A WAR OF NARRATIVES AT UC DAVIS JEWISH STUDIES PROGRAM
Some UC Jewish Studies programs seem to be part of the growing problem of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist bias on UC campuses. Consider the lecture sponsored by the UC Davis [UCD] Jewish Studies Program on October 21st.
The lecturer was University of London professor Gilbert Achcar, author of the controversial book, “The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.” He was introduced by Diane Wolf, current chair of the UCD program, Professor Susan Miller, and founding chair, David Biale. Professor Miller praised Achcar and called his scholarship “courageous.”
Achcar may have been courageous in acknowledging the Holocaust was a uniquely horrifying event directed at Jews and that Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini’s anti-Semitism and collaboration with Hitler were deplorable. But after these observations, he careened into anti-Zionist, anti-Israel charges and distortions. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, he argued that the Mufti’s Jew-hatred had little influence on Palestinian and Arab hostility to Israel. He dismissed evidence about the cross-fertilization of Muslim anti-Semitism and Nazi-inspired anti-Semitism as hyperbole and charged that Israel exploits the Holocaust and exaggerates the Mufti’s influence only for propaganda purposes.
More disturbingly, he has argued that the rise of Zionism in 1920, not prejudice, spawned Arab Jew-hatred, essentially accusing Jews of causing anti-Semitism. Indeed, in his book, he excuses the current popularity of the Czarist anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” in the Arab world, arguing it must be read from an anti-Zionist, not an anti-Semitic, perspective.
Achcar minimized pogroms against and expulsions of Jews in the Arab world after World War II and after Israel’s reestablishment, equating their expulsion with the American internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. He repeated anti-Israel clichés, denying Israel’s right to exist and referring to it as a “settler colonial project” built on “Arab land,” accusing Zionists of "ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians", and downplaying any suggestion of Pan-Arab racism toward the Jewish people.
Despite these tendentious charges, challenging questions were not welcomed during the Q & A. I was abruptly censored while attempting to establish facts to challenge Mr. Achcar’s skewed conclusion that the Grand Mufti’s anti-Semitism had only a minimal impact on both Jews and Arabs. Professors Miller and Biale angrily told me the questions were insulting and to either stop or leave the room. So much for free speech and scholarly discourse in academia.
Unfortunately, this lecture was not an anomaly. It is symptomatic of attitudes in the UC Davis Jewish Studies Program and elsewhere in the UC system. Approximately 30 Jewish Studies faculty members signed a March 3 letter to the Orange County District Attorney, opposing legal action against the “Irvine 11.” The “Irvine 11” were the Muslim Student Union students who had orchestrated a disruption of a lecture by Israel Ambassador Michael Oren on the UC Irvine campus, in violation of both campus guidelines and the law. The six UCD faculty connected to Jewish/Middle Eastern scholarship who signed that letter are: David Biale; Ari Kelman; Ze’ev Maoz; Susan Miller; Brenda Deen Schildgen; and Diane Wolf.
Yet, these same academics turn a blind eye to campus anti-Semitism. Open letters were submitted to UC President Mark Yudof in June of 2010, highlighting the rise of anti-Semitism throughout the UC system. Some of the signatories included the Simon Wiesenthal Center, CAMERA, StandWithUs, and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. More than 700 students signed an on-line petition. In September , 2011, more than 5,200 supporters sent another letter to Mr.Yudof, urging him to investigate and take action. Thus far, not one of the UCD professors referenced above has signed on to the letters, nor have they taken action to protect Jewish students from harassment and fear on their own campus. In fact, Emanuel Ringelblum Professor David Biale criticized the decision by the U.S. Office of Civil Rights to extend Title VI protection to Jewish students as “bizarre” because “the Jews are a group with power”.
Blind allegiance to any ideology is dangerous for the free exchange of ideas that is supposed to be the hallmark of a university. It is even more dangerous in the current climate where professors and academic departments encourage anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and anti- Jewish views and behaviors. Too often, students who express favorable views about Israel are ridiculed and verbally abused. Surely Jewish Studies Departments should ensure that the distortions and misinformation that propel anti-Israel dogmas are exposed and critiqued. People committed to intellectual integrity and the future of Israel and the Jewish people should be concerned about these trends in Jewish Studies Programs.