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Photo: Gilad Shai
'The big experts on Middle Eastern studies won't let the facts confuse them'
Photo: Gilad Shai
Ben-Dror Yemini
Evil spirit taking over Middle Eastern studies
Op-ed: The source of hostility toward Israel can be found in the American academia. If this is the education young students get, what will the lecturers of the next decade teach?
The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) has voted to protect its members' right to support the anti-Israel BDS campaign.

 

 

MESA appears to be the most important body in the American academia. That's where the media take experts from to explain the Israeli-Arab conflict. That's the place which breeds students who will go on to become commentators and researchers. If we wish to know what is the source of hostility toward Israel – it's still small, but it's growing – we should look at the source.

 

Quite a few years ago, Dr. Martin Kramer wrote his book "Ivory Towers on Sand," which dealt with the evil spirit taking over Middle Eastern studies. The book was written before the 9/11 terror attacks in the United States and was published immediately after them, in October 2011.

 

Even then, Kramer had already argued that the trendy theories taking over the field had led to a complete failure in understanding the Middle East.

 

For example, one of the most prominent academics in MESA, Prof. Hisham Sharabi, said in 2002 that "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." Twelve years have passed. The Jews haven’t taken control of anything, and the United States is paying a fortune for every barrel of oil.

 

That same Sharabi headed the Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at the time. Under Sharabi, the center became an anti-Israel propaganda system. There is nothing new here. One can say anything. The thing is that the institute itself was on the list of prestigious institutions which received special aid from the American establishment to promote the understanding between the US and the Arab world.

 

More than a decade has passed. The situation in MESA is getting worse every year. Prof. Juan Cole, who was the president of MESA, described Gaza as "the worst outcome of Western colonialism anywhere in the world outside the Belgian Congo." He made the comment in 2007, after Israel pulled out of Gaza.

 

In Belgian Congo there was a genocide of about 10 million people. Since then, tens of millions of people have been killed under colonialism in Asia and in Africa. It's hard to believe that such poor nonsense could come out from anyone's mouth. But the man who said it became MESA's president. What does that tell you about Middle Eastern studies?

 

And the list goes on. Many of MESA's presidents have signed petitions turning Israel into a monster which commits, or is planning to commit, crimes against humanity. They have called and are calling for a boycott. They are ardent supporters of any anti-Israel initiative.

 

I have clashed with MESA members here and there on American campuses. My arguments with them were usually embarrassing. The amount of lies they pour into the air is terrifying.

 

Prof. Sara Roy claimed recently that she saw, with her own eyes, Israeli soldiers "shunting a child between them with their feet, mimicking a ball in a game of soccer. The baby began screaming hysterically and its mother rushed out shrieking, trying desperately to extricate her child from the soldiers’ legs and feet."

 

Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability determines, more or less, that what cannot be refuted can hardly be taken seriously. Such a story cannot be refuted. One can only add that the expert on Hamas never told her students that the Islamic organization systematically preaches the annihilation of Jews. Why should she? Why it would ruin her anti-Israel paradigm. Kramer has already dealt with the lies this lady is distributing.

 

The problem is that Roy is not just another professor. She presents herself as the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She is a senior researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. This center, it should be noted, is named after its chief donor, Saudi billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal.

 

These are the prominent and leading people. There are many more who are less known, but much worse. So yes, there is room for concern. Because if this is the education young students get, what will the lecturers of the next decade teach?

 

One of the main reasons for imposing a boycott on Israel is the "oppression of higher education" among the Palestinians. That's an interesting reason. In practice, when Israel entered the territories there were zero – zero! – higher education institutions there. This isn't Zionist propaganda. It's what Birzeit University President Gabi Baramki said.

 

In recent years, following the horrible oppression, the Palestinians have ranked first in the percentage of people with higher education in the Arab world. Again, this is the conclusion of a joint research conducted by two people, an anti-Zionist Jew and a Palestinian researcher. World Bank data reflect the same conclusion.

 

These are the facts. Of course they won't confuse the big experts on Middle Eastern studies. They will continue to blame Israel for almost every crime in the world.

 

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