Georgetown Blows Fuses

Georgetown University, where Arab demonstrations occur almost daily, witnessed something rare on Monday: a demonstration by Jewish students against remarks made by one of the university’s faculty. Professor Hisham Sharabi was reported in the Beirut press to have given a speech at a Lebanese university, where he said this: “Jews are getting ready to take control of us and the Americans have entered the region to possess the oil resources and redraw the geopolitical map of the Arab world.” Georgetown rushed to distance itself from anything Sharabi might have said. (This is not the first time a Georgetown professor has blown a fuse in the Arab world. Back in April, Halim Barakat published a bizarre piece in the London Al-Hayat, claiming the Jews had lost their humanity.)

Sharabi is emeritus, but he is listed as one of ten core faculty at Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. His “academic” activities abroad are not entirely out of character with the Center’s own activities at home.

I have before me the June 2002 issue of the CCAS News, the newsletter of the Center. The headline of the lead article runs as follows: “CCAS Responds to Ongoing Crisis in Palestine.” The crisis is described in these words:

Twenty months into the current intifada, the situation in the Palestinian occupied territories continues to go from bad to worse. In a flurry of large-scale military violence, the Israel Defense Forces stepped up their reoccupation of West Bank towns and villages, culminating in the rampages on Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin in April, the devastating loss of civilian life and the destruction of key Palestinian Authority (PA) ministries, civil society institutions and civilian infrastructure.

Nowhere is there even an allusion to how the situation in Israel went from bad to worse, the flurry of large-scale terrorist violence by the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, culminating in the suicide bombing rampages in Netanya, Jerusalem, and Haifa in March, the devastating loss of Israeli civilian life, and the destruction of the key civil society institutions of the Israeli peace movement.

In fact, the CCAS News is indistinguishable from the newsletters of the dozen Arab advocacy organizations based in Washington. Throughout the spring, the Center conducted a straightforward propaganda campaign, inviting a succession of Palestinian spokespersons and pro-Palestinian “peace activists” who addressed Georgetown’s students. There’s really nothing new in all this: since the 1970s, the Center has been a hotbed of political activism in the service of the Palestinian (and other Arab) causes. Arab governments and corporations with Arab business paid the bills.

What is new is that since 1997, the Center has been the “core” of a National Resource Center on the Middle East, and receives Title VI federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education. The subsidy has been worth $223,000 a year. How can that be, when Georgetown’s Arab studies concept is so remote from the usual model of a balanced Middle East center? Answer: while the money comes from the Department of Education, the recipients are chosen by academics on review panels. They apparently think it useful to have a propagandizing presence in the heart of Washington, at the U.S. taxpayers’ expense.

There is something perverse in any process that provides a direct government subsidy for the agitprop of Sharabi and his colleagues. Let the Arab governments, whose ambassadors enjoy the run of the place anyway, pay the full freight. There is undoubtedly some politically disengaged Middle East center that deserves the funds far more than the Georgetown lobby. The competition for the 2003-2005 cycle of funding is underway. The Georgetown experiment has run for six years, and has failed. Give someone else a chance.

UPDATE: The Metro section of the Washington Post now runs this opinion column, slamming the Georgetown club.