting oneself as “against war,” as if those who disagree are “for” war, and as if the issue were one of war or peace rather than anything that has to do with the substance of the conflict. Nor is it surprising that left-of-center academics are largely hostile to Israel. Hostility to Israel became a defining element of what it means to be left-wing since the early 1950s in the Communist states, and since the late 1960s for the Left in Western Europe, the United States, and the Third World as well.
Nor is it even surprising that the signers conclude, before they can possibly have access to the evidence needed to reach this judgment, that Israel has engaged in “war crimes.” The indictment of Israel before the facts are in, based on the reports of biased and often intimidated journalists, has been par for the course since the 1960s and has been a major theme of public discussion at least since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It has also been standard operating procedure for the anti-Israeli majority in the UN General Assembly since the 1960s—yet in this case even UN officials, no constant friends of Israel, have intimated that Hamas is guilty of war crimes both by intentionally targetting Israeli civilians and by using the people of the Gaza Strip as human shields.
Reaching such conclusions on the basis of media reports would be, one would think, less common among professional historians who are trained to follow rigorous standard rules of evidence. In fact, in the name of a political goal these academics have abandoned the standards of their profession. The evidence to support this conclusion is hard to avoid...
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