Profs Condemn Israel in Advance

The latest absurdity to emanate from Middle Eastern studies is an open letter suggesting that Israel might exploit a war against Saddam to engage in “ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians. (The letter, released last Wednesday, is ostensibly in support of a small group of extreme-left Israelis who issued a letter with the same message back in September.) After quoting the shrill and partisan rant of “our courageous Israeli colleagues,” the American profs go on to make a recommendation: “Americans cannot remain silent while crimes as abhorrent as ethnic cleansing are being openly advocated. We urge our government to communicate clearly to the government of Israel that the expulsion of people according to race, religion or nationality would constitute crimes against humanity and will not be tolerated.”

Are these people serious? The claim that Israel is plotting the mass explusion of Palestinians is one more lunatic-fringe conspiracy theory, hatched by Palestinian propagandists who want “international protection” as the wage for their two disastrous years of insurrection. Unfortunately for them, Israel has done nothing that constitutes a “crime against humanity,” and so Palestinians have had to fabricate one that never happened (Jenin) and cry wolf over another one that won’t happen (forced “transfer”). Let me not put too fine a point on it: anyone signing this letter, effectively condemning Israel in advance for something it has no intention of doing, is either an ignoramus or a propagandist.

It’s not surprising, then, that a majority of the original signatories of the American letter (eight of fifteen) are academic Middle East “experts.” Here are their names:

Joel Beinin, Stanford
Beshara Doumani, UC Berkeley
Zachary Lockman, New York University
Timothy Mitchell, New York University
Gabi Piterberg, UC Los Angeles
Glenn E. Robinson, Naval Postgraduate School
Ted Swedenburg, University of Arkansas
Judith Tucker, Georgetown University

Some of them are leaders of their field. Beinin is the immediate past president of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). Mitchell directs the Middle East center at NYU. Tucker directs Arab studies at Georgetown. At the end of this entry, you’ll find the names of more MESA types who appear as “additional signatories.” One of them, Laurie Brand of the University of Southern California, is president-elect of MESA.

I’m not surprised to see the names of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said on this letter. Joel Beinin is no surprise either. But I’m disappointed that so many purported Middle East “experts,” whose very profession is the first-hand examination of textual evidence, would mindlessly repeat the shrill claims of Israeli political activists. For example, did the Israeli chief of staff suggest the possibility of “transfer” in a recent interview, as both letters claim? Read the interview yourself. I see nothing in it that could even remotely be considered a proposal of “transfer.” Quite the opposite: “We do not have intentions to annihilate them,” said Israel’s top soldier, “and we have also expressed readiness to grant them a state, whereas they are unwilling to recognize our right to exist here as a Jewish state.” Did any of the American signatories bother to check the text of this interview? Obviously not—and these are tenured “specialists,” several of whom teach the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The academics who now warn the U.S. government against the possibility of Israeli “transfer” of Palestinians are the same ones who failed to warn that very government, before 9/11, of the possibility that radical Islamists might commit a “crime against humanity”—specifically, against Americans. After 9/11, they warned that the greatest threat to peace had become—you guessed it—the American response at home and abroad. The real Middle East, with its real threats to peace and security, is so boringly predictable. Leave it to the “experts” to invent a Middle East and fill it with imaginary threats—it’s much more interesting.

So the professors have posed as saviors of the Palestinians from imaginary “transfer.” How ennobling. And there’s no downside, right? Well, you also get your credibility questioned (see above), and your name listed (see below). Never trust the judgment of anyone whose name appears here. I don’t.

Rabab Abdulhadi, New York University
Rula Abisaab, University of Akron, Ohio
Khaled Abou El Fadl, UC Los Angeles School of Law
Ervand Abrahamian, CUNY, Baruch College
Janet Lippman Abu-Lughod, New School University
Lila Abu-Lughod, Columbia University
Mahdi Alosh, Ohio State University
Camron Michael Amin, University of Michigan, Dearborn
Naseer Aruri, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
Talal Asad, CUNY, Graduate Center
Raymond William Baker, Trinity College
Khalil Barhoum, Stanford
Hatem Bazian, UC Berkeley
Michael Beard, University of North Dakota
Laleh Behbehanian, UC Berkeley
Marilyn Booth, Brown University
Donna Lee Bowen, Brigham Young University
Laurie A. Brand, University of Southern California
Edmund Burke, III, UC Santa Cruz
Juan Cole, University of Michigan
Elliott Colla, Brown University
M. Elaine Combs-Schilling, Columbia University
Miriam Cooke, Duke
Kenneth M. Cuno, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Ahmad Dallal, Stanford
Lawrence Davidson, West Chester University
Fred M. Donner, University of Chicago
Eleanor A. Doumato, Brown University
Nadia Abu El-Haj, Barnard College, Columbia
Mansour O. El-Kikhia, University of Texas, San Antonio
Khaled Fahmy, New York University
Samih Farsoun, American University
Mary Ann Fay, American University of Sharjah
Carter V. Findley, Ohio State University
Ellen Fleischmann, University of Dayton
Nancy Gallagher, UC Santa Barbara
Irene Gendzier, Boston University
Deborah J. Gerner, University of Kansas
Deborah A. Gordon, Wichita State University
Yerah Gover, Queen’s College, CUNY
Elaine C. Hagopian, Simmons College, Boston
Lisa Hajjar, UC Santa Barbara
Sondra Hale, UC Los Angeles
Eric Hanne, Florida Atlantic University
Frances S. Hasso, Oberlin College
Clement M. Henry, University of Texas, Austin
Charles Hirschkind, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Mahmood Ibrahim, Cal Poly Pomona
Suad Joseph, UC Davis
Jamil E. Jreisat, University of South Florida
Resat Kasaba, University of Washington
As’ad Abu Khalil, CSU, Stanislaus
Dina Rizk Khoury, George Washington University
Diane E. King, American University of Beirut
Margaret Larkin, UC Berkeley
Bruce B. Lawrence, Duke
Fred H. Lawson, Mills College
Mark LeVine, UC Irvine
Ian Lustick, University of Pennsylvania
Mary N. Layoun, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Richard C. Martin, Emory University
Ernest McCarus, University of Michigan
David Mednicoff, University of Massachusetts
John Meloy, American University of Beirut
Brinkley Messick, Columbia University
Farouk Mustafa, University of Chicago
Riad Nasser, Fairleigh Dickinson University
Ibrahim M. Oweiss, Georgetown University
Marcie J. Patton, Fairfield University
Kenneth J. Perkins, University of South Carolina
Lisa Pollard, University of North Carolina, Wilmington
Ismail Poonawala, UC Los Angeles
Nasser Rabbat, MIT
Alan Richards, UC Santa Cruz
Aleya Rouchdy, Wayne State
Cheryl Rubenberg, Florida International University
Edward Said, Columbia
Elise Salem, Fairleigh Dickinson University
George Saliba, Columbia University
Ariel Salzmann, New York University
Jonathan H. Shannon, Hunter College, CUNY
May Seikaly, Wayne State
Ella Shohat, New York University
Rebecca L. Stein, University of Minnesota
Michael W. Suleiman, Kansas State University
Mary Ann Tetreault, Trinity University
Elizabeth F. Thompson, University of Virginia
Dan Tschirgi, The American University in Cairo
Bill L. Turpen, University of Central Oklahoma
Sherry Vatter, California State University, Long Beach
Lisa Wedeen, University of Chicago
Donald Will, Chapman University
Mary Christina Wilson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Farhat J. Ziadeh, University of Washington
Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco

(There may be other signatories of the letter who teach the Middle East, and who I didn’t identify by a quick read. I invite additions and corrections, and I may make a few myself.)

ADDENDUM: If you want to know more about the Israelis who are complicit in this campaign of preemptive vilification, read the lecture delivered by Ilan Pappe, Haifa University’s celebrity “new historian,” to the “Right to Return Coalition” in London this past September. Pappe:

We must all take the danger of a recurrence of the 1948 ethnic cleansing very seriously. This is not just paranoia when I directly—not indirectly—link the war against Iraq with the possibility of another Nakba. Take it seriously, believe me. There is a serious Israeli conceptualization of the situation in which Israeli leaders say to themselves, “we have a carte blanche from the Americans. The Americans will not only allow us to cleanse Palestine once and for all, they even will help create the window of opportunity for implementing our scheme.”

His conclusion: “The government of Israel is preparing a very swift and bloody operation.” So Pappe’s analytical prescience is on the line. Sandstorm promises not to forget this dire prediction, and will revisit it after an Iraq war.

UPDATE: The well-informed West Bank correspondent of Ha’aretz, Danny Rubinstein, has a piece in the December 29 edition, under the headline: “Less Fear of Transfer, More Hatred of the U.S.” Rubinstein:

Until a few months ago, there was fear in the territories that the Sharon government would exploit the tumult of an American assault on Iraq to conduct a mass explusion of Palestinians. But that’s no longer the assumption—perhaps because the consensus in the territories now is that Israel understands there’s a limit to power.

So now even the putative transferees aren’t worried about it. That pretty much leaves the American profs who signed this petition (along with Professor Pappe) alone in the farmyard, clucking that the sky is going to fall. Do any of them have the intellectual honesty to rescind their signatures? And they call themselves experts.