Middle East Studies Meltdown on Jerusalem
Hackneyed predictions that the Middle East would “go up in flames” following President Donald Trump’s official recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — and subsequent plans to move the US embassy there — have yet to materialize. While there have been scattered protests, they haven’t amounted to the predicted regional conflagration.
Rather, much of the hysteria is coming from professors of Middle East studies, who have taken their pre-existing animosity towards Israel and the US to new heights, while promoting divisive conspiracy theories about Jewish and Christian power.
Amid this discussion, anti-Israel rhetoric abounds.
University of San Francisco Professor Stephen Zunes described the Israeli presence in East Jerusalem as “a foreign, belligerent occupation,” while the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole referred ominously to “the Occupiers.” California State University, Stanislaus Professor As’ad AbuKhalil characterized the Jewish state as “the Israeli enemy.”
UC Berkeley’s Hatem Bazian bemoaned the “Israeli Apartheid system” and “settler-colonial project,” while George Mason University Professor Noura Erakat ranted about Israel’s “apartheid regime” and “settler-colonial encroachment.” Former academic Steven Salaita complained of “Israeli belligerence” and “Israeli expansionism.”
Not to be outdone, UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi accused Israel of “violent social engineering,” “slow-motion ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid policies,” “white supremacy” and “Islamophobia.”
Columbia University Professor Hamid Dabashi was characteristically histrionic: “On one side dwells an ugly apartheid settler colony supported by an even uglier imperial power, and on the other stands the glory of a global defiance against that immoral depravity called ‘Zionism.’”
Equally popular was blaming Trump’s decision on evangelical Christians, “right-wing” Israelis and American Jews. Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi asserted that Trump “has brought joy to his friends, and to their dangerous, extremist soulmates in Israel,” while Juan Cole alleged that “Trump is doing this for his evangelical base and for billionaire campaign backers like Sheldon Adelson.”
Omid Safi, director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center, declared the US “a militaristic Empire … in the business of war-mongering” that’s simultaneously under “the influence of the rightwing Israeli lobby groups,” “pleasing the rightwing policies of … [Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin] Netanyahu,” and “using Israel to expand its militaristic policy in the Middle East.”
At the Qatari-funded Brooking Institution, Center for Middle East Policy fellow Khaled Elgindy designated the embassy move a “key demand of evangelical Christians” and “conservative Jewish elements.” “Is it appropriate for the United States to be making major foreign policy decisions on narrow sectarian concerns?” he asked.
Georgetown University Professor Elliott Colla tweeted: “For the right, J’lem is nothing more than messianic sign of Jewish power.” He also noted sarcastically that, “Now that Biblical prophecy has been fulfilled, we can put away all distractions and focus on End Times.”
Similarly, Reza Aslan, a creative writing professor at UC-Riverside, maintained that Trump was “throwing a bomb into the mix” to appease “his white evangelical base, who views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as some sort of cosmic battle for the end times.”
In fact, it was Middle East studies academics who were preparing for Armageddon.
Brooklyn College Professor Moustafa Bayoumi warned that “the entire Middle East, from Palestine to Yemen, appears set to burst into flames after this week.” Likewise, Ebrahim Moosa, an Islamic Studies professor at the University of Notre Dame, announced that “Trump’s action will be akin to dousing gasoline on a burning fire.”
Others projected a rise in the ongoing threat of Islamist terrorism against the US — as if jihadists need an excuse to attack Americans. Khaled Elgindy described Trump’s policy as playing “into the hands of extremists in the region,” Stephen Zunes proclaimed it “a gift to the demagogues,” and University of Maryland Professor Shibley Telhami announced that it “will play into the hands of those plotting in the basement.”
Meanwhile, West Chester University Professor Marwan Kreidie insisted that, “We’re gonna see more American deaths because of this; you’re gonna have people who will attack the U.S.”
Nader Hashemi, director of the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies, imagined this was Trump’s plan all along: “Trump will say ‘I told you so … we are in a clash of civilizations, we need to build up our military, crackdown on Muslims, give more support to Bibi.’ The bigger winner here is radical Islamism, sadly.”
Likewise, Reza Aslan labeled it “a deliberate attempt by this administration to basically break the world,” while Rashid Khalidi pronounced, “The damage he [Trump] has done will be permanent: the US cannot undo this recognition.”
Such is the vitriol spewing from the leading lights of Middle East studies. That their dire warnings have yet to come to pass fits the field’s pattern of faulty predictions and anti-Israel hysteria. Blinded by fanatical hostility to Israel and the US, such academics have discarded all pretense of disinterested scholarship. US foreign policy experts would do well to ignore their advice.