Anti-Semitism and US-Israel Relations: Trouble for Middle East Specialists - and Their Critics

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Anti-Semitism and US-Israel Relations: Trouble for Middle East Specialists - and Their Critics [A response by Abraham H. Foxman follows.] Never Again?: The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, by Abraham H. Foxman. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. xii + 279 pages. Source notes to p. 294. Index to p. 305. $24.95.

Not since the 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) defamed knowledgeable China hands, have area specialists been assaulted so recklessly. As the United States sinks more deeply into Middle Eastern sands, many experts on this region are being subjected to what Columbia University's Rashid Khalidi characterizes as a "pervasive atmosphere of intimidation and fear."1 This pall deters candid discussion of issues, especially those related to Israel. A principal reason for this assault on Middle East area studies is that the Arab-Israeli dispute is fought at home as well as abroad and the cards are stacked heavily in favor of Israel's American advocates. Free speech and sound policy development suffer as a consequence, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

In addition to the long reach of the USA Patriot Act and the denunciation of specialists in Middle East area studies by the likes of Israeli-American Martin Kramer and Israel partisan Daniel Pipes,2 a bill backed by pro-Israel neoconservatives and passed by the House of Representatives in October 2003 (H.R. 3077) would, if enacted into law, create an advisory board that could severely restrict academic freedom. The board would be authorized to "monitor" and "evaluate" the activities of Title VI-supported area studies centers to ensure that they "reflect diverse perspectives." This language is neither neutral nor benign. It would likely have the perverse effect of forcing university area studies centers to curb criticism of Israel and US Middle East policy.3

More recently, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations incorporated chilling new language into their grant agreements. Ford's provisions state that the Foundation will withdraw funding if any university expenditure, regardless of source, promotes "violence, terrorism, bigotry, or the destruction of any state." Rockefeller's language directs that a grantee shall not "directly or indirectly engage in, promote or support other organizations or individuals who engage in or promote terrorist activity." The foundations inserted these stipulations in response to several Jewish individuals and organizations who complained that Ford Foundation money funded Palestinian groups that orchestrated activities critical of Israel at the 2001 United Nations conference in Durban, South Africa.4 The Ford stipulations were instituted on the advice of former White House liaison to the Jewish community Stuart Eizenstat and David Harris of the American Jewish Committee. Harris declared the conditions "eminently reasonable."5

Because such vague and ambiguous language can clearly be abused, the provosts of many distinguished universities (Harvard, Cornell, Yale, Chicago, Stanford, MIT, etc.) co-signed letters to the foundations in 2004 warning that these new provisions "run up against the basic principle of protected speech on our campuses." The universities, of course, fear that the language jeopardizes normal campus activities: lectures, debates, demonstrations, and film and photo displays.

This threat to open dialogue on Israel and US Middle East policy comes from those who traditionally champion freedom of expression in virtually all other spheres: prominent representatives of the American Jewish community.6 This paradox is reflected in Abraham Foxman's, Never Again ? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism (New York: Harper San Francisco, 2003). Foxman is the long-time head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). He sees a "new anti-Semitism" that is global in scope and comparable in gravity to the 1930s. Foxman contends that his book, while not "a work of scholarship," holds "lessons for combating anti-Semitism" (pp. …