Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Betraying Ben-Gurion

From Hudson New York, December 22, 2011, by Efraim Karsh, research professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, director of the Middle East Forum (Philadelphia) and author, most recently, of Palestine Betrayed:
It is ironic that Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Israel's only university bearing the name of the Jewish state's founding father, and established in the ancient desert he dreamt of reviving, has become a hotbed of anti-Israel propaganda at the expense of proper scholarly endeavor.
So much so that an international committee of scholars, appointed by Israel's Council for Higher Education to evaluate political science and international relations programs in Israeli universities, recently recommended that BGU "consider closing the Department of Politics and Government" unless it abandoned its "strong emphasis on political activism," improved its research performance, and redressed the endemic weakness "in its core discipline of political science." In other words, they asked that the Department return to accurate scholarship rather than indoctrinate the students with libel.
The same day the committee's recommendation was revealed, Professor David Newman -- who founded that department and bequeathed it such a problematic ethos, for which "achievement" he was presumably rewarded with a promotion to Deanship of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, from where he can shape other departments in a similar way -- penned an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post in which he compared Israel's present political culture to that of Nazi Germany...
...There is no moral equivalence whatever between the Nazi persecution, exclusion, segregation, and eventually industrial slaughter of European Jewry, and Israel's treatment of its Arab population. Not only do the Arabs in Israel enjoy full equality before the law, but from the designation of Arabic as an official language, to the recognition of non-Jewish religious holidays as legal resting days for their respective communities, Arabs in Israel have enjoyed more prerogatives than ethnic minorities anywhere in the democratic world.
To put it more bluntly, while six million Jews, three quarters of European Jewry, died at the hands of the Nazis in the six years that Hitler dominated Europe, Israel's Arab population has not only leapt tenfold during the Jewish state's 63 years of existence - from 156,000 in 1948 to 1.57 million in 2010 - but its rate of social and economic progress has often surpassed that of the Jewish sector, with the result that the gap between the two communities has steadily narrowed.
It is precisely this exemplary, if by no means flawless, treatment of its Arab citizens that underlies their clear preference of Israeli citizenship to that of one in a prospective Palestinian state (a sentiment shared by most East Jerusalem Palestinians). This preference has also recently driven tens of thousands of African Muslims illegally to breach the Jewish state's border in search of employment, rather than to stay in Egypt, whose territory they have to cross on the way. The treatment of mass illegal immigration (hardly the hapless refugees presented by Newman) is a major problem confronting most democracies in the West these days, where there is an ongoing debate about what are the basic responsibilities of governments for their citizens' wellbeing and the right of nations to determine the identity of those entering their territory.
Even more mind-boggling is Newman's equating Israel's attempt to prevent foreign funding of Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) involved in the international Israel de-legitimization campaign -- along the lines of the US Foreign Agents Legislation Act -- with repressing political opponents by the Nazi regime. What "human rights activists" have been unlawfully detained by the Israeli government, let alone rounded up and thrown into concentration camps? On what planet does the Ben-Gurion University faculty dean live?
But Newman is not someone to be bothered by the facts. His is the standard "colonialist paradigm" prevalent among Israeli and Western academics, which views Zionism, and by extension the state of Israel, not as a legitimate expression of national self-determination but as "a colonizing and expansionist ideology and movement" (in the words of another BGU professor) - an offshoot of European imperialism at its most rapacious.
And therein, no doubt, lies the problem with BGU's Politics and Government Department: the only Israeli department singled out by the international committee for the unprecedented recommendation of closure [unless it addresses some of the problems pointed out by the committee]. For if its founder and long-time member, who continues to wield decisive influence over its direction, views Israel as a present-day reincarnation of Nazi Germany in several key respects, how conceivably can the department ensure the "sustained commitment to providing balance and an essential range of viewpoints and perspectives on the great issues of politics" required for its continued existence?

Also see the following (thanks to Israel Academia Monitor - follow the links to their source articles):

The Department of Government & Politics at BGU has been recently reprimanded by the Council for Higher Education for shoddy academic standards and excessive political activism. The Department's International MA program on conflict, described as "a unique program which examines the different ways in which global and local processes have formed numerous sites of conflict both within the Israeli society and its relations with its neighbors," is illustrative in this sense.
Many of the courses in the program are heavy on neo-Marxist, critical analysis and replete with bibliography drawn from books published by radical non- academic presses and journals who mix scholarship with leftist ideology and pro-Palestinian advocacy. For instance the course "War, Security and Governance," defines conflict as more than the use of "brute force" to include such things as "pervasive controls" by government and "capital." International corporations are described as greedy villains in the service of "capital" and the Israeli government is seen a major violator of human rights. The syllabi show virtually no attempt to offer a non-Marxist perspective on conflict and global economy.
The program's field trips to "sites of conflict" offer a dim view of Israel's alleged mistreatment of Israeli Arabs, Bedouins and foreign laborers. This should come as no surprise; the Department has a large number of neo-Marxist, critical scholars and political activists who see no division between classroom instruction and extra-mural political engagement, This is particularly unfortunate since the MA program caters to foreign students who can put their newly minted degree to good use in the burgeoning movement aimed at delegitmizing Israel.

Professor Oren Yiftachel, a radical academic from the MAPMES Program at Ben Gurion University and one of the intellectual architects of the theory of Israel-as-an apartheid state, has written extensively on the Bedouins in the Negev. Unofruntately, in order to score political points, Yiftachel misrepresents key facts and simplifies the real dilemma facing the state in its dealings with an indigenous nomadic population. As already reported Haim Sandberg, an authority on land usage in Israel, proved that significant parts of the Negev desert was considered to be mewat under the Ottoman Empire. The designation included land that was not used for agriculture or pasture and was remote from human settlments. British mandatory authorities initiated a process of transferring property deeds to the Bedouin population, but restricted the circumstances under which claims could be made to mewat land, a decision that the Israeli government has followed.

The Israel Academia Monitor (IAM) watchdog, which “monitors abuses of academic freedom and politicization of Israeli campuses by extremists and radicals,” has found, “Israeli academic institutions have been misused in recent years for radical anti-Israeli and even anti-Semitic propagandizing, often by tenured radicals with embarrassing academic records and dubious research credentials.”
The deeper concern, however, is the pervasiveness of such views in Israeli institutions in the State of Israel, which highlights on the one hand how open Israeli academia is, and on the other the absurdity that it would tolerate such extreme views even at the expense of its international legitimacy. Of all the Israeli universities, Ben-Gurion University in the Negev (BGU) has become the leader and chief exporter of many of these attitudes, especially to those Middle East departments in the U.S. that want to appear balanced in the face of charges of anti-Israel biases—a move that at first glance appears welcome.
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