Harvard Needs Some Schooling on the Middle East

February 14, 2012 11:28 am 6 comments

Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. Photo: wiki commons.

On March 3-4, Harvard University will host a two-day conference on the “One State Solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Guests include veteran anti-Israel academics, the founder of Electronic Intifada and an ex-Palestinian official. No one sympathetic to Israel is identifiable.

This sort of anti-Israel activity, thinly disguised by a veneer of academic posing, has become commonplace at this venerable Ivy League institution. In recent years, Harvard has hosted Holocaust defamer Norman Finkelstein, accused serial fabricator professor Ilan Pappe and Naim Ateek, founder of the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish Sabeel ministry. The department sponsoring the upcoming conference is home to Stephen Walt, co-author of the error-prone The Israel Lobby.

These anti-Zionist conclaves are an outward sign of a more insidious transformation of Harvard’s Middle Eastern studies. At the crux of this transformation is the school’s Center for Middle East Studies, which benefits from both taxpayer support and gifts from Gulf Arab donors. Harvard is one of 17 universities receiving federal Title VI funding for the purpose of increasing public knowledge about the Middle East and Islam. By targeting their donations to schools involved in the federally funded outreach effort, the Gulf Arab donors influence not only instructors at the university level but also, through them, those who will teach about the Middle East in primary and secondary schools.

The activities of the outreach center of Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies are instructive. The center’s stated mission is to promote “a critical understanding of the diversity of the Middle East region.” But its activities and programming reveal a dogmatic adherence to the polemical, often counter-factual Palestinian version of the Arab-Israeli conflict, rather than the presentation of authoritative and diverse scholarly viewpoints.

In 2003, Massachusetts education officials criticized Harvard for promoting a textbook called the Arab World Notebook, calling it “a piece of propaganda.” The book contained falsehoods like the claim that Islam was the “second largest religious group in America,” with six million members based on 1980s figures. Demographers put the current, expanded American Muslim population at just two or three million.

This is how the original published version of the Notebook described the Israeli War of Independence:

“As a result of Israel’s declaration of Independence and its subsequent continued attempts to force the Palestinian Arab inhabitants out of their land, the neighboring Arab states vowed to come to the rescue of the Palestinian civilian population.”

Professor Efraim Karsh’s archival research shows that Arab flight was primarily self-induced. The notion that the Arab states attacked Israel to “rescue” the Palestinians is refuted by their open intent to wipe out the nascent Jewish state.

The Notebook offered an exculpatory narrative to explain the Arab defeat, claiming,

“The Arab armed forces were outnumbered 3-1… against 65,000 well-trained Jewish troops.”

In fact, the entire Jewish population of Israel was 650,000; it was outnumbered at least 40 to 1 by the surrounding Arab states. In comparison to the well-armed Arab armies- including the British-led Arab Legion-the Jews initially possessed no aircraft or tanks and suffered from shortages of artillery, small arms and ammunition. The textbook has been updated, but as a new book—Saudi Arabia and the Global Islamic Terrorist Network—documents, its fundamental flaws remain.

The outreach center’s current director, Paul Beran, is an activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The center’s recommended readings favor anti-Zionist writings, including works by the late Edward Said, a Palestinian polemicist, and the former Israeli professor Pappe, the driving force behind academic boycotts of Israel. The center also recommends the propaganda film Occupation 101, which features notorious defamers of Israel like Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk. Serious scholarship is abandoned to dumbed-down banal fictional works that recycle the theme of alleged Palestinian victimization.

The people who should be the most concerned with the degradation of Middle Eastern scholarship are parents, taxpayers and those associated with universities that tolerate and abet such propaganda. After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by al Qaeda, a broad consensus formed that the United States needed to understand the Middle East better, particularly to answer the question, “Why do they hate us?”

With the prominent role of Saudi and other Gulf Arabs in funding Middle Eastern studies, and the anti-Zionist ideology of many academics, state and local officials must assume responsibility for protecting their students and the field of Middle East studies itself from irresponsible university faculty and administrators. Parents and taxpayers must be vigilant and urge school officials to scrutinize educational material provided from universities like Harvard that have compromised their standards of scholarship.

The writer is a senior researcher for the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Any opinions expressed above are solely his own.

6 Comments

  • As a result of Israel’s declaration of Independence and its subsequent continued attempts to force the Palestinian Arab inhabitants out of their land, the neighboring Arab states vowed to come to the rescue of the Palestinian civilian population

  • “Harvard has hosted Holocaust defamer Norman Finkelstein . . . ”

    I would have thought that it would be tough to dishonestly cause injury to the reputation of the Holocaust.

  • “C.A.M.E.R.A.; Keeping Facts Out of Focus”!

    As the Internet has liberated us from a PROVEN, ZIONIST (Not “Jewish”) Media Domination, the Zionist Element is desperate to recapture choosing what passes as “The News”, today..

    “DECLASSIFIED SENATE INVESTIGATION FILES REVEAL CLANDESTINE, ISRAELI PR CAMPAIGN IN AMERICA”
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/PrintArticle.php?articleId=20687

    Israel’s Foreign Ministry currently Funds such desperate Misinformation Industries as its Scripted, Hasbara Hirelings, G.I.Y.U.S., a fraudulent, “Megaphone” Software and countless other Cyber Scams intended to obfuscate the FACTS.
    FACTS are Anathema to the easily debunked and frantic screeds of C.A.M.E.R.A., ADL, AIPAC, F.L.A.M.E. etc
    There is nothing in this C.A.M.E.R.A. piece that rises above a hysterical, Fact-Free and dishonest defamation of True Scholars and Educated Authors by a well paid, Hasbara, Heel-Nipper.
    There is no State has a more Expensive, Sophisticated and Extensive Propaganda Industry…

    Or Needs One.

    • @Gray:

      Are you serious? Have you actually ever read a CAMERA piece?

      Where is your evidence that the Foreign Ministry funds CAMERA, an American non-profit?

      Just because you say things does not mean they are true. It’s ccalled “empirical evidence.” Look it up.

    • And your pint is what? It’s not okay or only okay to name Israel as the only country that attempts to gain influence through election system? Were you alive during the Cold War? Do you honsetly believe Saudi Arabia is not and won’t be influencing American elections with oil bucks? What about China? The anti-Israel theme is out of proportion to the spectrum of those who attempt to influence American elections and policies. I can’t fault Israel for taking measures to defend itself in an increasingly and proven era of heihtened bigotry, and Jew hating which Harvard is sponsoring.

  • You wrote: “In recent years, Harvard has hosted Holocaust defamer Norman Finkelstein..” I totally agree with you. Norman Finkelstein has on many occasion defamed the Nazi holocaust for what is was. A systematic, factory like, assembly line extermination of the Jews. And in his words there where few survivors. The number he sites is around 100,000, including his late mother and father.

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