In Academia, Hiring Token Jews; Anti-Zionists Provide Illusory Balance

Article excerpt


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict long ago spilled over into America's education departments of Middle East studies. In an attempt to appear balanced in the face of charges of anti-Israel biases, some departments or programs of Middle East studies have added Israeli scholars to their ranks - a move that at first glance appears welcome.

Yet many of these Israeli academics have built their reputation on a scholarship that is harshly critical not only of Israeli policy, but of Israel's very existence. Anti-Israel scholars who hail from Israel are cited favorably by the entire range of Israel's critics. These range from pro-Palestinian groups like the Committee to Stop Demolition of Houses in Palestine, the Committee to Stop Torture and Breaking the Silence to Jewish anti-Zionist groups like the American Council for Judaism. They also include neo-Nazis and Islamists.

The international standing of such scholars received a boost in the mid-1980s with the rise of the so-called new historians in Israeli universities. These scholars sought to debunk what they claim is a distorted Zionist narrative in Israeli historiography. In practice, they twisted the history of Israel's rebirth by dismissing the efforts of Arab states to destroy the newborn Jewish state as a Zionist myth, and claiming that Israel is built on ethnic cleansing and brutality toward the Palestinians.

Given this hostility to Israel's very existence, Middle East studies departments in the United States are tempted to hire anti-Israeli Israelis. They inoculate the employer against charges of anti-Semitism while seemingly legitimizing their claims of ideological balance gained through presenting an Israeli viewpoint. All this is achieved without changing the radical, anti-Israel, Arabist prejudices of their departments.

This problem is noted by leading Middle East historian Efraim Karsh, who in his book Fabricating Israeli History observes that propaganda in the field of Middle East studies has become the accepted norm. In other disciplines, this would have created a serious crisis of credibility. Yet, Mr. Karsh notes, this is not so in contemporary Middle East studies. For such is the politicization of this field that the new historiography's partisanship has been its entry ticket into the Arabist club and its attendant access to academic journals, respected publishing houses and the mass media.

Today, these new historians teach at many North American and European universities. In practice, it ensures that students are taught an ahistorical, one-sided interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Some recent examples illustrate the problem: Ilan Pappe, now with the University of Exeter in England, was one of the driving forces behind the academic boycott movement against Israeli academics that began in the United Kingdom. Mr. Pappe believes that Zionism is a genocidal, racialist movement. …