Professors at Jerusalem Fund Conference Slander Israel on All Fronts
“Israel and the Zionist project are anachronisms; much like white South Africa was an anachronism,” announced retired West Chester University Professor Lawrence Davidson on November 17 in Washington, DC. His comments — before about 70 listeners at the Jerusalem Fund’s annual conference, titled “The Palestinian Struggle: Adversity on All Fronts” — typified the day-long hate-fest against Israel promoted by Middle East studies academics, and their allies in policy and media circles.
Building on his history of anti-Zionist activism, Davidson used the 2017 centenary of the 1917 British Balfour Declaration to attack Israel’s rebirth. He condemned the first international recognition of a renewed Jewish homeland in the Holy Land as an “imperial and colonial document in which a European power promised a non-European parcel of land to another European people.”
Davidson also claimed that the Jewish state’s goal of “an exclusive community for it alone” necessitates “ethnic cleansing [and] racist laws.” Consequently, Israel “has to become a non-colonial settler state; it has to give up Zionism,” lest the world “revert back [sic] to an acceptance of at least some of the colonial practices of the nineteenth century. In this morally-warped vision, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is a “tactic to defend modernity, to defend modern decency.”
Such animosity befitted Southern Illinois University-Carbondale Professor Virginia Tilley. This rabid Israel-hater recently coauthored a scandalous — and ultimately withdrawn — United Nations report with the antisemitic conspiracy theorist academic Richard Falk.
Tilley went so far as to reject a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict as “unacceptable, because it preserves Israel in its present form as an apartheid state.”
“Israel will be the same state, with the same character, with the same racist laws, with the same self-declared mission, within just different borders,” she declared. Without evidence, she asserted that under the British-administered League of Nations mandate, “Palestine had never been intended to be a Jewish state.”
Sara Roy, a researcher at Harvard University’s Center for Middle East Studies and a Hamas apologist, extended the litany of horrors against Israel. “Gaza is in a state of humanitarian shock, due primarily to Israel’s intensified closure or blockade,” she claimed, apparently unaware that obesity is a major Gaza health concern. This alleged state of affairs is “disgracefully supported by the US the EU, and Egypt, among other countries,” she added, disregarding Israel’s need to defend itself against a Hamas-ruled Gaza bent on Israel’s destruction.
Roy blamed Gaza-based jihadist terrorism against Israel on poverty, even as Hamas regularly diverts international aid from the welfare of its people to warfare against Israel. As she put it: “Young people have increasingly turned towards militancy as a livelihood, joining different militant and extremist organizations simply to secure a paying job.”
New York University Professor Alon Ben-Meir was the lone advocate for Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state within a future two-state solution. “I have fought for nearly 50 years” for a “Palestinian people living free, in a democratic state called Palestine,” he stated, emphasizing that Israeli-Palestinian “coexistence is not one of many options, it is the only option.” Ben-Meir lamented the Palestinians’ destructive obsession with past losses — and the “victimization of their own people by perpetuating this historic narrative.” He urged them, however dubiously, to “appeal to the Israeli left” for “they all want peace.”
Ben-Meir’s conciliatory tone was viciously rejected by Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah. In scathing words, he asserted that “genocide” and a “right to be racist [are] … foundational to Zionism.” Thus, “if you want peace, we have to end the system of Zionism.”
Abunimah condemned Ben-Meir’s lecture as “racist and patronizing,” because Ben-Meir dared to call for nonviolent measures — other than BDS — to advance the Palestinian cause. Abunimah exhorted the “small anti-Zionist Israeli left” to demand a “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Moreover, he demanded that the Israeli Left “be very clear in the renouncing of Jewish colonial privilege; renouncing the racist laws that say Palestinians cannot return home solely because they are not Jews.”
Yet not only would this Palestinian influx be the demographic death of Israel as a Jewish state, but as Ben-Meir had previously noted, a “one-state solution is never going to happen” because Israelis overwhelmingly reject living under a Palestinian majority.
Khaled Elgindy, an expert at the Qatar-financed Brookings Institution and sharia-apologist, was — along with Ben-Meir — the only other conference participant not to demand Israel’s erasure. He speculated about various Israeli-Palestinian confederations under “one space, two states,” instead of the current “one-state reality” that he alleged is “highly imbalanced” in favor of Israel. In contrast, Tilley, who had earlier declared that the “two-state solution is dead” and equivalent to a “zombie state,” remarked during the question and answer period that “having two sovereign entities in one territory is nonsense.”
Deputy Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the United Nations, Ambassador Feda Abdelhady-Nasser, rounded out the conference fittingly. She ranted that, since 1967, Jerusalem “has been abused and pillaged by a brutal foreign occupation bent on the violent dispassion, displacement and denigration of its Palestinian inhabitants.” Such inflammatory statements surely pleased such audience members as the Italian author Paola Caridi, who peddled similar distortions to this author the day before at Georgetown University. But they bear no relation to truth.
This conference offered yet more proof of the Middle East studies establishment’s implacable hostility to Israel. Mendacious claims, activism masquerading as scholarship, and a willful blindness toward systemic social and cultural problems throughout the region discredit the discipline. Until and unless such professors are displaced by scholars who champion rigor and objectivity over bigotry and hate, Middle East studies will continue to be an embarrassment to educators of good will.
Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.