Monday, July 18, 2005

Is Zionism Colonialism? The Root Lie

from Remarks delivered to a closed forum of New York-area students, at Columbia University on 3 April 2005, by Martin Kramer...
  • The tragedy of academy is that it has become home to countless people whose mission is to prove the lie that Zionism is colonialism. Thus research is undertaken, books are written, and lectures delivered to establish a falsehood.
  • The investigation at Columbia University has shown that in some cases, students are more credible than professors, even in the eyes of the university itself. Columbia owes its students the truth, and the freedom to assert it.

(The lie) this: Zionism is a form of colonialism. It was not the national movement of the Jewish people to create a state. ..... It is a straightforward case of nineteenth century style colonialist dispossession, committed by a non-nation - a collection of land robbers - against a nation from time immemorial, the Palestinian people. Zionism and its progeny, Israel, are therefore inherently unjust. ...the Jews are not a nation, and as such they cannot have nationalism. ...

This is a very great lie, and it is a self-serving lie. Those who believe it can sustain in their hearts the hope that in any given span of a few years, Israel will disappear. America will decide to dismantle it, or the Jews will decide that it is too costly to maintain, and so will go to other countries that are safer and more comfortable.

...This lie, told to the Palestinians by others and by themselves, explains why they have repeatedly underestimated Zionism, Israel, and Israelis. By now it should be self-evident to any objective observer that Zionism and Israel are driven by nationalism as deep as any other nationalism. Their aspirations and contradictions are comparable to aspirations and contradictions in all nationalisms. But to acknowledge this is to accept Israel's permanence, and even its de facto legitimacy.

...This brings me to the case of Columbia. It is not always easy to tell what the controversy is about. Is it about harassment? Bias? Academic freedom?

...At a profound level though, I think it is also about speaking truth. Who speaks it reliably? Who twists it, and even lies?

This is the significance of the ad hoc committee report. This is a flawed document by a flawed committee. Even so, it reached a striking conclusion. An encounter took place in the classroom between a professor and a student. The student alleged that the professor threatened her: if she denied Israeli atrocities, she must leave the classroom. The professor denied the exchange ever took place. The student stood by her account and other students corroborated it. Weighing the evidence, the committee found the student's claim to be credible.

This is an official finding by academic peers that the professor in question lied. By finding the student credible, the committee has determined that the professor is incredible. In a university where truth is so elastic and where lies can be purveyed under the protections of academic freedom, this determination is of no mean significance. When students are more credible than professors, even in the eyes of the university itself, and when students are deemed to have told the truth, and professors are deemed to have lied, this is a world turned upside down.

.... Much more consequential lies are in evidence in the works of the professors in question. They are no longer deserving of trust. This is not a demand for balance or diversity. This is a demand for truth, and this is what Columbia owes us....Columbia has been compromised; it must now redeem itself. And it must do so not only by reaffirming its commitment to academic freedom, but by reaffirming its commitment to truth.

... the Columbia case has tremendous significance beyond the campus, for Middle Eastern studies as a whole. I will go further. I expect the kind of student revolt we have seen at Columbia to spread to other campuses and to spread beyond Jewish students. In one of the most-quoted instances of intimidation at Columbia, a MEALAC professor allegedly asked an Israeli student: "How many Palestinians did you kill?"

Middle Eastern studies programs are going to fill with veterans of American military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. ....How long will it be before a student is asked how many Iraqis he killed, or is accused of being a spy in training for the evil American empire? That is why the outcome of the Columbia case, in regard to students' grievances, has a significance that goes way beyond the pro-Israel community. It is of crucial importance to the U.S. effort to recruit the best intellectual capital and train it in American universities, both for the war on terror and for the challenges arising from the coming transformation of the Middle East.

I conclude. Up close, this looks like a story about Columbia and Israel. In proper perspective, it is a test case for Middle Eastern studies and American preparation for its enhanced role in the Middle East. It will affect the way all universities manage and regulate their expanding Middle East programs, and it has implications for an entire generation of students who are already streaming to Middle East programs because they want to serve the nation. My message to the students and supportive faculty of Columbia is this: remain steadfast. You are the turning point for Middle Eastern studies in America, and to that extent, for America in the Middle East.

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Dr. Martin Kramer is senior research associate at the Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University. His book Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies (Washington: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) provided a thorough critique of Middle Eastern studies in the United States, documenting academe's failure to explain or predict major developments in the Middle East.

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