The Expulsion That Never Was

Among the predictions about the war that didn’t pan out, there is one that hasn’t been subjected to post-war ridicule, but that very much deserves it. This is the December letter, signed by over 1,000 academics, predicting and warning against Israel’s possible “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in the “fog of war.” The letter ended with this recommendation: “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.”

The United States made no such communication to the Israeli government, yet lo and behold, no expulsion took place. In the “fog of war,” the Palestinian street demonstrated wildly for Saddam, Palestinian politicians jockeyed for position, and Israel prepared with gas masks and duct tape, like a proper ally/client of the United States. All of this was completely forseeable by anyone with an iota of expertise, experience, and common sense. It was not foreseen by many of America’s leading Middle East “experts,” who put their names to this ridiculous letter, and who in fact seem to have initiated it.

One of the original signatories was Zachary Lockman, professor of Middle Eastern studies and history at New York University. Lockman justified the letter in this way:

People [in the Israeli government] have been calling for expulsion for years, but the Israeli government, including Sharon, realizes that it would not be acceptable under normal circumstances. But in middle of a war in Iraq, especially if they attack Israel, there would be panic and one can imagine all sorts of horrible scenarios. The public could countenance this, or the U.S. could turn a blind eye.

My comment back in December: “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.” Now that we are after the fact, it’s a point worth reiterating.

I sorted out the Middle East “experts” among the signatories and listed them back in December, so I won’t waste space here. But let me just list the original signatories (eight of fifteen) who are professors of Middle Eastern studies:

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

And among the “additional signatories,” special mention should be made of Laurie Brand, University of Southern California, who is president-elect of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA).

These people have (once again) brought shame on their discipline. Those among them who claim special expertise on Israel and its policies have discredited themselves as interpreters and teachers of that country’s politics and society. And they are now collectively in the moral position of owing apologies to the Israeli people and the Israeli government—of Ariel Sharon. I suggest they make them at the next MESA conference.