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May 21, 2019 7:58 am

Columbia University Hosts Journalist Who Can ‘Understand’ Antisemitism

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avatar by Karys Rhea


Low Memorial Library at Columbia University. Photo: Alex Proimos.

Should a man who claims to “understand” why people are antisemitic be invited to speak at Columbia University — especially when this person wrote an opinion piece so dogmatic and bigoted that it was posted on the website of Hamas’ military wing, and who recommended an essay by known Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy?

Surely, at a time when “student safety” is of primary concern, one of America’s most prestigious universities would shun such a divisive figure.

Yet Columbia’s Center for Palestine Studies proudly hosted author and journalist Ben White this spring to discuss his latest book, Cracks in the Wall: Beyond Apartheid Palestine/Israel.

White is notorious for obfuscating the line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. He frequently uses classic antisemitic tropes when discussing the Mideast conflict, often replacing the word “Jews” with “Israel.” His talk at Columbia, moderated by former PLO official, CPS co-director, and Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi, who according to an article in the New York Observer, is “comfortable and secure in his antisemitism,” was no exception.

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White proudly reiterated his belief in a one-state solution, by which the only Jewish-majority state in the world would be destroyed. “I make the case for a single democratic state for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians,” he proclaimed.

It sounds harmless enough, but White does not consider how a Jewish minority would fare in such a state, given the historical and current persecution of minorities in many Muslim countries, and the fact that there is no Palestinian political entity remotely interested in pluralism. (Right now in the Palestinian territories, selling land to Jews is punishable by death.)

White summarized his book by naming the “three cracks in the wall” that currently undermine “Israel’s ability to maintain an apartheid state.” These are: “Fractures and division that are visible now” within the Jewish-American community; “the end of the bipartisan era of support for Israel”; and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

By White’s own admission, BDS is not interested in peace. The movement, he noted, has been “intelligently designed to disrupt and critique a quite suffocating peace process discourse.”

As for his assertions of Israeli “apartheid,” the reality in South Africa was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination whereby, under law, blacks were stripped of their voting rights, banned from serving in the government, and segregated from whites in virtually every facet of life.

Given that none of this can be said about Arabs in Israel, claiming that Israel practices apartheid redefines the term — and makes a mockery of the suffering that blacks endured in South Africa.

“The right of self-determination does not equal a right to your own ethnic state,” White continued. He then accused Israeli authorities of “discrimination, displacement,” and “brutality.”

Clearly, White ignores the fact that Arab citizens receive more rights in Israel than in neighboring Arab countries, which is why poll after poll reveals that the majority would rather live in Israel than in an Arab country, and even in a future state of “Palestine.”

Revealing his willful ignorance of demographics and territorial history, White described Israel as administering a “de facto single apartheid state in all of historic Palestine.”

“Historic Palestine” is not a distinct entity with defined and enduring borders. It has been ruled by different groups at different times, each of which applied different borders to the region. According to the British, Historic Palestine included Jordan and parts of Syria. Does White believe that Jordan should abdicate sovereignty and become a Palestinian state? In addition, White disregards Israel’s unilateral disengagement and evacuation of all Jewish soldiers and civilians from Gaza in 2005.

Just as traditional antisemites demonize and ascribe conspiratorial power to the Jewish community, White believes Israel secretly controls and manipulates Western media and the US government. He smeared Israeli Jews as “privileged,” and referred to them as “settler-colonialists,” instead of as refugees who experienced severe persecution and whose families were expelled from Arab lands. He ignored that 52 percent of Jews in Israel are of Middle Eastern descent, meaning their families did not migrate to Israel from Europe.

Addressing accusations of bigotry, White claimed that “the response to being a Palestinian and speaking up for your own people’s rights” has been a “smear of antisemitism.”

Absent from his argument is the daily hate education and antisemitism fed to children in the West Bank and Gaza, where state-run media, television, school textbooks, and mosques frequently deny the Holocaust, glorify Hitler, preach and inspire violence against Jews, and characterize them as “apes and pigs.”

Similarly, White ignores the Hamas charter, which does not merely call for Palestinian rights, but — in chapter seven — declares its genocidal ambition of eliminating all of world Jewry. If this does not meet the standard of antisemitism for White, one has to wonder what would. Accordingly, towards the end of the lecture, moderator Rashid Khalidi went so far as to bemoan the “myth of antisemitism.”

In allowing this event that advocated denying Jewish peoplehood, erasing Jewish heritage, and denigrating the Jewish civil rights movement, Columbia University is living up to its reputation as one of America’s most antisemitic campuses.

Karys Rhea is the New York associate of the Counter-Islamist Grid. She wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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