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I love these “even-handed” panels

This is a long post, so if you have the patience, grab a glass of apple juice, wine or beer, get comfortable and relax. It will end eventually…

Tell me if you’ve had this experience. A panel/discussion/forum is advertised and the topic relates to Israel. When you get there, however, you realize that the organizers invited speakers among whom the ones who are supposed to be the Israel supporters – often the Jews on the panel – are actually somewhat to the left of Lenin and Che Guevara and expressive of attitudes about Israel that would have made Gamal Abdel Nasser sound like Alan Dershowitz.

Why is that? If I wanted to learn about why Israel should be supported or might be in the right, then why would I invite a Norman Finkelstein or a Noam Chomsky to represent Israel?

I wouldn’t unless there was a good chance I was a twit, a censor, a disingenuous liar or any combination of the preceding.

So there I was several days ago, meandering through some Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz articles, when I came across a story where a Guardian editor, sitting on a panel at the Jewish Book Week, apologized for some of his paper’s coverage of the fighting in Jenin in 2002.

In response to his publication’s coverage of the operation, Rusbridger said it was unfair to blame the reporter. Following Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, the Guardian’s editorial commented in its April 17 edition that: “Israel’s actions in Jenin were every bit as repellent as Osama Bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11.”

“I take full responsibility for the misjudgment,” Rusbridger said.

And during a response to a later question, he apologized for the editorial on Jenin – unprompted.

Okay, so viciously and unfairly attacking Israel’s Jenin actions where 30 Palestinian combatants, 21 Palestinian non-combatants (who had been warned to leave numerous times) and 23 Israeli soldiers were killed was inappropriate. But who could blame The Guardian, a prominent voice of the Left in England? After all, they were taking their cue from the UN. Remember Terje Roed-Larsen, the prominent UN envoy who visited Jenin soon after the fighting?

“It is totally destroyed, it looks like an earthquake has hit it,” [Roed-Larsen] said.

“We have expert people here who have been in war zones and earthquakes and they say they have never seen anything like it,” he added.

A couple of weeks later, everybody realized that this was all bullshit. The supposed massacres never took place; the hundreds of Palestinians were never killed; the supposed dead were caught on camera falling off the stretchers carrying them away and getting back on; and the cameras revealed that the “devastation” they kept showing was a small part of a much larger town.

But this post is about ridiculous panels. On this particular panel, as mentioned, one of the speakers was Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s editor. Here are a couple of jewels from the Guardian.

Okay, so Rusbridger might be representing the anti-Israel media, although he might not characterize it that way. But who did the organizers invite to sit alongside him in order to provide balance and the Israeli point of view?

For that they trotted out the recently retired Haaretz editor, David Landau.

Ha’aretz is a very good newspaper. They have good writers and they have good reporters. However, the newspaper undermines its own quality with a Left-wing bias so strong that sometimes one longs for an al-Jazeera report or something to balance things out. In large part, and certainly for the past few years, this editorial and writing bias has been influenced by Mr. Landau.

Mr. Landau does not apologize for his views. On the contrary, he takes great pride in them. Recently, at a dinner with Ms. Condoleeza Rice, Mr. Landau whispered – huskily, I’m sure – in her ear that Israel was a failed state, the Israeli government wanted “to be raped” to achieve peace and that it would be like a “wet dream” for him to see this happen.

Knowing some Israeli men, I’m sure this is not the first time in history that one had whispered sexual innuendo in a woman’s ear. However, this was not just an ordinary male Israeli citizen whispering longingly of his own state’s being raped in the ear of the female US Secretary of State over a plate of seared Foie Gras and Duck a l’Orange. This was the editor in chief of Ha’aretz.

And when England’s Jewish Book Week decided to invite the Guardian’s editor to speak, whom did they choose to bring out to be his counterpart and balance on the panel? The Jewish Book Week chose a man, a prominent man, under whose direction his newspaper’s editorial page falsely labeled Israel “racist” and declared the Territories under “apartheid.” Yes, the man who gave us Danny Rubinstein who went to the UN to call Israel an apartheid state and Amira Hass who may actually be more extreme than some Hamas members, was the counterpoint speaker to the anti-Israel editor on a panel.

Wait, it gets better!

Remember the debate held by the Oxford Students Union which decided to debate Israel’s right to exist by presenting two anti-Israel academics, Finkelstein and Honderich, as the “pro” Israelis on the panel? Sure you do. Some will claim that it was an absurd event, but the Oxford Students Union took it seriously. What’s more, they gave a voice to academics who wish to express negative remarks about Israel in a public forum.

Rah rah!! Free speech!!

Uh, except there were no Israel supporters on the panel. Where is the balance and where is the free speech when opposing voices need to be heard?

Ironically, complaints about restrictions or the absence of free speech particularly when Israel is involved have become regular fare in various academic, media and political circles. In recent years, the Jewish community has become an unnamed but often accused subject of these attacks. People like Jimmy Carter, John Mearsheimer, Stephen M.Walt, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and others have taken prominent “free speech” positions which the media tends to regurgitate with a parrot-like tenacity.

Their claim is that they are being stifled by “forces,” “lobbies,” “those who control media,” “those with means” and their free speech is being thwarted. At times, all of these authors and public people will specifically blame the Jewish community or members thereof. Sometimes they do it overtly and sometimes they hint at it, but there’s no question it has become a major component of any debate regarding not only the US relationship with Israel, but discussion of Israel’s morality and existence and even supposed Jewish influence on launching the US war in Iraq.

The joke, of course, is that these people manage to travel the breadth of the US and the world to voice their opinion openly. They manage to get frequent and unquestioning, at times supportive but rarely negative, media coverage. They have lucrative book deals and book sales related to this subject. Presumably, they charge handsome speaking fees. In fact, their prominence rests to some degree on their positions regarding Israel, the Jewish community (especially of America) and the supposed censorship they encounter. They will often suggest that not only are they not anti-Semitic but the charge that their actions and words are anti-Semitic is in and of itself an attempt to stifle free speech. In fact, it is not unusual to hear in these circles the suggestion that an accusation of anti-Semitism by their opponents is merely an attempt to squelch their voices and, of course, their free speech.

Other areas where the free speech battle is being fought out is with the attempted boycotts by academics and academic groups of Israeli academic institutions. From what I’ve read, along with official attempts to boycott, there are actual unofficial boycotts of Israeli academics and unofficial rejections of papers from Israeli scholars. Needless to say, this can be destructive to their careers. Sometimes, these boycotts hurt Israeli scholars who have strong left wing views which shows the indiscriminate nature of the boycotts as well as the truth about whose free speech is being stifled. As a result, expressing a pro-Israel point of view, has become more and more challenging for many scholars. This is happening while the anti-Israel forces (on lecture tours) are screaming about their supposed absence of free speech.

Academia in general seems to be one battlefield where the free speech battle has become a major point of discussion. From what I can tell, political science specialists, historians, Middle East specialists, etc. are at the forefront of this battle. Edward Said isn’t around any more, but Juan Cole and his partners in bias still reign supreme in these areas. In US and European universities, many Middle East studies programs have come to be dominated by scholars with a left wing, anti-Israel bent and one can find this filtering out to other programs and departments, particularly in the Humanities. A key player in this movement is MESA (The Middle East Studies Association) which is the primary association of Middle East professors and whose leadership reads like the Friends of All Things Palestinian. MESA feels strongly about fighting the supposed curtailment of free speech on campuses to the degree where the topic currently occupies space on their front page.

I have heard from centrist and center-right professors about their discomfort at MESA conferences where their viewpoints are better kept quiet. The same professors have told me horror stories about getting hired in existing departments that consider opposition to Israel almost a given and support of Israel anathema. It’s true that a couple of professors at random can’t be considered anything more than a tiny sample, but they told me their stories years apart.

But this information, about tacit obstruction of free speech when it comes to those whose research supports Israel, isn’t publicized in too many places. Instead, what is publicized is the supposed curtailment of free speech by anti-Israel academics. All of a sudden, it’s the new sport: find the hidden hand of the Jew in academia as they constrain free speech. They blame Jewish pressure through institutions, Jewish pressure on people, Jewish-dominated organizations like Campus Watch or Jewish scholars such as Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer. The accusation is that free speech and true research are being stifled. Online petitions pop up all the time trying to defend some anti-Israel scholar who is under supposed attack, or seeking to end some supposed attempt to stifle free speech and they are signed (online at least) by hundreds and sometimes thousands of academics.

Conferences are popping up to discuss this supposed crisis. Of course, they are populated by like-minded academics who feel their exercise in free speech includes complaining about their constraints when it comes to free speech and who believe that to have the conversation, they must exclude anybody who disagrees. And yes, they seem to have the requisite Jewish Professor on their panels.

So imagine my great surprise when, surfing along on the information superhighway with its millions of blogs, thousands of media outlets, wikipedias, Electronic Intifadahs, countless lists of poli sci faculties populated by anti-Israel academics, and, of course, no police or oversight body to suppress any of this extraordinary body of free speech, I cam across an upcoming conference at NYU called “Academic Freedom in the Age of Permanent Warfare.” Catch this:

Thursday: Yeshiva University Professor Ellen Schrecker speaking on “The Squeaky Wheels Go Round Again: Academic Freedom After 9/11.

Friday: NYU President John Sexton opens the Friday conference with reflections on the worldwide state of academic freedom. Roger Bowen, from the Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellows Program, provides the keynote address, and additional panels include “Academic Freedom: Theory & Practice”; “Academic Freedom & the Question of Israel and Palestine”; “Labor & the Corporate University”; and “The High Schools.”

Did you catch that? A conference about academic freedom and they have 4 panels. One is generally about academic freedom in general; one is about the “corporate university;” one is about high schools; and one is about Israel and Palestine. That’s right, there are no other conflicts out there that merit mention of academic freedom, just the one involving Israel. And who is going to sit there and discuss the topic? Let’s look at the list:

Khaled Fahmy, Chair & Comment, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, New York University
Zachary Lockman, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, New York University
Tony Judt, University Professor and Director, The Remarque Institute, New York University
Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies, Director of the Middle East Institute, Columbia University.

Here is Professor Fahmy defending Joseph Massad:

“I wanted to highlight how the charge of anti-Semitism is used in a cynical way to silence any critique of Israel.”

Here is Zachary Lockman sarcastically ripping Israel with no mention of suicide bombings in an article about Israel’s 40th anniversary called, you guessed it, “Original Sin“:

So this fortieth anniversary project had to become a celebration with a purpose: to purge US and European minds of those awful images of Israeli soldiers shooting and beating Palestinians. Officials hoped that primetime broadcasts of Exodus, choruses of “Hava Nagela,” stories about hardy pioneers making the desert bloom, and countless op-ed articles extolling Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East would do the trick. And no hard questions to mar the festivities, please.

Here is Tony Judt in a strong defense of Walt & Mearsheimer’s not so defensible article (where he claims the media was stifling debate):

In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that an Israeli soldier’s great-grandmother died in Treblinka will not excuse his own misbehavior.

Rashid Khalidi, who occupies the Edward Said Chair at NYU, speaking about the Iraq War:

Third, this war will be fought because these neoconservatives desire to make the Middle East safe not for democracy, but for Israeli hegemony…For these American Likudniks and their Israeli counterparts, sad to say, the tragedy of September 11 was a godsend: It enabled them to draft the United States to help fight Israel’s enemies.

Two Jews. Two non-Jews who are Arab or of Arab descent. See how fair it all is? There are no other speakers on this panel which is so concerned with academic freedom. Two Chairs and two well established professors, all published, all with the ability to write op-eds in any publication in the country, all teaching at one of the world’s and certainly the US’s finest institutions, are going to get together to whine and complain about their and others’ challenges with respect to academic freedom. And all of them with anti-Israel views.

And they won’t have anybody on the panel to argue with them, not about Israel, not about censorship, not about academic freedom and not about the best place to eat hummus in New York or Jerusalem.

Congratulations to NYU for succeeding in providing an Orwellian program on “free speech” and “academic freedom” where either willfully or through sheer intoxication with the politically correct pressure provided by their own faculty, no voices of Israel supporters, or even of those who have called these professors to task on their blatant bias – a bias that tarnishes their research, in my opinion – will be heard in a panel called “Academic Freedom & the Question of Israel and Palestine.”

I guess the lesson is that one side is having their point of view squelched. It just happens to be the side getting the blame.

9 Comments

  1. rootlesscosmo

    3/25/2008 at 8:49 pm

  2. themiddle

    3/25/2008 at 10:38 pm

  3. froylein

    3/25/2008 at 11:02 pm

  4. Adam Hyman

    3/26/2008 at 12:05 am

  5. themiddle

    3/26/2008 at 12:17 am

  6. Ben-David

    3/26/2008 at 5:14 am

  7. Shmuel

    3/26/2008 at 5:45 am

  8. froylein

    3/31/2008 at 1:22 pm

  9. Pingback: Jewlicious » A Little Palestinian Propaganda

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