Meet an anti-Israel agitator

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed by Saree Makdisi, a professor of English lit at UCLA. The headline: “Neocons Lay Siege to the Ivory Towers.” The bottom line: there’s a neocon conspiracy against academe, the result of an unholy alliance between conservatives and Zionists.

Since Makdisi threw in my name too, combining an insult with an error, I sent off a response to the paper. I have no idea whether they’ll publish it, but having a website means you always get the last word, so here it is:

Dear Editor,

Saree Makdisi (“Neocons Lay Siege to the Ivory Towers,” May 4) purports to establish a linkage between the state-level “Academic Bill of Rights” (SB5 in California), and the federal-level International Studies in Higher Education Act (HR3077 in the last Congress). After falsely associating the two (and calling me a “pro-Israel agitator”), he claims that I am “among the active proponents of the ‘bill of rights’ legislation at the state level.”

This is false. I have never expressed any opinion on the “bill of rights” legislation, and I am not a proponent, active or otherwise, of such legislation.

I have actively supported the International Studies in Higher Education Act (reintroduced in the new Congress as HR509), which Makdisi misrepresents. He quotes the bill to the effect that it would make federally-funded academic programs in area studies “better reflect the national needs related to homeland security.” In fact, the bill speaks much more broadly of improving programs to “better reflect the national needs related to homeland security, international education, and international affairs.” All Americans recognize the need for improvement of our performance in security, education (including foreign languages), and diplomacy. The proposed legislation would encourage just that.

As a professor of English, Mr. Makdisi should be a model of precision and a bulwalk against selective quotation. Alas, as an anti-Israel agitator (in the manner of his uncle, the late Edward Said), he suppresses the truth, and blames the resulting falsehoods on Israel.

Martin Kramer

For evidence that Makdisi is an anti-Israel agitator, read his essay written in memory of Edward Said. It includes this mind-boggling claim: Israel has “actualized all the logics, apparatuses, discourses, and practices associated with the worst, the ugliest, the most violent and draconian forms of European racism.” Read that sentence again. It says that Israel is a Nazi state; it cannot be read any other way. In another essay, arguing for divestment, Makdisi says Palestinians are shot “for stone throwing, for writing, for thinking, and practically just for being Palestinian.”

Makdisi’s white-knuckle fanaticism is actually closer to the line of Joseph Massad than to Edward Said. The difference is that Columbia pays Massad to teach his grievance, whereas Makdisi holds down a day job teaching English romanticism and Blake. But take note: Makdisi is writing his Palestine book, so prepare yourself by reading both essays–war propaganda bordering on hate speech. They don’t leave any doubt just who’s an agitator.

By the way, Makdisi already has a reputation for playing fast and loose with the truth in op-eds. The LA Times had to publish a correction to an op-ed he did back in November, and which retailed falsehoods about Israel’s security barrier. Any other author might have been banned for that, but when you’re papabile in the Saidian church, people are prepared to look the other way. So they keep publishing him. Will the LA Times clean up the mistakes in Makdisi’s latest performance? Will it publish my letter? We’ll see.

Update, May 7: The LA Times has published my letter, in an abbreviated form. The record has been set straight on the matter of legislation.