Radical leftist media always looks for ”Useful Idiots,” a term associated with Lenin. This time they found Dr. Yonatan Mendel from the Department of Middle East Studies at BGU. His incessant anti-Israeli tenor was covered by IAM under the title “Pro-Palestinian Propagandists at Ben Gurion University: Yonatan Mendel as a Case in Point.”
Mendel’s latest article concerns how the last Israeli elections will affect the Palestinians.
Mendel completed his doctoral studies in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge. His thesis examined “the history of Arabic studies in Jewish schools in Palestine/Israel from 1935 to 1985, and focused on the politicization and securitization of the language. His research deals with topics such as language policy and war, security considerations and language planning, and the interrelationship between political conflict and foreign language studies in Israel/Palestine.” His book, The Creation of Israeli-Arabic: The Political History and Securitisation of Arabic Language Studies in Israeli-Jewish Society, is based on his thesis.
Mendel was a fellow of the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, as stated in the Annual Report of 2015/16. As well known, the billionaire prince spent a small fortune creating academic centers in prestigious Western universities to promote Muslim-Christian understanding. However, incidentally or not, some of the centers nurtured scholars whose animosity toward Israel has stood out.
As an expert in Arabic, Mendel charges Israel with Orientalism, a term he borrowed from Edward Said. His views of Israel are incredibly dim, as seen in a video recording by the anti-Israel media outlet Middle East Eye.
Mendel’s scholarship is based on the assertion that Israel only uses Arabic for security reasons. This is fallacious. There are hundreds of Arabic teaching schools, including in Arab towns, for Israelis to learn.
Mendel co-authored an article, “The Language of Jewish Nationalism: Street Signs and Linguistic Landscape in the Old City of Jerusalem,” published by Palestine Studies. Mendel co-edited a book, From the Arab Other to the Israeli Self: Palestinian Culture in the Making of Israeli National Identity, with Ronald Ranta. The book “sheds light on an important cultural and ideational diffusion that has occurred between the Zionist settlers – and later the Jewish-Israeli population – and the indigenous Arab-Palestinian people in Historical Palestine.” Mendel spoke in a radio program, “Foul Language: The Politicization of Arabic Teaching in Israeli Schools.”
He co-edited a book, Language, politics and society in the Middle East: essays in honour of Yasir Suleiman, withAbeer AlNajjar, published in 2018 in honor of their mentor Professor Yasir Suleiman. “This collection acknowledges his contribution to the field of language and society in general, and to that of language analysis of socio-political realities in the Middle East in particular.” Suleiman, a Palestinian Arab, is the founding Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University. He is the Sultan Qaboos Bin Sa’id Professor of Modern Arabic Studies.
Mendel came to aid the convicted Israeli-Arab poet Dareen Tatour, who posted on Facebook and YouTube a video of herself reading her poem titled “Resist, My People, Resist.” The video includes footage of masked Palestinian youths throwing stones and firebombs at IDF soldiers. It was published in October 2015 during the deadly Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis. She was arrested a few days later, and the prosecutors said her post was a call for violence. The judge delivered a 52-page verdict detailing a literary analysis of the text and video and the Arabic word “shahid” (“martyr”). Mendel, one of the experts, testifying in favor of Tatour, told the court in March 2017:
“The Israeli hears ‘shahid’ and sees an aggressor. The Palestinian sees a victim. That’s a big difference. One sees an attacker blowing up a bus, the other sees a child shot by soldiers.” However, the judge ruled that “the aforementioned violent video does not include images of casualties and victims or legal protests. The video reflects only violent resistance/uprising throughout.”
Mendel has been rewarded by the London Review of Books (LRB), which published 23 of his articles. According to the group Just Journalism, LRB has a pronounced anti-Israel bias. Their report states: “The LRB consistently portrayed Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime out of all proportion to reality, while sympathetic portraits abounded of groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and British government, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.”
Mendel is a good fit for LRB. While attacking Israel, he and his activist-academic peers have never had a bad word to say about the severe problems Palestinian society is experiencing, including honor killing, targeting of LGBTQ, and the skyrocketing crime in the Israeli-Arab sector. While bashing Israel is all the rage, these topics go undiscussed.
Not surprisingly, Mendel is singing praises of the Department of Middle East Studies at BGU. In a short bio he posted on the Department’s website, he says that being employed there “feels as though I have won the lottery.” He is not the only one. A few years ago, Prof. Haggai Ram, a veteran member of the Department, wrote a book Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession. He explains that Israel’s focus on Iran’s nuclear project is a diversion to cover up its real anxiety, the challenges that the Mizrahi and orthodox population pose to the hegemonic Ashkenazi elite. The Iranian media and radical-leftist groups in the West highly praised the book.
The Just Journalism report created a storm when it was revealed the British taxpayers, through the Arts Council of England, supported the propaganda of the LRB. The public who funds Ben Gurion University deserves to know that their money supports anti-Israeli propaganda.
First came the jokes. Black humour as a natural response to frustration and disappointment. ‘How was it yesterday?’ my Tel-Avivian neighbor, also a leftist, shouted from his balcony, wearing shorts and no shirt, sipping his morning coffee the day after the elections. ‘Not great’, I shouted back, continuing my brisk walk toward the kindergarten. ‘You should have had great fun voting’, he said, with a knowing emphasis on ‘great fun’. ‘Why is that?’, I asked. ‘Because’, he replied, delighted to have reached his punchline, ‘it was your last time!’
The Israeli elections of 1 November were indeed rather shocking. For the first time since its establishment in 1992, Meretz (the left-Zionist party) was ousted from parliament, as was Balad (an Arab-Palestinian party striving to make Israel ‘a state for all its citizens’). Simultaneously, we witnessed the spectacular rise of the national-religious list, composed of the Religious Zionism party led by Bezalel Smotrich (arrested in 2005 along with five other right-wing activists for plotting to ‘blow up cars on the Ayalon highway’, according to the Shin-Bet deputy chief) and the neo-fascist party Otzma Yehudit (‘Jewish Strength’) led by Itamar Ben-Gvir (convicted in 2007 of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization). Their joint platform was backed by almost 11% of Israeli voters and received 14 seats. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likkud party won 32 seats, while current PM Yair Lapid’s supposedly centrist outfit Yesh Atid picked up 24. The Labor Party – the leading political force during Israel’s first three decades, and a major player thereafter – came away with only 4.
Of course, Israeli democracy was nothing to brag about before the latest elections. The country’s so-called ‘change government’, which lasted from June 2021 to November 2022, was largely comprised of parties from the centre and centre right, who united in opposition to Netanyahu and viewed his ongoing corruption trial as a national disgrace. Their coalition also included the last remnants of the Israeli left and, controversially, the United Arab List. Its domestic agenda revolved around good governance, stabilization of the political system and passing a state budget for the first time in three years. But when it came to the occupation, the siege of Gaza and the refusal to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, it was not much different to the previous Netanyahu administration. Israel’s Zionist straitjacket may allow some room for debate on internal issues, but its confines are clear.
The most reactionary Knesset in history will now be sworn in on November 15. Yet this should not be read as a fundamental shift to the right. It is rather the outcome of various strategic manoeuvres on Netanyahu’s part as well as long-term processes within Israeli society. Such factors can be elaborated by analyzing the recent history of two political groupings: the Jewish religious parties on the one hand, and the Arab-Palestinian parties on the other.
Starting with the former: Netanyahu will most likely form his government out of the following components: Likkud (32 seats), Religious Zionism (14 seats), Shas (the Sephardic orthodox party, 11 seats) and Yahadut Hatorah (the Ashkenazi ultraorthodox party, 7 seats). The incoming PM can easily assemble this 64-seat bloc, in a parliament of 120 members, with the automatic support of all three Jewish religious parties (representing Mizrahi and Ashkenazi alike), which are now considered ‘natural allies’ of the Zionist right. Yet this is by no means a natural situation. It is the result of Netanyahu’s long-term plan to bring religious, orthodox and even ultraorthodox parties – which are in large part non-Zionist – into his political project, by framing it as quintessentially ‘Jewish’. The old saying goes that ‘the Torah has seventy faces’, but Netanyahu and the hard-right have given it only one. For religious parties, the latter is now a close collaborator while centrists and leftists have become the ultimate anti-Jewish Other – which, in the long run, leaves little hope for another changing of the guard.
Secondly, and no less cannily, was Netanyahu’s strategy vis-à-vis the Arab parties and Palestinian citizens of Israel. During his previous time in office, he both deepened Israel’s divide-and-rule approach to the Palestinians – precipitating the total disintegration of the Arab Joint List – and succeeded in cementing a fanciful association between the Arab parties and terrorism, thereby discrediting their criticism of the occupation. After United Arab List joined Lapid’s fragile coalition, Netanyahu (and the right in general) endlessly reiterated the claim that the new government was ‘reliant on supporters of terror’. The effectiveness of this smear showed how entrenched the discourse of ‘terrorization’ had become, thanks in part to other Zionist political actors from the putative centre and left (Lapid, for example, is currently refusing to meet with the leaders of the Arab parties Hadash and Ta‘al). Through such rhetoric, Netanyahu established a comprehensive formula which meant that every Arab-Palestinian would be required to prove that he or she is not a terrorist. Such delegitimization had a clear strategic aim, making it almost impossible for Arab-Palestinians to voice their opinions, and destroying the conditions for a stable centrist or centre-left coalition.
In other words, by coding the religious parties as right wing, and the Arab parties as terrorists, Netanyahu has rendered any joint coalition of Jews and Arabs unthinkable. What makes this strategy so successful, and so dangerous, is its apparent irreversibility. Over the next four years, the government will take extraordinary steps to lock in its hegemony. It plans to introduce an ‘overriding clause’ that will enable the parliament to overturn Supreme Court rulings, effectively abolishing the separation of powers and ensuring that Netanyahu’s trial will end without conviction. Netanyahu will also exploit the impotence of international law, along with Israel’s warm relations with the new authoritarian right in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, to realize the dream of a de facto annexation of Area C in the West Bank.
Despite what my neighbour said, it is most likely that we will meet again at the ballot box once the new government has completed its term. But the question is what options we – let alone the Palestinians – will have, after four more years of Netanyahu and Religious Zionism.
With Arabs still excluded from large parts of Israeli society, Said’s arguments are as relevant now as they ever were
Tue 17 Jun 2008 15.00 BST
The 30th anniversary of Orientalism has brought with it numerous publications aiming to weaken Edward Said’s project. As I see it they seek to disqualify the writer rather than engage with his arguments, and do not contribute to scholarly debate about his work. I would like to bring forward a contemporary political debate to remind us that Orientalism’s political arguments are still alive and kicking.
As a journalist in Israel, my home country, I frequently found Orientalism to be an effective tool for understanding Israeli discourse, knowledge-construction and the media’s work. In a society which gathers around the army as its focal point and which sees Judaism as a national identity, the Jewish-military discourse emerges almost naturally.
Within this discourse, which becomes the society’s common sense, certain (positive) behaviours are linked to the Jews, and certain (negative) behaviours are linked to the Arabs. Giving the media as an example, one needs to remember that within Israeli common sense, the themes of violence, aggressiveness, propaganda and incitement are Arab-oriented, while self-defence, response, restraint and morality are Jewish-Israeli-oriented, and rarely represent Arab behaviour or ways of thinking.
Following this, and in order to understand how a hegemonic Jewish discourse is being shaped in a country with 1.4 million Palestinian citizens (who can speak Hebrew and are educated in the state’s schools and universities), it is indeed helpful to come back to Orientalism. According to Said:
“In discussions of the orient, the orient is all absent, whereas one feels the orientalist and what he says as presence … We must not forget the orientalist’s presence is enabled by the orient’s effective absence”.
The process of producing sociopolitical knowledge about Arabs in Israel could prove the validity of this notion, mostly due to the fact that within the Israeli spheres where this knowledge is being made, Arabs are not allowed.
Despite the fact that one-fifth of Israeli citizens are Arabs, the establishment has always preferred to understand the region through Jewish-Zionists’ eyes and to assume the task of representing the same Arabs.
The prime ministers’ advisers for Arab affairs, emissaries dealing with Arab delegations, thinktanks seeking political solutions concerning the Palestinians, the media’s Arab affairs correspondents and Israeli-Arabic radio, television and newspapers outlets have practically been controlled, run and presented by Jews from the state of Israel’s very beginning. Interestingly, due to the sensitivity (or even danger) of adding indigenous “Arab” knowledge and understanding to the Israeli-Jewish perception of “the Arabs”, the Palestinian citizens of Israel emerged as being more suited to “non-Arab” positions. For example, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Universities, there are no Palestinian citizens of Israel who are regular lecturers in the Middle East faculties, but, surprisingly, they can be found in the faculties of medicine, pharmacy, education, law, sociology and others. Taking high schools as another example for knowledge-construction, it is interesting to note that teachers of the Arabic language in Jewish-Israeli schools are rarely Arabs; an Arabic supervisor from Israel’s ministry of education explained their absence by saying that Arabic is the least suitable subject to be taught by Arabs.
These examples show that knowledge about the other was constructed in Israel not only by ignoring it geographically or politically, but also personally. This assisted with the creation and preservation of a discourse which was and still is Jewish and Zionist-oriented, and that immunises Jewish society from being challenged by different or opposing ideas.
The discourse described here cannot explain all processes in Israeli society, but deals with “big practices” that are the general themes in Israeli society. Indeed, out of 160 participants in the 2007 Herzliya conference, addressing Israel’s strategic challenges in the region, one could find two Palestinian citizens of Israel; in the department of Arabic at the Hebrew University there has been one permanent academic staff member who was an Arab during its 82 year history; and Israeli Channel 2 actually has one Arab correspondent in Gaza.
However, these exceptions prove the rule since this hybridity, of Palestinians who penetrate Jewish-controlled spheres, is essentially a western-Jewish notion that emerges from its own complexity, understanding and limits. At the end of the day, the minimal presence of the Arab-east in western-Jewish hegemonic discourse in Israel does not make it any less absent.
(In my review of “Ruins of Lifta”, I mentioned that historian Hillel Cohen was among those interviewed and alluded to his book “1929: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” that appears to be an important contribution to “revisionist” literature.)
LRB, Vol. 38 No. 19 · 6 October 2016 Divide and divide and divide and rule by Yonatan Mendel
1929: Year Zero of the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Hillel Cohen, translation by Haim Watzman Brandeis, 312 pp, £20.00, November 2015, ISBN 978 1 61168 811 5
Ten minutes into Elia Suleiman’s film The Time That Remains, the Palestinian city of Nazareth officially surrenders to Israeli military forces on 16 July 1948. In the town hall, the Israeli commander reads out the bill of surrender to the gathered Arab-Palestinian notables. It’s in Hebrew and they don’t understand a word. The commander tells the mayor to sign the document, and then to join his soldiers for a ‘historic photo’. A military cameraman points his camera at the soldiers. But when the black and white photo appears on screen it isn’t the soldiers we see: it’s the puzzled group of Arab-Palestinian figures at the other end of the room, ordinary people, onlookers. They, and others like them, are central figures in the work of Hillel Cohen. Neither the conventional ‘winners’ nor the stereotypical ‘losers’, they play a part in the grand political story which, though crucial, is often overlooked.
Cohen was born in 1961 into a National Religious family; his father was of Jewish Afghan origin, his mother of Jewish Polish descent. As a teenager he lived in a settlement in the West Bank. He left school at 16 and began to explore the neighbouring Palestinian villages. He made friends, learned Arabic, and by being there found out about the lives of Palestinians under the occupation. He worked as a floorer before beginning his academic career. He reads the Bible but no longer considers himself ‘religious’. He goes ‘more often to Hebron than to Tel Aviv and more often to Bethlehem than to Haifa’. He believes in a one-state solution (at least in the long term) and supports Israeli human rights organisations such as Anarchists against the Wall and Hamoked, which works with Palestinians in the Occupied Territories whose rights have been violated by Israeli policies. He writes in Hebrew – unusually for an academic, he doesn’t have an international audience primarily in mind. In half a dozen scholarly books covering the history of Palestine and Israel from 1929 to 1967 and beyond, he has consistently written about ordinary people, something no other Israeli historian has managed to do.
Cohen identifies 1929 as the year that gave birth ‘to the Zionist military ethos’. The Arab-Israeli conflict probably doesn’t have a ‘year zero’ – its roots go back at least as far as the 19th century – but 1929 should certainly be seen as a landmark. Between 23 and 29 August that year, 133 Jews and 116 Arabs were killed. Hundreds more were injured. The worst violence was in the Old City of Jerusalem and near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Cohen shows how the violence was connected to the threat – real or imagined – of a change in the status of a religious site that served as a symbol of political hegemony. In the 1920s, the Western Wall in Jerusalem was a Jewish prayer site in an Arab area where ‘Jews were allowed to pray … on the condition that they not disturb the residents of the neighbourhood, and on the understanding that they not claim title to the site.’
On 15 August 1929, following months of tension, Jewish demonstrators marched to the Wall, raised the Zionist flag, sang the Zionist anthem and claimed ownership of the site. The effect on relations between Jews and Arabs was dramatic. There was an Arab counter-demonstration the next day, which within a week had escalated into full-blown anti-Jewish riots. (More recent violence in Jerusalem has also been a consequence of Israeli attempts to change the status of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. The Second Intifada was sparked in 2000 by Ariel Sharon’s decision to visit the site to prove Israeli sovereignty; and the latest cycle of violence in Jerusalem follows 15 meetings at which the Interior Committee of the Knesset discussed changing the site’s status to allow Jews to pray there.)
Drawing on a wide range of sources, in Hebrew, Arabic and English, Cohen argues that neither side includes in the history it tells itself the massacres and murders committed by its own members. He juxtaposes Hebrew and Arabic accounts of particular incidents – for example, the murder of the Palestinian ‘Awn family in Abu Kabir village by a Jewish policeman named Simha Hinkis – and shows how Jews and Arabs described them at the time, and how they have been remembered, and forgotten, since. In Biladuna Filastin (‘Our Homeland Palestine’) Mustafa Dabbagh describes the murders of the ‘Awn family and the way Hinkis mutilated their bodies: Jewish newspapers didn’t report the crime at all, and when they covered the trial referred to the murder as the ‘Hinkis incident’.
The division between the two communities – Jewish Zionists on one side and Arab Palestinians on the other – ‘grew ever more salient’, Cohen argues, ‘as national identity grew stronger’. At the beginning of the 20th century, many of the Jews in Palestine, not to mention the wider Middle East, had no Zionist national aspirations. The riots of 1929 changed that. ‘No other factor was more influential in bringing the established Jewish communities in Palestine and the new Zionist community together under a single political roof.’
After 1929 tension was no longer between the indigenous population (Arab Palestinians, including Jews) and European Zionist immigrants, but between Arabs and Jews. In Israel today, descendants of Mizrahi Jews (or Arab Jews) tend to have more anti-Arab views than the rest of the Jewish population. This has a lot to do with the narrow range of identities ‘allowed’ by Zionist European ideologies, according to which an Arab cannot be a Jew and a Jew cannot be an Arab. The 1929 attacks on Mizrahi Jews, who spoke Arabic and dressed in Arab clothes, marked a moment of dramatic change.
Mazal Cohen was a Jewish woman murdered in Safed on 29 August 1929. Her brother spoke at her funeral:
For a quarter of a century I have spoken their language, perused their books, learned their way of life, observed their ways and manners, yet I did not know them … Who injected into your inner beings this twisted spirit, to stride with drawn swords at the head of a bloodthirsty throng and to lend a hand to murdering innocent people who lived with you securely for generations, who just yesterday were your companions and friends? … You always said that you considered native-born Jews to be your brothers, that you would love them, that you would respect them, because you share a single language and way of talking with them, and that you bore a grudge only against those who came anew … And how is it that you, the murderers of Safed, beset like beasts of prey solely those inhabitants of the city who have been integrated there for generations, turning their homes to heaps of ruins, mercilessly killing women and the old and the weak, who never did you any harm, taking the lives of people whose mother tongue is your language, and whose way of life is yours, different from you only in religion? … I have lived among you for a quarter of a century, I have been your guest, I have attended to your confidences and thoughts, and I did not know you.
This was the moment at which the possibility of a unified Arab-Jewish identity, or even a shared Arab-Jewish life, disappeared, perhaps for ever. The Zionist movement had succeeded in associating itself with all Jews, no matter whether they were European or Mizrahi, supportive of Zionism, indifferent or opposed to it. From now on Jews would see Arabs, all Arabs, as their enemy, and vice versa.
Theodor Herzl envisaged Israel as a ‘rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilisation against barbarism’. In the 1930s, some 57 Jewish settlements were established in a project called ‘Homa u-Migdal’ (‘A Wall and a Watchtower’), in which new villages were built in Palestine with two prescribed features: they were surrounded by a fence, and there was a guard tower in the middle. Jewish Israeli society still sees itself and its position in the world through the prism of security. Ehud Barak used to call Israel a ‘villa in the jungle’. Benjamin Netanyahu has said: ‘We need to secure our villa, the State of Israel, with fences and barriers from all sides, to protect it from the wild beasts that surround us.’ Military service is compulsory, and generally regarded as the highest contribution to the ‘common good’. The security establishment is also key to the Israeli economy: Israel, with a population of only eight million people, is the world’s seventh biggest arms exporter.
Cohen is less interested in the militarisation of Israeli society than in the practices that have shaped the relationship between Jews and Arabs. In Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism 1917-48 (2008) and Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs 1948-67 (2010), he explores the way that the security apparatus gradually became Israel’s main means of interacting with and controlling the Palestinian community. Intelligence work – especially the recruitment and running of collaborators – has deepened Israeli penetration of Palestinian society, which served not only to strengthen Israel militarily but also to dilute Palestinians’ sense of national identity, their political commitment and above all their social solidarity. Over the years, and especially under martial law between 1948 and 1966, it became clear to some that working with the Israeli security forces was a way to ensure their survival, and to others that it could bring material gain.
By looking at the security apparatus as a ‘bond’ between Jews and Arabs and examining the role played by Palestinian collaborators, Cohen exposes a crucial – and ongoing – aspect of history that nobody else wants to talk about. Much of what’s written on the conflict is confined within the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ frameworks. Cohen’s angle makes both sides uncomfortable. From a ‘pro-Israel’ point of view, his work raises serious moral questions about the underhand methods used by the Zionist movement and Israel against the Palestinians, as well as making plain that the hands of Jewish decision-makers have not been held out in peace. From a ‘pro-Palestinian’ point of view, his research seems liable to undermine the unity of the Palestinian national movement if only by showing the historic depth of ‘betrayal’ in the Palestinian community in the 1930s and 1940.
In 1920 Chaim Weizmann, then president of the Zionist Movement, called for the ‘provocation of dissension between Christians and Muslims’. Chaim Margaliot Kalvarisky, head of the Zionist Executive’s Arab Department, created the Muslim National Association with the purpose of widening divisions between Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian Christians. These were the early seeds of a Zionist divide and rule strategy that prevailed after 1929. Following another wave of clashes in the 1930s the dominant institutions of the Zionist movement’s security establishment began to take shape (Irgun was established in 1931, the Arab department of the Hagana in 1937, the Stern Gang in 1940 and so on). A Jewish ‘collaboration doctrine’ was formulated, based on the assumption that every Jewish-Arab relationship, however friendly and peaceful, would be subordinated to a ‘higher cause’: the needs of the Zionist movement. This is how Ezra Danin, one of the first intelligence co-ordinators in the Jewish community in Palestine, saw the situation in 1936:
There is always bad blood in a village and sometimes there are murders and then a chain of reprisals. In many cases of this sort, the murderer emigrates to another settlement, where he receives protection under Muslim custom. You can always get information from such a pursued, protected man in need of succour. The refusal to give a girl to a given man can lead to harsh conflicts. A man who asks the hand of a girl and is refused by her parents feels himself abused, especially if he is the girl’s cousin. Types generally exploitable for intelligence work are rebellious sons, thieves who have brought disgrace on their families, rapists who have acted on their passions and fled the avengers of tainted honour. An intelligence agent with open eyes and ready ears will always be able to make use of these personal circumstances and exploit them for his own needs.
‘Rebellious sons’ are still available for exploitation today. Mos’ab Hassan Yousef, son of a Hamas leader in the West Bank, collaborated with Israeli intelligence from 1997 to 2007. His story made it into bookshops (Son of Hamas) and cinemas (The Green Prince). Human rights organisations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip report evidence of Palestinians killed, tortured or jailed, by both official and unofficial Palestinian bodies, for collaborating with Israel. When I worked at Physicians for Human Rights, there were many stories of Palestinians from the West Bank being stopped by Israeli intelligence officers on their way to Jordan to get medical treatment. ‘They told me, if you want to save the life of your daughter, you have to work with us,’ a Palestinian father said. ‘I refused and came back home.’ The next day he tried again, and was allowed to go to Jordan. He told me after his return to Palestine that those who are first refused and then allowed to leave the country, or are allowed through in the first place, will always be suspected of being collaborators. In other words, any contact that Palestinians have with Israeli officials involves the threat of being made to collaborate, or of being labelled a collaborator. For Israeli security it’s doubly useful: it brings in information and deepens mistrust.
The earliest murder of an Arab collaborator that Cohen has discovered took place in 1929; the earliest murder of an Arab land dealer who arranged a sale of land from Arabs to Jews occurred in 1934; in 1938, at the height of the Great Arab Revolt, of 900 Palestinians killed, 498 were killed by fellow Palestinians on suspicion of either collaborating with the Zionists or selling land to Jews. As the circle of khawana (‘traitors’), real or suspected, grew, so did the violence. In such circumstances it was almost impossible to create a united Palestinian front. In 1948, Cohen says, there was not only a general unwillingness among Palestinians to fight, but even active resistance to the Arab fighters. The Zionist intelligence services were working overtime to create the impression that everybody in Palestine was betraying everybody else.
With the creation of the Israeli state, Palestinians became ‘Arab Israelis’ overnight while Israel did its best – with the help of Palestinian collaborators – to create satellite political parties that were friendly to Israel as a way of impeding the creation of an authentic Palestinian leadership. Many Arab members of the Knesset had been collaborators before 1948. As far as Israel was concerned, there were ‘bad Arabs’ (politically aware Palestinian citizens of Israel who wanted to connect to the Arab world, called for equal rights and demanded the return of refugees) and ‘good Arabs’ (Palestinian citizens of Israel who co-operated with the state and showed loyalty to its principles).
Investigating the daily lives of Palestinians between 1948 and 1967, Cohen looks at the school system, and traces letters from informers denouncing teachers who didn’t toe the Zionist line, or tried to remain apolitical. He enters into the political debates between the Communist Party (the Jewish Arab List) and MKs associated with Zionist parties, especially David Ben Gurion’s Labour. He looks at wedding songs to trace the different streams of Palestinian political behaviour. He finds informers who snitched on their neighbours and on people they saw in the village shop or on the city bus; who reported things they heard when they went to have a pee in an olive grove or as they were walking past the house of the head of the village. With the help of informers, the Israeli government ‘was able to obtain information about what was going on in Palestinian communities and what was said in private’, Cohen writes, and ‘even when informers were unable to obtain information, they were able to make their fellow Arabs think they knew.’ As Napoleon III’s chief of police put it, ‘I don’t need one out of every three Parisians chatting on the streets to be my informer, all I need is for each of the three to think that one of the others is an informer.’ Israel made the Palestinian community the first inspector, and the first supervisor, of its own members.
The strategy’s success is at times hard to believe. ‘Good Arabs’ were often as Zionist and anti-Arab as the Israeli establishment, perhaps convincing themselves that they were helping to secure the existence of the Arab community in Israel, or simply for personal gain: rewards ranged from land to public status, from local power to protection. After the 1956 massacre in Kafr Qasim – Israeli border police shot dead 47 men, women and children – Arab community leaders expressed their understanding of the ‘special considerations’ that led to the killings, and rejected the idea of building a memorial in the village. In 1964, Arab MKs chose to celebrate the establishment of Karmiel – a Jewish city built as part of the ‘Judaisation of the Galilee’ – instead of attending a memorial ceremony in Kafr Qasim. And when, on several occasions in the 1960s, the Knesset debated whether to continue with martial law in Arab areas, some Arab MKs voted with the government against dismantling the military regime imposed on their own communities.
The principle of divide and rule governs many walks of life. One significant example given by Cohen was the decision to recruit the Druze into the Israeli army, to cut them off both from the Arab Palestinian community in Israel and from the Druze communities in Lebanon and Syria. Cohen quotes Avraham Akhituv, the former head of Shin Bet: ‘We need to continue our efforts to increase the uniqueness of the Druze and their separateness – that of the young Druze generation especially – from the general Arab population.’ The prime minister’s adviser on Arab affairs said that ‘the individuality of each and every separate community should be consolidated.’ Breaking the Arab community up into smaller communities of Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouins not only forced each group to deal with the state separately, Cohen argues, but helped to change the conflict from a conflict between a Jewish community and an Arab community into one between a Jewish majority and Arab minorities, with the singular and plural forms echoing the power relations established by Israel.
Cohen also records Palestinian acts of resistance, organised and unorganised, collective and individual. He has unearthed a police report, for example, on a wedding in the village of Tur’an in the 1960s. After the regular shouts of ‘long live the prime minister of Israel and long live the military governor,’ one of the guests shouted: ‘long live Abu Khaled [Nasser], long live Ben Bella, long live Amin al-Hafez’ – the leaders of Algeria and Syria respectively. In 1958, the Communist Party called on Palestinian citizens not to celebrate Israel’s tenth anniversary:
Will we dance on the day of mourning for the destruction of our villages? Will we dance on the graves of our martyrs who fell in the many massacres, like the ones at Dir Yasin and Kafr Qasim? Will we celebrate while a million of our compatriots are dispersed in exile and prevented from returning to their homes and their homeland? Will we celebrate when we are stripped of national rights and live under a military regime and national repression? No, we will not celebrate. We are part of a huge nation that is today raising its head everywhere, in Algeria, Oman, Aden and Lebanon, against the imperialists and their lackeys, and we will pay them back double.
When the head of the village of Jish refused to celebrate Israeli Independence Day, he lost his position at the Ministry of Health. A customer in a crowded café in a village in the Galilee told the owner not to turn the radio off when it began broadcasting a speech of Nasser’s. ‘I am not afraid of collaborators,’ he said. In Acre in the late 1950s, the Israeli authorities decided that the renovation of Al-Jazzar mosque would be celebrated together with Israel’s Independence Day. Elias Kousa, a prominent lawyer and activist, wrote to the mosque committee:
The Israeli government took Arab land and put it in Jewish hands, so the Jews can live in prosperity while the Arabs live in poverty … This government … chained your freedom as if you were dogs, humiliated you, hurt your dignity and made you a people without respect or pride. It also hurt our education, progress and success … Are you going, after all that, to celebrate a national day we have nothing to do with?
Cohen studies the tension between national feeling, on the one hand, and the need to survive and feed a family, on the other, without judging those who chose either way. Yet the reality he describes makes it clear why the Palestinians couldn’t put the catastrophe of 1948, the Nakba, out of their minds: not because Israeli attempts at re-education weren’t powerful enough but, on the contrary, because Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was a constant reminder.
The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem, published in Hebrew in 2007 and in English in 2011, predicts the most recent wave of violence to have hit Jerusalem: the so-called knife intifada, which began in October 2015 and mostly involved attacks by Palestinians from the West Bank on Israeli soldiers positioned around the Muslim Quarter in East Jerusalem. Cohen shows that Israeli attempts to erase any Palestinian political claim to Jerusalem – next year Israeli schools will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its ‘unification’ – and the destruction of Palestinian institutions in the city during the Second Intifada has led to a situation in which Palestinians are still discriminated against, East Jerusalem is still occupied, house demolitions there continue, and the Palestinian national leadership has been taken away from the city. This is the context for the latest round of Palestinian violence. By giving Palestinian Jerusalemites ‘special status’ and building a seven-metre concrete wall between Jerusalem and the West Bank, Israel has continued to divide and rule. Not only have Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouins been separated from each other, but so have Palestinian Jerusalem, Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Divide and divide and divide and rule.
Cohen doesn’t try to portray the connection that Palestinians have to Jerusalem as stronger or weaker than that of the Jews. Rather, he wishes to revive the possibility of sharing the city. How many Jewish Israelis know that the Palestinians made Jerusalem their capital before Israel did? And how many know that the founding convention of the PLO was held in the Intercontinental Hotel in Jerusalem? And how many Palestinians know about the place of Jerusalem in Jewish literature, religious ceremonies and thought? When Cohen speaks about Jerusalem he means both Palestinian and Jewish Jerusalem, and when he speaks about ‘Jerusalemites’ he includes the Palestinians; Yerushalmim in Hebrew usually refers only to Jewish Israeli residents.
We are in a period of despair. Israel has an extreme right-wing government and a spineless opposition; its prime minister refers cynically to the evacuation of illegal settlements as ‘ethnic cleansing’; its minister of education approves of a wounded, prostrate Palestinian being shot through the head; a majority of Israeli MKs pass a bill that allows them to dismiss fellow members – that’s to say, Arab members – if they feel inclined to do so. Meanwhile, the historic municipal elections that were to take place in Gaza and the West Bank this month were cancelled, probably because the Palestinian Authority feared Hamas would have a resounding victory; the occupation will be half a century old next year and the siege of Gaza will mark its tenth anniversary. Cohen’s work is a valuable resource in these horrendous times. Neither ‘pro-Israeli’ nor ‘pro-Palestinian’, it is impossible to requisition, which may, in part, explain why he was never elevated to the rank of Israel’s ‘new historians’. He writes critically about Zionism and sympathetically about Jews who ran to Palestine for their lives; he writes with great honesty about Palestinians who were forced to co-operate with Israel, and those who chose to fight. He has a rich, dialectical understanding of the Jewish-Arab relationship, and though he would never compare the occupier to the occupied, his writing will make Jewish and Palestinian readers equally uncomfortable.
Minerva Center for the Humanities at Tel Aviv University was profiled by the IAM in the past. This time, the focus is on Dr. Ariel Handel, the Head of the Lexicon group at the Center, who published a Call for Papers. Handel is a member of the Department of Literature at TAU who is also a veteran politicalactivist and an army reserve refuser. The invitation states: “We are happy to send you the call to the 19th lexical conference for critical political thought. The conference will be held on February 27, Tel Aviv University. The deadline for submitting abstracts is December 20.”
According to the invitation, the “conference lectures should contribute to the composition of an alternative political lexicon that maps and re-examines the basic concepts of the contemporary political discourse and challenges the national-liberal and neo-liberal conceptions that are at the center of it now.” The discussions at this conference will focus on concepts that can be taken from the “familiar philosophical dictionary (such as: freedom, equality, rights, representation, justice, etc.) or express different and original forms of observation about government and the political field (such as: space, time, body, technology, population, etc.). Relevant concepts can also be concepts that describe a device (camera, screen, magnetic card), site (house, fence) or mechanism (police, school), provided that the question will be used as a basis for an original point of view on the government and the political field.”
The “concept can be anchored in one defined theory or move freely between several close or competing theories, provided that the focus is on the concept itself and on the reality it expresses and interprets.”
The invitation continues, “The discussion of the concept should offer innovation in one or more of the following aspects: understanding the concept itself and its theoretical context; understanding the political reality that the concept allows to express; An understanding of the limitations of the theoretical discussion that the same concept seeks to criticize, expand, or replace.”
The participants of the conference will be invited to submit their lectures/or articles that will be developed from the content of the conference discussions to be published in the online journal Mafteakh (Key): Lexicon for Political Thought.
“We invite researchers, including research students, to submit abstracts for a lecture at the conference. The abstract should explain the choice of a specific concept and concisely present the relevant theoretical context and the main innovation in the presentation of the concept. The abstract will be up to 300 words.”
The Lexicon is organized in collaboration with the Van Leer Institution Jerusalem and the BGU Department of Politics and Government, as noted on the letterhead.
A perusal of the articles of the last publication of Mafteakh shows polemics rather than academic writing. Writers, such as TAU School of Culture students, promote Balad, the Arab political party. Other writers are artists and scholars of Literature and Poetry. The exception is Erez Ztfadia and Oren Yiftachel, who provide a Marxist interpretation which they term Marxian, to camouflage the jargon. Adi Ophir, another contributor, provides negative views of any governance.
The Political Lexicon is a home for radical leftists paid by Minerva, Van Leer, and the BGU Department of Politics and Government. The neo-Marxist, critical, and postmodern jargon to which the writers adhere, do not uphold the standards of scholarship.
It is one more example of how some institutions of higher learning use taxpayers’ money to pay the salaries of activist academics. Over the years, both TAU and BGU have paid the wages of these activists and provided them with academic legitimacy. Indeed, in 2012 the Council of Higher Education threatened to close down the Department of Politics and Government at BGU for being top-heavy with neo-Marxist, critical scholars who failed to offer a political science curriculum. The recent Ph.D. graduates at the Department are, among others, Aya Shoshan, who participated in the tent protests in Spain and Israel in 2011, and Debby Farber, a member of the group Zochrot, which aims to promote the discourse on the Nakba and the Palestinians’ right of return.
The permissive atmosphere at TAU is also reflected in the employment of Handel, a military refuser. As a. rule, Israeli academic institutions should not recruit army refusers who teach students who serve in the army reserves. Under the banner of academic freedom, the University tolerated the likes of Dr. Anat Matar, who headed a group dedicated to encouraging draft dodging.
Be that as it may, the major problem is that unlike the United States and other Western countries, Israel has never offered pushback against academic extremism. For instance, public universities, supported by the states, have effective mechanisms to limit scholar-activists. A number of groups also monitor and report on their activists. Most encouraging, as reported, Harvard University has recently denied tenure to a scholar because her scholarship represents advocacy writing rather than genuine research. Absent a pushback, Israeli academic activists would go on spouting barely understandable jargon that masquerades as scholarly research.
———- Forwarded message ——— From: ariel handel Date: Sat, Nov 19, 2022 at 1:42 PM Subject: [SocSci-IL] קול קורא לכנס הלקסיקלי ה-19 למחשבה פוליטית ביקורתית To: Social Sciences List <firstname.lastname@example.org>
אנו שמחים לשלוח לכן/ם את הקול הקורא לכנס הלקסיקלי ה-19 למחשבה פוליטית ביקורתית.
הכנס יתקיים ב-27 בפברואר באוניברסיטת תל אביב. הדדליין להגשת תקצירים הוא 20 בדצמבר.
נשמח לקבל הצעות למאמרים.
אנא הרגישו בנוח להפיץ את הקול הקורא בין עמיתותיכן/ם וחבריכן/ם.
הכנס הלקסיקלי התשעה-עשר למחשבה פוליטית ביקורתית
27 בפברואר 2023
קבוצת הלקסיקון למחשבה פוליטית תקיים ב-27 בפברואר 2023 את הכנס השנתי למחשבה פוליטית ביקורתית באוניברסיטת תל-אביב.
הרצאות הכנס אמורות לתרום לחיבורו של לקסיקון פוליטי אלטרנטיבי הממפה ובוחן מחדש את מושגי היסוד של השיח הפוליטי העכשווי ומאתגר את התפישה הלאומית-ליברלית ואת התפישה הניאו-ליברלית שעומדות במרכזו כעת.
הדיון בכנס זה, כמו באלה שקדמו לו, לא יתמקד בהוגים, בשיטות, בתקופות או בטקסטים מסוימים אלא במושגים אשר יוצעו לדיון על ידי משתתפי/ות הכנס. מושגים אלה יכולים להיות לקוחים מן המילון הפילוסופי המוכר (כגון: חירות, שוויון, זכויות, ייצוג, צדק וכדו’) או לבטא צורות התבוננות שונות ומקוריות על השלטון ועל התחום הפוליטי (כגון: מרחב, זמן, גוף, טכנולוגיה, אוכלוסייה וכדו’). מושגים רלוונטיים יכולים להיות גם מושגים המתארים מכשיר (מצלמה, מסך, כרטיס מגנטי), אתר (בית, גדר) או מנגנון (משטרה, בית ספר), ובלבד שאלה ישמשו כבסיס לנקודת מבט מקורית על השלטון ועל התחום הפוליטי.
כל הרצאה בכנס תוקדש למושג אחד וניתן יהיה לזהות בה מאמץ שיטתי להשיב על השאלה “מהו x?”. הצגת המושג יכולה להיות מעוגנת בתיאוריה מוגדרת אחת או לנוע בחופשיות בין כמה תיאוריות קרובות או מתחרות, ובלבד שהמוקד יהיה במושג עצמו ובמציאות שהוא מעניק לה ביטוי ואשר אותה הוא מפרש. הדיון במושג אמור להציע חידוש באחד או יותר מן ההיבטים הבאים: הבנת המושג עצמו וההקשר התיאורטי שלו; הבנת המציאות הפוליטית שהמושג מאפשר לבטא; הבנה של מגבלות הדיון התיאורטי שאותו המושג מבקש לבקר, להרחיב, או להחליף.
משתתפי/ות הכנס יוזמנו להגיש את הרצאותיהם/ן או מאמרים שיפותחו מתוכן בעקבות דיוני הכנס לפרסום בכתב העת המקוון מפתח: כתב עת לקסיקלי למחשבה פוליטית: https://mafteakh.org/
אנו מזמינים חוקרות וחוקרים, כולל תלמידות ותלמידי מחקר, להגיש תקצירים להרצאה בכנס. התקציר אמור להסביר את הבחירה במושג ספציפי ולהציג באופן תמציתי את ההקשר התיאורטי הרלוונטי ואת עיקר החידוש שבהצגת המושג. התקציר יהיה בהיקף של עד 300 מילים.
Children Itay Snir I would like to define children as those who suffer from oppression and are discriminated against in various ways because of their young age. The label of childhood is used both in everyday discourse and in political theory to justify and normalize the separation of young people from adults and control over them. But the logic that legitimizes power relations in the present based on a claim to a deficiency that will only be completed in the future is also applied to other groups: natives, the poor, and women, to name just a few distinct examples. Despite the obvious difference in the timelines – a few years in the case of the children, compared to many generations in the other examples – one can recognize here the same language and the same regime of charity. But while in other cases we have already learned to see the oppression even if it is covered with beautiful words and even good intentions, this is not the case with children. Their control is transparent and seems natural even to theorists and critical activity.
Issue 18 Extraterritoriality Maayan Amir Extraterritoriality shapes relations between law, representation and space. Historically, extraterritoriality applies to people and spaces. In the first case, and depending on the circumstances, extraterritorial arrangements could exempt or exclude an individual or a group of persons from the laws of the territorial jurisdiction applicable to the physical place where they are located. In the second case, they could exempt or exclude a space from the laws of the surrounding territorial jurisdiction. The unique status that applies to people and spaces to this day has political, economic and legal consequences that range over a very wide spectrum, at one end immunity and privileges, and at the other end deprivation and denial of basic rights.
Issue 17 Balad Orfa Snoff-Filpol, Jud Kadan, Vared Shamshi, Ido Fox In this article, we would like to think about the concept of Balad (بَلَد) as part of a broader project of an Arabic-Hebrew lexicon, which aims to create concepts and reconceptualize existing concepts in a bilingual way. In an attempt to think together from the two local languages, the choice of the term Balad seems acute, because it is anchored in the local Arabic-Palestinian language and marks the space of the local girls and boys. Moreover, the transformations that occur in the use of the concept of Balad in the transition between Arabic and Hebrew express in an honest way the relations between the languages and between the bodies that speak them.
Issue 17 a Room Vered Shimshi The corona epidemic strengthened the recognition of the centrality of the room in our lives. The need to stay in the rooms of the house during the closings and the exposure of the room to the eyes of others through the communication applications increased the attention to the connection between each person and his room, for example to the way the geographical and socio-economic space and personal taste are evident in the room. On top of that, the possibility of owning a private room whose door can be closed is not self-evident, and in itself is a class and cultural matter that teaches about conditions that are not common property.
Issue 17 Giving Birth Orly Dahan A woman is a subject, in the simplest sense of the word: a conscious organism that has psychological states and feelings and must be treated as an active agent in the world. But from the moment of her “birth as a woman”, she is deprived of some of the rights that are usually given to human subjects. A crushing expression of this is revealed when she herself gives birth. In the current article I will focus on the human subject who gives birth and argue that even though the woman’s subjectivity does not disappear during childbirth, she is often treated in various arenas as a born object, or a defective subject.
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State Legitimacy Yair Yasen Jürgen Habermas argued that legitimacy is the acceptance of authority, which is expressed in agreeing to disobey and obey it. Legitimization (or the process of acquiring legitimacy) is an acquired process of gaining authority. Legitimacy is acquired when actions, processes or ideologies are perceived as agreed because they are identified with norms and values in a certain society, and a certain audience perceives them as acceptable and normative. Legitimacy can be attributed, among other things, to the state as a whole, to governmental institutions separately, or to the actions and decisions of the state and the governmental institutions.
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Originality Ravid Rovner Originality as a criterion for aesthetic judgment is a central element in the field of art from the beginning of its appearance until today. Creators strive to be valued as original: to present unprecedented uniqueness, to be distinctly different from their predecessors, to chart a new path for other creators. In the last decade, some thinkers have called creators to demonstrate unoriginality as an artistic strategy.
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Displacement Erez Tzfadia, Oren Yiftachel The article focuses on the conceptualization of the phenomenon of repression and displacement using general and open terms to describe a wide variety of situations of violation of residents’ rights, while referring to the transition between English and Hebrew. After introducing the concepts of “rejection” and “displacement”, we will examine how they help to better understand the structure of urban citizenship – a concept that defines the city’s residents as a political community that has the right to take an active part in shaping the city, determining its character and making decisions about it and using its resources. We will progress in addressing displacement and repression as part of different critical theoretical approaches, and examine how they are reflected in different epistemological perspectives. We will end with expressions of resistance and protest against displacement and repression.
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Leisure Oded Tzpouri What exactly is leisure? It is difficult and perhaps even impossible these days to define the concept of leisure other than by way of negation. Leisure, in its everyday meaning, is time (or a certain type of activity occurring in this period of time) that is free from other things. First and foremost, this is time that is not dedicated to work or taking care of the needs of the body and home, and by extension, it is time that is not dedicated to everything that is necessary for existence.
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Religious Zionism Haim Katzman This article examines contemporary political, religious and social trends in religious Zionism in light of the research literature written on “religious Zionism”. Historically, there is reason to doubt the existence of a unified Zionist-religious ideology even before the 2000s, but this is a question that requires further research. My claim is that the etymology and theoretical conceptualization of religious Zionism as an ideology that unites the apparently contradictory dimensions of modern nationalism and the Jewish religion is today anachronistic and even misleading.
Governance Adi Ophir In the words below I will try to reintroduce a “lean” concept of government, one that does not assume the state as an a priori form of thinking about government, nor the concept of sovereignty, Schmitian or otherwise, as the essence of the concept of government. After I equip myself with this concept, I will be able to return to the question of the relationship between government and the state and to the theological dimension of the presentation of government (including state government). Between the thin concept of government and its theological meaning, I hope, a sketch of the concept of government, or at least of the space in which the concept of government must be performed, will be interpreted.
Last week the Goethe institute in Tel Aviv postponed the event “Understanding the pain of the others” that was scheduled for November 13th, 2022.
According to the Goethe Institute, “The remembrance of the Shoah and the commemoration of the victims is of utmost importance to the Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The Goethe-Institut dedicates numerous projects to it in Israel and worldwide and stands for understanding and dialogue. The event “Understanding the pain of the others” was originally set to take place on November 9th in Tel Aviv. It was a very unfortunate decision to choose this date which we corrected. The public discourse that has developed in Germany and Israel in the run-up to the event has made it impossible to carry out the event appropriately. Since we are expecting disruptions to the event, we cannot guarantee a safe implementation of the panel discussion at this point. The important topic of remembrance culture cannot be addressed in the way it needs to under these circumstances. The Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have therefore decided to postpone the event that was scheduled to take place on November 13th to a later date. We will go back to the drawing board and listen to different opinions and voices from the public discourse. We regret that this event was subject to public criticism before it even took place to an extend that we had no choice but to postpone it again.”
However, Dani Dayan, the chairman of Yad Vashem, announced that the event would be canceled entirely. Dayan wrote on Twitter, “Earlier today, I spoke at length with the Chairman of the Board of the worldwide Goethe Institute Mr. Johannes Ebert. At the end of our in-depth conversation, Mr. Ebert assured me that the event will not take place. Wise decision.”
The event was to feature a dialogue between three people, Amos Goldberg of the Hebrew University, Bashir Bashir of Van Leer Institute Jerusalem, and Charlotte Wiedemann, a journalist expert on intercultural communication and postcolonial thought, with a focus on Islamic life. She has authored seven books, including on Iran. Her most recent book, Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis (Understand the pain of others. Holocaust and world memory). In an interview after the publication of her book, she said, “we can see the most striking contrast between colonial victims and Holocaust victims, but if we take a closer look, we can also see a pattern of hierarchies applied to Nazi victims. Roma and Sinti used to be very close to Jews in the Nazi ideology, also constituting a race which had to be exterminated entirely. But their status in the public memory culture of today is much closer to African colonial victims: no voice, no respect. I call them “the victims who are not missed” in my book. Roma and Sinti in fact remain the most discriminated minority in Europe today. To conclude, there is an economy of empathy which is at the same time an economy of values attached to different lives. We should include in the picture that this economy has also been structured by recent wars and by the treatment of victims in these wars. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan were considered ‘collateral damage’ or – as I put it in my books – as neglectable lives. ‘As if they had never existed’ is a common statement by the relatives of those victims whose deaths have never been acknowledged, not to speak of the lack of payment of any compensation.”
Wiedemann’s narrative fits well with the accounts of Goldberg and Bashir.
Goldberg and Bashir’s thesis can be described as “the Shoah [Holocaust] and the Nakba are two interlinked catastrophes.” When a Palestinian is asked about the Holocaust, he often brings up the Nakba, “the displacement of Palestinians associated with the founding of the state of Israel.” Goldberg, an Israeli Holocaust researcher, and Bashir, a Palestinian political scientist, have “developed a concept aimed at promoting dialogue about these two interlinked national traumas.” At a linguistic level, there is a parallel between the two terms because both words mean “catastrophe.”
The Goldberg-Bashir collaboration goes some years back. In 2007, the Jerusalem-based Van Leer Institute invited Jewish and Arab educational theorists to discuss the issue of the Holocaust. It soon became evident that the Israelis and Palestinians were having great difficulties “relating to the trauma experienced by the other.” The meetings received financial support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation, a German think tank with close ties to the German Green Party.
In the summer of 2009, the group met for a workshop at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. This is when Holocaust researcher Goldberg, who was part of the team running the dialogue group, met Palestinian political scientist Bashir. Bashir gave a lecture about Arab attitudes to the Holocaust and mentioned the Nakba in his lecture. At the same time, Arab Palestinian participants from Israel also insisted on discussing the Palestinian catastrophe. The controversial nature of the discussions spurred Goldberg and Bashir to consider another form of dialogue. They wrote a paper that compared the Shoah and the Nakba (without equating them with each other), reflected on their comparable importance in the collective memory of the respective groups, and called for “mutual empathy.” Bashir and Goldberg’s introduction to the book translates as “Reflections on memory, trauma and nationalism in Israel/Palestine.”
Goldberg and Bashir published a shorter version in the Journal of Genocide Research in 2014. The authors wanted to discuss in detail the differences in attitudes. They said that the “Shoah was, in terms of its scale, not comparable with any other event that as such is considered singular.” But since “the Holocaust has become the ultimate symbol of evil… any attempt to connect it even loosely with other chapters of the history of violence is quickly suspected of being an attempt to trivialize the Holocaust.”
They argue that “while the Shoah is over as an historical event and the Jewish people have, despite the trauma, been able to get back on its feet again, the Palestinians are to this day, in a position of political, military, economic, and cultural weakness because of the consequences of the Nakba.”
According to Goldberg and Bashir, there is an “asymmetry in the national catastrophes of both peoples from a moral point of view: the Palestinians were not to blame for the Holocaust, but the Israelis were responsible for the displacement and flight of the Palestinians and for their discrimination in Israel and oppression in the Occupied Territories.”
According to Goldberg and Bashir, a “rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians, who both see themselves as victim communities, is made more difficult above all because the Shoah and the Nakba are used equally to legitimize national claims.” Both scientists feel that it should be possible to integrate the catastrophe of the other into one’s own narrative without abandoning the “ultimate claim to justice.” Both scientists considered American historian Dominick LaCapra’s concept of “empathic unsettlement” to be helpful in this.
Despite all the scientific-sounding jargon, efforts to equate the Holocaust and the Nakba are essentially propaganda exercises by those who want to demonize the Jewish state. Diminishing and distorting the Holocaust is the newest trick in this game. Holocaust denial became too crude a tool for the more sophisticated circles of anti-Zionists. Incidentally, Dani Dayan is now on a speaking tour in the United States, where he warns that Holocaust distortion is now more dangerous than Holocaust denial.
In some ways, the Goldberg-Bashir comparison is even more insidious than simple Holocaust distortion.
Jews had no choice whatsoever when they were loaded on the trains and dispatched to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and other extermination camps. The Palestinians had a choice and made the wrong one. The Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini, a Nazi collaborator, ordered the riots of 1936-39, where numerous Jews were killed. His ultimate goal, which he discussed with Hitler in Berlin, was to establish extermination camps in Palestine; only the British victory in El Alamein over the Nazis spared the Jews the fate of their European brothers. In 1947, when the United Nations voted for a division of Palestine into two states – a larger one for the Palestinians and a smaller one for the Jews – the Palestinians and their Arab supporters started a war that they had the misfortune to lose. In 1993, when Israel and Yasser Arafat negotiated the Oslo peace, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, under orders from Iran, started a terror campaign that squashed all chances of peace. This is the real reason that “the Palestinians are to this day, in a position of political, military, economic, and cultural weakness because of the consequences of the Nakba.” This is on top of the fact that the Palestinian Authority has run a highly corrupt state, according to Transparency International.
Goldberg, whom IAM profiled before, is essentially an academic activist. As a rule, activists use their writings to tarnish the West, the United States, and, in his case, Israel. On the flip side, the same activists burnish the image of the enemies of the West, especially Iran. Not incidentally, Wiedemann was criticized for her pro-Iranian regime views by Danyal Casar in the German weekly paper Jungle World.
Goldberg was hired to teach and research the Holocaust. His incessant activism detracts from his primary duty.
מכון גתה והנציגות הישראלית של קרן רוזה לוקסמבורג מודיעים על דחיית האירוע “להבין את כאבו של האחר”, שהיה עתיד להתקיים ב-13 בנובמבר, למועד אחר.
זכר השואה וקורבנותיה הוא נר לרגליהם של מכון גתה וקרן רוזה לוקסמבורג. רבות מפעילויות מכון גתה בישראל וברחבי העולם הוקדשו ומוקדשות להנצחתם. המכון דוגל בהידברות ובדיאלוג. הבחירה בתאריך המקורי שנקבע לאירוע “להבין את כאבו של האחר” בתל אביב, ה-9 בנובמבר, הייתה החלטה מצערת שתוקנה מאז. אך לצערנו, השיח הציבורי שהתפתח בגרמניה ובישראל בימים שקדמו לאירוע אינו מאפשר את קיום האירוע באופן הולם.
מאחר שצפויות הפרעות משמעותיות לקיומו, אין באפשרותנו להבטיח את ביטחון הדיון והדוברים.ות בו. זאת אינה הדרך הראויה לדון בנושא החשוב לאין ערוך של תרבות הזיכרון.
לפיכך, מכון גתה וקרן רוזה לוקסמבורג החליטו במשותף לדחות למועד אחר את האירוע שתוכנן ל-13 בנובמבר. את הימים הבאים נקדיש לדיון מעמיק בתכנונו מחדש בהתייעצות עם מומחים.ות מן התחום.
אנחנו מצרים על כך שההתנגדות לאירוע עוד לפני שהתקיים לא הותירה לנו בררה אלא לדחותו בשנית.
Statement in English
The Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation are postponing the event “Understanding the pain of the others” that was to take place on November 13th to a later date.
The remembrance of the Shoah and the commemoration of the victims is of utmost importance to the Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. The Goethe-Institut dedicates numerous projects to it in Israel and worldwide and stands for understanding and dialogue. The event “Understanding the pain of the others” was originally set to take place on November 9th in Tel Aviv. It was a very unfortunate decision to choose this date which we corrected.
The public discourse that has developed in Germany and Israel in the run-up to the event has made it impossible to carry out the event appropriately. Since we are expecting disruptions to the event, we cannot guarantee a safe implementation of the panel discussion at this point. The important topic of remembrance culture cannot be addressed in the way it needs to under these circumstances.
The Goethe-Institut and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation have therefore decided to postpone the event that was scheduled to take place on November 13th to a later date. We will go back to the drawing board and listen to different opinions and voices from the public discourse.
We regret that this event was subject to public criticism before it even took place to an extend that we had no choice but to postpone it again.
דיון בהשתתפות: שרלוטה וידמן (Charlotte Wiedemann), בשיר בשיר, עמוס גולדברג
שרלוטה וידמן היא פובליציסטית וכתבת זרה. מאמריה הופיעו בין היתר ב-Die Zeit, Geo ו-Le Monde Diplomatique. וידמן בעלת טור ב”taz” ומעבירה הרצאות. היא פרסמה ספרים רבים בנושאים בינלאומיים. בין פרסומיה: „Den Schmerz der anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis“ (Propyläen, 2022) (להבין את כאבו של האחר. השואה וזיכרון העולם) בצל השתיקה ששררה במשפחתה היא עוקבת אחר הוויכוחים סביב האחריות הגרמנית לנציונל-סוציאליזם כבר ארבעה עשורים.
בשיר בשיר הוא פרופסור חבר לתיאוריה פוליטית באוניברסיטה הפתוחה ועמית מחקר בכיר במכון ון ליר בירושלים. תחומי מחקרו כוללים תיאוריה דמוקרטית, לאומיות, אזרחות, רב-תרבותיות והפוליטיקה של הפיוס. בין פרסומיו: בשיר בשיר ועמוס גולדברג (עורכים), השואה והנכבה: זיכרון, זהות לאומית ושותפות יהודית ערבית, תל אביב: מכון ון ליר והקיבוץ המאוחד 2015. The Arab and Jewish Questions: Geographies of Engagement in Palestine and Beyond (Columbia University Press, 2020) (השאלה הערבית והשאלה היהודית: גיאוגרפיות של מחויבות בפלסטין ומחוצה לה)
עמוס גולדברג הוא פרופסור חבר בחוג להיסטוריה של עם ישראל ויהדות זמננו וחבר במכון המחקר ליהדות זמננו באוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים. במשך עשרות שנים עסק בחקר השואה וזכרה בצומת שבין היסטוריה, תיאוריה ביקורתית וספרות. מחקריו ופרסומיו מתמקדים בין היתר בחקר הטראומה. בין פרסומיו: עמוס גולדברג, טראומה בגוף ראשון: כתיבת יומנים בתקופת השואה (הגרסה האנגלית ראתה אור בהוצאת אוניברסיטת אינדיאנה, 2017) בשיר בשיר ועמוס גולדברג (עורכים), השואה והנכבה: זיכרון, זהות לאומית ושותפות יהודית ערבית, תל אביב: מכון ון ליר והקיבוץ המאוחד 2015. עמוס גולדברג הוא אחד היוזמים והמחברים של הצהרת ירושלים על אנטישמיות.
אינגה גינתר עבדה ככתבת בישראל ובפלסטין במשך יותר מעשרים שנה, בין היתר עבור הפרנקפורטר רונדשאו והברלינר צייטונג. היא זכתה בכמה פרסים על כתיבתה העיתונאית, האחרון שבהם “פרס העיתונאי” מטעם היוזמה הגרמנית למזרח התיכון בשנת 2017. לצד ברלין הפכה ירושלים לביתה השני מסיבות מקצועיות ואישיות.
האירוע, שכותרתו “השואה, הנכבה ותרבות הזיכרון הגרמנית”, מאורגן על ידי מכון גתה בחסות קרן הקשורה למפלגת שמאל קיצוני בגרמניה. הוא תוכנן להיערך מחר, יום השנה לליל הבדולח, אך נדחה בכמה ימים בעקבות הביקורת. משרד החוץ: “האירוע הוא בושה וחרפה ומן הראוי שלא יתקיים בשום תאריך בלוח השנה”
עופר אדרת 08 בנובמבר 2022
אירוע שכותרתו “להבין את כאבו של האחר: השואה, הנכבה ותרבות הזיכרון הגרמנית”, שתוכנן להתקיים מחר (רביעי) במכון גתה בתל אביב, מעורר ביקורת בישראל ובעולם היהודי. הגינויים נשמעים בשל העובדה שהאירוע כולל עיסוק משותף בשואת העם היהודי ובנכבה הפלסטינית, וכן משום שהוא תוכנן להתקיים בחסות גרמנית ביום השנה לליל הבדולח – אירוע שהיה שלב בדרך לשואת יהודי אירופה. בעקבות הביקורת נדחה האירוע ליום ראשון הקרוב.
יו”ר מכון גתה בת”א שבו היה אמור להתקיים האירוע, שנדחה ליום ראשון, ביטל אותו אחרי ששוחח עם יו”ר יד ושם דני דיין • תנועת אם תרצו: “ניצחון לשפיות”
עמיחי שטיין ודב גיל-הר
11 בנובמבר 2022
אחרי שיחה בין יושב ראש “יד ושם” דני דיין ליושב ראש מכון “גתה”, יוהנס אברט, הוחלט לבטל האירוע שמשווה בין השואה ל”נכבה” ונדחה ליום ראשון בעקבות הביקורת הציבורית. האירוע אורגן על ידי קרן רוזה לוקסמבורג, המסונפת למפלגת השמאל הגרמנית די לינקה, וכותרתו הייתה – ״להבין את הכאב של הצד השני: השואה, הנכבה, ותרבות הזיכרון הגרמנית״.
הערב שתוכנן מתבסס על ספרה של העיתונאית והפובליציסטית הגרמניה שרלוט וידמן שכותרתו היא “להבין את כאבם של אחרים”. וידמן מטיפה לסוג של זיכרון חדש שעושה צדק עם צדדים שונים של אותו סכסוך, ו”מקדם סולידריות במקום תחרות על קורבנות”. וידמן מקדמת במאמריה הכרה גרמנית לפשעים שנעשו בתקופה הקולוניאלית של המדינה, וטוענת שאין העניין מעיב על ייחודיות השואה.
באתר מכון גתה מוסבר כי “כמעט 75 שנים לאחר הקמתו, הזיכרון בישראל נותר שטח שנוי במחלוקת פוליטית. היהודים מתמקדים בשואה, בעוד הפלסטינים מתמקדים בשנה הגורלית של 1948, שבה נמלטו מאות אלפי קורבנות וגורשו על ידי לוחמים יהודים – המכונה בערבית הנכבה”.
במשרד החוץ יצאו ביום שלישי נגד האירוע, שהיה אמור להתקיים במכון גתה בתל אביב יום לאחר מכן. “משרד החוץ מביע זעזוע ושאט נפש לנוכח זילות השואה הבוטה שמטרתה להכפיש את ישראל”, נמסר מהמשרד. במרכז שמעון ויזנטל תקפו בחריפות את קיום האירוע ביום שבו מצוין יום השנה לליל הבדולח. לאחר מכן מסר המכון כי הוא ידחה את האירוע ליום ראשון: “אנו מצטערים שבחירת התאריך לדיון בפאנל הובילה כעת לרוגז”.
בתנועת “אם תרצו” הגיבו: “ניצחון לשפיות. אנו מודים לאלפי הישראלים שהביעו את זעמם לנוכח האירוע האנטי-ישראלי. אנו מתחייבים להמשיך לפעול כדי לעצור את החתרנות המדינית הזרה של גרמניה בישראל”.
REPAIRING THE DAMAGE TO OUR ETHICAL CATEGORIES. A CONVERSATION WITH CHARLOTTE WIEDEMANN
POSTED ON 1ST SEPTEMBER 2022 BY REVIEW OF DEMOCRACY
In this conversation with RevDem editor Ferenc Laczó, Charlotte Wiedemann – author of the just released German-language volume Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis (To Grasp the Pain of Others. Holocaust and Global Remembrance) – explores the inequalities of the reigning “economy of empathy”; discusses ways to connect the histories of National Socialism and global colonialism to each other; reflects on problematic aspects of German memory culture today; and suggests paths through which more pluralistic and inclusive memory cultures might be fostered.
Charlotte Wiedemann is an expert on intercultural communication and postcolonial thought, and a foreign reporter who has been conducting research in over thirty countries with a focus on Islamic life worlds and on Southeast Asia. She has published in a host of leading print media and is the author of seven books, including volumes on Iran and Mali. Her newest book, Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen. Holocaust und Weltgedächtnis has been published by Propyläen Verlag.
Ferenc Laczó: Your new book Den Schmerz der Anderen begreifen (To Grasp the Pain of Others) reflects on and critiques the reigning “economy of empathy,” especially when it comes to the current regime of memory and recognition. You show through powerful examples how recognition depends on a sense of proximity and connection, and how it remains highly unevenly distributed. Our own pain is recognized before the pain of others would even be considered, so very much depends on who we consider part of the “we group,” you underline in the book. Which examples would you highlight to expose the glaring inequalities of empathy and recognition? More generally, how would you briefly characterize the reigning memory regime when it comes to historical injustices?
Charlotte Wiedemann: To become aware of what steers our empathy – individually and more importantly, collectively – opens doors to a more inclusive memory culture as well as to a more just approach to human rights issues of the present.
Let me take the example of Ukrainian war refugees: until the beginning of the Russian invasion, Ukrainians in Germany were considered cheap workforce who tended to work as nurses caring for the elderly in German private homes or on strawberry fields. They had no voice and no lobby. They didn’t belong to us.
The picture has changed entirely. Since the German public and media considers Putin’s war to be a war against us, the West, the refugees belong to us and are considered part of the “we group.” They are allowed to work and have access to social security benefits – quite differently from the Syrian refugees who arrived in the recent past.
This example shows how empathy is steered by political assumptions. These assumptions make victims be perceived as similar to us, but might also make them appear unsimilar, alien.
Currently we witness a mind-blowing contrast within the EU between the friendly treatment of huge numbers of Ukrainian refugees and the cruel treatment of small numbers of refugees at the Poland–Belarus border. The latter are considered aliens, “weapons” in the hands of a dictator to destabilize the EU who do not deserve any of our empathy. Babies die in the border forest, and we just do not care.
It is important that we do not confuse empathy with sheer emotion.
Empathy is foremost an intellectual operation, an identification with another person that develops over time. Most important in this process is whether we consider the other equal to us – as a human being on eye level with us.
If we apply these ideas to memory culture and the categorization of victims, we can easily see how political assumptions and structural racism are intertwined. This is most easily visible in the neglected status of colonial victims. But how exactly does it work?
In my new book, I compare the German perception of the Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto and the East African resistance against German colonial rule some forty years earlier, at the beginning of the 20th century. In the so called Maji Maji war approximately 200 000 Africans were either shot or starved. It was a desperate liberation struggle and a case of disastrously asymmetrical warfare. So why is the resistance in the Jewish Ghetto enjoying so much respect and empathy, whereas the Maji Maji liberation fight is of no interest at all, raising no respect, no empathy?
I came to the conclusion that contemporary Germans easily identify with the fighting Jews but cannot identify with the fighting Africans. This happens for two chief reasons. Equating oneself with the Jewish victim is a strong feature of philosemitic German memory culture.
In general, Germans like to put themselves in the shoes of Jews as a way of dealing with suppressed feelings of guilt. In a harsh contrast, hardly anybody from the majority society can image him/herself being a colonized black person, so in that case there is nothing on eye level at all. Second, whereas the picture of the Jew in German collective consciousness has changed substantially between the Nazi era and now, the picture of the African human being has not changed much between the colonial era and the present time.
If we return to the comparison between the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the Maji Maji war, we see what constitutes the difference: Africans are not considered to have a strong and principled desire for freedom, neither in the past, nor now. 200 000 of them dying in resistance therefore has no meaning and their desperate will to fight is not an object of admiration in Germany.
With regards to divided empathy, we can see the most striking contrast between colonial victims and Holocaust victims, but if we take a closer look, we can also see a pattern of hierarchies applied to Nazi victims. Roma and Sinti used to be very close to Jews in the Nazi ideology, also constituting a race which had to be exterminated entirely. But their status in the public memory culture of today is much closer to African colonial victims: no voice, no respect. I call them “the victims who are not missed” in my book. Roma and Sinti in fact remain the most discriminated minority in Europe today.
To conclude, there is an economy of empathy which is at the same time an economy of values attached to different lives. We should include in the picture that this economy has also been structured by recent wars and by the treatment of victims in these wars. Victims of drone strikes in Afghanistan were considered “collateral damage” or – as I put it in my books – as neglectable lives. “As if they had never existed” is a common statement by the relatives of those victims whose deaths have never been acknowledged, not to speak of the lack of payment of any compensation.
I argue in my book that we have to repair the psychological and moral damage such Western policies have afflicted on our consciousness and on our ethical categories in order to be able to develop inclusive memory cultures. One of the most important lessons of the Holocaust is that there is nothing like a neglectable life.
Therefore, I consider the efforts to rescue refugees from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea as a model of a well-conceived and active new memory culture.
You cite numerous important examples of cross-referencing and cross-fertilization when it comes to the interpretations of racist violence, of colonialism and antisemitism, of slavery and genocides. One conclusion that has stood out for me is that discussions of the connections between Nazi and colonial history, and Nazi and colonial violence, more specifically – an awareness of what these histories share and how they might be distinguished analytically – are in fact nothing new. The drawing of such connections and comparisons have been around for numerous decades and may in fact have been less contested in the past. Would you be willing to discuss some key examples of how the history of National Socialism and that of global colonialism have been related to each other in the past? What do you see as fruitful approach through which more solidarity could be fostered?
I dedicate a whole chapter in my book to the colonial soldiers in WWII, especially to the one million Africans who fought under French flag. I do this for several reasons.
In Europe, WWII has not been sufficiently understood because the fact that huge parts of the world were still under colonial rule is still often excluded from the picture. Without the contribution of one million African soldiers France would most likely not have been among the victorious nations. Moreover, the fact that France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council illustrates the long-lasting impact of colonial domination during WWII and its aftermath.
To explore the other side, West Africans developed after WWII a memory culture of self-respect, which connected their war participation to the process of anticolonial emancipation.
I interviewed war veterans who told me how the respect they gained through their contribution to the liberation of Europe from Nazi rule impacted the first general strike of West African railroad workers aiming at equal pay for black and white employees. In Europe, we have not yet learned to connect the liberation from Nazi rule with the liberation of colonized subjects.
At the same time, it is true that the limitations of the white European concept of universalism have already been discussed and challenged some seven decades ago. This is not surprising at all.
Parallel to the Nuremberg trials, European nations were committing mass atrocities in their colonies for which the definition of crimes against humanity is equally fitting.
In the year 1947, when the first edition of Anne Frank’s diary was released in Amsterdam, the Dutch army annihilated the male population of entire villages in Indonesia during its attempt to suppress the Indonesian anticolonial struggle.
That implies that laws and institutions that are depicted as an outcome of the Holocaust are deeply stained by double standards. This is also true for the Genocide Convention, which was conceived in a way that it could not apply to colonial military campaigns against civilians or the violent suppression of liberation movements.
Regarding all these connecting dots between German National Socialism and colonialism, there is a huge gap nowadays between public memory culture and the results of historical research in the past two decades or so. The term Nazi colonialism has been used by historians for the last twenty years but is still causing a hiccup of sorts in public memory culture.
I came across one fascinating example when studying the language used by the Wehrmacht in Eastern Europe. They called the non-German auxiliary forces in extermination camps, some of whom were Ukrainians, Askari – exactly as the African auxiliary forces were called in colonial wars in German East Africa. The word is Arabic for soldier. It entered colonial parlance through Swahili and from there – through the interwar colonial nostalgia in Germany – it entered the language the Wehrmacht deployed at sites of the Shoah.
Unpacking these kinds of stories and connections can already change people’s mindset.
Your book offers a rather critical take on what one might call the dominant memory culture in Germany. You plead for pluralism and inclusiveness and argue that Germans should learn not to place themselves into the center of their own narratives, but rather to observe their own perspectives on history also with the eyes of others living in different parts of the world. In an autobiographical passage, you state that you personally consider the Shoah unique and underline that its utter horror and our inability to come to terms with it have shaped you profoundly. You also state that you have come to realize how this strong conviction concerning the Shoah’s uniqueness is the result of personal experiences you have made – with experiences that have much to do with you having been born and raised in West Germany in the postwar period. Would you perhaps be willing to discuss this process in some detail, that is to say how you came to be personally impacted and shaped by the memory of the Shoah, what triggered your reflections on your own specific positionality, and what motivates you personally to argue so powerfully against attempts to create “hierarchies of victims”?
Born just nine years after the liberation of Auschwitz, at some point I had to realize that I was living in uncomfortable closeness to the perpetrator generation. I grew up with the obdurate silence of my parents, including about my father’s NSDAP membership, and the gradual groping of the abyss beneath my Germanness.
I remember a situation involving my father when I was in my senior school years. I wanted to join a youth group and travel to the Soviet Union, and I had to get his permission for that. Upon hearing my request, my father replied: “There is nothing to see there, it is all flat.” To which I yelled back at him: “Yes, after you guys were there!” We never talked about this again.
But I remember this as a crucial moment because I was not addressing him as an individual, I was addressing a whole generation, or the male part of that generation.
Not long before my father died, he confessed jokingly that he had been a member of the NSDAP and that he threw his membership card into the drain after Hitler’s defeat…
Everything that had to do with National Socialism became like a second skin to me. Nothing else achieved this closeness in the long run. This intensely felt Germanness of mine was later combined with decades of experience in the non-European world: as a foreign reporter in Muslim countries; through stays in societies in West and East Africa, which were marked by the colonial experience; through years of living in Southeast Asia, where the image of the WWII is marked by the experience of the Japanese occupation; and most importantly, through friendship and love with people who look on us from elsewhere.
All these experiences have motivated my search which led to me to write this book.
It has emerged out of an inner dialogue and two great personal concerns: may we, as Germans, as “new Germans” and as “old Germans,” keep the memory of National Socialism close to us with sensitivity and with care, and may we, as Europeans, overcome a white way of thinking about history and be aware of the effects of colonial violence. In other words, keep the responsibility for Nazi crimes, but based on a new understanding of the world oriented towards respect and participation.
The Shoah is a tragedy of special significance, but this significance must not be used to degrade other sufferings. And Germans must learn that in a globalized world, people look at the extermination of the Jews from different angles – and they also look at Israel from different angles.
There have been several controversies in recent years concerning the German state’s uncritical official attitude towards the State of Israel, the rather grave difficulties the German public sphere appears to have to merely accept Palestinian voices and perspectives, and the recent attacks on Jewish dissidents. Would you care to comment on the position and chances of Palestinian voices and memory in German discussions? How would you interpret current forms of Jewish dissent when it comes to policies of the State of Israel, and the reception of such dissent in contemporary Germany?
There is a heated debate in Germany concerning these issues, which also has a lot of unpleasant features. Under the impact of the ever more rightist Israeli politics, spaces for fruitful discussion about Israel–Palestine have become narrower. Antisemitism is by now routinely conflated with anti-Zionism. And the special obligation Germany has to Jews has developed more and more into an unconditional loyalty to Israel’s policies.
Palestinian voices are often excluded from public discourse, allegedly to prevent antisemitism. Jews who are critical of Israel’s occupation policy or of the ethnonational character of the Israeli state also get accused of antisemitism. In a way, memory culture has been turned into a weapon against critical voices and minorities.
I argue in my book that one possible way out of this situation would be to open memory culture for Palestinian narratives about history, about their history.
I argue that we, the Germans of today, are implicated in the Palestinian tragedy, because without European antisemitism and the Shoah, the state of Israel would not have been founded under the conditions that it was and in the way that it was.
Your book sketches an attractive utopia of transcultural encounters based on the principle of equality that would foster a more pluralistic and inclusive cosmopolitan memory and could also revive anti-fascism as a powerful practice. You also point to the fact that the European and Western forms of dominance – which have resulted in so much exclusion, violence, and inequality of empathy in the past – are being challenged ever more in our increasingly interconnected world. How would you sketch a new, much more globally sensitive and egalitarian memory regime? And would you be willing to highlight some of the most positive developments you have observed towards the development of such a more pluralistic and inclusive cosmopolitan memory?
So far, the reception of my books has taken place on friendly terms, despite the palpable hostility against certain positions I hold. I take it as an indicator that a change of beliefs and attitudes is on its way, at least in some parts of society.
The German government has recently restituted art objects to Nigeria, and the mutual agreement states that “a new ethic of relations” is necessary. The vocabulary used is taken from postcolonial artists and initiatives and has been employed in a document by the federal state for the first time.
Apart from a lot of novel resistance against progressive history policies, another important thing has changed as well: the German society of immigrants has abandoned the dangerous ideal of homogeneity, which opens the door to new understandings.
On the global level, there is still a huge imbalance.
The prestige enjoyed by Holocaust memory, which is supported by numerous institutions in the Western world, causes a desire to attach other grievances and sufferings to this label in order to benefit a bit from that prestige. At the same time, Holocaust remembrance is becoming more fragile in Europe through historical revisionism.
We are witnessing that too these days.
Curiously, the phrase “Putin is the new Hitler” is now employed by people who used the thesis regarding the singularity of the Holocaust just a short while ago as a weapon against the inclusion of the remembrance of colonial victims.
The current situation is unstable, to say the least, and it seems impossible to predict the future direction of memory culture.
The transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Debate about anti-Semitism and the Middle East conflictDissidence and the Jewish diaspora
Jewish voices are much more diverse than the public often sees. Jewish men and women who oppose the injustice of Israeli occupation in the West Bank deserve our respect and protection against defamation, writes Charlotte Wiedemann
Our culture of remembrance features very few references to a Jewish life beyond a middle class that subscribes to state and capitalism. Jews are victims – as if they had never struggled, as if they had never been part of movements that fought for a more just world. In this historical configuration, there is only room for Zionism – not for the opposition.
Among other things, this view of political history is in play whenever left-wing dissident Judaism with German or Israeli roots is met with so much mistrust as is currently the case in Germany. Mistrust and repulsion are at the ready long before words like “apartheid” are even spoken. An incalculable Judaism disturbs the peace, forces us to think and reflect.
The fact that I call Jewish men and women who oppose the injustice of occupation “dissident” is just as much a product of the German situation. Perhaps it would never even occur to me to do so if I were American.
Respect rather than defamation
The events of recent weeks have provided an opportunity to hear a whole range of Jewish voices in the USA and Europe that – with regard to the occupation policy – are united by the slogan “not in my name”. This gives us a hint of all the different things that Judaism in the diaspora can mean. Take, for example, the “Judeobolschewiener*innen” (Judeo-Bolshe-Viennese) in Austria. This collective is based on the principle of doikayt, a Yiddish term for social emancipation in the diaspora that opposes all kinds of nationalistic identification.
The collective’s response to anti-Semitism is based on the intersectional principle: like racism, the hatred of Jews is fought as a form of discrimination and is not viewed separately as the mother of all evils.
This stance is predestined to cause controversy – especially in Austria or Germany. But Jews who are willing, in solidarity with Palestine, to stand up to the brand of anti-Semitism fed by despair over a commonly-held injustice deserve respect, not defamation, in my opinion.
This certainly does not oblige us to like every single way in which Jewish opposition is voiced. I am reminded in this context of a scene in Hebron, where a representative of the organisation Breaking the Silence explained the segregated use of a road (Palestinians segregated from Jewish settlers) with the words “Hey, you’re German, what does that remind you of?” The answer the representative was looking for was “ghetto”, but not one of those present could say it out loud. Some of the things said by dissident Israelis in Germany can sometimes have a shrill edge – akin to someone leaving the family gathering to demonstratively stand outside the front door and flick a cigarette butt into the front garden.
My impulse to defend myself by providing proof of how much the subject of the Holocaust has shaped my life is laughable. Nonsense! Those who slap this devastating label on other people with such ease are never interested in biographies, identity, or what has made them who they are; they just want to draw a line in the sand: on one side the pristine; on the other, the grubby.
For dissident Jewish men and women, particularly in Germany, it is much more painful that what has made them who they are is of no significance. Educationalist Michael Sappir recently wrote that many people just don’t understand how much “effort to overcome, self-criticism and self-formation” it has taken for Israelis like himself to become radical opponents of the occupation policy. Some descendants of those responsible for the Holocaust surmise that the Holocaust simply does not hold the same significance for such Jews.
Jewish dissidence is a challenge
It is always difficult to be marginalised in what is already a small minority. And to then oppose the Israel-related construct that gives the Germans so much relief … In the past, I didn’t want to get intellectually involved in this complexity of Jewish dissidence – there was no handrail in sight. Today, I think that those on the left have to face this challenge.
As an older citizen, I would say that because Germany, after initial reluctance, assumed full responsibility for the Shoah, a large proportion of my generation has settled into a thought mainstream that we believe we have created or at least had a part in creating. Don’t touch what has been achieved, this comfy state of being-in-the-middle! But nothing is achieved for eternity. Just look at the opinion polls. There are reports of teachers describing how far from many young people’s minds (and not only those with migrant backgrounds) the Holocaust is. If these reports are accurate, it must be clear that new approaches are needed.
Today, it is largely minority groups that are showing us how anti-Fascism and radical solidarity can be combined while at the same time overcoming some very German psychology. Jewish dissidence is a very small, yet significant, part of this new phenomenon.
1954 born in Moenchengladbach, one of the most western parts of what was then West-Germany.
In 1979 I got a Master Degree in Educational Science and Sociology from the University of Goettingen, later another degree from the Hamburg School of Journalism.
From 1983 up to 1999 I worked as political correspondent and reporter with several dailys and weeklys in Bonn, Hamburg and Berlin, writing about domestic policies and contemporary history. From 1990 with focus on new nationalism after German Unification, the rebirth of right-wing intellectualism and the so called forgotten victimes of the Third Reich on the other side of the former Iron curtain (east-europaen Jews and forced labourers).
Also lecturing at several Media Academies.
In 1999 I changed to foreign affairs reporting. Lived for four years in Malaysia, covering stories all over South East Asia on human rights, societal developments and inter-faith relations. From the material later grew my first book (“The hut of small phrases”).
Since 2004 based in Germany as a traveling freelance foreign reporter, mostly on Muslim or Islamicate societies. Research trips to many countries in the Middle East (more correctly: Westasia) and to North- and West-Africa, often for “Die Zeit”, Geo or Le Monde Diplomatique, sometimes for my book projects and or as guide for civil society related travel programs.
Mali as well as Iran fascinated me most, over the years I went there again and again and wrote books on both societies. (“Mali or the wrestling for dignity”, 2014. “The new Iran. A society steps out of the shadow”, 2017 and 2019). My findings in various Muslim societies, particulary with regards to the many roles of women, led to the book “You know nothing about us. My journeys through an unknown Islam”, 2008 and 2012.
Reflections about the impact of western media, about Eurocentrism and my personal experiences in other cultures led to an autobiografical collection of essaies “About the attempt not to write white”, published 2012 and again 2018.
More recently I extended my thinking more general to race relations, postcolonialism and the global decline of the white people to whom I belong. “The long farewell to white dominance” was released in fall 2019. Written again in a personal style I examine what has changed since my childhood, within Germany and beyond, with one focus on the meaning of the Shoah in times of migration and right wing populism.
Selection of translated reports
Cambodia – Journey through a traumatized land Islam-experts – ten-a-penny Travels around Iran Road No 6. Calcutta – Mumbai 30 Years Islamic Revolution (Iran) The Green Movement in Iran (2009) Destruction of a Hero – showtrial in Tehran (2009) The Scramble for Timbuktu. Africa`s ancient written culture (2010) Mali: Grassroot democracy and good citizenship in Africa Women in Oman: Why the university needs a men’s quota Armenians in Syria: The fifth generation after the Ottoman genozid
Author of foreign reports, essays and books, since 2003 with a focus on “Islamic lifeworlds”.
Research in about 30 non-European countries, including Iran, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, Oman, Tunisia, Morocco, Uzbekistan, as well as Nigeria, Swaziland, Cameroon, Senegal, Tanzania, Sudan and especially often Mali. Before 2003 various trips within Southeast Asia.
Publications in Geo, Die Zeit, Le Monde Diplomatique, Qantara (portal for dialogue with the Islamic world), Südlink, leaves for German and international politics, NZZ and others – columnist for the taz
Lectures on Islam, intercultural issues, postcolonial thinking
2020 Member of the Advisory Board of the Leibniz Center Modern Orient
2010, 2016, 2019 tour guide in Iran and Mali
1999 – 2003 Author in Southeast Asia, resident on the island of Penang/Malaysia. Research on politics, human rights, culture in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, East Timor and Australia.
1983 -1999 Political correspondent and reporter in Bonn, Hamburg and Berlin for stern, Die Woche, taz. Previously local editor.
Hamburg School of Journalism (today Henri Nannen School) Master’s degree in social education, sociology and political science, University of Göttingen.
1993 to 2018 lecturer in the training of journalists, mainly at the Evangelische Journalistenschule in Berlin. Lectureships at the University of Erfurt (“The journalistic perception of non-European cultures”) and at the TU Dortmund (“Reporting on Islamic lifeworlds”)
The long farewell to white dominance. Munich 2019 The new Iran. A society emerges from the shadows. Munich 2017/2019 Mali or the struggle for dignity. My Travels in a Wounded Land. Munich 2014 About trying not to write in white. Or: How journalism shapes our worldview. Cologne 2012, extended new edition 2018 You don’t know anything about us. My journeys through an unknown Islam. Freiburg 2008, updated and expanded TB edition 2012 The hut of small sentences. Political reports from Southeast Asia. Berlin 2004
2017 Special Prize from the Otto Brenner Foundation 2013 Recognition Prize from the Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies 2008 Media Prize for Development Policy 2007 Journalist Prize for World Population 1996 EMMA Female Journalist Prize
Founder of the intercultural fund “Sawasya” ( www.sawasya.de ) Member of the PEN Club and Attac 2011 – 2013 Member of the scientific advisory board of the Bremen Übersee-Museum for a new Africa permanent exhibition 2017 – 2018 Member of the jury of the reportage prize of the N -Ost-Netzwerk 2017 – 2019 mentor at “Go your way”/Deutschlandstiftung Integration
Nakba (catastrophe) is the term Palestinians use for their defeat and exile at the hands of Israeli forces during the 1948 War of Independence.
Dayan wrote on Twitter: “At the end of our in-depth conversation, [Goethe Institute Board chairman Mr. Johannes] Ebert assured me that the event will not take place. Wise decision.”
Earlier today, I spoke at length with the Chairman of the Board of the worldwide Goethe Institute Mr. Johannes Ebert. At the end of our in-depth conversation, Mr. Ebert assured me that the event will not take place. Wise decision. https://t.co/O60L0CYtQM— Dani Dayan (@AmbDaniDayan) November 11, 2022
When The Jerusalem Post queried the institute on Monday, Jessica Kraatz Magri, a spokeswoman for Goethe, told the Post that the organization “postponed the event” until Sunday and provided an updated link to the discussion. The event was sponsored by left-wing German political party Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS).
Foreign Ministry, Jewish and Zionist organizations express outrage at planned panel
Following a hailstorm of criticism on Wednesday about the event just as Jews around the world were commemorating Kristallnacht, Goethe stuck with its postponement.
The Foreign Ministry called for the cancellation of the event and expressed “shock and disgust” after the original announcement, calling it “blatant contempt of the Holocaust” and a “cynical and manipulative intent to create a connection whose entire purpose is to defame Israel.”
Dayan tweeted prior to the event that it “constitutes intolerable distortion of the Holocaust. Holding it on the anniversary of the November Pogrom (‘Kristallnacht’) is unforgivable.”
The event planned by the German cultural institute @goetheinstitut in Israel constitutes intolerable distortion of the Holocaust. Holding it on the anniversary of the November Pogrom (“Kristallnacht”) is unforgivable. pic.twitter.com/T1ifmEwVqc
Israel’s Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor told 103FM Radio that the event is “an attempt to make an inappropriate comparison at the expense of Holocaust survivors.” He added that “if it wasn’t ironic it would be tragic. This must not become an accepted discourse under the pretense of ‘holding a civilized discussion.’ It’s not.”
Alrun Kaune-Nüßlein, the director of political communication for RLS, told the Post that “we try to enable a debate between different democratic and emancipatory positions, as it corresponds to the tasks of an institution for social analysis and political education. As a left-wing institution in and from Germany, dealing with the numerous Nazi mass crimes – and in particular the murder of six million Jews – is central to us. Relativizing the Shoah is unacceptable for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation,” she said.
“We regret that the date of the event caused irritation. We are therefore postponing the event to November 13, 2022.”
Journalist at center of panel has faced criticism for anti-Israel views
At the now-canceled event, journalist Charlotte Wiedemann was set to discuss her book Grasping the Pain of the Others with Bashir Bashir, associate professor of Political Theory at the Open University of Israel; Amos Goldberg, associate professor of Holocaust History and director of the Research Institute for Contemporary Judaism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and Inge Gunther, a journalist covering Israeli and Palestinian affairs.
Wiedemann has faced criticism for her attacks on Israel’s existence. She wrote in the left-wing German daily newspaper taz: “There is no need to agree on the extent to which the founding of the State of Israel was also an act of settler colonialism.”
The left-wing and pro-Israel weekly paper Jungle World criticized the author for her pro-Iran regime views. Danyal Casar wrote that “Charlotte Wiedemann can nowhere see such an opposition in the taz.” Wiedemann wrote that ‘there is no opposition’ which could take responsibility in Tehran if the current system implodes.”
Date: 20.07.2022 Middle East conflict Shoah and Nakba – two interlinked catastrophes
Asked about the Shoah, Palestinians often bring up the Nakba, the displacement of Palestinians associated with the founding of the state of Israel. An Israeli Holocaust researcher and a Palestinian political scientist have developed a concept aimed at promoting dialogue about these two interlinked national traumas. By Joseph Croitoru
Shoah is the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, the Nazi genocide of Jews. Nakba is the Arabic term used by Palestinians to describe their flight and displacement from the land in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. Even at a linguistic level, there is a parallel between the two terms, because both words mean “catastrophe” in the respective languages.
Nevertheless, it became evident as far back as 2007, when the Jerusalem-based Van Leer Institute invited Jewish and Arab educational theorists from Israel to discuss the issue of the Holocaust, that Israelis and Palestinians have great difficulty relating to the trauma experienced by the other. The meetings, which took place over the course of a year, received financial support from the Heinrich Boll Foundation, a German think tank with close ties to the German Green Party. In the summer of 2009, part of the group met for a workshop at the memorial and educational location known as the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin.
The meetings also brought together Israeli Holocaust researcher Amos Goldberg, who was part of the team running the dialogue group, and Palestinian political scientist Bashir, who lives in Israel. When Bashir gave a lecture at the Van Leer Institute about Arab attitudes to the Holocaust and mentioned the Nakba in his lecture, Arab Palestinian participants from Israel insisted on discussing the Palestinian catastrophe too.
The controversial nature of the discussions that ensued spurred Goldberg and Bashir to consider another form of dialogue. They drew up a draft paper that compared the Shoah and the Nakba (without equating them with each other), reflected on their comparable importance in the collective memory of the respective groups, and called for mutual empathy.
Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem: Many Israeli Arabs came into contact with the Shoah first and only afterwards with the Palestinian catastrophe, the Nakba. Publicist Marzuq al-Halabi and journalist and translator Antoine Shalhat both wrote that it was only after 1967, when they met acquaintances and relatives from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, that the Nakba became a theme for them. Al-Halabi’s knowledge of the Holocaust made him to a certain extent immune to the Arab and Palestinian defensive attitude which, in his opinion, has less to do with the Shoah as an historical event, than with the way the Israeli side presents it and uses it politically to evade responsibility for the Nakba. He also says that on the Arab side, the Holocaust is denied or played down. A common claim, he says, is that the Palestinians had to bear the consequences of the Holocaust – albeit only indirectly – although they were not responsible for the crime
Asymmetry of national catastrophes
On the basis of this paper, Jewish and Palestinian intellectuals were invited to write contributions for a book, a collection of articles, which was published in Hebrew in Jerusalem in 2015 and immediately triggered protests from the Israeli right wing. Bashir and Goldberg’s introduction to the book translates as “Reflections on memory, trauma and nationalism in Israel/Palestine”. They had previously published a shorter version of this introduction in English in the Journal of Genocide Research in 2014.
The authors’ wanted first of all to discuss in detail the differences in attitudes. They said that the Shoah was, in terms of its scale, not comparable with any other event that as such is considered singular. However, because the Holocaust has become – not only for Jews but also now for large parts of the Western world – the ultimate symbol of evil, any attempt to connect it even loosely with other chapters of the history of violence is quickly suspected of being an attempt to trivialise the Holocaust.
They went on to say that while the Shoah is over as an historical event and the Jewish people has, despite the trauma, been able to get back on its feet again, the Palestinians are to this day, in a position of political, military, economic, and cultural weakness because of the consequences of the Nakba.
According to Bashir and Goldberg, there is also asymmetry in the national catastrophes of both peoples from a moral point of view: the Palestinians were not to blame for the Holocaust, but the Israelis were responsible for the displacement and flight of the Palestinians and for their discrimination in Israel and oppression in the Occupied Territories.
Integrating the other’s catastrophe in one’s own narrative
According to Goldberg and Bashir, a rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians, who both see themselves as victim communities, is made more difficult above all because the Shoah and the Nakba are used equally to legitimise national claims. Nevertheless, they feel that it should be possible to integrate the catastrophe experienced by the other into one’s own narrative without having to abandon the “ultimate claim to justice” derived from the national traumas.
Both scientists considered American historian Dominick LaCapra’s concept of “empathic unsettlement” to be helpful in this context. When applied to the Israeli-Palestinian case, this would entail developing empathy for the sensitivities of the other, without having to adopt the other’s positions.
Jewish resident Katya Michaelov embraces her Arab neighbour, Obaida Hassuna, whose son, Musa, was killed in recent clashes between Arabs and Jews in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod in central Israel on 29 May 2021. Empathising with each other’s pain and trauma is difficult for Israelis and Palestinians. But in the long run it is essential for mutual understanding between the two parties to the conflict. “My child and their grandson are friends and play together,” Michaelov says of her neighbour. “All of this is political and it’s the people who are suffering”
The Hebrew-language anthology, which was published in 2015, brought together contributions that responded to the call for dialogue on an equal footing and those that criticised this approach. One of the articles in the first group was written by the Israeli professor of literature Hannan Hever, who used several poems by Israeli poet Avoth Yeshurun (1904–1992) to show that in the early years of the State of Israel, there was indeed sympathy among Israel’s literary figures for the fate of the Palestinians.
Yeshurun was of the opinion that genuine understanding for the Palestinians’ experience of being victims could only come from the perspective of Jewish victimhood and that both should be seen as equally important. Hannan Hever even saw in this the seeds of “multidirectional memory” (2009), a concept developed decades later by Michael Rothberg.
Several Israeli Arab authors who contributed to the book recapitulated that as Palestinians, they knew about the Holocaust long before they were in a position to focus on the Nakba and its consequences. One reason for this was the curriculum taught at Arab schools in Israel where there were lessons on the Shoah, but not on the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948. What’s more, families did not talk about the Nakba for fear of reprisal from the state. Journalist and writer Marzuq al-Halabi and journalist and translator Antoine Shalhat both wrote that it was only after 1967, when they met acquaintances and relatives from the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, that the Nakba became a theme for them.
The Arabs and the Holocaust
Al-Halabi’s knowledge of the Holocaust made him to a certain extent immune to the Arab and Palestinian defensive attitude which, in his opinion, has less to do with the Shoah as an historical event, than with the way the Israeli side presents it and uses it politically to evade responsibility for the Nakba. He also says that on the Arab side, the Holocaust is denied or played down. A common claim, he says, is that the Palestinians had to bear the consequences of the Holocaust – albeit only indirectly – although they were not responsible for the crime.
In their second anthology on the Shoah and the Nakba, Israeli Holocaust scholar Amos Goldberg and Palestinian political scientist Bashir Bashir also examine the current debate about the competition between Holocaust and colonial memory. For example, Palestinians see Zionism, the State of Israel and its occupation practices as a continuation of the European colonial movement in the form of “settler colonialism” – a perspective that is rejected by the official Israeli stance, which is based on the experience of the Holocaust
The various aspects of the way the Arabs handle the issue of the Holocaust was also addressed in the anthology by the Israeli expert in Islamic Studies Esther Webman and her colleague Meir Litvak.
Their assessment that the issue of the Shoah was being used for anti-Zionist propaganda on the Arab side – for example the accusation of a Zionist “collaboration” with the Nazis – corresponded with the observation made by Samira Lahyan, a Palestinian educationalist living in Israel.
She searched in vain for a reference to the Shoah in school books used by the Palestinian Authority. The authority issued a statement saying that a change in policy would only be conceivable if the Nakba were to be taught in Israeli schools.
Philosopher Elhanan Yakira wrote about the Israeli attitude of refusal in the book: he said that a “universalisation” of the Holocaust as a Jewish gesture of dialogue must be rejected because such a gesture blurs the fact that the Nazi’s primary objective was to annihilate the Jews.
No one, he pointed out, was asking the Palestinians to sacrifice the “Arab character of the Nakba” in return.
In 2018, Goldberg and Bashir published their second collection of contributions, The Holocaust and the Nakba. A New Grammar of Trauma and History (Columbia University Press).
In their introduction, they examine the current debate about the competition between Holocaust and colonial memory. According to Goldberg and Bashir, in the Israeli-Palestinian case, the two narratives collided with particular force.
They said that the Palestinians see Zionism, the State of Israel and its occupation practices as a continuation of the European colonial movement in the form of “settler colonialism” – a perspective that is rejected by the official Israeli stance, which is based on the experience of the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, Bashir and Goldberg believe that a rapprochement of the two “metanarratives” is indeed possible. The post-colonial narrative would have to consider Zionism as an answer to the growing calamity facing European Jews at the time, among other things. And when talking about the Holocaust, awareness should be raised that the Shoah is part of a long history of ethnic cleansing that also includes the Palestinian Nakba.
British historian Mark Levene expanded on this idea in his contribution to the book. According to Levene, the toleration of displacement and genocidal ethnic cleansing in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century made the idea of a “transfer” of the Palestinians seem feasible in the eyes of the Zionist leadership of the Yishuv in Palestine – the consequences of which are known to us all.
Elias Khoury: take the Jewish trauma into consideration
The competing “metanarratives” are barely mentioned in the remaining 14 contributions to the book. Instead – especially in the contributions from Israeli Jewish authors – very personal, sometimes biographical reflections on the Shoah/Nakba field of conflict and reports of fictitious and real individual stories in which the victim images of both sides overlap dominate. Palestinian anthropologist Honaida Ghanim found this dynamic – the frequent change of perspective between Shoah survivors and Nakba victims – in particularly succinct form in the story “Return to Haifa” by the left-leaning writer Ghassan Kanafani, who was killed by the Israelis in Beirut in 1972.
Israeli historian Alon Confino told the exceptional story of two married Holocaust survivors who upon their arrival in Jaffa refused to be billeted in a house abandoned by Palestinians because it reminded them of their own experience of being displaced and persecuted.
A first step towards the historicisation of the attempts to reflect together on the Shoah and the Nakba was taken by the Palestinian political scientist Nadim Khoury, who teaches in Norway, who traced the origins of these attempts to the years following the conclusion of the Oslo Accords.
One entire section of the book was devoted to the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury, who also wrote the foreword. Bashir and Goldberg were inspired by his novel Gate of the Sun in which a Palestinian calls on his compatriots to take the Jewish trauma triggered by the Shoah into consideration. The last three contributions in the book focused on Khoury’s novel Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam, which was published in English translation in 2018.
The Palestinian Nakba of 1948
It’s a day of celebration for Israelis but for Palestinians it’s the Nakba, the catastrophe. The foundation of Israel on 14 May 1948 meant hundreds of thousands of them fled or were expelled from their homes. Refugees’ fate
The journal Central European History (Vol. 54, 2021, Issue 1 / Cambridge University Press) devoted six review essays to the book, to which Goldberg and Bashir have responded. Because they, among other things, called for a wider, flexible concept of Israeli-Palestinian binationalism – from a federation via a condominium to a binational state or a cooperative two-state structure – Shoah researcher Laura Jockusch accused them of “political activism” at the expense of a scientific approach.
Goldberg and Bashir countered by saying that it must be possible to think about ways in which dialogue could be accompanied by an egalitarian, binational political theory that considers a process of decolonisation to be a prerequisite for an historic reconciliation of both peoples. Moreover, they said, the obvious overlap of Shoah and Nakba is suitable as a scientific object for a number of reasons, for one because the two are to this day closely intertwined in the collective memories of Israelis and Palestinians. They also pointed out that the two are interlinked as historical events too.
Goldberg and Bashir said that at political level, the shock of the Holocaust conclusively cemented within the Yishuv leadership the endeavour to found a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, which was only made possible by the displacement of the Palestinians in 1948. They also said that the interlinking is also illustrated by the numerous biographies of the one third of Israeli soldiers involved in the war at the time were Holocaust survivors.
In response to the objection expressed by several people, including Philipp Ther, that Zionism cannot be seen as just another version of colonialism, the two researchers replied that for them too, in this context, settler colonialism is not the only explanatory approach. The complaint – voiced by a number of reviewers – that there was a lack of historical analytical depth to the book’s contributions, which addressed more literary, philosophical and artistic issues, Goldberg and Bashir explained that it had been exceedingly difficult to find authors willing to write about this very difficult subject. Both men hope to continue the debate they have started.
The queer scholar Corinne Blackmer published a new book, Queering Anti-Zionism: Academic Freedom, LGBTQ Intellectuals, and Israel/Palestine Campus Activism.
The book offers a pointed critique of LGBTQ scholars whose anti-Israel bias pervades their academic work. Blackmer demonstrates how the BDS movement has become a central part of social justice advocacy on campus, such as gender and sexuality studies. The book focuses on the work of Sarah Schulman, Jasbir Puar, Angela Davis, Dean Spade, and Judith Butler. Blackmer demonstrates how these scholars misapply critical theory in their writings of the State of Israel. Blackmer shows how these LGBTQ scholars mobilize the queer and intersectionality studies to support the BDS movement – eager to delegitimize, isolate, de-normalize, and extirpate Israel – at the expense of academic standards.
Blackmer notes that the word “Pinkwashing” refers to Israel’s “putatively dishonest abuse of its sterling record on LGBT human rights” to “whitewash” its crimes against the Palestinians. Accusing Israel of “Pinkwashing” is part of the strategy of the BDS movement. According to Blackmer, “Pinkwashing” derives from the seventeenth-century verb “whitewashing,” which means to hide crimes and vices.
Blackmer discusses the work of Sarah Schulman, a Jewish American lesbian BDS activist and academic, and mentions Aeyal Gross, an associate professor of Law at Tel-Aviv University. She quotes Gross, who asserts, “the term Pinkwashing is not very successful. It causes people to misunderstand the situation.” Unlike the use of the word Greenwashing to describe false environmental claims, Israel has real LGBT rights. BDS activists failed to make such crucial distinctions and conflated LGBT Israelis with their government. This negates the premises of “Pinkwashing,” Blackmer sums up.
By mentioning Gross briefly, Blackmer does not give the full scope of Gross’s involvement in advancing the narrative of “Israeli Pinkwashing.”
LGBT journalist Michael Luongo broadened the picture in an article published in The Gay City News journal, where he discussed the term’s origin. He quoted Gross, who said “Pinkwashing” dates back to 2001. Gross admitted he was part of this early movement of Israeli LGBT activists who created Black Laundry (Kvisa Shchora, in Hebrew), to protest the Israeli military crackdown following the Second Intifada. Gross presented a paper at Amsterdam Sexual Nationalism Conference stating, “I will explore the politics of sexual freedom apparent in Israel’s attempt to brand itself as ‘gay friendly,’ and as a ‘western’ and ‘European’ country, as opposed to supposedly ‘backwards,’ ‘homophobic’ Islamic countries which surround it in the Middle East… One should not deny the progress in sexual freedoms in Israel, but address the way they serve to cover and legitimize the denial of other freedoms, especially from Palestinians.”
Luongo disclosed that Gross told him that after long battles for LGBT equality in Israel, “It is a way for Netanyahu to talk about gay rights, but not too much… He would use it against Iran and the Palestinians in the UN.”
It was Gross who helped to advance the false “Pinkwashing” narrative. In 2011, Sarah Schulman wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, accusing Israel of “Pinkwashing.” She wrote, “The growing global gay movement against the Israeli occupation has named these tactics ‘pinkwashing’: a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians’ human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.” She then quoted Aeyal Gross who confirmed that “gay rights have essentially become a public-relations tool… conservative and especially religious politicians remain fiercely homophobic.”
Not surprising that holding negative views of Israel fits well with the agenda of SOAS University of London, where Gross has been holding an academic position.
Charges of “Pinkwashing are still rampant today. Last week, a Palestinian student, Sarah Dajani published an article, “Pinkwashing”: Disguising Oppression as Progression in the student newspaper of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. She stated: “The world is not a safe haven, especially for minority groups; however, countries that promote progression at the cost of human rights avoid and neglect dealing with violations and, sometimes, war crimes. Pinkwashing is the promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights of a corporate or a political entity to conceal ‘negative’ aspects of that entity. These aspects can range from human rights violations to war crimes.
She added that “Pinkwashing spreads ingenuine sympathy messages that are exploited to continue ‘The Burden of the White Man’ or ‘The Civilizing Mission’ propaganda.” She also mentioned Sarah Schulman and Aeyal Gross as researchers on the topic. Dajani ended by stating that as someone living in the West, “We still have a lot of work to be done when it comes to challenging the inequalities of our modern society, but we need to be aware of using the LGBTQIA+ community as a marker for civilization and a justification for violence and human rights abuses.”
As a Palestinian, Dajani fails to mention Ahmad Abu-Marhia, a gay Palestinian who was beheaded in the West Bank in early October. Abu-Marhia was seeking asylum in Israel and had spent two years in Israel. How he ended up in his home city of Hebron is unclear. His body was found decapitated. Video of the murder was circulating social media. His friends told the press he was kidnapped to the West Bank, where homosexuality is rejected by Palestinian society. Some 90 Palestinians who identify as LGBTQ live as asylum seekers in Israel.
The UN Human Rights Council published a written statement for 22 February–19 March 2021, submitted by United Nations Watch, a consulting NGO. “Torture of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ),” examines Palestinian Authority and Hamas human rights violations. It found that Palestinian LGBTQ living under PA and Hamas “suffer severe persecution and ostracism. Many Palestinian homosexuals end up fleeing to Israel.” The testimonies of gay Palestinians who escaped recounted “harrowing torture by both family and PA/Hamas security forces, often successful attempts to coerce them to inform on others, forced marriages and death threats.” The report discusses a gay Gazan Palestinian who lives in exile in Turkey. He described his arrest and torture by Hamas. “They arrested me, hanged me from the ceiling, beat me up and interrogated me for five days,” on suspicion of him being gay. Similarly, in February 2016, Mahmoud Ishtiwi, a Hamas commander, was “executed” by his former comrades for “crimes against morality, such as homosexuality.” He was subjected to severe torture by Hamas while in custody for over a year. He suffered “beatings, hanging from the ceiling for long hours and sleep deprivation.” In a note which his wife sneaked out, he wrote, “They nearly killed me, I confessed to things I have never done in my life,” the report stated.
Accusing Israel of “Pinkwashing” is a falsification of reality and a tactic to deflect from the brutal human rights record of the Palestinian Authority. Israel is a promoter of human rights, not only for Israelis but also for Palestinian civilians. Of course, the situation is complex, and Israel is not perfect. But Israel tries hard to protect all civilians, including Palestinians, even during a war. Scholars who are delegitimizing Israel instead of criticizing the two Palestinian regimes’ murderous policies are wrong and misleading. Therefore, Blackmer should be commended for her brave act of uncovering the truth.
With engaged scholarship and an exciting contribution to the field of Israel/Palestine studies, queer scholar-activist Corinne Blackmer stages a pointed critique of scholars whose anti-Israel bias pervades their activism as well as their academic work. Blackmer demonstrates how the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to delegitimize and isolate Israel has become a central part of social justice advocacy on campus, particularly within gender and sexuality studies programs. The chapters focus on the intellectual work of Sarah Schulman, Jasbir Puar, Angela Davis, Dean Spade, and Judith Butler, demonstrating how they misapply critical theory in their discussions of the State of Israel. Blackmer shows how these LGBTQ intellectuals mobilize queer theory and intersectionality to support the BDS movement at the expense of academic freedom and open discourse.
WHEN USED IN RELATION TO THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT, the word “pinkwashing” refers to Israel’s putatively dishonest abuse of its sterling record on LGBT human rights to conceal or “whitewash” its struggles with the Palestinians. Alleged to constitute an invidious “cover up”, pinkwashing actually represents a term of art deployed to deceive and fabricate fallacious arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It comprises part of the larger strategy of delegitimization of Israel by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate, de-normalize and, eventually, extirpate Israel as a democratic Jewish State. Despite the deceptive misuse of this term in this context, however, the word originated in other loci where it had different—as well as politically legitimate and rhetorically lucid—meanings.
HISTORY OF THE TERM PINKWASHING
The portmanteau compound term pinkwashing derives from the seventeenth century verb to whitewash, which means to hide crimes and vices, or to exonerate through biased presentation of evidence. The Nazis forced gay male concentration camp inmates to wear inverted pink triangles to shame them for their “inverse” gender identification. Subsequently, in the LGBT activist ACT-UP movement, the pink triangle was repurposed to symbolize political resistance to homophobia and the plight of HIV+ people and those living with AIDS.1
In the 1980s, the now iconic pink ribbon logo became a form of so-called “cause marketing” that companies used to advertise their support for breast cancer survivors, victims, and charities. These logos became ideal means to promote products and sell merchandise. However, in a classic case of false advertising, research revealed that many products sold by these companies contained carcinogenic ingredients linked with the increased risk of [End Page 171] breast and other forms of cancer. In addition, the focus on mammograms, prevention, and “the cure” ignored environmental factors and the fact that poor women of color suffered disproportionately from breast cancer. Accordingly, in 1985, the organization Breast Cancer Action (BCA) coined the term “pinkwashing” to characterize this fraudulent and deceptive form of cause marketing.2 In 2002, BCA inaugurated its Think Before You Pink®3 campaign as an impassioned feminist protest against the indiscriminate and disingenuous abuse of pink ribbon logos to turn profits and, according to Cary Nelson, “hid[e] the ways they are actually contributing to cancer through their manufacturing processes”.4
As applied to anti-Israel movements, the Jewish American lesbian BDS activist, writer, and academic Sarah Schulman claims that the term “pinkwashing” emerged informally in the United States in 2010 as a nonce blending of whitewashing and “greenwashing”, or the marketing of products on the pretense that they were environmentally friendly.5 However, according to Aeyal Gross, Associate Professor of Law at Tel-Aviv University, the pinkwashing moniker actually originated in Israel in 2001 when leftwing queer activists created the group Black Laundry (Kvisa Shchora in Hebrew) to protest the Israeli Defense Forces’ crackdown on Palestinians following the Second Intifada. After long struggles for LGBT equality in Israel—often against the determined opposition from the government and Orthodox Judaism—the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu cynically appropriated LGBT rights to advance its own agendas against Iran and the Palestinian Territories at the United Nations.6 He presented Israel as a gay-friendly, progressive, democratic country that protected human rights, as opposed to other benighted and homophobic Middle Eastern nations.7 Although the claims he made were accurate, and he therefore did not engage in pinkwashing, Netanyahu hypocritically supports parties and organizations abroad (particularly in the United States) that discriminate against LGBT people. Therefore, as Gross asserts, “the term Pinkwashing is not very successful. It causes people to misunderstand the situation,” because unlike the use of the word Greenwashing to describe false environmental claims, Israel has had real LGBT rights advances.8
BDS activists not only failed to make such crucial distinctions but also conflated LGBT Israelis with their government and denied the “real LGBT rights advances (emphasis mine)” made in Israel, which negate the premises of pinkwashing and, in the case of the pink logo, “cause marketing” for breast cancer, both of which rest on fraudulent claims.
Academic Freedom, LGBTQ Intellectuals, and Israel/Palestine Campus Activism
WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS 2022
Why do some scholars sacrifice truth and logic to political ideology and peer acceptance?
With courage and intellectual integrity, queer scholar-activist Corinne Blackmer stages a pointed critique of scholars whose anti-Israel bias pervades their activism as well as their academic work. In contrast to the posturing that characterizes her colleagues’ work, this work demonstrates true scholarship and makes an important contribution to the field of Israel studies.
In Queering Anti-Zionism: Academic Freedom, LGBTQ Intellectuals, and Israel/Palestine Campus Activism (Wayne State UP, 2022), Blackmer demonstrates how the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to delegitimize and isolate Israel has become a central part of social justice advocacy on campus, particularly within gender and sexuality studies programs. The chapters focus on the intellectual work of Sarah Schulman, Jasbir Puar, Angela Davis, Dean Spade, and Judith Butler, demonstrating how they misapply critical theory in their discussions of the State of Israel.
Blackmer shows how these LGBTQ intellectuals mobilize queer theory and intersectionality to support the BDS movement at the expense of academic freedom, open discourse, and intellectual integrity.
The world is not a safe haven, especially for minority groups; however, countries that promote progression at the cost of human rights avoid and neglect dealing with violations and, sometimes, war crimes.
Pinkwashing is the promotion of LGBTQIA+ rights of a corporate or a political entity to conceal ‘negative’ aspects of that entity. These aspects can range from human rights violations to war crimes. Pinkwashing spreads ungenuine sympathy messages that are exploited to continue “The Burden of the White Man” or “The Civilizing Mission” propaganda, which depend on spreading the ideas that are seen as ‘progressive’ and ‘civilized’ through violence, conquest, and military intervention.
Like whitewashing, the term is supposed to indicate hiding crimes with a humane and progressive ‘color.’ The American novelist Sarah Schulman claims that the term “pinkwashing” was used in the United States in 2010 when talking about products that are falsely advertised as eco-friendly. However, according to the Israeli author Aeyal Gross, the term originated in Israel in 2001 by the queer activist group Black Laundry, Kvisa Shchora in Hebrew, to protest the Israeli violence against Palestinians following the Second Intifada. In his book Queer Palestine and the Empire of Critique, Palestinian Anthropologist Sa’ed Atshan mentions how during the panels he has given around U.S. universities, the interventions that were related to Palestine focused on “Palestine homophobia with the existence of queer spaces and expression in Israel.” He emphasizes that this should not distract from “condemning patriarchy and homophobia in my [the Palestinian] society.” Despite the common association of the term with Israel, pinkwashing is all around us.
The Pink Dollar is a term used for profit made off of the LGBTQIA+ community. Companies that promote the rights of marginalized groups were considered fighters for equity and peace. However, in countries like the United States, where political power is in the hands of corporate CEOs, one should question the disparity between the popularizing of these causes and the actual legislation passed. The American experimental writer Alexandra Chasin said that “going to the market” means “abandoning the effort to challenge inequalities in society.” This propaganda, whether promoted by corporates or political entities, supports the abuse of human rights and dismantles the struggle for equity.
In 2014, the Israeli court convicted Ben David of murdering and kidnapping Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy. Before the case was considered ‘solved,’ rumors were spread speculating that the murder was an ‘honor killing,’ reports Haartz, the longest running Israeli newspaper. People spread that the victim was gay because he was known at the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance (an LGBT organization in Jerusalem that had supposedly released a statement about his death). The executive director of Open House denied this claim, but images entitled, “The Arabs killed him for being gay,” were still widely spread.
The certainty in the messages spread show the strength of the propaganda in portraying ‘Arabs’ as barbaric and intolerant; this is no different than the European propaganda that dehumanized indigenous people. Similarly, Jasbir Puar, an American philosopher and queer theorist, suggests that the subsequent human rights abuses following the invasion of Iraq were disguised as “sexually progressive multiculturalism justifying foreign intervention.”
We still have a lot of work to be done when it comes to challenging the inequalities of our modern society, but we need to be aware of using the LGBTQIA+ community as a marker for civilization and a justification for violence and human rights abuses. When we support organizations that promote ‘inclusivity’ while still maintaining inhumane labor practices, biased hiring processes, and support for discriminatory organizations, we are part of the problem.
It is not clear how Ahmad Abu Marhia ended up in his home city of Hebron
Palestinian police have arrested a suspect in the killing of a 25-year-old man after his body was found decapitated in the occupied West Bank.
LGBTQ groups in Israel, where Ahmad Abu Marhia was seeking asylum, say he had received threats because he was gay.
Video of the murder scene in Hebron has spread widely on social media raising speculation about the motive, but police say nothing is confirmed.
It is unclear for now how Mr Abu Marhia ended up in the city.
LGBTQ groups say he had spent two years in Israel waiting on an asylum claim to flee abroad after receiving death threats from within his community.
Israeli media quote friends of the victim as saying he was kidnapped to the West Bank.
His family, however, said he regularly visited Hebron to see them and to work. They described the claims about the motive as rumour.
Homosexuality is rejected within the most socially and religiously conservative parts of both Palestinian and Israeli societies but gay people in Israel can freely lead their lives. The reports suggest he had fled his home on a humanitarian permit while hoping to go to Canada.
Activist Natali Farah told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper Mr Abu Marhia was well known and liked and the whole LGBTQ community was “crying now”.
“Everyone is scared,” she added.
Palestinians also expressed revulsion at the beheading.
A presenter for Karama radio station, quoted by the Times of Israel, said the crime had “crossed every single red line in our society, whether in terms of morals, customs, or basic humanity”.
Some 90 Palestinians who identify as LGBT currently live as asylum seekers in Israel, the newspaper said, after suffering discrimination in their home communities. They have only been allowed to seek work in Israel since July.
Following the IAM post last week, another recent report needs attention. It was conducted by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) on the politically-motivated investments of Qatar in Western Universities. This second report provides a case study of Northwestern University-Qatar (NU-Q), that is, Northwestern University’s branch in Qatar. IAM is especially concerned because Qatar has shown hostility to Israel throughout the years. In particular, Qatar wants to influence American policy toward Israel.
The second NAS report notes that in 2013, NU-Q entered a formal agreement with the Qatari-owned news outlet Al Jazeera to train journalists to work for the outlet. They even created the Al Jazeera scholarships for NU-Q students and started exchange journalism programs and training for students. Moreover, NU-Q helped Al Jazeera in reaching the American media market.
Qatar has also used its influence to support its friends, which include Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. The NAS report explicitly states that “American universities have invested substantial time and manpower to aid the development of an illiberal regime that funds and befriends entities hostile to American national interests.”
As the report states, Northwestern University’s only interest in the liaison with Qatar is financial. Qatar can preserve its “illiberal quasi-absolute monarchy and traditional Islamic mores and still escape criticism.” The report notes that “this cozy arrangement only further corrupts American universities and serves neither American interests nor ideals.” The report titled this arrangement the “new progressive illiberalism.”
From its inception in 2006, Al Jazeera has been extremely hostile to Israel and Zionism. As a rule, its reports focus on the negative to delegitimize the Jewish state.
For example, the Al Jazeera website defines Ζionism as a “colonial movement,” which, “as the likes of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe have argued, Zionist leaders were well aware that implementing their project would necessitate the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion, then head of the World Zionist Organisation, proclaimed the founding of the state of Israel in Palestine. Zionists argued that Israel would provide a safe national home for Jews, allowing any Jewish person from anywhere in the world to immigrate there and claim citizenship. Critics, however, argue that Zionism has functioned like colonialism, pointing to the violent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population and the building of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as evidence.”
Of course, Al Jazeera does not mention the 1948 war when five Arab armies attacked nascent Israel or the Palestinian Arabs riots against the Jews between 1936-9 which were influenced by Nazi Germany.
As IAM repeatedly reported, Iran, Qatar, and other enemies of Zionism have recruited Israeli academics to tarnish Israel. Ilan Pappe was one of the first among these guns for hire, followed by Neve Gordon, Shlomo Sand, Ariella Azoulay, and others.
However, Al-Jazeera should be reminded that Qatar is a more colonialist creation than Israel. Mohammed bin Thani, the ruler of Qatar, signed a treaty with Britain in 1868 to recognize it as a separate entity. Qatar became a British protectorate from the early 20th century until its independence in 1971. Contrary to Qatar, the Jews were promised a national home by the League of Nations, and Britain was given the Mandate to create the national home for the Jewish People in Palestine.
While the Abraham Accords changed much of the negative attitude that Arabs generally held against the Jewish State, hostility driven mainly by the Palestinians and their backers, such as Qatar and Iran, is still around. Since Qatar is a significant funder of Western universities, it is not surprising that antisemitism is skyrocketing, and so is anti-Israelism.
Saudi Arabia has historically provided the largest amount of funding to American universities out of all the Middle Eastern countries. In recent years, however, neighboring Qatar has emerged as a significant rival. A small but wealthy Persian Gulf petrostate, Qatar recently became the top foreign funder of American universities, donating at least $4.7 billion between 2001 and 2021.1 Qataris fund research projects in many different fields, including medical research, cybersecurity, and economic development.
The top recipients of Qatari funds have something in common: they all have branch campuses in the country. According to the Department of Education, Northwestern University received more than $600 million in Qatari gifts and contracts since it opened a branch campus in the country in 2007. The Illinois-based university is one of six American campuses in Qatar, each of which has a particular specialization. Cornell University, for example, focuses on medical education, while Georgetown University specializes in government and politics. Northwestern University’s branch campus in Qatar (NU-Q) primarily covers journalism.
Figure 1: American Campuses in Qatar
Total Funds from Qatar
Virginia Commonwealth University
Texas A&M University
Carnegie Mellon University
Computer Science and Technology
The Qatar Foundation (QF), a state-led non-profit founded in 1995 by Qatar’s ruling family to improve Qatari society, funded this educational complex. Through the QF, the country hopes to 1) increase the workforce participation rate among Qataris; 2) equip Qataris to replace the foreigners who dominate many sectors of their current workforce; 3) prevent the “brain drain” that results when Qataris study abroad and fail to return home; and 4) maintain the strength of Qatar’s Islamic religious customs and traditions.2
After founding QF, Qatar began to recruit Western universities to build branch campuses in Education City, Doha, so that the nation could provide its youth with educational opportunities.3 The first branch campus, established by Virginia Commonwealth University, opened in 1997. NU-Q opened in 2008, largely due to the work of Carnegie Foundation of New York president Vartan Gregorian, who was both a member of QF’s board of trustees and a close friend of one of Northwestern’s trustees.4
About Vartan GregorianVartan Gregorian held many prominent leadership positions throughout his life—ranging from president of Brown University to CEO of the New York Public Library (NYPL). He was born in Iran in 1934 to Armenian parents and moved to the United States in the 1950s to pursue higher education.Gregorian’s immigrant background shaped his approach throughout his career. Prior to his leadership roles, Gregorian worked as a professor and specialized in Middle Eastern and European affairs. As the CEO of the NYPL during the 1980s, he increased circulation of multicultural materials. When Gregorian served as Brown’s 16th president from 1989 to 1997, he worked to increase the university’s international reputation and expand its influence abroad. And during his presidency for the Carnegie Corporation of New York from 1997 until his death in 2021, Gregorian expressed interest in projects that celebrated Islamic culture and society. In 2003, Gregorian published Islam: A Mosaic, Not A Monolith, which rebutted Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.5Gregorian’s interest to change Western perceptions of Islam and his expansive influence in the academic world made him an ideal candidate for QF’s board of trustees.
QF recruited Northwestern to establish a Qatari branch campus in the hopes that the university would train future journalists who could build Qatar’s media presence abroad. At first, this purpose was largely unstated. In 2013, however, NU-Q entered a formal agreement with the Qatari-owned news outlet Al Jazeera designed to train journalists for the outlet. NU-Q and Al Jazeera signed a Memorandum of Understanding that created Al Jazeera scholarships for NU-Q students and established journalist exchange programs and training workshops in which the students could participate. As part of the agreement, NU-Q committed to help Al Jazeera expand into the American media market via its Al Jazeera America (AJA) news channel:
NU-Q will conduct consultations with Al Jazeera leadership based on its faculty research interests and expertise in the American media industry, as the news network moves forward with its planning for Al Jazeera America.6
AJA shut down in 2016, but Al Jazeera continues to reach American audiences via its social media platform AJ+.7
Nearly 500 students have graduated since NU-Q’s founding; the number of graduates increased from 35 for the class of 2012 to somewhere between 75-80 in the 2021 class.8
Universities that enter into agreements with Qatar receive significant criticism because of the emirate’s illiberal practices. Qatar is a quasi-absolute monarchy that offers little in the way of protections for workers, women’s rights, or freedom of the press. Critics of the Qatari government frequently end up in jail, so academic freedom for professors at branch campuses remains a major concern—as does the willingness of American universities to turn a blind eye to Qatar’s illiberal practices.9 Qatar’s National Vision, a development plan, emphasizes its intention to modernize to keep up with globalization, but modernization does not mean liberalization. Indeed, the National Vision clearly stipulates that Qatar will not compromise its local and traditional values for the sake of modernization.
Qatar’s stipulation prompts a natural concern about whether American universities should enter partnerships with the Qatari government, since American values differ considerably from those of Qatar. Former Northwestern professor and faculty senate president Stephen Eisenman raised these concerns after visiting the NU-Q campus in 2015.10 He published a report that offered nine proposals for reform, including the three that follow:
— Expanding scholarship programs for lower-income and non-Qatari students
— Creating a shared-governance structure for NU-Q faculty
— Informing the Qatari government that relaxed speech and press restrictions are preconditions for the university’s continued operation in the country
In an email to the author, Eisenman stated that, as of 2021, university administrators have not implemented any of his recommendations.11
Censorship meanwhile continues in full force in Qatar. In 2020, Northwestern moved an event featuring Lebanese Indie rock band Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is gay, from its Qatari campus to its American campus. Qatar makes homosexual relations illegal, and perpetrators can go to prison. Northwestern claimed that they moved the event due to “security concerns.” The QF, however, contradicted Northwestern’s claim and stated that the NU-Q event was canceled because it did not adhere to Qatari social customs.12
The Qatari government also insists on maintaining heavy-handed oversight of the reading lists on its American branch campuses.13 In 2015, the Qatar banned a question in a media use survey that asked participants whether they believed the country was “headed in the right direction.” Then-Northwestern dean Dennis Everett led the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF)-backed survey.14
It’s clear that Qatari values differ significantly from American values—in fact, the two belief systems often explicitly contradict. Furthermore, Eisenman’s report indicates that Northwestern has received negligible profits from its Qatari branch campus. So, the question arises: why would Northwestern bother to operate in Qatar?
One of Northwestern’s motivations seems to be a desire to exercise its influence to liberalize Qatar. In America, universities routinely use their authority, knowledge, and position to mold moral, political, and social decisions.15 Especially following the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, many American academics hoped that Middle Eastern countries would liberalize—and that they could assist with this transformation. As Everett said, “When we conducted our first study in 2013, there was enthusiasm for the idea that the Arab Spring might mark the start of a movement toward more freedom of expression.”16
Eisenman recalls the blind enthusiasm that Northwestern administrators had for NU-Q prior to his trip:
The president and then provost thought they were doing “God’s work” in establishing and supporting NU-Q, as they told me before my visit, and evidently felt no need to interfere with the Divine plan.17
In other words, it appears that Northwestern believed its branch campus would influence Qatar rather than become subject to Qatari influence.
The courses that NU-Q offers certainly disseminate the predominant ideologies of American universities.18 “Multiethnic American Literature” examines minority writers who challenged the “dominant narratives of America.” Courses such as “Social Construction” and “Children’s Literature” address gender constraints and propagate elements of gender studies.19 “Journalism in the Digital World,” a mandatory course for first-year Journalism and Media Industry & Technology majors, blends instruction in the craft of journalism with strictures to mistrust Breitbart News, an American conservative publication, because the publication has a “long history of distorting facts to suit a far-right agenda.”20 The course description fails to include instances of journalistic malpractice by left-wing media.21
Northwestern’s partnership with Qatar also provides the university with opportunities to expand both its reach and its revenue. In 2019, for instance, Northwestern Medicine announced that it would open a hospital in Qatar in partnership with Alfardan Medicine, a part of the Alfardan Group.22 The Alfardan Group is led by Omar Hussain Alfardan, who happens to serve on the Board of Trustees of Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). HBKU is also a partner of NU-Q.23 Northwestern’s connection with Qatar has also helped at home, as demonstrated by the five Qatari-funded professorships that the university now boasts.24
Through its relationship with Qatar, Northwestern has also gained access to a privilege only a handful of universities enjoy: Qatari research funds. Grants from the government-run QNRF are only available to institutions located in Qatar; but Northwestern’s branch campus in Qatar, therefore makes the university eligible to apply for QNRF grants.25 As of 2019, NU-Q received 11 QNRF grants, most of which addressed policy-relevant issues such as “driving behaviors in Qatar, Qatar’s foreign aid strategy, and…the development of the Qatar national identity.”26
As is often the case with government-funded research, QNRF proposals must address how the research benefits Qatar or aligns with the Gulf State’s National Vision. For instance, one of Northwestern’s accepted research proposals, “Assessing Qatari Emerging Media Engagement: A Study of How AR, VR, and other Emerging Media are Being Utilized in Qatar,” asks Qatari residents about their perception of media in the country. The proposal specifically states that the project will result in “increased opportunities to enhance Qatar’s regional and global reputation in the development of and engagement with technological innovation.”27
It is difficult to determine the full extent to which Northwestern has benefitted from Qatari research funds, as the university’s reports to the Department of Education have remained vague. The university, however, has revealed some of the dollar amounts itself via its celebratory announcements. In 2012, Northwestern announced that its Engineering and Arts School received two research grants from QNRF, both worth $1,050,000 over the course of three years.28 It remains unclear whether Northwestern has reported all QNRF grants to the Education Department.
National Museums and the Public Imagination: A Longitudinal Study of the National Museum of Qatar
University College London (UCL) – QatarNorthwestern University in QatarQatar UniversityUniversity of Puget Sound
Assessing Qatari Emerging Media Engagement: A Study of How AR, VR and other Emerging Media Are Being Utilized in Qatar
Northwestern University in QatarNorthwestern UniversityQatar UniversityRutgers University
Qatari Women: Engagement and Empowerment
Northwestern University in Qatar
Qatar and the World Values Survey: Ensuring Conceptual Validity and Cross-Cultural Comparability
Northwestern University in Qatar
Hashtag Blockade: Exploring the Digital Landscape of the Gulf Crisis
Northwestern University in Qatar
Fresh Global Media Players: Redistributing Media Power?
Northwestern University in Qatar
Media Use in the Arab Gulf: A Longitudinal Study
Northwestern University in Qatar
Content Innovation Strategies for Mobile Media in Qatar
Northwestern University in QatarNorthwestern UniversityQatar UniversityRutgers University
Media Use in the Middle East: Qatar in a Changing Region
Assessing the Qatari news media’s capacities for fostering public understanding of and engagement with science: issues, challenges, opportunities and their socio-political implications
Northwestern University in QatarUniversity of SharjahBournemouth University
Qatari adolescents: How do they use digital technologies for health information and health monitoring?
Northwestern University in QatarNorthwestern UniversityQatar University
Virtual Reality as a Hybrid Learning Solution for Education in Peri-and-Post COVID-19 Qatar
Northwestern University in Qatar
Catalysts and constraints: Women’s and girls’ experience of physical activity and sport in Qatar
Northwestern University in Qatar
Qatar and the World Values Survey: Enhancing the Validity and Cross-Cultural Comparability of Survey Research Measurement
Northwestern University in QatarQatar University
Development of a survey based tool to measure digital literacy for Arabic Internet users: A new model of assessment.
Northwestern University in QatarQatar University
Chicken is for the birds: Changing the deadly driving behaviors of young Qatari men
Northwestern University in Qatar
Global Regulation of Parody & Satire as Policy Guidance on the Implementation of Qatar’s Cyberlaw
Northwestern University in Qatar
Arab Children and Youth Television: A Study of Role Models
Northwestern University in Qatar
Cultivating a Science-Based Community and Scientific Culture in Qatar
Northwestern University in QatarHamad Bin Khalifa University
Helping Oneself by Helping Who Needs: the discourses and practices of Qatari Foreign Aid to developing countries
Northwestern University in Qatar
Assessing and Improving Migrant Workers Access to and Utilization of Health Information and Resources
Northwestern University in Qatar
Entrepreneurship and Economic Sustainability: contribution of migrant entrepreneurs in Qatar
Northwestern University in Qatar
Keep Them Safe: A Child Car Seats Persuasive Campaign
Northwestern University in Qatar
Surviving the Covid-19 Pandemic: Socio-cultural impacts of coronavirus outbreak on migrants in Qatar
Northwestern University in Qatar
NU-Q provides an important case study in the unique way that Qatar-funded branch campuses operate. These types of partnerships are relatively new forms of foreign funding for American universities, but they have grown in popularity. NU-Q illustrates how foreign relationships can develop: the Qatari government went from paying for the operation of a branch campus to funding American fellowships, research, and even hospitals. By cultivating its relationship with the host country, the university gains the potential to rake in cash through initiatives that extend well beyond the walls of the original branch campus.
Qatar is unique compared to other Gulf States, and partnerships with Qatar pose a unique threat to American higher education. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar exercises extensive bureaucratic oversight into university operations. The Qatari government also owns all the national partner organizations, including the Doha Film Institute, the Qatar National Research Fund, and Al Jazeera. Northwestern’s branch campus increases Qatar’s influence abroad—and Qatar uses its influence to aid its own friends, which include Western adversaries such as Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas. American universities have invested substantial time and manpower to aid the development of an illiberal regime that funds and befriends entities hostile to American national interests.
Branch campuses and other partnerships give American universities a stake in Qatar’s future, regardless of whether Qatar promotes or opposes American interests. Northwestern particularly seems eager to remain in Qatar whatever the costs. The university benefits from increased funding and the opportunity to expand—and, subject to Qatari censorship to preserve traditional mores, it can spread the modern brand of illiberal progressivism and identity politics that American academics think constitutes democracy.
American universities profit from Middle East branch campuses, and so do Middle Eastern countries such as Qatar. Northwestern requires nothing of Qatar beyond its money: the nation can preserve its illiberal quasi-absolute monarchy and traditional Islamic mores and still escape criticism. American universities meanwhile gain access to a new “mission field” in which they can work to export American identity politics and the new progressive illiberalism. But this cozy arrangement only further corrupts American universities and serves neither American interests nor ideals.
A colonial movement supporting the establishment by any means necessary of a national state for Jews in historic Palestine
Zionism is a nationalist, political ideology that called for the creation of a Jewish state, and now supports the continued existence of Israel as such a state. Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jew, is considered the “father” of political Zionism. The Zionist movement started in the late 19th century, amidst growing European anti-Semitism. The movement secured support among Western European governments, particularly after Zionists agreed to create their Jewish state in historic Palestine. The Zionists’ early objective was to claim as much of historic Palestine as possible, by driving out the Palestinian population. Zionists actively encouraged the mass migration of European Jews to Palestine during the first half of the 20th century. Despite their efforts, and the sharp rise in anti-Semitism in Europe culminating in the Nazi persecution, Arabs still outnumbered Jews in Palestine. Thus, as the likes of Israeli historian Ilan Pappe have argued, Zionist leaders were well aware that implementing their project would necessitate the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion, then head of the World Zionist Organisation, proclaimed the founding of the state of Israel in Palestine. Zionists argued that Israel would provide a safe national home for Jews, allowing any Jewish person from anywhere in the world to immigrate there and claim citizenship. Critics, however, argue that Zionism has functioned like colonialism, pointing to the violent ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population and the building of illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as evidence.
Since Zionism is a dynamic movement they knew that there was no finality about the borders then they knew that opportunities would arise in due course to take the rest of it and they did this in 1967.Al Nakba 3
Israel has to give up Zionism and the racist ideologies on which it was founded It has to take a path of reconciliation As in South Africa between the blacks and the minority whites when the blacks used to live in isolated islands.Palestina Amore
The National Association of Scholars (NAS) published a new report on the American Middle East Studies Centers. NAS is a non-profit organization that seeks to reform American higher education. The Report was written by Neetu Arnold, a senior research associate at NAS. Titled “Hijacked: The Capture of America’s Middle East Studies Centers,” it was published on September 28, 2022.
“Hijacked” gives a brief history of the U.S. government’s involvement in the 1950s and 1960s with the newly established Middle East Studies Centers (MESC) as part of the effort to improve national security. Academics were encouraged to produce policy-relevant information that benefited the American national interest. These Centers also trained students in various languages of the region so that alums could work for the government.
However, according to the NAS Report, critics accused the Centers of “propagandizing for their foreign sponsors instead of pursuing disinterested academic study and serving the American national interest.” In 1986, the US Congress included a foreign donation disclosure requirement in the Higher Education Amendments. Still, the Department of Education (ED) rarely enforced this requirement. Only in 2019, administration-initiated investigations were conducted into several prominent universities, prompting them to disclose more than $6.5 billion in foreign donations from governments, institutions, and individuals, mainly from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Wealthy Arab nations realized these centers could be valuable tools to influence American policy in the aftermath of the Six-Day and the Yom Kippur Wars. For example, Georgetown University academics and administrators collaborated with government officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Libya to establish Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Moreover, academics have repurposed critical theory to galvanize activism on Middle East issues. The Report shows how the Israel–Palestine debate has been reframed as a fight for “’indigenous rights’ against the supposed evils of colonialism.”
The Report illustrates the radicalization of the MESCs in the 1960s and 1970s. The New Left movement in academia, which propagated the neo-Marxist, critical theory, drew inspiration from critical theorists of the 1930s and 1940s, such as Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Jurgen Habermas, Michel Foucault, and Frantz Fanon.
Edward Said, the Palestinian-American professor of literature at Columbia University, contributed significantly to the popularity of the new movement with his work Orientalism, published in 1978. Influenced by Foucault and Fanon, a bitter critic of colonialism, Orientalism offered a scathing critique of Western perceptions of the Orient. In his view, the Orientalist perception was nurtured by the old generation of Middle East experts whom he accused of supporting colonialism in its various forms. His hugely popular book discredited the allegedly Orientalist approach of the early scholars at MESCs. The Report notes how scholars, such as British historian Bernard Lewis, strongly critiqued Said’s work, but to no avail. Said’s school of thought ultimately emerged victorious and influenced most Middle East scholarship to this day.
The new paradigm went hand in hand with an activist view of scholarship. In particular, many scholars began to engage in political advocacy on behalf of the Palestinians, who became, per Said and his followers, the poster children of Western colonialism. With the increased immigration from the Middle Eastern, MESCs welcomed the growing number of Arab scholars and students, many of whom brought local political ambitions and grievances to the field.
As the Report notes, certain Middle Eastern governments and their representatives benefited from the activities conducted at the Centers. It became evident that the Centers worked hard to eliminate negative perceptions of Muslims and Arabs. After 9/11, the Centers, flushed with new money, were actively pushing back on criticism of radical Islam by claiming that it was part of Western Islamophobia.
More consequentially, the neo-Marxist, critical paradigm that the Centers adopted had led to the so-called “Pro-Muslim Subjectivism” on campus. In plain English, scholarships cannot be objective as they are tasked with countering the negative views of Muslims and the Middle East by teaching the subject from an exclusively regional perspective. As well known, many, if not most Middle Eastern countries are very conservative; women are frequently treated as second-class citizens, homosexuality is punishable by death, and transgender individuals are never mentioned, let alone allowed, to publicly express their identity. Working within the framework of pro-Muslim subjectivity, activist academics try to avoid a discussion of such subjects. For instance, the current protest in Iran following the death of a young woman killed by the chastity police for not wearing her hijab in a sanctioned manner had hardly provoked a response because of “pro-Muslim subjectivity.”
This reluctance to react stands in sharp contrast to the Centers’ prolific condemnation of Israelis and pro-Israel Jews. The Centers, reflecting the larger trend in the field of Middle East studies, have disproportionally focused on the Palestinians. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the largest professional group in the field, has prioritized the Palestinian issue above other subjects. Martin Kramer’s in-depth analysis of the same subject, in his Ivory Towers on Sand(2001), noted that the profession as a whole is vehemently anti-Israel. If anything, the current situation is even more troubling. The NAS Report found that “Many of the faculty at MESCs support or are affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which advocates for an aggressive economic embargo against Israel due to perceived injustices against Palestinians.”
The NAS analysis concludes that Middle East Centers deprive students of “proper education about the region by using a progressive policy agenda to deliberately pick and choose which facts to present to students. Students should learn and understand the Arab world accurately, regardless of what reactions proceed from that knowledge. The academics’ fear of allowing students to form negative reactions prevents them from providing proper scholarship and instruction.”
Clearly, this approach does not help to nurture Middle East experts who would be charged with the security of the US. The region is extremely chaotic, and examining the fast-paced developments requires a sophisticated knowledge well beyond what the Centers provide. A radical reform of the field is urgently needed to achieve this goal. Such a reform is also crucial for Israel, as the situation has impacted its standing for over three decades.
In the 1950s, a constellation of philanthropic foundations, multinational corporations, interested scholars, and the U.S. government established the first Middle East Studies Centers (MESC) as part of an effort to improve national security during the Cold War. These centers belonged to a class of newly created academic units called “area studies,” which grouped scholars together by a geographic area of focus rather than by discipline. The founders of these centers intended to shift research and instruction away from ancient history and languages and toward the modern Middle East. They encouraged academics to produce policy-relevant information that benefited the American national interest. Centers also trained students in the languages of the region so that their alumni could work for the government as liaisons in this strategically important area.1
In the aftermath of the Six-Day War (1967) and the Yom Kippur War (1973), whose outcomes turned significantly upon American diplomatic and military support for Israel, wealthy Arab nations realized these centers could be useful tools to influence American policy in the region.
In 1975, Georgetown University academics and administrators collaborated with government officials from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Libya to establish Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS). Critics quickly accused the center of propagandizing for their foreign sponsors instead of pursuing disinterested academic study and serving the American national interest.
Concerns over Georgetown’s CCAS prompted Congress to include a foreign donation disclosure requirement in the Higher Education Amendments of 1986. Proponents of this provision believed that a transparency mandate would at least increase public awareness of the extent and nature of foreign influence, even if it failed to stop it entirely. The Department of Education (ED) rarely enforced this requirement until the Trump administration initiated investigations into several prominent universities in 2019. These investigations prompted universities to back-report more than $6.5 billion in foreign donations. Many of the donations came from governments, institutions, and individuals from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Concerns over foreign influence generated the bulk of public interest in MESCs over the last two generations. This report is no exception. We began this project to provide an up-to-date and comprehensive account of the history, character, and structure of the centers and to uncover the degree to which foreign funding has corrupted the study of the Middle East.
Previous investigations of the centers found few smoking guns to link foreign funding to the alteration of academic content, but they revealed a troubling pattern of bias, obfuscation, and opacity in the centers’ policies and finances. Our report finds that MESCs still suffer from endemic bias, obfuscation, and opacity to this day. We also discover and explain two far more worrisome developments:
Centers with little to no foreign involvement teach and research with the same extensive bias as those with significant foreign involvement.
Foreign governments typically do not fund the most harmful materials produced by the centers, such as critical race theory (CRT) workshops for local K–12 educators. Instead, the U.S. government subsidizes these materials through Title VI of the Higher Education Act.
In other words, the same leftist hysteria which has consumed the humanities and social sciences since the 1960s has spread to MESCs—subsidized by American taxpayer dollars. Academics have repurposed critical theory to galvanize activism on Middle East issues. For instance, they have recast the Israel–Palestine debate as a fight for “indigenous rights” against the supposed evils of colonialism.
Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) became the basis for justifying the application of critical theory to Middle East studies. Said transposed the philosophy of critical theorists such as Frantz Fanon and Michel Foucault onto relations between the Eastern and Western worlds, establishing the neo-Marxist framework that underlies much of the scholarship in the field today. Though Said was not a Middle East studies professor himself, his analysis severely damaged the content and structure of Middle East studies for decades to come.
Said’s framework enabled subjectivity to dominate the study of the Middle East. Centers now focus on notions such as “taking back our stories,” propping up select Middle Eastern groups who putatively suffer from “Western oppression,” and dismissing any criticism of these groups as biased. In fact, they explicitly eschew most criticism of the various cultures, religions, and ethnicities in the region—with Israelis as the notable exception. Affiliated faculty agitate for political causes in their instruction and research, as well as in the outreach materials they create for the local community.
Certain Middle Eastern governments and their representatives clearly benefit from the activities conducted at these centers. The centers aim to dismantle all negative perceptions of Muslims, Arabs, and other Middle Eastern groups.
It is no surprise that foreign governments and individuals fund these centers. But foreign sponsors rarely need to exercise active influence, for the faculty and staff willingly do their bidding unasked. Donors can thus take a hands-off approach, leaving almost no paper trail other than a dollar amount and a few signatures. The funding still serves their interests: continued production of biased material that promotes the political interests of the donors.
Some funds from Middle Eastern donors are not political in nature and support benign projects such as scientific research. But without transparency, it is difficult for Americans to understand the nature of foreign funds to universities.
This report aims to clarify the complex interplay between foreign governments, the U.S. government, private foundations, and scholars at these centers. Figure 1 lists all American Middle East Studies Centers. We provide the necessary historical context to explain how homegrown radicalism in American universities led prominent Middle East scholars to willingly promote the interests of foreign, often anti-American, groups. We demonstrate how foreign governments took advantage of these academics’ ideological commitment over the decades to propagandize Americans. We also show that the scholars are more loyal to their ideologies than to the foreign governments, which explains the apparent tension between their views and those of their foreign sponsors on certain social and political issues. Finally, we examine how the federal government has subsidized harmful material through the centers in recent years.
The corruption of these centers, however, does not mean that we should eliminate the study of the Arab world. Prior to the establishment of these centers, American scholars accomplished important feats through their study of the Middle East, such as the authentication of the Dead Sea Scrolls and discoveries of Sumerian cuneiform tablets.2 American scholars continue to make major contributions in archeology, and American institutional sponsorship (and Bahraini subsidy) makes possible such fine contributions as the New York University Press’ Library of Arabic Literature. Even now, the centers still teach some useful knowledge. They shine particularly in their language instruction, where students can learn both modern and ancient languages.
Scholars increasingly preoccupied with social justice activism, however, cheapen the quality of instruction. Serious changes must be made to restore the rigorous study of Islam and the Middle East. When Middle East studies returns to its roots, American students will receive the robust Middle East education that they desire—and that American taxpayers deserve.
Institute for the Study of Muslim Societies and Civilizations
Crown Center for Middle East Studies
Center for Middle East Studies
California State University at San Bernardino
Center for the Study of Muslim & Arab Worlds
Center for Palestine Studies
Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies
Middle East Institute
Duke University-University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies
Florida State University
Middle East Center
George Mason University
AbuSulayman Center for Global Islamic Studies
George Washington University
Institute for Middle East Studies
Center for Contemporary Arab Studies
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program
Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
Indiana University Bloomington
Center for the Study of the Middle East
Center for Global Islamic Studies
Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations
New York University
Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies
Middle East Center
Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa
The Ohio State University
Middle East Studies Center
Portland State University
Middle East Studies Center
The Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
San Diego State University
Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies
Center for Islam in the Contemporary World
St. Bonaventure University
Center for Arab and Islamic Studies
Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies
University of Arizona
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
University of Arizona
School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies
University of Arizona
American Institute for Maghrib Studies
University of Arkansas
King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies
University of California at Berkeley
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
University of California at Irvine
Samuel Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture
University of California at Los Angeles
Center for Near Eastern Studies
University of California at Santa Barbara
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
University of Chicago
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
University of Denver
Center for Middle East Studies
University of Florida
Center for Global Islamic Studies
University of Illinois
Center for South Asian & Middle Eastern Studies
University of Maryland
Roshan Institute for Persian Studies
University of Michigan
Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies
University of Oklahoma
Center for Middle East Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Middle East Center
University of Texas at Austin
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
University of Utah
Middle East Center
University of Washington
Middle East Center
Center for Arab and Islamic Studies
Washington University in St. Louis
Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies
Council on Middle East Studies
Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization
More than 50 academic centers in the U.S. focus on some aspect of the Islamic world. We provide in-depth information through case studies of Middle East and/or Islamic studies centers at eight universities: Harvard University, Georgetown University, George Mason University, University of Arkansas, Duke University/University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Consortium, University of Texas at Austin, and Yale University.
Figure 2: Our Case Studies
Year First Unit was Founded
Center for Middle Eastern Studies; Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program; Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture
University of Texas-Austin
Center for Middle Eastern Studies
Council on Middle East Studies; Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization
Center for Contemporary Arab Studies; Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
University of Arkansas
King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies
Duke University/University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies
George Mason University
AbuSulayman Center for Global Islamic Studies
As of 2022, Duke-UNC has a National Resource Centers (NRCs), a special designation that allows universities to receive federal funds. UT-Austin and Yale had NRCs up until the 2022-2025 funding cycle. The University of Arkansas, Harvard, and George Mason do not have NRCs. Georgetown has a combination of NRCs and non-NRCs. The mixture of NRCs and non-NRCs enables us to compare whether federal funds make any difference in the activities of the centers.
Each case study in our report will include a general history of the centers and a detailed investigation into the extent of foreign donations. This will be particularly useful for scholars and policymakers who wish to understand the basic facts about these centers. We also address a literature gap by providing in-depth histories aggregated in one place. The histories, especially of the financial support for each center, offer Americans an understanding of each center’s fundraising strategy today. Case study lengths will vary, based on the information that was publicly available and information the author gained through interviews.
Our case studies provide an even mix of public and private universities. Harvard, Yale, Duke, and Georgetown are all private and prestigious universities that attract major foreign donations and headlines. In the past decade, Harvard, Georgetown, and Yale have received prominent media attention for their foreign donations. Our analysis goes beyond the headlines to provide an in-depth analysis of outreach and course materials at these elite institutions.
It is equally important to observe how public institutions benefit from foreign funds. These institutions are frequently overlooked, since public attention often focuses on their elite, private counterparts. But, as this report details, public universities also engage in opaque financial practices. More students attend public four-year universities than private ones, and thus bring in more federal funds through student aid. Public institutions which fail to provide transparency in finances and operations fail their students and the states which give them additional funding outside of federal support.
Our investigation intentionally includes centers supported by donations that originated from different countries. Prior studies have focused on Saudi Arabian funds, which account for a majority of foreign donations to American universities. Our research considers two universities which benefited substantially from non-Saudi donations. Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies received a hodge-podge of gifts from the UAE, Oman, and Libya during the 1970s, and George Mason’s Center for Global Islamic Studies heavily relied on donations from Turkish businessman Ali Vural Ak, in 2009. Regardless of the originating country, it is vital to assess whether foreign funds affect the academic focus of individual centers or university courses.
In addition to the case studies, our study analyzes both the content that MESCs produce and the financial systems that enable them to operate. We base our findings on an examination of financial data, course syllabi, and interviews with administrators, faculty, and students. We also use archived materials to provide insight into the reasons why these centers were established in the first place. We are also the first, to our knowledge, to provide a broader overview of all Middle East NRCs between academic years 2000 and 2019 based on information from the International Resource Information System (IRIS).
We offer five recommendations, subdivided into two categories:
I. Federal Proposals
Public university foundations should be subject to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, while protecting the anonymity of domestic donors.
The Department of Education should require universities to report all foreign donations prior to the 2019 guidance.
The federal government should consider withdrawing financial support for National Resource Centers.
II. University Proposals
Universities should publish details about contracts, memoranda of understanding, and other deals with foreign countries in an easily accessible location on their websites.
Advisory boards for MESCs should not include members who represent the interests of a foreign country.
Origins & Purpose
The American discipline of Middle East studies was born out of a Western impulse to understand the region, its culture, and its people. Some were captivated by intellectual curiosity: from Jean-François Champollion’s decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics to Richard Francis Burton’s translation of the One Thousand and One Nights. In other instances, the impulse to study the Middle East was driven by the imperial pursuits of English and French scholars.
Any thorough study of Middle East education requires a historical analysis of the academic and external contexts in which the field developed. We must understand how developments inside and outside of academia have shaped the discipline of Middle East studies, especially over the past several decades, to accurately interpret the current behavior of MESCs. The past, more importantly, provides a standard of comparison by which we can assess the current quality and ideological bent of Middle East education.
What’s in a Name?The discipline of Middle East studies typically focuses on the modern development, culture, and people of present-day countries in the Middle East, including but not limited to Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Egypt. But the region was not always called the “Middle East.” The most antiquated term is the “Orient,” which referred to countries in the Islamic world and Asia. The terms “Near East” and “Far East,” however, were later used to denote the difference between the two areas.4 In our report, we use the term “Middle East” throughout, as this is the most common way to refer to the region today.
New Beginnings (1600–1880s)
In America, the formal study of the Middle East can be traced as far back as the 1600s. Harvard University was the first higher education institution in the new commonwealth to teach Semitic and Arabic languages, mainly for the purposes of biblical exegesis.5 Other colonial colleges followed Harvard’s example: Yale University introduced Arabic in 1700, the University of Pennsylvania in 1788, Andover Theological Seminary and Dartmouth College in 1807, and Princeton University in 1822.6
Academic and public interest in the region grew significantly after Napoleon discovered the Rosetta Stone in 1799.7 In the aftermath of the Great Awakenings, many American churches launched efforts to evangelize the Islamic world. The missionaries, who were often graduates of universities such as Yale, Dartmouth, and Princeton, gained a first-hand understanding of the region and its people.8 The missionaries’ primary purpose was evangelical, but their contributions in education proved to be vital to the development of Middle East studies in America.
In the 1860s, the missionaries established the Syrian Protestant College in Beirut, Lebanon (renamed the American University of Beirut in 1920) and Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey.9 Decades later, when American political objectives in the Middle East began to expand, scholars at these institutions lent their expertise in the region to both political and academic pursuits.
A Time of Transition (1880–1940)
American universities expanded their curricula to incorporate several new fields at the turn of the 20th century. American industrialists such as Johns Hopkins, Andrew Carnegie, and John Rockefeller spearheaded these endeavors and established well-funded educational institutions. Smaller donors, meanwhile, eagerly looked to sponsor research projects. This era of expansion led to a new approach in Middle East studies and research that extended beyond the earlier emphasis on Semitic languages and religious texts.10
Donors sought to sponsor attention-grabbing projects that would have practical results, which encouraged researchers to depart from the classical style of scholarship.11 In the early 1880s, the American Oriental Society (AOS) organized the first American archaeological expedition to ancient Babylon and Assyria to collect interesting artifacts to display back home.12 The AOS’s successful mission inspired others in higher education to conduct excavations of their own. The University of Pennsylvania organized a trip to Sumer, from which researchers recovered and translated many cuneiform tablets. The University of California, Berkeley, meanwhile, led digs in the Egyptian town of Qift and established an anthropology department at the turn of the 20th century.
The American public became increasingly interested in studying Middle Eastern languages and cultures in the first half of the 20th century. Social and geopolitical developments, such as Britain’s discovery of oil in Persia and the burgeoning Zionist movement among recent Jewish immigrants, likely contributed to the increased public interest.13 But America’s infrastructure for Middle East education was highly underdeveloped at the time and was not immediately prepared to meet the increased interest.
Two leading figures would change that: archeologist James Henry Breasted and professor Philip Hitti.
The University of Chicago hired Breasted as a lecturer in 1905 after he returned from studying Egyptology in Germany.14 During Breasted’s tenure, the Ottoman Empire’s collapse presented archaeologists with an array of new opportunities in lands now under European control. Breasted used his connection to the oil-wealthy Rockefeller family to launch a massive archeological expedition in the Middle East. Breasted’s expedition and his subsequent tenure as director of the Oriental Institute established the University of Chicago as one of the foremost hubs for Middle East scholarship prior to World War II. His connection with the Rockefellers also ushered in an era of significant Rockefeller funding for Middle East research.15
The second mover and shaker in Middle East scholarship in the interwar period was Philip Hitti, a young Lebanese professor who studied at both Columbia and the missionary-founded Syrian Protestant College. In 1926, Princeton recruited Hitti and appointed him as an assistant professor of Semitic philology. Princeton had a glut of untranslated manuscripts from previous archaeological expeditions at the time. Hitti seemed the perfect choice to make use of the findings. Hitti proceeded to assemble a group of scholars at Princeton to study Semitic languages and literature, and through his work, he almost single-handedly established Arabic studies in its modern form.16
Many orientalists continued down the path forged by Breasted and Hitti, studying Semitic philology and applying the knowledge to archeology and anthropology. The motivation for studying the region varied from scholar to scholar. Some scholars undoubtedly desired to catch up with European scholars, who had pioneered the academic study of the Middle East. Others had an academic interest in uncovering the connections that linked the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt with those of Greece and Rome.17
Whatever the motivations of individual scholars, Semitic studies and archaeology ultimately served as the precursors to modern Middle East area studies. The field’s roots significantly influenced its development: the early emphasis on archaeology over anthropology shaped how American scholars studied the Middle East for many years. Archaeologists focused on the region’s distant past, whereas anthropologists were more interested in studying contemporary Middle Easterners. With archaeologists at the helm, the field of Middle East studies was thus more concerned with the history of the region and its people than with contemporary political and social issues.
When the region became politically significant during World War II, the entire field of contemporary Middle East studies was reoriented to serve America’s political interests. Much of the excitement surrounding Middle East studies during the first quarter of the century had slowed down once the Great Depression began in the 1930s. Funding—even from the wealthy Rockefellers—had dried up, and many scholars had become desperate for work. When the government came knocking during World War II, archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, and other academics eagerly joined the cause.18
New Power, New Problems (1940–1990)
The period between World War II and the end of the Cold War witnessed major developments in American Middle East studies—with decidedly mixed effects. On the one hand, scholars’ careful work during those years led to many great discoveries and academic contributions, including the translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls; continued archaeological expeditions in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran; and new research on pre-Islamic sites.19 But the period also introduced significant government entanglement into the study of the Middle East, which has had a lasting effect on the discipline.
In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). The OSS recruited scholars to gather information on foreign nations with which the United States was currently involved or anticipated future involvement. The Near East division of the OSS, however, quickly discovered that most researchers were unfamiliar with modern political affairs in the region. As future Middle East studies director for the University of Pennsylvania E.A. Speiser put it, “It was not unusual for an Egyptologist to serve as an Arab affairs specialist or for a cuneiformist to investigate the manifold problems in Afghanistan.”20
The federal government and a plethora of external organizations had realized that more Americans needed to receive a robust education in modern world affairs by the end of World War II. The OSS’s structure, which had had divisions based on world region, provided the blueprint for modern area studies in academia.21
But it was the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and its affiliates who first advocated, in 1947, for a “national program for area studies” that would encompass knowledge about the entire world.22 Two years later, the SSRC’s humanities counterpart, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), noted the lack of American academic expertise on the contemporary Middle East.23
The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, which had close ties to the SSRC and ACLS, were also interested in funding area studies. The Cold War prompted them to focus initially on sponsoring research on Russia and East Asia. But after Israel secured its independence in 1948, and with an eye to the Middle East as a site of existing and potential Cold War conflict, Rockefeller and Carnegie turned their attention to the lands between Casablanca and Kabul.
Modern Middle East studies faced several challenges in its early days. First, it was not easy to reorient a field that had historically focused on producing more traditional scholarship toward scholarship that supported the American government’s strategic political aims. John Wilson tried to push through such a transformation at the University of Chicago in the mid 1940s, but he was forced to scrap the project due to heavy resistance from other scholars.24 Government interference with academic research was also a major concern, especially in the years following the creation of the CIA in 1947. Some academics were quite enthusiastic about the new funding and research opportunities that partnership with the CIA presented.25 Others, however, feared that the agency’s involvement in higher education would compromise the integrity of the academic research conducted in American universities.26
Regardless of these concerns, the field of Middle East studies proceeded to develop and expand in the following years. Philip Hitti managed to transform Princeton’s Department of Oriental Studies from traditional to modern scholarship, and Princeton provided the blueprint for future Middle East area studies departments.27 Many of the early leaders in Middle East studies secured new opportunities for their departments by maintaining connections with the CIA.
Figure 3: Middle East Scholars’ Connections to Intelligence Agencies
Director of Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies
Helped create Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies; Chair of Iranian Studies
Director of Harvard’s Center for Middle East Studies
T. Cuyler Young
Chairman of Princeton’s Department of Oriental Studies
Director of Princeton’s program in Near Eastern Studies
Ephraim Avigdor Speiser
Chairman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Oriental Studies
Professor at the University of Pennsylvania
Yale’s Louis M. Rabinowitz professor of Semitic languages
Walter L. Wright
Turkish Language and History Professor at Princeton
Lewis V. Thomas
Professor of Oriental Studies at Princeton
The first Middle East Studies Centers in America received much of their funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. In the 1950s, the Ford Foundation became one of the primary funders of MESCs as well. Because these private organizations enjoyed close relationships with the government, it is difficult to say whether MESCs were privately or publicly funded in those days. The Ford Foundation (technically a private foundation), for example, actively collaborated with the CIA and appointed a three-person board to funnel CIA funds through its organization to desired targets. Between 1959 and 1963, the Ford Foundation gave $42 million in donations to fifteen universities, with 60% dedicated to area studies and language education.28
Congress soon became interested in these Middle East studies programs. In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense in Education Act (NDEA), an emergency Cold War measure designed to support education initiatives that assisted America’s national defense. As President Eisenhower noted:
The American people generally are deficient in foreign languages, particularly those of the emerging nations in Asia, Africa, and the Near East. It is important to our national security that such deficiencies be promptly overcome.29
In its first year, the NDEA established nineteen National Resource Centers (NRCs), three of which were devoted to the Middle East. The NRCs provided education about a region’s culture and politics. NRCs also offered instruction in “critical languages,” which included Arabic, Hindi-Urdu, Russian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.30 The government encouraged the NRCs to bring in social scientists, such as anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and economists, to aid with the instruction and research conducted at the centers. The inclusion of social scientists reinforced the private foundations’ goals of producing practical, policy-relevant information about the region.
MESCs quickly supplied the deficit of scholars in the field. But they also became hotbeds of political controversy. Not everybody supported Israel’s independence, for example, and fierce debates broke out between scholars at centers across the country. Many prominent figures, such as Philip Hitti and William Wright, vocally supported the Arab contenders. Others, such as William Brinner (who later became president of the Middle East Studies Association), firmly supported Israel. The controversy only increased throughout the 1950s, which saw both the CIA-backed Iranian coup and the Suez Crisis. The temperature of these scholarly quarrels at last reached a boiling point in the wake of the Six-Day War in 1967. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) was formed partially with the goal of resolving the field’s political rifts.31
It did not, however, prevent continuing radicalization of MESCs in the 1960s and 1970s. Pro-Palestinian pressure emerged from the growing New Left movement in academia, driven by student activist groups such as Students for a Democratic Society. The New Left drew its inspiration from critical theorists of the 1930s and 1940s such as Herbert Marcuse and Max Horkheimer, and later it was greatly influenced by thinkers such as Frantz Fanon and Michel Foucault.32 These New Left thinkers not only provided the intellectual foundation for the sexual revolution of the 1960s but also inspired both the decolonization movement and its “postcolonial” successor.33
At first, New Left students (and, in time, professors) primarily supported African decolonization in states such as Algeria. The decolonization movement, though, adopted a broader stance as the 1960s and 1970s progressed.34 Students began to criticize American interventions in the Third World and launched an extensive campaign against the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War. Postcolonial thinkers soon turned their attention to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, in which they compared Israel’s expansion in the region to previous European colonial empires around the world.35 Although European and American support in the late 1940s for the establishment of Israel was strongest among the radical left, within a generation the European and American radical left became the most virulent critics of Israel in the Western world. Supporters of the decolonization movement also criticized U.S. economic and military interventions in the Middle East as neocolonialist actions motivated by the desire to secure American access to oil.
MESCs acquiesced in the extension of the new postmodernist thought throughout their discipline. Partly they believed they could not exclude the New Left, which provided such a large proportion of the younger cohort of scholars.
Perhaps more importantly, in 1975, the Church Committee exposed the shocking activities of the CIA and its affiliates such as the Ford Foundation, which included covert funding of academic research.36 The findings created a rift between academics and the CIA, which led the CIA and its affiliates to significantly decrease their support of and involvement with American academic centers.
The New Left soon received major intellectual reinforcements. In 1978, Palestinian-American literature professor Edward Said published his seminal work Orientalism, which provided a scathing philosophical critique of Western perceptions of the nations of the Orient.37 Said was strongly influenced by thinkers such as Foucault and Fanon and drew his methodology from the critical theory of Theodor Adorno and the Frankfurt School.38 His work strove to discredit the Orientalist approach of the early scholars at MESCs, and the resulting controversy caused another major rift in the field. Older scholars such as British historian Bernard Lewis, who later served as doctoral advisor to Middle East studies critic Martin Kramer, strongly critiqued Said’s work and his dismissal of the existing scholarship on the Middle East as the biased handmaiden of European imperial power—but Said’s school of thought ultimately emerged victorious among American Middle East scholars. Lewis, though well-connected politically and a sought-after advisor during the Bush administration of 2001-2009, became a pariah in the field.39 Said’s book continues to influence most Middle East scholars today, and it has inspired many similar critiques of Western perceptions of other parts of the world.
Amid this broader philosophical shift, many scholars within the field of Middle East studies began to engage in more explicit political activism on behalf of Palestine. As immigration from Middle Eastern nations increased, MESCs welcomed a growing number of Arabic scholars and students, many of whom brought local political ambitions and grievances with them to the field. The new scholars’ penchant for activism only increased the existing enmity between the political establishment and the academics, which had begun to set in after the Church Committee’s revelation of the extent of CIA involvement in the field.
It became highly unpopular for academics to work with the CIA. For example, Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies director Nadav Safran failed to report CIA funds for an academic conference in 1985 on Islamic fundamentalism. Harvard’s CMES received significant criticism, and Safran eventually resigned from the center, though he remained a professor at the university.40
Ironically, a major American Middle Eastern foreign policy triumph occurred just as academics began to disengage themselves from the CIA. The Reagan administration partnered with Saudi and Pakistani intelligence to arm Islamist Afghan rebels in the fight against the Soviets, and the consequent Soviet–Afghan War served as the final proxy battle of the Cold War. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) went so far as to publish and disseminate jihadist textbooks to the Afghan rebels, which remained in use for years to come.41 America’s adroit support for the Afghan rebels played a central role in bringing about a victory beyond the dreams of most American policymakers: the collapse of the Soviet Union.
That victory created a new range of facts on the ground in the Middle East, which would set the agenda for the next generation of MESCs—above all, how to address anti-Western Islamic sentiment and Islamist terrorism, both within the Middle East itself and among the Middle Eastern diasporas of Europe and America.42
Americans generally greeted the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War with joy and relief. Yet the end of the Cold War also ended the primary rationale for government funding of MESCs, which now faced a financial crisis. Directors worried that the centers might be headed toward dissolution if they could not find a new purpose.43
To make matters worse, many Americans began to look upon the Arab world with suspicion. The 1973 oil crisis was still an unpleasant memory, while the 1979 Iranian Revolution, along with the resulting hostage crisis, evoked further concerns about the anti-Americanism of Middle Eastern nations. American citizens, in addition, were growing aware of the specific dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism. The Islamic militants who committed the 1993 World Trade Center bombing were revealed to be disciples of a sheikh who had been brought to the U.S. by the CIA due to his assistance in the Soviet–Afghan War.44 Fears of Islamic radicalism multiplied following the attack, and Middle East scholars grew concerned about the possible repercussions for the discipline and for the Arab world.
Concern about backlash against Arab peoples dominated most Middle East scholars’ responses to pre-9/11 Islamic terrorism. The field’s understanding of contemporary history came to be shaped by its grievances against American foreign policy, whether Palestinian, Iranian, or otherwise. Other critics of MESCs, such as Martin Kramer, have noted the same patterns and wrote critiques of the grievance-oriented approach to studying the region. As a result of their obsession with criticizing American foreign policy, Middle East scholars have consistently downplayed the influence of Islamist leaders such as Osama bin Laden, an approach which Kramer argues has left the U.S. vulnerable to terrorist attacks.45
On the other hand, Middle East scholars did warn with some accuracy of the possibility of a large-scale war in the Middle East, and of untoward consequences that might follow from such a conflict. Middle East scholars tended to believe that America (perhaps prompted by Israel) simply sought a pretext for neo-colonial adventurism in the Middle East to revitalize the American military–industrial complex, though they discounted the possibility of an event such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks.46 Yet the Middle East academics did anticipate that large-scale American military involvement, whether justified or not,47 might bring about a host of unanticipated consequences—an anticipation that was sufficiently justified by events such as the rise of ISIS, the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, the Israeli–Iranian proxy war in Syria, and the American retreat from Afghanistan.48 If the MESCs were blind to the dangers posed to America by Islamic fundamentalism, they should receive credit for realizing that any substantial American intervention would have unforeseen negative consequences.
Over the past thirty years, MESCs have attempted to resurrect themselves by taking an oppositional approach to American foreign policy in the Middle East. In the 1990s, Arab states again began to offer significant foreign funding to American MESCs, even establishing entire centers in some cases (e.g., the Saudi-funded King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Arkansas). This foreign funding continued to flow in abundance throughout the 2000s.49 It is, thus, unsurprising that the scholars at MESCs continued to oppose American intervention in the region, as such a stance aligns with the interests of the countries that fund them.
In the years following 9/11, the federal government once again became interested in supporting MESCs, this time as part of its broader effort to combat terrorism. But many of the scholars at the centers were less interested in military development than they were in increasing Americans’ understanding of Muslims—or perhaps more accurately, sympathy for Muslims and Muslim-majority nations.
By the 2010s, the discipline of Middle East studies substantially broadened its range of topics. As this report will show, MESCs now offer a plethora of courses and content about North African countries, which previously were not considered within the scope of Middle East studies. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, the discipline additionally turned its attention to immigration and refugee issues, which have remained part of the standard curriculum at MESCs ever since.
Overall, the expanded scope of Middle East studies allowed centers to move away from “Euro-centric” perspectives and to highlight the experiences of those in other regions. Melinda McClimans, assistant director of the MESC at The Ohio State University, perfectly captures this new emphasis:
When I talk to classes, I say, “Before we start talking about the Middle East, let’s just ask Middle of where? East of where?” And just, you know, recognize the Euro-centric nature of that term. But I think the other problem with that term is [that], whenever you are studying an area, you’re kind of objectifying it … I don’t know if we should still be called Middle East Studies Centers. I don’t know if we should still call it area studies or maybe just chuck that out the window and talk about something like diverse global perspectives or contexts.50
The discipline of Middle East studies has abandoned its early focus on American national security and has, instead, turned its attention to propagating “diverse” views on American foreign policy.
What Makes a Good MESC?The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) intended Middle East National Resource Centers to produce policy-relevant research and train students to work in the American government. Specifically, research would align with and strengthen American foreign policy initiatives. These centers would also address staffing gaps for the government by training students for key areas where America possessed few trained professionals.These two goals, however, are more properly the work of think tanks or job training programs. Neither is really a component of the true purpose of higher education—the pursuit of truth.National resource centers were created as an emergency measure during a time when America possessed little intellectual infrastructure to support its Middle Eastern policies. But emergencies should be temporary. Americans have more foreign language knowledge today than in 1958, when the NDEA was enacted into law. Technological advances such as the internet also have made a great deal of information that was previously known only to trained scholars easily accessible for the public—and for government officials who can receive sufficient information to make policy from dedicated professional training rather than a degree in Middle East Studies.Americans can debate what the government most needs from national resource centers—but they also should debate whether we still need them at all. The Cold War is long over. Higher education’s values are fundamentally different from those of MESCs, and we no longer have a compelling reason to deform America’s system of higher education to facilitate the production of government briefing papers.
Trends in Middle East and Islamic Studies
In our case studies, we provide a detailed analysis of seven American universities with Middle East or Islamic studies centers. But many more such centers exist throughout the United States. We have identified almost 50 of them, some established as recently as 2015. In this section, we use data collected from a large portion of these programs to analyze their operations and areas of focus.
Most of the programs analyzed in this section receive financial support from the Department of Education under Title VI of the Higher Education Act, which makes them National Resource Centers (NRCs). We have focused on NRCs for two primary reasons: first, because it is difficult to obtain reliable data on non-Title VI funded programs, as we can only analyze the data that is made publicly available on their websites; and second, because NRCs disproportionately influence the trajectory of MESCs throughout the United States.
Current and former NRCs include Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Georgetown’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), and the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES). Other non-NRC centers typically imitate the actions of these prominent programs, albeit on a smaller scale. By studying the behavior of NRCs, we can thus increase our understanding of non-NRCs.
Practical reasons aside, we have also chosen to focus on NRCs because we believe that the standard of accountability should be higher for NRCs than non-NRCs due to the federal funding they receive. Taxpayers should be made aware of the types of research, course materials, and outreach activities that these centers produce so that they may judge whether NRCs use the funds appropriately. Privately funded or foreign-funded centers still remain a concern, as these centers must consider the interests of countries whose goals sometimes conflict with those of the United States. Nevertheless, it is startling to realize the degree to which government-funded centers engage in the types of activism and propagandization that would be expected of a center funded by a hostile foreign government.
Our analysis of the data available from academic years 2000 to 2019 reveals several major trends in MESCs:
Analysis of Title VI–Funded Programs
Title VI of the Higher Education Act authorizes funding for the ten international education and foreign language studies grant programs that currently exist. The Department of Education’s International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE) division administers these programs. They include Language Resource Centers, Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowships, National Resource Centers, and several other grant programs both for institutions of higher education and for individuals interested in topics related to international education and foreign languages.
Recipient institutions must provide the Department of Education with reports on their operations and their use of federal funding. IFLE grants are contingent on compliance with regulations set forth in Title VI, and the reports are intended to ensure that these provisions are met. The Department makes the reported information publicly available through the International Resource Information System (IRIS) website to provide a measure of transparency and accountability. We used this database to obtain most of our information on Title VI–funded MESCs.51
IRIS provides information on grant titles, amounts, and recipients for each Title VI grant. The database also includes a rough breakdown of the use of Title VI funds at each NRC, such as how much was allocated to personnel expenditures or to supplies. IRIS additionally provides program-level data on outreach programs, including titles, descriptions, and intended audiences, along with similar data on funded instructional materials and course offerings.
IRIS’s data has some limitations. NRCs have existed since the 1960s, but IRIS only provides detailed data as far back as the 2000-2001 academic year. Thus, we can only draw conclusions about the behavior of these centers in the past two decades. Comparisons with the early days of the centers can only be made using limited supplemental information provided by the schools themselves. IRIS also relies on self-reported data, which subjects it to the usual caveats of reporting bias and human error. Centers may report data in slightly different formats or use different data collection methods, so comparisons between centers must take a loose rather than a precise interpretation. We believe, nevertheless, that the overall patterns and trends are accurate, and that they reflect important changes over time and differences across centers.
Figure 4: All Middle East National Resource Centers Academic Years 2000-2019
George Washington University (GWU)
Georgia State University
Indiana University Bloomington (IU-Bloomington)
New York University (NYU)
The Ohio State University
Portland State University
University of Arizona
University of California, Berkeley (UC-Berkeley)
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)
University of Chicago
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (UM-Ann Arbor)
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill)
University of Pennsylvania
University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin)
University of Utah
Middle East National Resource Centers: Basic Facts
As of December 2021, fourteen National Resource Centers focus on the Middle East. The makeup of the list has changed over the years, even though the same number of Middle East NRCs existed in 2000. Several new NRCs have joined, such as the North Carolina Consortium in 2010, while others ceased to receive Title VI funding, such as Harvard’s CMES. The number of NRCs peaked at 19 and remained at that level between 2010 and 2013 before dropping again in 2014, as demonstrated by Figure 5.52
Our case studies include five of the more active NRCs during the 2000–2019 period. The selected NRCs were all active and well-established prior to 2000, apart from the North Carolina Consortium. Figure 6 shows the years of activity for all Middle East NRCs, with the ones included in our case studies highlighted in red.
Title VI–funded Middle East NRCs receive an average grant amount of approximately $260,000 annually. Across the fourteen funded centers, this comes to a total of $3.6 million in Department of Education funding. This number, however, only accounts for the direct funding of program operations. The centers also receive government funding through research grants and fellowships for students.
Another source of funding for these centers is direct funding from the university coffers, which may include private donations and foreign funds. This is known as “Other sources.” In our case studies, Harvard and Georgetown used some combination of foreign and private domestic funds to establish their centers. The Middle East studies departments at Duke and UNC have also accepted foreign funds in the past, but no information is available about whether the Consortium currently receives foreign funding. Thus, the distinction between American government-funded NRCs like UT-Austin’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and foreign-funded centers such as the University of Arkansas’ King Fahd Center is not as stark as it may seem.
Figure 7 demonstrates that funding for all Title VI NRCs (not just those focused on the Middle East) has varied significantly since it began under the National Defense Education Act in 1958. The funding increased quickly after the program’s launch to a peak of $129 million (in 2021 dollars) in 1967, followed by a steep decline between 1968 and 1971. The funding level stabilized in the late 1970s and hovered around $58–70 million (2021 dollars) until the 1990s. The decrease in overall funding corresponded with a decreased interest in the NRC program, as its initial goal of training foreign language speakers had been realized and the Cold War era politics surrounding its inception had wound down. The post-9/11 Bush era, however, saw a revived interest in national security, leading the program to reach its all-time high in funding at $140 million in 2003 (2021 dollars).
The high level of funding persisted throughout the 2000s, but both overall NRC funding and Middle East–specific NRC funding dropped off steeply in 2011. Our analysis shows an almost 50% drop in Middle East–specific NRC funding between 2010 and 2011, from $6.1 million in 2010 to $3.2 million in 2011. The pattern remains the same when we account for the number of centers: in 2010, each Middle East center received an average of $320,000, while in 2011, each Middle East center received an average of $170,000.
The significant decline in funding for international education in the early 2010s can likely be attributed, at least in part, to a delayed response to the 2008 financial crash. The resulting recession led to funding decreases across the board for higher education and many other government programs, and the NRC program was no exception.
According to North Carolina Consortium director Charles Kurzman, the Obama administration’s focus on K–12 education also contributed to the decline in funding for international education, as the administration deemed the university-level programs a lower priority.53
International education leaders and proponents began to advocate for an increase in Title VI funds in the next congressional budget to reverse these trends.54 Thanks to their lobbying, support for Middle East NRCs increased from $3 million to around $3.8 million between 2013 and 2014. The increase was more pronounced at the center level, as some institutions had dropped out of the program: the average funding per center during those years increased from about $150,000 to about $250,000. Figure 8 shows that funding remained fairly stable at these levels since 2014, resting just below its level in 2000.
Title VI funding for NRCs has varied greatly based on the political circumstances at hand. Nearly every time the funding decreases, NRC advocates respond with apocalyptic predictions about irreversible educational deficiencies that can only be avoided by the immediate restoration of funds.
Taxpayers should be skeptical of these apocalyptic claims. The Coalition for International Education listed the many ways in which its constituents, mainly NRCs and other Title VI–funded programs, purportedly contributed to America’s national security and economic capabilities in a 2012 letter to Obama administration officials.55 The letter emphasized NRC language training capabilities and highlighted the work that NRC graduates have done in business and government.
The websites of many Middle East NRCs, however, reveal a different vision—one that attempts to separate itself from the security-oriented education that first earned these centers federal funding.
Rather than focusing on national security or economic issues, most Middle East NRCs now see themselves as builders of “cultural bridges of understanding” between the East and West who have been appointed to tear down negative stereotypes of Muslims. The stark difference between the way NRCs portray themselves to their peers and the way they portray themselves to the government reveals a fundamental disconnect between the purpose of NRC funding and the intentions of current NRC leaders.
Each NRC reports its budget to the Department of Education annually and provides a breakdown of its usage of the Title VI funds that year. The NRCs, however, are not required to submit the budgets for the centers or departments that house them, even though those budgets are often far larger than their own. The reported budgets, therefore, only show how the centers use their Title VI funding and not how they allocate their overall expenditures.
Figure 9 shows that, across all Middle East NRCs, most Title VI funding is used to pay for personnel, including both salaries and fringe benefits. These categories together amount to around 60% of the total budget each year. Personnel expenditures at NRCs mainly go toward the administrative staff who support the center’s operations, as most NRC-affiliated faculty receive their salary and benefits from appointments in other departments or named professorships.
Other than personnel, Title VI funds mainly go toward supplies and travel, with some small expenditures on contracts and equipment appearing intermittently. Centers also report a large, but vague, category of expenditures labeled “Other,” which typically accounts for around 20% of their budget. We can presume that expenditures labeled “Other,” along with “Supplies,” are often related to the organization of events and other programs, since centers are required to use Title VI funds to produce outreach programs and instructional material.
We can infer from the reported budgets that most NRCs use the majority of their Title VI funding to maintain a small administrative staff, with perhaps one or two employees. After this, small amounts of funding, in the low thousands, go toward the supplies for outreach materials and travel for students and faculty. Absent institutional and donor funding, the expenditure budgets paint a picture of small-scale operations in which most of the crucial employees (faculty) receive support through non-Title VI funds. The NRCs do, however, produce a substantial number of instructional materials, and they each facilitate numerous outreach programs. Both categories deserve analyses of their own.
NRC Instructional Materials
National Resource Centers produce a wide variety of instructional materials each year, both for use in their own classrooms and for the use of other educators, particularly K–12 teachers. The centers are intended to serve as resources on the Middle East for the surrounding community, and their work is supposed to increase knowledge about the region among both younger students and college-aged students. Thus, by analyzing these instructional materials, we can determine whether centers are using their Title VI funding in a way that fulfills the statutory purpose of the program.
Since 2000, Middle East NRCs have produced over 2,500 instructional materials, with an average of around 130 new materials across all NRCs per year. These materials range from curricula for undergraduate courses to podcasts and videos for the public.
Figure 10 captures the distribution of intended audiences for these materials over time. The instructional materials produced by Middle East NRCs generally cater to K–12 audiences, a focus that has only increased over the past two decades. In recent years, over 70% of the instructional materials have targeted K–12 educators, while the percentage of materials intended for use in higher education settings has dipped below 40%.
The type of materials produced by Middle East NRCs has also changed over time, as demonstrated by Figure 11. Curricula have consistently accounted for a plurality of the instructional materials produced, but in recent years, they have almost reached a majority. A new category, “Toolkits and instructional materials,” emerged around 2008 and has constituted a large portion of the instructional materials produced since then. Toolkits generally consist of physical or digital resources used for lesson plans, and they often overlap significantly with the resources in the curricula category.
The curricula and toolkits produced by Middle East NRCs mostly target K–12 education, with over 60% of curricula and 70% of toolkits designed for use in elementary and secondary education settings. Many of these materials aim to increase cultural literacy and “globalize the classroom” by exposing children to different cultures and “decentering” the European, Western, and American cultural experiences.
The instructional materials produced by Middle East NRCs often aggressively push a very specific political agenda to accomplish these aims. Consider, for example, a 2017 toolkit produced by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill titled, “‘Women and Gender in the Middle East’ Reading Guide.” The toolkit consists of a set of readings and questions that directs students to resources such as a video on Edward Said’s Orientalism posted by the YouTube channel “Invictapalestina,” speeches from a conference on “pan-Arab feminism,” and an anthology of Arab feminist writing. This list of resources hardly provides a balanced perspective on women’s social issues in the region.56
Other materials encourage the use of controversial educational approaches, such as critical pedagogy, and push harmful ideologies in the classroom, including critical race theory. For example, UT-Austin’s CMES has participated for at least three years in a workshop for K–12 teachers called the “Critical Literacy for Global Citizens Summer Institute.” The university’s Hemispheres Consortium sponsored the event, which is made up of the various Title VI–funded area studies centers at the university. On its website, Hemispheres states that it provides educational resources about “diverse world regions” to educators “under the aegis of [its] Title VI mission.”57
UT-Austin claimed in its 2018 report to the Department of Education that the critical literacy workshop supported “instructional goals for literacy standards for the State of Texas” by “explor[ing] the use of critical literacies and international children’s literature.” Yet so-called “critical literacy” has very little to do with actual literacy. Critical literacy, an approach that falls under the broader umbrella of critical pedagogy, encourages children to find embedded power structures within the texts they read. Children are then taught to relate these power structures to ideas of equity and social justice. Rather than teaching students the basic skills required for reading comprehension, critical literacy trains students to espouse the tenets of critical theory.58
A perusal of the Summer Institute at UT-Austin reveals further evidence of the political agenda behind the program. The webpage for the June 2021 event included the following session topics:59
Although the Hemispheres Consortium claims to have a “Title VI mission,” the material presented at its annual Summer Institute clearly does not promote language acquisition or national security. In 2019, UT-Austin’s CMES contributed ten instructional materials to the Summer Institute, including materials on “Kindergarten Global Citizenship,” “Understanding & Enacting Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy,” and “Starting and Sustaining Critical Race Literacy in the Classroom.”
The ideological bias in Title VI–funded events and materials highlights the need for greater oversight of recipients of government funding, as well as a broader re-evaluation of the state and federal programs that provide support to these centers.
In addition to creating instructional materials, NRCs also organize outreach programs for their local communities, which primarily consist of events that engage scholars and the public on topics related to a specific region. All NRCs must report a list of their outreach programs annually to the Department of Education, along with the intended audience for each program and a brief description of its content. Middle East NRCs must justify the utility of their outreach efforts in their annual report and explain how their programs further the public’s education about the region to continue to receive outreach funds.
From 2000 to 2019, NRCs at twenty-five colleges conducted over 22,000 outreach programs. While the average is around 1,100 outreach programs per year, the actual number of programs conducted each year varied significantly, with an early peak in 2005 at just over 1,600. The peak came during a year in which funding for NRCs was quite high, and the number of programs was greater than in previous (and subsequent) years.
Outreach activity also varies significantly across NRCs. Yale’s CMES tops the list with almost 120 outreach programs per year, whereas Georgetown’s CCAS holds fewer than thirty. The variation cannot be attributed to differences in funding: a simple correlation test between the yearly funding levels and the number of outreach programs across NRCs does not yield a statistically significant correlation. The lack of a correlation suggests that the centers decide for themselves how many outreach programs to hold per year rather than deciding based on funding constraints or a mandate from the Department of Education.
Figure 12 shows that many outreach programs at Middle East NRCs, around 60%, target higher education or the public; this holds true for all years studied. Outreach programs for these audiences primarily consist of lectures from resident or visiting scholars, discussions of books and films, and faculty workshops.
Elementary and secondary school educators are the next most common audience. The scholars at Middle East NRCs typically do not interact with K–12 students directly; instead, the centers hold K–12 teacher workshops in which they discuss curricula and lesson plans that the teachers can implement in their classrooms. These programs help to expose younger students to different cultures and encourage them to study foreign languages. But they also promote certain political and social agendas, as observed in our case studies.
Figure 13 shows the words that most distinguish K–12 programming from non-K–12 programming.60 Non-K–12 programming, which focuses primarily on academia, fixates on more specific topics and regions of the Middle East, as demonstrated by words such as “Persian” and “Turkish.” K–12 programming, on the other hand, focuses more on cultural literacy and understanding while placing less of an emphasis on learning specific facts about the region. The left-hand side of Figure 13 demonstrates the prominence of broad terms like “global” and “cultures” in the titles of K–12 outreach programs
NRCs sometimes partner with local organizations to conduct outreach activities, and they often tailor these programs to a specific audience that is of interest to the local partner. Duke Divinity School’s Muslim Chaplain, for example, organized a program in 2004 that “provided training to 80+ health care providers on culturally sensitive health care delivery to Muslims.”
Figure 14 shows the distribution of outreach programs by audience type at each of the Middle East NRCs from our case studies. Our analysis includes seven types of audiences: business, government, foreign government, higher education, K–12, the public, and “other,” which consists of miscellaneous groups such as health or policy professionals, ethnic communities, and libraries.
Harvard, which has conducted outreach programs since the 1970s, focuses primarily on K–12 outreach. Yale, meanwhile, offers more academically oriented outreach programs that cater to higher education audiences. Georgetown, given its location in Washington, D.C., organizes significantly more programs intended for government officials than other NRCs.
Across all our case studies, only a small number of outreach programs cater to the interests of business leaders and government officials. Programs designed for these audiences tend to focus more on practical issues. For example, an outreach program for businessmen could discuss how American businesses can better understand and work with the Islamic financial and monetary systems. The practical bent of the business world may explain why Middle East NRCs focus more of their outreach on other audiences. In general, K–12 educators and academics seem to be more receptive to the bread-and-butter of MESCs: cultural literacy workshops and other diversity-oriented training.
NRC outreach programs tend to be very responsive to contemporaneous political events. An analysis of the coverage of specific topics by NRC outreach programs over time shows that their content rapidly changes to “keep up with the times.” NRCs dramatically shift their coverage of politically charged topics as public interest in the issues waxes and wanes.
Figure 15 shows the results of a LASSO regression model in which the presence of a word in an outreach program title is used to predict the year in which that program took place. The words with the largest negative coefficients, which predict an earlier year, and the largest positive coefficients, which predict a later year, are shown on the left- and right-hand sides of the chart, respectively. The model excludes words with no topical content, such as “speaker,” “program,” or “Saturday,” to improve the interpretability of the results.
An analysis of the earlier years shows a distinct focus on terrorism, Iraq and Afghanistan, and other topics related to the conflicts and events of the early 2000s. Frustrated by an aggressive American foreign policy agenda in the Middle East, many academics focused significant time and attention on the deconstruction of Muslim stereotypes. They also advocated against the War on Terror. The interests of academics during that time were reflected in the outreach programs sponsored by MESCs, which focused more on American foreign policy and the aftermath of 9/11.
In later years, centers responded to the events of the 2010s and 2020s and shifted their programming accordingly. For example, “Covid” was one of the most predictive words for later programming. The term “mena,” or more properly “MENA,” also appears as an important predictive word of newer programs. The prevalence of the term, a neologism for “Middle East and North Africa,” reflects a growing interest among academics to expand the geographic scope of MESCs to include North African countries such as Algeria and Morocco. These countries do have religious and cultural ties to the Middle East, but they have not historically been considered within the formal scope of Middle East studies.
We also see the introduction of political and social issues such as refugees and Islamophobia in later programs. The shift in focus corresponds with the massive increase in Muslim migration, particularly in Europe, during the 2010s. MESCs generally responded to the waves of refugees and migrants by promoting the integration of Muslims into Western countries. Many academics characterized concerns about this migration from more conservative political figures as “Islamophobic.”
The remainder of this section analyzes the prevalence of specific topics across all of the outreach programs studied. These topics were chosen based on their connection to important social issues related to the Middle East or to America. We created a “dictionary” of terms related to each topic to capture the full scope of the topic’s prevalence across the outreach programs. Each dictionary contains a list of words that are associated with the topic at hand.61
We provide the dictionary for “terrorism” as an example below:
Next, we matched the dictionary terms with the words found in outreach program titles. This process was not an exact science, and the results should be taken as approximate rather than precise. The overall trends and patterns that emerge from this process, however, reflect the differences in coverage of these topics across schools and over time.
First, let us consider the topic of terrorism. This topic became closely associated with the Middle East, and more specifically with Islam, in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, which sparked the so-called “War on Terror” and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Middle East scholars devoted significant time and resources to the subject, as the association of terrorism with Islam caused great controversy in the years following 9/11.
Figure 16 shows the prevalence of terrorism-related terms in outreach program titles from 2000 to 2019. We see a significant downward trend, with less than 0.5% of outreach programs mentioning terrorism or related terms by 2019. Unsurprisingly, coverage spiked in 2001, when 5% of outreach programs discussed terrorism, but it dropped rapidly in later years. The steep decline likely reflects a general desire among the centers to avoid the topic of terrorism, despite its importance for national security and its relevance to the Middle East. Programs and courses at MESCs often mention 9/11, but they tend to consider the attacks in the context of their effects on Muslims rather than the context of terrorism more broadly.
Some programs, nevertheless, discuss terrorism more than others. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill addressed terrorism far more often than other NRCs, as shown by Figure 17. The focus likely reflects the priorities of the center’s leadership: North Carolina Consortium director Charles Kurzman insisted in an interview that the issue of Islamic terrorism is overblown.62 UNC takes a different approach than centers such as Georgetown’s CCAS, which avoids the terrorism issue almost altogether, but its coverage of terrorism is not motivated by concern for American national security.
The trend in Middle East NRCs’ coverage of the Israel–Palestine debate is also revealing. This debate began in the early 20th century and remains a highly contentious issue in the Middle East today. The discipline of Middle East studies has received significant scrutiny for its pro-Palestinian partisanship, especially in recent years. Many of the faculty at MESCs support or are affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), which advocates for an aggressive economic embargo against Israel due to perceived injustices against Palestinians.
Figure 18 shows how coverage of the Israel–Palestine topic has evolved over time at NRCs. Somewhat surprisingly, coverage of the topic dropped from over 10% of outreach programs in the early 2000s to below 4% in 2019. One possible explanation is that public interest in the Israel–Palestine conflict has declined in favor of other issues, perhaps because the degree of conflict in the region has diminished over time. Some scholars have suggested that this could explain the broader pattern of declining coverage of Israel in American newspapers during the 2000s.63 Whatever the reasons for the decline, the decrease in web and newspaper coverage during the same time frame provides credence to the trend we see in the outreach program data. It also supports the hypothesis that MESCs adjust their programming according to the degree of news coverage of a topic.
Figure 19 shows which programs focused more or less than average on Israel and Palestine. Again, UNC comes out on top, which provides further evidence of its willingness to address politically charged topics directly. Yale also falls on the “more than average” side, although significantly lower in the distribution than UNC, while the remainder of the NRCs in our case studies discuss Israel and Palestine significantly less often than the average NRC.
Finally, we consider NRCs’ coverage of the topic of immigration. Events such as the Syrian refugee crisis have brought the immigration issue to the forefront of political discussions about the Middle East over the past decade. Politicians from Western countries debate passionately about how to handle the influx of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries and whether to impose additional immigration restrictions. Former President Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban” provoked serious backlash from pro-immigration and pro-Muslim advocates during the 2016 election.
Figure 20 shows the trend in the coverage of immigration-related issues over time. The data reveals a significant rise in coverage between 2000 and 2019, with a peak in 2015, which corresponds with public concern about the refugee crisis that year. While coverage of immigration issues at NRCs has mostly decreased since 2015, it remains almost double what it was two decades ago.
Figure 21 shows which centers focused the most on immigration between 2000 and 2019. Yale and UNC are once again close to the top, as was the case in the analysis of terrorism coverage. This suggests that the centers at Yale and UNC tend to closely follow current events and use their programs to weigh in on controversial issues. UT-Austin is also near the top of the chart, with a significantly greater focus on immigration than other NRCs. This is likely because immigration is a major issue in Texas, and UT-Austin works closely with refugees in the local community.
Our analysis of the trends in topic coverage at MESCs shows that the centers have replaced issues that have historically been associated with the region with new, politically relevant topics. The shift to topics such as immigration and climate change is not unique to the field of Middle East studies—academics and policymakers now emphasize these topics in discussions about any and all regions of the world. This finding highlights yet another feature of globalism and globalization: the consolidation of the political conversation around a small set of one-size-fits-all issues. The globalist framework dissolves many particularities of the world and its cultures.
Who Donates to NRCs?
Middle East NRCs receive funding from a variety of sources, some of which may be foreign. Universities often support these centers out of their own budgets, but the centers also seek external donations to increase their revenue. While federal and state programs provide a reliable source of funding, donations from private companies, individuals, or foreign countries can often exceed the amount of federal funding available through Title VI.
It is difficult to track down donor information for MESCs, even though many are housed within public universities. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws that typically allow us to obtain this kind of information fall flat due to clever workarounds created by universities to avoid disclosure. Public universities now deposit most private donations into an affiliated 501(c)(3) foundation, which manages the money and allocates it to the corresponding departments as necessary. These foundations generally enable universities to bypass FOIA rules because they exist as separate, private entities. Almost all major public universities have affiliated private foundations, which they use to hide donor information that would otherwise be available to the public.
Despite the difficulties, we still obtained donor information for one NRC at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the Center for Near Eastern Studies. California’s public information laws are more robust than those in other states, and the university’s public information officers willingly provided us with the donor information for their center.64
Figure 22 provides a breakdown of the donations to the UCLA center by source. Private individuals gave the most donations, for a total of $808,000. But this is somewhat misleading. One individual accounted for much of the total: a donor named Ann Zwicker Kerr contributed over $500,000 to the center in 2017. Most of the other individual donors gave around $100, though some gave as little as $20.
Foreign governments gave the second largest amount to UCLA’s Near Eastern studies center over the past 20 years. These donations came entirely from the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (though the university misleadingly categorized this country as a “Non-Profit Organization” in their donor information file). The two donations, which both occurred in 2002 and totaled $300,000 (in 2002 dollars), supported programming and research.65
Donor Spotlight: Ann Zwicker KerrAnn Zwicker Kerr led the Fulbright Scholar Enrichment Program at UCLA. Through her work, she aspired to clear misconceptions between foreigners and Americans, especially after 9/11.Prior to leading the UCLA program, Kerr spent an extensive amount of time in the Middle East. She studied and later taught at the American University of Beirut and the American University of Cairo, and she met her husband, Malcolm H. Kerr, in one of her classes in Beirut. Malcolm and Ann were married in 1956.In 1982, Malcolm became president of the American University of Beirut. The environment in Lebanon was highly dangerous at the time due to the ongoing Lebanese Civil War, and Malcolm was assassinated by the Islamic Jihad in 1984, just seventeen months after becoming university president.66The Kerr family received settlement money from a wrongful death suit against Iran in the 2010s. Ann Kerr used the funds to establish a scholarship at UCLA for Middle Eastern students who study the humanities or liberal arts.67
The “Other” category contained a couple of significant recent donations from anonymous donors, earmarked for faculty and student support. Non-profit organizations trailed closely behind in dollar amount, with a large recent donation from the Mellon Foundation, a prominent supporter of MESCs. The category also included a $50,000 donation from the Social Science Research Council and several moderately sized donations from the Farhang Foundation, an Iranian cultural organization based in Southern California.68
The corporate category was the smallest category of donations by dollar amount. The number included donations from Aramco, a historically common donor to Middle East centers. The oil giant was among the first donors to support centers such as Harvard’s CMES in the 1950s, though it has not been as large of a supporter in recent years. Aramco only gave UCLA two small donations: a gift of $5,000 in 2001, and another of $15,000 in 2010.
Figure 23 shows how non-Title VI funding compares across time with Title VI funding at UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies. The graph illustrates the volatility of private donations: while some years saw large increases in donations, many years brought zero or near zero private donations to the center. The precipitous rise in donations post-2015 coincides with the period in which UCLA briefly stopped receiving Title VI funding, which began in 2014. Private donations to the center serendipitously increased shortly after the loss of Title VI funding, in no small part due to the large anonymous donations dedicated to “Faculty Support” and “Student Support.”
Because the donors were anonymous, it is impossible to draw any firm conclusions about the motivation for the donations. However, the increase in donations post-2015 indicates that UCLA’s center quickly raised the funds needed to support its operations without Title VI assistance. In fact, the donations the center received during those years far exceeded the annual amount it had previously received in Title VI funding. It is difficult to say how long this fundraising success would have lasted, however, had the center not begun to receive Title VI funding again. Government funding provides a level of stability that private donations cannot offer, which is why centers prefer to rely primarily on Title VI support.
In this section, we provide background information about the countries that came up most often in our analysis: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Gulf states. While not exhaustive, these profiles describe the features that are most important for understanding each country’s motivations and interests.
Saudi Arabia’s main priorities are energy and religion. Donors, therefore, reflect these goals. Some donors, such as Alwaleed bin Talal and Faisal Fahd, obtained their wealth through direct connections with Saudi’s Royal Family. Others built their wealth through companies. Saudi businessman and philanthropist Nasser Al-Rashid, for example, earned his fortune by founding the engineering firm Rashid Engineering, which handles many construction projects for the Saudi Arabian government.69
Another consistent Saudi donor to American universities is oil company Saudi Aramco. The oil company, whose predecessors were the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) and Standard Oil of California, was partly owned by the United States during the first few decades after its founding in the 1930s. The Saudi Arabian government, however, initiated a gradual buyout of the company in the 1950s, which was completed in 1980.70 Aramco was an early supporter of MESCs and invested in Harvard’s CMES during the 1950s, but Saudi Aramco’s donations to Middle East studies have been more limited in recent decades. Nonetheless, the company does continue to donate semi-regularly to American universities. In addition to the 2001 and 2010 donations to UCLA, Saudi Aramco donated to several universities between 2014 and 2020, including the Georgia Institute of Technology, Texas A&M, and the University of Colorado Boulder.71
Donors affiliated with the Saudi government likely give to American universities for three reasons. First, and perhaps most fundamentally, they are interested in preserving and spreading Islam. Saudi Arabia is a theocracy and practices Wahhabism, a strict interpretation of Islam that is closely intertwined with the government. It should, therefore, be expected that government officials who donate to American universities intend for their gifts to further the spread of Islam abroad. Talal’s gifts to Harvard and Georgetown, for example, established Islamic studies centers. Second, members of the Royal Family may donate to American universities for diplomatic purposes, such as with King Fahd’s gift to the University of Arkansas, which notably followed Bill Clinton’s rise to presidency. Finally, the Saudi government has an interest in funding scholarships for Saudi Arabian students through entities such as the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission.
The underlying motivations behind Turkish donations to American universities vary significantly based on whether the donor comes from “old” or “new” money. Old-money donors include the Koç and Sabancı families, who helped build modern Turkey out of the rubble of the Ottoman Empire post-1923.72 After the Islamic world’s collapse, Turkish leaders instituted various reforms aimed at secularization and industrialization to align the nation more closely with Western norms. The Koç and Sabancı families accordingly established secular business groups and focused their energy and resources on aiding Turkey’s development. Both families also founded prestigious namesake universities, which some academics consider to be the Turkish equivalents to Stanford and Carnegie Mellon given the analogous relationships with their wealthy founding families.73
New-money donors, on the other hand, wish to preserve Islam as a part of Turkey’s national identity. This mission represents a departure from the ongoing secularization of Turkey and is motivated by a desire to return to the nation’s Islamic roots. Most new-money donors, including businessman Ali Vural Ak, attained their wealth through entrepreneurial activities and did not come from established backgrounds.
The differences between the two types of donors are reflected in their decisions about which American universities to support. The Koç family funded a chair in Turkish Studies at Harvard, and the Sabancı family supported Columbia’s Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies. Ak, meanwhile, funded the Center for Global Islamic Studies at a less established institution, George Mason University.
The Gulf States
The Arab League identifies seven countries as members of the Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Since the first section already addressed Saudi Arabia, we will now focus on the other Persian Gulf states. Most of the Persian Gulf states (except for Iraq) accumulated their wealth through energy production. Oman also receives a substantial amount of revenue through its role as a trading hub.
Besides Saudi Arabia, the most active Gulf state donors to American universities come from Oman and Qatar. Oman’s relationship with the United States goes back 200 years, and most donations from Oman are likely motivated by a desire to maintain the nation’s friendship with the United States.74
Qatar, on the other hand, is simultaneously an adversary of the United States and the largest foreign donor to American universities in recent years. Qatar maintains a highly centralized donor structure. Every organization—be it the Qatar Foundation, the Doha Film Institute, or the Qatar National Research Fund—is an arm of the Qatari government. Like Saudi Arabia, Qatar observes Wahhabism; the religion, however, does not dominate the government to the same extent as in Saudi Arabia.75 Qatar has struggled to maintain its Islamic religious customs and traditions due to its large population of immigrant workers, and it has also struggled to retain its citizens, who often study abroad and never come back. Qatar’s massive gifts, therefore, focus primarily on strengthening the country internally to make it a key player in the region. The largest Qatari donations established branch campuses in Doha, which were designed to offer Qataris a world-class American education without compromising on Islamic mores (for example, American free-speech norms do not apply).76 Qatar’s connections with American universities have also expanded beyond the branch campuses in recent years, as evidenced by the Qatar Foundation’s support of events at UT-Austin’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies.
Harvard University houses an extensive apparatus for the study of the Middle East and the Islamic world. The university boasts a Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), an Islamic Studies program, an Islamic Architecture program, and an Islamic Legal Studies program.
Harvard established CMES in 1954. CMES, along with peer institutions at Princeton and the University of Chicago, was one of the first area studies centers dedicated to the Middle East. CMES originally focused on practical research and instruction about the modern Middle East, with an emphasis on the social sciences. Its initial goal was to “train selected men for service in the private industry and in government and at the same time to encourage scholarly research on the modern Middle East in the fields of economics, political science, anthropology, history, and social relations including social psychology.”77
Many of CMES’s early leaders held connections with intelligence agencies, which shaped the research priorities of the Center. CMES’s first director, history professor William Langer, had previously directed the research and analysis portion of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) predecessor. Historian and linguist Richard Frye, who helped launch CMES, served in the OSS as well. The connection between CMES’s early leaders and the intelligence community reflects an interest in knowledge production that was practically applicable for American policy makers. Early doctoral dissertations at CMES focused on modern aspects of the region, with titles such as “Islamic Constitutional Theory and Politics in Pakistan (1956)” and “Modern Egypt in Search of Ideology (1959).”78
Concern about the Soviet Union’s growing influence in the Middle East undoubtedly played a role in the creation of Harvard’s CMES. But there were other American national interests at stake as well. Middle Eastern oil became a vital economic interest for the United States upon the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938.79 Unsurprisingly, prominent early donors to Harvard’s CMES included American and international oil companies such as Aramco, Near East Development Corporation, and Gulf Oil Corporation.80
The 1950s and 1960s were CMES’s “golden years.” The Carnegie Corporation, Rockefeller Foundation, and Ford Foundation gave major donations to CMES, which funded its first great institutional expansion. CMES was also one of the few Middle East centers to receive Title VI funds through the National Defense Education Act in 1958. Title VI funds developed language and area studies centers.81 In 1955, Harvard recruited renowned historian Sir Hamilton Gibb to serve as CMES’s director. Gibb, who previously taught at Oxford, already had a prominent reputation in the field as “the leading Arabist in the West”; his many publications included Mohammedanism (1949) and Islamic Society and the West (1950). Gibb’s presence at CMES attracted significant funding from external donors, and his close relationship with Harvard President Nathan Pusey secured Harvard’s support for increasing the number of professorships. Gibb conceived of CMES as an interdisciplinary center with “history and language as the core.” He hoped to strengthen CMES’s History and Near East Languages and Literatures departments. Gibb’s work greatly increased CMES’s reputation among faculty, students, administrators, and donors.82
CMES faced setbacks between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. Gibb’s health deteriorated, and he began to take a less active role at CMES. Gibb’s absence gravely weakened CMES’s ties with Harvard’s Department of History: the Center temporarily suspended its joint doctoral program with the department in the late 1960s.83 The Ford and Rockefeller foundations also reduced their support to CMES as part of a general reduction in their funding of American Middle East centers. In the 1970s, American policymakers began to wonder whether National Resource Centers (NRC) such as CMES had outlived their usefulness.84 The Center faced a number of challenges to its fiscal health—and even to its survival.
The Center initiated major changes in its structure to compensate for the losses and gain new sources of support. In 1974, CMES began to offer outreach programs for the public. It initially offered workshops for Boston-area K–12 teachers that provided introductory surveys of Middle East studies. These workshops, in line with the general radicalization of American K–12 instruction, eventually incorporated special emphases on “inclusive teaching” and “deconstructing stereotypes of Middle Eastern peoples.”85
More importantly, at least in terms of financial support, CMES began to establish new relationships with Middle Eastern individuals, countries, and corporations—now much wealthier in the aftermath of the oil price hikes of the 1960s and 1970s. Harvard economics lecturer A. J. Meyer, who directed CMES for several years, pioneered this transformation. He leveraged his own economic consulting services to various Middle Eastern countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, to cultivate interest in and donations to CMES. Meyer helped increase CMES’s corporate donor list from five firms to more than thirty.86
CMES simultaneously expanded its intellectual scope. The Center partnered with the Harvard Law School to offer a year-long colloquium on Islamic Law in the 1978–79 academic year.87 In 1979, Shia (Nizari Ismaili) religious leader Aga Khan IV endowed the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture (AKPIA) at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which focused on increasing the visibility of the Islamic cultural heritage of art and architecture.88 Khan founded the program as one of several initiatives intended to help the Nizari Ismailis who fled East Africa for Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States during the 1970s. The imam hoped to improve the refugees’ security by investing in their new homes.89
Donor Spotlight: Aga Khan Development NetworkThe Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a family of institutions founded by Aga Khan IV. The network’s mission includes promoting pluralism, embracing gender equality, searching for sustainable environmental solutions, and preserving Islamic art and architecture. The AKDN primarily works in developing countries. The American branch of the Aga Khan Foundation was founded in 1981. Agencies within the network include the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, Aga Khan Academies, and the Aga Khan University in Pakistan. Besides Harvard and MIT, the AKDN has partnered with the states of California, Illinois, and Texas.90 These Agreements of Cooperation with the states typically deal with faculty exchange programs and research collaborations in areas such as “culture,” “environmental stewardship and management,” and “health sciences.”91
CMES also expanded its curriculum in the 1980s to cover non-Arab Middle Eastern countries—a departure from the institutional focus bequeathed by the Arabist Gibb. In 1981, CMES launched the Iranian Oral History Project in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution. The project featured a collection of interviews with eyewitnesses to the most important political events in Iran between the 1920s and the 1980s. The Center also secured a grant from the Moroccan government and instituted a Moroccan Studies Program—the first American program dedicated exclusively to North African studies.92
Government professor Nadav Safran took over as CMES director in 1983—the first non-historian to hold the position. Safran, who received his own doctorate from CMES, sought to refocus the Center on contemporary Middle Eastern issues of interest to American policymakers. He hoped CMES would regain cachet with policymakers in Boston and Washington, D.C. During Safran’s tenure as director, CMES bolstered ties with Harvard’s government and economics departments and instituted a joint program with the Kennedy School of Government.93 Safran also accepted, and failed to properly report, a $50,000 grant from the CIA to support a 1985 conference on Islamic fundamentalism.94 The ensuing scandal led Safran to resign as CMES director in 1986, although he remained a professor at Harvard.95 OSS veterans had founded CMES, but changing academic mores now rendered covert ties with the CIA disgraceful—and overt ones an embarrassment.
The changing academic environment prompted a larger shift in CMES’s self-conception. In the 1990s, Harvard concentrated its efforts to address the “most pressing” societal problems in an “increasingly globalized society.” These issues included “global climatic change,” “the changing roles of women in different societies,” and “the persistence of ethnic and racial conflicts.” In other words, Harvard attempted to participate in the policy initiatives of the new global elite, which melded the protection of wealth with progressive social policies.96 Harvard’s larger priorities trickled down to CMES.
Aware that the end of the Cold War rendered its previous mission less relevant, CMES welcomed the new emphasis on social issues. According to Roy Mottahedeh, the medieval Islamic history specialist who succeeded Safran as CMES director, Harvard Dean Michael Spence warned that, “if the Center seemed to serve no purpose, he [Spence] would disband it.” CMES now struggled to obtain the level of funding it had received in its golden years. Even a $750,000, five-year grant from the Mellon Foundation was insufficient to maintain the Center. Many of CMES’s former donors shifted their benefactions to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East, which focused on the Arab–Israeli conflict.97
CMES needed to expand if it hoped to survive past the 1990s. The Center soon ventured into Turkish studies, which enabled CMES to take advantage of a $2.5 million gift the university received from the Republic of Turkey and Koç Holding to establish the Vehbi Koç Chair of Turkish Studies. During that same period, Harvard began to expand its study of Middle Eastern issues through other endeavors. The university created a formal program on Islamic Law in 1991, funded by various Middle Eastern countries and American companies such as Boeing.98 The government of Saudi Arabia contributed $5 million to Harvard’s Islamic law program soon after in 1993, with some funds dedicated to an endowed professorship in Islamic law.99 Harvard also established an Islamic Studies Committee to expand the university’s modern study of Islam.100
Harvard’s new focus on Islamic studies bore its greatest fruit in 2005, when Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal donated $20 million to Harvard—one of six gifts Talal made to universities around the world to strengthen Islamic studies.101 Another identical gift was given to Georgetown University. Mottahedeh, who became the inaugural director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, made clear that Talal had a specific vision in mind for Harvard, as opposed to Georgetown:
Prince Alwaleed wanted to strengthen Islamic studies in American universities. He gave some money to Georgetown, without any kind of [direction]; he more or less left them to shape it. But in our case, he wanted to say, “we should teach the Islamic world,” which has always been an ambition of mine.102
Directors at each of the six Talal-funded centers convene annually to report on the work conducted at their respective institutions and to receive strategic direction from Talal. As of the 2016 annual meeting, which provided the latest available records, Talal’s centers at American universities led research on the theoretical “implications of Islamophobia in their regions.” The president of the Alwaleed Center at the American University in Cairo noted that Talal was especially interested in “US Foreign [sic] policy issues and their repercussions on Egypt and the MENA region.”103
Donor Spotlight: Alwaleed bin TalalAlwaleed bin Talal is a businessman and member of the Saudi Royal Family whose net worth was $19 billion in 2017. Talal established a philanthropic organization called the Kingdom Foundation in 1995. At the time, the foundation listed five areas of concern: “interfaith dialogue,” “leadership development,” “Saudi Arabia development,” “poverty alleviation,” and “natural disaster relief.” Through its focus on interfaith dialogue in particular, the Kingdom Foundation sought to reframe “perceptions of Islam and the West through dialogue, programs, forums, and educational centres around the world.”Talal established six centers to increase understanding between the East and the West at:Harvard University (U.S.)Georgetown University (U.S.)Cambridge University (U.K.)University of Edinburgh (U.K.)merican University of Beirut (Lebanon)American University in Cairo (Egypt)Talal eventually consolidated many of his organizations under the name Alwaleed Philanthropies. Alwaleed Philanthropies works to advance a single mission: “contributing to a world of tolerance, equality, and opportunity for all.”In 2017, the Saudi government arrested Talal as part of an anti-corruption crackdown.
The Alwaleed Centers provide an illustration of how foreign governments can influence the research and academic materials at American universities. But the establishment of the Alwaleed Center at Harvard did not occur in a vacuum. Harvard’s long-standing relationship with Middle Eastern individuals and institutions made it easier to attract a major gift from Talal. The university’s apparent sympathy with Arab causes undoubtedly helped as well. CMES, for example, chose to disseminate Saudi materials on Islam to K–12 teachers and students in the aftermath of 9/11, even though the materials tendentiously attributed most of the problems in the Middle East to Western colonization.104 Harvard faculty members’ ideological predisposition to embrace Islamic propaganda made the university an obvious focus for Middle Eastern donors.
CMES displays a continued, if increasingly vestigial, commitment to teach the history and languages of the Middle East, but CMES’s founders intended it to focus on policy-related research and to further America’s national interests. CMES has retained its policy focus even after it abandoned its support of the national interest. CMES’s intellectual shift, in part, reflects the larger transformation of the American intellectual and policymaking elite into a globalist regime that melds an embrace of massive wealth with radical social commitments. Some part of the shift also reflects the self-interest of an institution that lost much of its domestic financial support and saw an opportunity to replenish its coffers by attracting foreign donors.
CMES, in consequence, increasingly realigned its studies toward an all-embracing globalist perspective that benefitted donors and the American elite.
Figure 24: Foreign-Funded Chairs at Harvard
Aga Khan Professor of Islamic Art
Likely part of an Aga Khan Development Network gift
Rafiq Hariri Professorship of International Political Economy
Mohamed Kamal Senior Lecturer in Negotiation and Public Policy
Joint funds created by Kennedy School of Government & Farouk Kamal, son of former Jordan ambassador Mohamed Kamal
Shawwaf Visiting Professorship
Saudi Ambassador Ziad Mohammed Ali Shawwaf’s family
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Islamic Legal Studies Professor
Government of Saudi Arabia
Hasib Sabbagh Professorship of Cell Biology
Vehbi Koç Chair of Turkish Studies
Republic of Turkey and Koç Holding
Sultan of Oman Chair in International Relations
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Religion & Society
Alwaleed bin Talal
Part of $20 million gift
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor in Contemporary Islamic Thought & Life
Alwaleed bin Talal
Part of $20 million gift
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Professor of Islamic Art History
Alwaleed bin Talal
Part of $20 million gift
Khalid Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulrahman Al Saud Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies
King Hussein Bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership
Harvard’s coverage of the Middle East and Islam spans multiple departments. In the Fall 2021 semester, the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC) department provided more than 50% of courses on the subject. NELC, which works closely with CMES, offers many Middle Eastern languages, including Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Persian, and Akkadian. Students can also learn dialects of Arabic, such as the Egyptian and the Sudanese, in courses offered by the African & African American Studies department. History courses supplied the second most coverage on the Middle East or Islam, which included classes such as “Jews in the Modern World,” “Ottoman State and Society II (1550-1920),” and “Introduction to Islamic History: From the Rise of Islam to the Mongol Conquests, 620-1258.”
The disciplinary distribution of Fall 2021 courses reflects Gibb’s vision of “history and language as the core.” The actual content of the courses, however, is far less academically salubrious. The course “Islam in Early America,” for example, teaches students a revisionist version of American history that fabricates a martyrology of the first Muslims who came to America:
Some Muslims came from Spain to escape persecution at the hands of the Inquisition for continuing to practice their religion, while others were taken captive and forcibly crammed into the hulls of ships on the West African coast and transported across the Atlantic.105
The sources cited in the course description are all fictional, written in the 21st century, or based on tendentious claims. Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account (2014), for instance, relies on the “invented memoirs” of a fictional Spanish slave. The course also highlights Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran, a typical attempt to suggest that Christianity was not the primary influence in early American society. (The fact that Jefferson strategically owned a copy for diplomatic purposes is usually ignored.) Taken together, the content of “Islam in Early America” demonstrates how so-called history courses can conveniently ignore the actual history of Islam, whether in America or elsewhere. Certain facts presented in the course may not be entirely untrue, but their importance is surely exaggerated, and their interpretation is heavily agenda-driven.
The courses often use progressive ideology to camouflage how they pander to the interests of Middle Eastern donors and go out of their way to present a caricature of Middle Eastern culture to American students. “The Arab American Experience in Fiction, Film, and Popular Culture,” for example, depicts contemporary Arab-American culture in ways that combine identity politics with a soft-focus lens. The course includes sections such as “The Arab-American on TV” and “Growing Up Queer in Arab America,” which dismiss any criticisms of Arab culture or politics as “negative stereotypes.” The course material almost exclusively presents Arab-American culture from Arab-American perspectives, exemplified by books such as Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? (2009) and Zaina Arafat’s You Exist Too Much (2020). These books, and others like them, spend pages bemoaning jokes about Islamic terrorists while completely ignoring the fact that Islamic terrorists do, in fact, exist. Sidestepping the primary issues related to Islam in America, the course instead spends its time advocating for an “intersectional” approach that concentrates on LGBT perspectives. (Arafat’s book in particular highlights her experience as a bisexual Arab.)
What is Intersectionality?Columbia Law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in a 1989 paper in which she used the term to describe the “oppression of Black women.” According to Crenshaw, intersectionality identifies the areas “where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects” based on a person’s characteristics. The concept is typically used to argue that different groups face different levels of oppression and to justify an identity-based hierarchy in which the most oppressed receive the most benefits.
The architecture course “Landscape Fieldwork: People, Politics, and Practice,” which has affiliations with CMES and the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, incorporates critical theory, a social philosophy meant to deconstruct and challenge power structures. “Landscape Fieldwork”scants actual inquiry into landscape architecture and instead explores architecture’s “ethical and political power to shape the world.” The course also teaches students that “social and cultural conflicts can only begin to be resolved through a critical understanding of our experiences, values, dreams, ambitions, and practices.” Students experiment with the “lived experiences of spaces” and read books sponsored by the Graduate School of Design’s Racial Equity and Anti-Racism Fund. “Landscape Fieldwork” provides yet another example of how critical theory and social justice ideology now permeate Middle East studies and associated disciplines.
“France-North Africa, Encounters in Literature and Film: Cultures of Protest and Violence” focuses on conflicts between France, Algeria, and Morocco. The course takes a postmodernist approach and builds upon required readings from the oeuvre of Jacques Derrida. It also nonchalantly emphasizes artistic material intended to justify terrorism, such as Nabil Ayouch’s film Les chevaux de Dieu (Horses of God). Ayouch provides justifications rather than moral accountability for Muslim terrorists:
Young Muslims have the same aspirations as young Westerners, we must stop believing that they come from a planet with distant customs…But the environment around them makes everything fall apart. There is a feeling of abandonment: These young people have the impression of being second-class citizens. This is what can lead, in the Arab world and in Morocco in particular, to a drift for those who live in these lawless areas where only religious mafias are able to meet needs that no one else takes.106
Both Ayouch and “France-North Africa” embrace the neo-Marxist extenuation of Islamic terrorism so popular among modern scholars of the Middle East: society is to blame, and Islamic terrorism has little to do with Islamic belief.
Many Harvard courses that deal with the Arab world appear to educate students about the history of the Middle East. Students may indeed leave classes with more knowledge of Islamic traditions and customs or with awareness of events such as the Arab Spring. Their knowledge, however, is skewed by the postmodernist, Marxist, and post-colonial ideologies deeply embedded in many of the courses. Professors routinely denigrate the great tradition of Western scholarship—the foundation of rigorous academic study of the Islamic world—as outmoded “Orientalism.” The courses so intermingle ideology with their fact-based content that students must struggle to separate the two. The courses work to pass on these Middle East experts’ radical views to the next generation.
Outreach and Events
Harvard’s four Middle East and Islamic studies centers sponsored a combined 60 events in the Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 semesters. Their penchant for joint sponsorship makes it difficult to analyze trends in the type of event sponsored by each department. That said, the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center tends to sponsor events with a religious focus, including topics such as Islamic philosophy, history, and modern thought; the Aga Khan program sponsors seminars that explore Islamic art; the Program in Islamic Law sponsors events on legal history and interpretation; and the CMES cosponsors almost every event sponsored by the four departments.
The events tend to follow the political fashions and controversies of the moment. For instance, in 2021, following extensive media coverage of the United States’ relationship with Turkey, the departments sponsored numerous events on the country, including “The Armenians of Aintab: The Economics of Genocide in an Ottoman Province,” “The European Court of Human Rights and Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict,” and “Rethinking the Relationship between Neoliberalism, Corporate Welfare and Cronyism: Lessons from Turkey.” Most of the events presented a negative view of Turkey unless the discussion concerned higher education development such as in “Academic Autonomy and Freedom in Turkey: The Case of Boğaziçi University.” These events corresponded with the public discussion of Turkey-related issues such as Biden’s acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide and the ongoing debate over America’s relationship with the Kurds.
Many of the sponsored events also focused on issues related to Palestine. Featured topics included “Continuous Trauma: The State of Children’s Health in the Palestinian Territory,” “The Latest Chapter in the Hundred Years War on Palestine,” and “Foreign Donor Assistance and the Political Economy of Marginalization and Inclusion in Palestine, Iraq and El Salvador.” As with most MESCs, Harvard’s coverage of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict is decidedly sympathetic toward Palestine.
The perspective on Turkey and Palestine that is advanced in these events generally conforms with the neo-Marxist dichotomy of oppressor and oppressed. The (Marxist-led) Kurds and the Palestinians are declared to be helplessly oppressed, while the Turks and Israelis are painted as oppressive villains. The presenters seem more intent to offer an ideological critique of the very concept of Turkish and Israeli nationalism than to provide students with a lucid exposition of Kurdish and Palestinian misfortunes.
Taken together, the events sponsored by Harvard’s Middle East and Islamic studies departments highlight the extent to which academics’ ideologies override the interests of foreign funders. Even though the university has received large gifts from Turkey in the past, the departments regularly sponsor ideologically driven events that portray the country in a negative light.
Harvard’s case study demonstrates how the unique interplay between domestic and foreign organizations has created modern Middle East studies. CMES was primarily founded by American corporations and multinational companies that worked closely with the American government. These organizations helped CMES become a leader in the discipline. CMES eventually attracted foreign funds and developed an enduring relationship with the Saudi government.
Our study reveals that such foreign donations do not guarantee promotion of a foreign country’s interests. Harvard academics only advocate for the issues that Middle Eastern donors support to the extent that the donors’ interests coincide with the academics’ own ideologies. Even after Harvard received massive donations from Turkey, the university’s Middle East studies departments continued to sponsor events that portrayed the country in a negative light.
But the academics’ ideologies and foreign interests coincide quite often, especially in recent years. When Harvard’s CMES was caught distributing Saudi propaganda in 2003, the offending message was that Islamic radicalism was the fault of Western colonialism. Back then, Americans were shocked by this anti-American claim. Today, it is par for the course in American universities: a donor probably would have to pay Harvard academics not to promote this type of message. Removing foreign funding would not stop Harvard academics from spreading their harmful ideologies.
The guiding principles behind Harvard’s CMES today derive from social justice and critical theory, which build upon anti-Western polemics drawn from the Middle East’s public debates. These principles conflict with the search for truth and are antithetical to the American national interest.
Harvard academics actively spread their ideologies to other institutions and similar centers. Graduates of CMES frequently assume leadership roles at other Middle East centers. In the past, Nadav Safran and Leonard Binder both earned their doctorates at Harvard’s CMES. Safran returned to lead CMES while Binder led a MESC at the University of California, Los Angeles. More recent Harvard graduates Roy Mottahedeh and Cemil Aydin played important roles to lead Middle East and Islamic centers at Harvard and George Mason University. Through the work of its graduates, CMES exerts a strong indirect influence on the discipline of Middle East studies.
As an institution, Harvard affects Middle East studies far more strongly than does any individual donor—and very much for the worse.
Georgetown University, located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., attracts ambitious students who hope to use Georgetown’s proximity to the federal government’s political and administrative hub to land prestigious internships and launch their political careers. The university boasts many successful alumni, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton, and Ivanka Trump.
Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding wing in Georgetown’s School of Foreign Services
Georgetown specializes in policy-related studies and houses several departments and centers focused on the Middle East. The D.C. campus houses the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies (CCAS), and the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). From 1982 to 2020, the university also hosted the Institute of Turkish Studies. Georgetown additionally possesses an international branch campus in Qatar and a center on Turkish language and culture in Turkey.
Georgetown developed much of its Middle East studies programming as a strategic response to challenges the university faced in the 1970s. The CCAS was created in response to staffing and curricular problems in the Walsh School of Foreign Services (SFS) throughout the 1960s. The SFS was in such rough shape in 1969 that the university’s accreditor nearly denied accreditation to the program. In 1970, Georgetown appointed Peter Krogh as dean of the SFS to fix the school and its academic reputation. Krogh hoped to “reestablish the school with a strong curriculum, strong faculty, its own financial means and its own self-confidence.” During his tenure, Krogh oversaw the creation of several region-specific programs, such as Asian Studies and African Studies.107
Shortly after Krogh arrived at Georgetown, the university considered opening a center devoted to Arab studies. In the wake of surging oil prices in the 1970s, donors and policymakers alike began to turn their eyes to the Arab world, and student interest in the region grew significantly. During the 1972–1973 academic year, the university initiated discussions with key players in the Arab and American academic communities about the creation of an Arab studies center at Georgetown. Not long after, the university established the CCAS.
In a 1975 letter to Senator William Fulbright, Peter Krogh enclosed an outline of CCAS’s goals. Those goals included:
CCAS pursued these goals through two sub-divisions: the Institute of Arab Development and International Relations and the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. The Institute aimed to “increase and disseminate knowledge” about the Arab world and focused its efforts on public affairs, research, and publications. The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, on the other hand, focused primarily on instruction, with the goal of placing graduates in influential positions in government, business, and education. In its early years, CCAS’s programming covered topics such as U.S.–Palestinian policy, Arab economic systems, Arab foreign policy perspectives, and petroleum studies.
Krogh hoped to secure funds that would give CCAS a “lease on life.” He solicited donations both from American companies with interests in the Arab world and from foreign states, organizations, and individuals. In fact, Krogh formally inquired with representatives from every single Arab country to see if they would support CCAS.109 CCAS’s early directors and faculty were heavily involved in the internal politics of the countries they studied. Economics professor Ibrahim Oweiss served as CCAS’s first program chairman; in 1977, he took a leave of absence to serve in the Egyptian cabinet. That same year, Hisham Sharabi, a co-founder of CCAS, started the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development to give Palestinians access to social and educational assistance.110
Despite Krogh’s efforts, it was no easy task to secure funds for CCAS. Krogh eventually enlisted Senator Fulbright to assist with fundraising efforts. Fulbright was a fierce advocate of international education, and his efforts were crucial to the success of the operation. He facilitated communications with an international donor network and connected Georgetown with many powerful individuals, including Saudi Ambassador Ali Alireza and Saudi Prince Saud Al-Faisal.
Krogh eventually established an Advisory Board composed of high-profile individuals from countries such as Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Egypt to attract substantial donations to the center. CCAS advisory board members—selected based on their prominence, ability to fundraise, and knowledge of the Middle East—reviewed programs and activities annually to “improve their quality and effect.”111 Krogh invited Senator Fulbright to serve on CCAS’s first advisory board. Fulbright initially accepted the invitation, but, in the wake of controversy over his work as legal counsel for the UAE, later withdrew his acceptance to protect CCAS from adverse media attention.112
Krogh to FulbrightI mentioned to you the difficulty I have been having raising money from the private sector. Part of the problem is while we have a good idea we have not had, to date, well known individuals identified with the Center. The establishment of our Advisory Board corrects this deficiency and gives us greater visibility and credibility in funding circles.—Peter Krogh in a letter to William Fulbright, January 26, 1976
Krogh’s diligent fundraising efforts helped CCAS stay afloat during the center’s early years. The center had an initial operating budget of $500,000 per year (excluding grants and contracts), and it claimed to need an additional $6.1 million in capital to achieve longevity.113 Although the goal was lofty, Krogh’s ambitious fundraising plan proved successful. His outreach to foreign entities was particularly fruitful, and Arab countries contributed two-thirds of the funding needed to start the center. (American businesses provided the remainder.) The Libyan government gave $750,000 to establish the al-Mukhtar Chair of Arab Culture, the UAE gave $250,000 to support a visiting professorship of Arab civilization, and Sultan Qaboos of Oman gave $100,000 directly to CCAS.114
Foreign support shrank sharply during the 1980s, when the price of oil collapsed and many Middle Eastern countries therefore suffered severe economic downturns. By 1989, Georgetown was concerned about the long-term solvency of CCAS and warned that it would not bail out the center if it ran out of funds.115 According to internal documents, CCAS considered three possible strategies for survival during this period:
In the end, the timing of the crisis worked in CCAS’s favor. A massive donation to support Georgetown’s Middle East studies programming helped the center recover from its financial troubles.
Palestinian businessman Hasib Sabbagh and Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi wished to establish a new MESC at Georgetown around the same time that CCAS sought a path forward. Sabbagh and Khalidi feared that, with the fall of the Soviet Union, American policymakers would turn their attention to the Middle East and paint the region as the new enemy. Americans already held a dim view of the Middle East due to Islamic terrorism, the Iranian Revolution, Wahabi radicalism throughout the Sunni world, and corrupt Arab regimes. Sabbagh, Khalidi, and their colleagues hoped that an academic center would ward off negative sentiment toward the Middle East and promote positive engagement with the region. Georgetown quickly became the obvious choice as Sabbagh and Khalidi searched for a home for their new center. The university’s support of CCAS over the years demonstrated its willingness and capacity to study the Islamic world. As a Catholic, Sabbagh also appreciated the university’s Jesuit roots.116Gold plaque honoring Hasib Sabbagh, one of the co-founders of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding
In 1993, Georgetown University partnered with Sabbagh’s Fondation pour l’Entente entre Chrétiens et Musulmans (located in Geneva, Switzerland) to establish the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (CMCU).117 The Switzerland foundation’s board members included Lebanon’s then-prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and Saudi businessman Shaykh Suliman Olayan.118 Thanks to a $2.9 million donation from the Swiss foundation and a $1 million gift from Sabbagh himself, CMCU was born with nearly $4 million to its name.119
This generosity allowed CCAS to accomplish its third fiscal strategy: a massive donation that allowed major expansion. While CMCU was not formally connected to CCAS, its establishment brought a renewed energy to Middle East studies at Georgetown and, in turn, expanded the reach and visibility of CCAS. By 1997, CCAS was formally designated as a National Resource Center, which substantially increased its revenue and alleviated many of its budgetary woes.
Georgetown recruited John Esposito, a professor of religious studies and a prominent Middle East scholar, to serve as CMCU’s first director. Esposito had stellar credentials and brought an abundance of experience to the role: he previously served as president of the Middle East Studies Association and as a consultant for the State Department, and he boasted an extensive list of publications.120
CMCU’s influence grew substantially in the early 2000s, in large part due to America’s increased interest in the study of Islam following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Between the 2000–2001 and 2001–2002 academic years, CMCU’s media interviews and consultations more than tripled, from 91 to 300.121 In 2005, CMCU received a $20 million gift from Alwaleed bin Talal, which enabled the center to expand its programming even further (Talal gave an identical gift to Harvard that same year). Talal’s generous donation prompted Georgetown to rename CMCU the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU).
ACMCU continues to focus on the September 11 attacks to this day—but coverage emphasizes how 9/11 and the War on Terror hurt Muslim-Americans. The center’s 2021 programming also reflects an increased interest in the legacies of slavery and colonialism in the Middle East and in the “racialization” of ethnic minorities in the Islamic world.122
Georgetown’s extensive connections to Arab donors paid off substantially over time, and many of the donors continued to fund other Georgetown programs outside of Middle East studies. (For instance, Saad Hariri, Rafik’s son, gave $20 million to support the construction of the university’s business school in 2009.) Generous support from Arab donors also enabled the university to add several chairs and professorships to the Center over the years, as detailed in Figure 26.
Figure 26: Foreign-Funded Chairs at Georgetown
al-Mukhtar Chair of Arab Culture
Umar Al-Mukhtar, fought for Libyan independence from Italy
Seif Ghobash Chair in Arab Studies
Seif Ghobash, UAE deputy foreign minister
Sheikh Sabah Al Salem Al Sabah Chair*
H.R.H. Sheikh Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, Kuwait Emir
Sultan Qaboos bin Said Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies
Architect Sultan Qaboos bin Said
Sultanate of Oman Chair
Architect Sultan Qaboos bin Said
Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization
Businessman Alwaleed bin Talal
Part of $20 million donation to create ACMCU
Clovis and Hala Salaam Maksoud Chair in Arab Studies
Clovis Maksoud, served as Ambassador of the League of Arab States and Special Representative to the United Nations; Hala Salaam, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in the History of Islam
Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar Emir
Hamad bin Khalifa Professor of Indian Politics**
Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar Emir
* Initial endowment was $1 million, but in 2013 gift was renewed for another $2 million ** Professorship is part of another department in SFS
Because Georgetown prepares students for policy careers, the university offers an unusually large number of courses on topics related to the Middle East compared to other universities.123 For the Fall 2021 semester, CCAS offered more than 70 courses, and Georgetown’s regular course catalog listed more than 300 additional courses related to the Middle East. (See Course Distribution in Appendix A.)124
ACMCU advertised six courses that semester, five associated with the International Affairs department and one with the History department. In this section, we analyze the content of the courses from each of the three subdivisions, starting with ACMCU.
ACMCU focuses more on public outreach than education, though it offers a minor which putatively promotes its goal of increasing “Muslim-Christian understanding.”125 Students must take one course focused on the Islamic world and another course that studies Christianity and its relations with other religions. While the center advertises courses focused solely on Islam, it only discusses Christianity in the context of its relationship to Islam (or other religions) and does not separately analyze Christian theology and ecclesiology for its own sake. As a result, ACMCU’s courses help Christians to “understand” Muslims, but they do little to help Muslims understand Christians.
ACMCU focuses on changing negative perceptions of Islam into positive ones. The course “Islamic World,” taught by ACMCU’s director Jonathan Brown, explores how Islam became known to the West historically through “caricatures of terrorists and despots”—which makes it seem as if these views are unfounded or unreasonable to hold. “Sharia Law & Its Discontents,” also taught by Brown, aims to correct Americans’ “poorly understood” perceptions of Islamic legal tradition and to teach the “actual nature and history” of Sharia law.126
CCAS offers a much broader range of courses than ACMCU. Many CCAS courses complement standard Arabic courses and give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge of the Arabic language to the study of Arabic culture. While language instruction takes the forefront, these courses sometimes incorporate political topics. “Arab Politics Through Literature,” for instance, introduces students to literary works with political messages and has students analyze their political content. Other CCAS courses address politics directly and cover topics such as foreign policy, revolutions, and Islamic political thought. The department also offers several highly specialized courses focused on specific regions, including courses on Syrian politics, Palestinian politics, Egyptian politics, and Chinese–Arab relations.
Interspersed with its courses on Arabic culture and politics, CCAS lists a number of courses that advance the ideological agenda of contemporary American progressives. These courses focus on topics such as migration, minority rights, and youth movements, and possess course descriptions riddled with progressive jargon. The course “Refugees: Middle East & North Africa,” for example, refers to refugees and migrants as “displaced people”—a term reminiscent of “undocumented immigrants,” which removes agency from migrants and emphasizes their passivity in the face of uncontrollable forces. The course teaches students to “advocate” for “displaced people” however they can. This blend of academic study with political advocacy, far too frequent at Georgetown and its peers, betrays the basic academic mission to pursue truth dispassionately.
Despite its extensive catalog of courses related to the Arabic world, the center offers few courses on terrorism. Georgetown students notice this omission. An undergraduate student in the department noted in an interview that CCAS tried to focus more on culture and deliberately avoided terms such as “terrorist.”127 Indeed, CCAS’s Fall 2021 course titles and descriptions included only a single reference to “counterterrorism” and no mentions of “terrorism” or “terrorist.” Only one course in Fall 2021, “Advanced Arabic Topics: Syrian Revolution” explicitly mentions that students will learn about the rise of ISIS. This is an astonishing absence for a center that receives Title VI funds.
Georgetown does offer some courses on terrorism through the Walsh School of Foreign Service and other departments, though the treatment of the subject varies greatly from course to course. Some courses focus on security and do not shy away from discussion about the threat of terrorism. The course description of “Terrorism and Counterterrorism,” offered by the International Affairs department, states bluntly that 9/11 demonstrated that “terrorists can and will kill thousands to pursue their ends.” The course highlights Islamic terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al-Qaeda and teaches students methods of how to combat terrorism. Other courses, however, attempt to erase any negative perceptions students may have of Islam or Muslims, regardless of how well-founded the perceptions are in reality. “Islam and Terrorism,” for example, attempts to demonstrate the “profound differences” between terrorists and mainstream Muslims to ensure that students understand that “terrorism is not an Islamic phenomenon.” Such an approach attempts to diminish the unique danger Islamic terrorism poses to Europe and America.
Other courses—even within the same department—bizarrely avoid any mention of terrorism in their discussion of the legal and cultural effects of the September 11 attacks and suggest that the worst effect of 9/11 was discrimination against innocent Muslim-Americans in its aftermath. “Muslims, Civil Rights & The War on Terror” advances the notion that the American government uses its power to “marginalize, disenfranchise, and erase Muslims and Arabs both in the U.S. and abroad.” The course emphasizes the perspective of Muslims to inculcate an unquestioning sympathy for the “plight” of Muslim-Americans: it elevates claims of discriminatory treatment after the 9/11 attacks, condemns the “unlawful invasion and war,” and decries the Trump-era “Muslim ban.” The course also shoehorns unrelated issues such as climate change and Black Lives Matter protests into class discussions.
It is worth repeating that Georgetown graduates frequently enter federal service or join non-governmental organizations that inform the American public and influence government policy. America’s national security depends on these graduates. Islamic studies courses should not downplay terrorism and counterterrorism, yet the university commits a disservice to its country when it teaches students radical political agendas instead of a comprehensive instruction in the nature of the Islamic world. When it leaves its students ignorant of the nature and the sources of Islamic terrorism, it endangers the lives of Americans, who depend on properly educated experts to serve in American government and civil society. We need public officials who can assess threats and advise on strategy, not those who regurgitate the latest progressive talking points. If students spend enough time in Georgetown’s more radical courses, they may not even enter public service at all, for the classes teach students to despise the very country they should seek to protect.
Outreach and Programs
Both CCAS and ACMCU offer workshops for K–12 teachers, often in collaboration with one another. These workshops supposedly equip teachers to educate children about the history and culture of the Middle East in an age-appropriate manner. However, given the clear ideological focus of both centers’ Middle East-related courses, it should come as no surprise that their K–12 workshops mainly function as yet another propaganda outlet.
CCAS and ACMCU professors use K–12 workshops to promote simplemindedly positive perceptions of Islam and to deconstruct and correct “ignorant misconceptions” about the Islamic world. The workshops cover topics such as Muslim representation in the media, cultural interactions between the East and the West, and children’s literature in the classroom. Georgetown’s centers sometimes collaborate on these workshops with organizations like Islamic Networks Group, which aims to dispel negative stereotypes of Muslims.128 In addition to their K–12 workshops, CCAS and ACMCU occasionally offer programs for non-educators, such as a workshop on “cultural competency” for healthcare professionals.
ACMCU also funds a “research” project known as the Bridge Initiative (BI). BI seeks to “inform the general public about Islamophobia” through the dissemination of “reports, articles, and other media.” One of its projects is quite similar to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s blog Hatewatch and features profiles of prominent individuals whom BI claims are anti-Muslim. (Profiled individuals include talk show host Tucker Carlson, congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and former Trump administration official Mike Pompeo).129 BI also writes reports critical of U.S. policies such as the Trump administration’s 2017 travel ban or the continued use of Guantanamo Bay detention facilities.130 This type of political advocacy is more appropriate behavior for a think tank or an advocacy organization than for a university—but it is typical of ACMCU, which regularly trades on Georgetown’s academic reputation to promote its own ideological agenda.
Georgetown’s prominent role in the education of future government employees means the university should be held to a particularly high standard. The stakes are higher than those at other institutions: the miseducation of future political leaders endangers America’s national security.
CCAS, as part of the Walsh School of Foreign Service, should aim to produce effective diplomats and politicians who will serve the United States as public servants, not activists who sympathize intensely with foreign countries and peoples and disdain their own. Yet CCAS pursues the latter course, even as they receive hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually from the federal government as a result of their NRC designation—and millions more from federal student grants and loans.
The professors themselves sometimes have particularly questionable overseas ties. Take professor and ACMCU director Jonathan Brown as an example. He has several personal ties to the Middle East. Brown’s wife is a well-known journalist for Qatari media outlet Al Jazeera,131 while his father-in-law was investigated in the 2000s for alleged links to Islamic terrorist organizations.132 Compromising family ties aside, Brown himself came under fire in 2017 for minimizing the moral gravity of Islamic slavery in a lecture.133 In 2019, he responded to his critics by writing a book that elaborated on his lecture’s exercise in minimization. Literary Review contributor Barnaby Crowcroft noted, however, that Brown attempted to redefine slavery to make it easier to compare Eastern and Western culture:
He [Brown] dismisses the most broadly accepted definition of slavery as the legal status of owning a human being as property, common to both Western practice and the sharia, by offering quite ludicrously trivial remarks on how divorce proceedings in US courts reveal that people in the West ‘own’ each other, sort of.134
Such politically motivated redefinition of language exemplifies the underlying biases of academics in the field. Brown’s deep-rooted reluctance to criticize Islam and Middle Easterners is entirely understandable—however he arrived at his views, he must also feel professional gratitude toward Alwaleed bin Talal and honor his family’s deep ties with the region. Brown’s biased reluctance may be understandable, but it has no place in an institution of higher education or in the instruction of future public officials.
Georgetown’s foreign ties extend beyond the professoriate. As of 2022, government officials from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman still hold positions on the advisory board of CCAS.135 Georgetown clearly profits from such an arrangement, and it once again demonstrates how MESCs survive and thrive. They teach Americans to act entirely congenially toward the interests of foreign nations. Georgetown’s centers have the greatest effect among MESCs when they do so, for they inculcate this deep-seated indifference toward American interests among student elites in the nation’s own capital.
George Mason University
The AbuSulayman Center for Global Islamic Studies at George Mason University (GMU) is one of the newer Islamic studies centers in the country. It was originally founded as the Ali Vural Ak Center in 2009, and its name was changed to the AbuSulayman Center sometime during Summer 2022.136 George Mason, like many universities close to Washington, D.C., touts its proximity to the federal government as an advantage for students, donors, and faculty. For the AbuSulayman Center in particular, the ties to government go beyond its location: Peter Mandaville, the current director, held several positions in the State Department during the Obama administration.137
GMU was an obvious candidate for an Islamic Studies center due to the large Muslim population in the surrounding area, which would provide a pool of potential students for the center.138 Indeed, the university already had an Islamic studies program prior to the creation of the Center. That program has been a source of controversy for GMU. In 2008, the program came under scrutiny after GMU accepted a $1.5 million grant from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), which was the subject of a federal investigation for alleged ties to terrorism, to create an IIIT Chair in Islamic Studies.139
The AbuSulayman Center also owes its existence to an unusual source of funding. Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, are the primary foreign donors to American universities in general and to MESCs in particular. These donors often have ties to foreign governments that have a vested interest in furthering the study of their culture abroad—with an appreciative slant. By contrast, Turkish businessman Ali Vural Ak founded the Center through a $3.1 million gift—but Ak is an entrepreneur with no formal connections to the Turkish government.140
Ali Vural Ak’s gift was not at random. Dr. Cemil Aydin, a prominent professor at the Center at the time of its founding, was Ak’s classmate and friend when they attended Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey.141 The GMU Center might never have been created without Aydin’s connection to Ak.
The Center’s original funding source is unusual, but George Mason’s lack of transparency about that funding is all too typical. The university’s administrators simultaneously bragged to their colleagues about their success at foreign fundraising and hid the records of the foreign gifts from the public. GMU’s website retains the university’s original press release announcing Ak’s $4 million commitment (Ak only donated $3.1 million out of his $4 million commitment due to an economic downturn in Turkey, though the university never corrected the discrepancy).142 It also proudly reports that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, then-prime minister of Turkey, gave the inaugural address for the Center.143 Yet the gift was conspicuously absent from the U.S. Department of Education’s Section 117 foreign funds reporting portal, where foreign donations to American higher education institutions must be reported. The Center attempted to justify the omission by saying that the gift was received by the university’s private foundation, a type of pass-through institution that many universities use to legally transform foreign money into domestic money.144
Since its founding, the Center has retained a close connection with its Turkish roots and has hired several Turkish professors and visiting scholars. In 2017, the university also began a partnership with Ibn Haldun University in Istanbul, which enabled the two universities to exchange students, share resources, and conduct joint studies.145
In the Fall 2021 semester, George Mason offered more than 30 courses related to Islam and the Middle East.146 More than a third of the courses focused on language education, with Arabic as the most common subject matter. The Religion department offered the second largest number of courses on Islam and the Middle East, while the Government department offered the third largest number. The Middle East and Islamic Studies department itself only offered two classes.
As with most instruction and research on Middle East and Islamic studies, GMU’s Middle Eastern language and religion courses do not shy from current events and political issues. One Arabic course discusses “Black and minority cultural productions,” “diaspora studies,” and “post-colonialism.” Hatim El-Hibri, a media studies professor affiliated with the Center, noted that research at GMU closely tracked current events; in recent years, for example, GMU professors focused on the Arab Spring and related political movements.147
The university’s course catalog does not provide many details about the content of the courses. The author, however, received some context from talking to a global affairs student at GMU who took multiple Middle East and Islamic studies courses. The student mentioned that his Palestinian heritage shapes his beliefs, and he explained that he had long known that many American beliefs about the Middle East were “lies.” GMU courses simply provided him with more “depth” with which to confirm his certainty that they were falsehoods. He specifically mentioned how he had learned that Western involvement destabilized the Middle East, capitalism is generally harmful, and social democracy and socialism are superior systems.148
One student’s personal political journey is admittedly an imperfect signal for the content of the courses at the AbuSulayman Center. But given the subject matter and perspectives at GMU and other schools, it hardly appears out of place. A university funded by American taxpayers should not confirm disaffected students in their prejudices about America.
Programs & Outreach
The AbuSulayman Center, like many Middle East and Islamic studies centers, offers several programs that foreground identity-group theory, especially regarding race. Identity politics hijacked academia long ago, but the promotion of “anti-racism” in higher education has reached new heights since the riots triggered by George Floyd’s death in 2020. In 2021, for example, the Center sponsored a conference titled “Race and Islam” that called for academic papers on topics such as “Media racialization of protest movements,” “Race and Islamophobia in Europe and the West,” and “Wars on terror and racism against Muslims.”149 The Center also hosted a lecture, “Making the US: Muslims, Race, and Class,” which described America as a country opposed to “groups and ideas” and discussed “how the country [the United States] defined itself at its founding, against Muslims and against Blackness.”150
Other events sponsored by the Center respond more generally to current affairs. “Ramadan in Lockdown: Personal Reflection and Communal Activities” focused on how Muslims celebrated Ramadan during the coronavirus pandemic, while “American Muslim Voters: Also not a Monolith” attempted to explain why some Muslims voted for Joe Biden while others voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
A glaring omission in the Center’s programming relative to other Middle East and Islamic studies centers can be seen in its coverage (or lack thereof) of recent political controversies surrounding Turkey. Harvard, by contrast, offered several events that addressed the ongoing Turkish–Kurdish conflict, while GMU’s center did not advertise a single event that discussed the issue. The Center also consistently fails even to mention the Turks’ genocide of the Armenians—a lacuna that has become even more peculiar since 2021, when Biden provided official American acknowledgment that it was indeed a genocide.
One possible explanation for the lack of coverage is that the Center focuses on Islam rather than on geopolitical issues, a focus that reflects the goals of the newer generations of Turkish donors.151
Regardless of the Center’s purported focus, its continued connection with Turkey undoubtedly contributes to its hesitancy to address the Armenian genocide. Turkey still does not acknowledge the genocide, and citizens of Turkey can be and have been legally punished for mentioning it. The nation has justified this punishment by declaring that references to the genocide “insult Turkishness.”152
When questioned about the Center’s minimal coverage of the Armenian genocide, Director Peter Mandaville stated that he had “no hesitation in recognizing the horrors” of the genocide in his capacity as an individual scholar. But the Center “does not take institutional positions on such issues.”153
To the extent that the Center does discuss Turkish–Armenian relations, it appeared rather dismissive of well-known facts. The Center’s “Turks in America” initiative, a digital project that documents “Turkish-American experiences,” published a piece by visiting scholar Isil Acehan that portrays post–World War I agitation by Armenian-Americans and Greek-Americans to prevent the re-establishment of American–Turkish diplomatic ties as the result of “extremist Armenian and Greek propaganda.”154 Acehan’s analysis primarily relies on the autobiography of American ambassador to Turkey Joseph Grew, in which he complains about the threats he received while meeting with Turkish ambassador Ahmet Muhtar. Her description, however, entirely ignores the context for the negative response from the Greeks and Armenians: Turkish persecution.
Due to Turkish laws, we cannot reasonably expect Turks to fully acknowledge the Armenian genocide. But we can expect American centers to speak fully and fearlessly of all matters of historical truth—and not to trade their intellectual freedom for Turkish lucre.
George Mason’s AbuSulayman Center is different from other Middle East and Islamic studies centers because it was funded by an atypical foreign donor: an entrepreneur from Turkey. As a result of its unique funder and focus, the center attracts a larger proportion of people affiliated with Turkey, and it appears hesitant to address the Armenian genocide. Overall, however, the tone of the center is similar to centers funded by Saudi Arabia or the U.S. government.
Like most centers of its kind, the AbuSulayman Center focuses primarily on Islamophobia, anti-racism, and immigration issues. While the work of these newer centers supports the interests of Middle East donors, the push to combat negative views of Islam and Muslims is driven primarily by academics rather than by their foreign sponsors. Middle East donors have no need to interfere in the operations of the centers they support, as the academics promote foreign interests without any prompting. As long as American academics continue to produce the typical, left-wing research to support their xenophilia, the donors are satisfied. Wealthy Middle Easterners such as Ali Vural Ak are the main ones who benefit from these arrangements, in which the centers promote Islam and support globalization by discouraging the articulation and pursuit of the American national interest.
The University of Arkansas
The University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, nestled in the northwest corner of the Natural State, seems like an unlikely recipient of eight-figure donations from Saudi royalty. Fayetteville is a typical southern city with a college town flair—there’s plenty of sweet tea and cardinal red to cheer on the Arkansas Razorbacks, as well as a church steeple or two. Yet housed in the picturesque Old Main, the oldest building on campus, is the Saudi-funded King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies.
In the 1990s, Middle Eastern nations paid significant attention—and money—to the University of Arkansas. First, the university received a $21.5 million endowment from Saudi Arabia to establish the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies in the early 1990s. Several years later, in 1999, the university used funds from Middle Eastern donors to build the J. William Fulbright Memorial Peace Fountain to honor Fulbright’s legacy of international education. The memorial fountain attracted donations from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ($300,000), the Sultanate of Oman ($100,000), and the Republic of Turkey ($10,000).155Old Main is a state-designated historic site and the oldest building at the University of Arkansas. It houses many departments for the Fulbright College, including the King Fahd Center.The Fulbright Peace Fountain attracted donations from several countries.
Although it may seem peculiar at first glance, the lavish attention the University of Arkansas received from Middle Eastern nations is no mystery to those familiar with American politics in the 1990s. Former Arkansas governor Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States in 1992 and held this position for the remainder of the decade. Clinton’s influence and connections played a large role in the Fahd Center’s establishment.
The Fahd Center’s beginnings date back to 1989, when then-Fulbright College dean Bernard Madison and then-Arkansas governor Clinton first discussed the idea for the Center. The exact reasons for Dean Madison and the university’s interest to establish a Middle Eastern studies center remain unclear. However, the surrounding documentation provides a couple of clues as to the underlying motivations.156
First, Dean Madison expressed interest in fulfilling William Fulbright’s legacy of international education (The College of Arts and Sciences was renamed after Fulbright in 1981 and is now called the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, or Fulbright College for short).157 William Fulbright, then an Arkansas senator, helped establish the Fulbright Program, a prestigious educational exchange program intended to improve the intercultural relations between the U.S. and other countries. Given Fulbright’s extensive work in international affairs, particularly with the Arab world, establishing an international education program focused on the Middle East would be a good way for Fulbright College to honor the legacy of its namesake.
Second, the University of Arkansas desired greater academic prominence, both regionally and nationally. Fulbright College faculty were frustrated that the university was primarily known for its Greek life and sports, rather than its research and teaching, and they believed that the surrounding community did not understand or care about their academic work.158 University leadership hoped that a multimillion-dollar Saudi-funded center would boost the college’s reputation among their academic peers and within the community.
Third, according to an internal 1992 draft, Fulbright College faced financial struggles, partially due to an alleged misallocation of funds toward “unnecessary administrative positions,” which made the prospect of a sudden and substantial influx of funding especially attractive. Dean Madison believed that Arkansas could obtain a financial windfall by pursuing a Middle East center, since the Saudis had already provided financial support to centers at other universities.159
After Dean Madison came up with the idea to establish a MESC, Bill Clinton helped put the plan in motion. His motivations went beyond mere gubernatorial benevolence: the Clintons had expressed a personal interest in the success of the university since they both worked as professors at the university during the 1970s and 1980s.160 Fulbright had also served as Bill Clinton’s mentor while the future president was still an undergraduate at Georgetown, and Fulbright inspired Clinton’s approach to foreign policy and diplomacy.161 Clinton’s personal connection to Fulbright likely contributed to his desire to help establish the Center.
While Bill Clinton himself possessed limited connections in the Middle East at the time, he used connections within his network to gain an introduction to Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. Clinton drew particularly upon his relationships with David Edwards, an international currency trader, and Stephens Inc., a large investing firm responsible for Walmart and Tyson Food’s meteoric rise (Edwards and Stephens Inc. both had extensive contacts in the Middle East). Clinton also contacted Saudi intelligence officer Turki Al Faisal, who had attended Georgetown at the same time as him. Clinton capitalized on all these connections to send a proposal for a Middle East Studies Center, drafted by Dean Madison, to Prince Bandar in 1990.162
Bandar, however, did not take the proposal seriously until 1992, when Clinton became a presidential front-runner. Bandar had a history of donating to the causes of U.S. presidents. He agreed to provide the seed money for a MESC at the University of Arkansas only after it became clear that Clinton would likely win the election.163
The Saudis gave an initial gift of $3.5 million in bonds and stocks to the University of Arkansas’s flagship campus in Fayetteville in 1992. Edwards secured another $20 million from Saudi Arabia following Clinton’s inauguration. Arkansas State University’s and the University of Arkansas’s campuses in Little Rock and Pine Bluff, respectively, received approximately $2 million of the funds. The rest of the $18 million went toward the creation of a robust Middle East studies program at the flagship campus. The King Fahd Center for Middle Eastern Studies was born from the $21.5 million it received in two installments, in 1992 and 1994.164
Very little documentation exists from the King Fahd Center’s early years. The College of Arts and Sciences provided only a meager update on the King Fahd Center in its 1995–1996 annual report and included no mention of the Center’s funding sources or status.165 For the first seven years, the Center itself barely kept any records of its financial activity. In the meantime, professors and students from the Center traveled back and forth between Arkansas and the Middle East extensively.166
While the lack of records makes it difficult to determine the extent of the disarray, it evidently became clear to university officials that the King Fahd Center would need to organize itself better if it hoped to survive. It took a professional accountant seven months to balance the books for the “most serious budgetary problems.” The chaos of the Center’s early years had mostly been cleaned up by 2001.
Fulbright College released an annual report in 2001 that detailed the King Fahd Center’s activity in the 2000–2001 fiscal year as part of its effort to bring some order to the Middle East Studies program. The college notably attempted to use the report to minimize its apparent dependence on Saudi Arabia. Specifically, the report claimed that the wording of the initial proposal confused onlookers about the actual nature of the university’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The partnership with Saudi Arabia was only informal, according to the college, and the funds in the endowment should not be considered to be Saudi funds:
The endowment principal presently resides in an account established and maintained by the University of Arkansas Foundation. Despite certain terminological usage in the 1993 proposal, neither these funds, nor the income generated from them can properly be understood as “Saudi.” The endowment principal belongs entirely to the state of Arkansas and cannot be transferred or reallocated by any outside party.167
This reclassification of funding sources is reminiscent of George Mason University’s excuse for why it chose not to report its donation from Turkey: the money had entered the university-affiliated foundation, so when it reached the university, it was no longer “foreign.”
Contrary to Fulbright College’s claims in the 2000–2001 annual report, the college had maintained several formal partnerships with the Saudis throughout the late 1990s. Saud Shawwaf, Saudi legal counsel to the United Nations, had served on the King Fahd Center’s advisory board during its early years, and a group of Saudi educators visited the campus in 1996 to check on the Center’s development.168 In 1999, the university initiated partnerships with the Saudi Ministry of Education and four Saudi universities: King Saud University, King Abdulaziz University, King Faisal University, and King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals.169
In the 2000s, the Center sought to achieve long-term financial security by expanding its partnerships to include universities in Yemen, Morocco, Syria, and other Middle Eastern nations. The first half of the decade was marked by financial uncertainty following the 2001 stock market crash, and the Center was forced to cut study abroad programs, conferences, and scholarships. University officials quickly realized that the Center needed to find new sources of funding to remain solvent, and they began to solicit donations from wealthy individuals and institutions across the Middle East. In addition to contacting foreign universities, staff from the Center also pursued connections with Middle Eastern business officials. Their relationship with Qatar proved particularly fruitful: representatives from the nation went on to sponsor 60 scholarships for up to two years of Arabic study for students at the Center.170
In more recent years, the university has established partnerships with institutions of higher education in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, and Russia, and it works closely with the Aga Khan Humanities Project in Central Asia, the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., and the Elijah School for the Study of Wisdom in World Religions in Jerusalem.171 Former Fulbright College Dean Todd Shields had also stated that he would like to see the King Fahd Center develop intra-institutional partnerships with colleges such as the Walton College of Business.172
The university experienced controversy in 2017 when the King Fahd Center canceled feminist scholar Phyllis Chesler’s appearance at a conference on honor killings. Professors Mohja Kahf, Joel Gordon, and Ted Swedenburg penned a joint letter to center director Tom Paradise that demanded the Fahd Center pull funds from the conference due to Chesler’s presence. These professors believed Chesler’s criticism of some Islamic practices “promote[d] bigotry.”173 Paradise revoked Chesler’s invitation to speak altogether. He initially did not want to cancel the event and disagreed with “stifling free speech.” But Paradise described the environment in Fayetteville as “heated and crazy complicated.”174 Police, for example, investigated a shattered window at Paradise’s house.175 Paradise mentioned in the same email regarding the shattered window that a “Muslim RSO [Registered Student Organization] might be involved too.”176 The university suspended Paradise from his director role for mishandling the controversy. Paradise later resigned from the position.177
The King Fahd Center oversees the University of Arkansas’s Middle East studies major. Students can obtain a Middle East studies major only if they pair it with another major at the university.178 In Fall 2021, the course catalog listed only about 20 courses that touched on the Middle East or related subjects. The Middle East studies department offered two of the courses, “Introduction to Middle East Studies” and “Arab Culture and Civilization.” The rest were spread across other departments, such as Arabic Language and Literature, Political Science, and History. The courses do not vary much from year to year, except for “Topics of the Middle East,” which covers a different topic each semester. In 2021, the “Topics” courses focused on “War, Migration and Refugees in the Middle East” and “Arab Culture and Civilization.”179
Students who take these courses typically have a relevant cultural or vocational interest in the region. An Arabic lecturer at the university said that many of the students who enrolled in the university’s Arabic courses had a cultural connection, wanted to study abroad, or wished to work in business or immigration services. The lecturer also emphasized that by promoting Arabic instruction, the university could help make immigrants in the surrounding community feel welcome.180
Dean Shields expressed similar sentiments about the value of the courses. Many companies, such as Procter & Gamble, seek out applicants who speak Arabic to fill positions in their overseas offices. For these companies, it is much easier to teach business principles to a new employee than it is to teach a foreign language. Thus, in addition to whatever personal motivations they may have, many students choose to study foreign languages for the sake of the financial benefit they will receive throughout their careers.181
It was difficult to obtain information about the content of the courses offered through the King Fahd Center; however, the author gained a sense of the Center’s overall approach to Middle East studies by visiting the campus. Some professors hung political posters on doors, which revealed a strong political bias that likely influences the course content. On Professor Joel Gordon’s door, the author noticed movie posters, a sign opposing the so-called Muslim ban under the Trump administration, and a Spanish-language poster that expressed support for Palestine. In the Spring 2021 semester, Gordon taught “New Women in the Middle East,” a course that examines the social and cultural role of women in the region since the 19th century.Fliers on Professor Joel Gordon’s door
Professor Mohja Kahf’s door displayed comic strips about Muslim stereotypes. Some of the comics were light-hearted, such as a joke about the various pronunciations of Iran and Iraq. But others were more serious and revealed a strong political bias—the worst offender was a joke likening Israel to the Ku Klux Klan. Given her sense of humor, it should come as no surprise that Kahf supports the BDS movement against Israeli universities.182 She also was one of the professors (along with Gordon) who penned the letter opposing Chesler’s lecture in 2017. In the spring of 2021, Kahf taught “Introduction to Islam.”Flier “I’m not a terrorist (But if you mess with me, I will hurt you)” on Professor Mohja Kahf’s door
To be sure, professors in the United States are free to express their political views on their doors and in their personal lives. However, the posters scattered by these professors suggest a bias toward one group of people or cause over others, which is likely reflected in its courses and activities.
Programs and Outreach
For the past couple of years, the King Fahd Center has significantly cut back its programming due to the coronavirus pandemic. Under normal circumstances, however, the Center facilitates several programs each year focused on building appreciation for Middle Eastern culture. Prior to the pandemic, the Center had a multi-year agreement with the university’s performing arts center to host regular events showcasing Middle Eastern artists.183
The King Fahd Center also supports the Etel Adnan Poetry Series, created in 2015 in honor of Lebanese poet Etel Adnan.184 The University of Arkansas Press and the Radius of Arab American Writers work together to solicit submissions, while the King Fahd Center supports the “prize and publication of the winning book through promotion, event hosting, and financial contributions.” The winner, who must be of Arab heritage, is awarded a $1,000 prize.185 While private organizations may distribute awards in whatever way they please, it is unbecoming—and unlawful for a public university under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—to officially advertise or support a contest that restricts eligibility based on ethnicity.186
“Discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin includes discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, or ancestry. This includes discrimination based on the country, world region, or place where a person or his or her ancestors come from; a person’s limited English proficiency or English learner status; or a person’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may be perceived to exhibit such characteristics (such as Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh individuals)”– Office for Civil Rights
The Center’s programs clearly focus their attention on students with an Arab background. Indeed, the professors and administrators the author spoke with unanimously praised the Center for its contributions to cultural exchange. Communications professor Frank Scheide stated that the Center served as a cultural bridge through which foreign students and American students could learn about each other’s cultures and values.187 Dean Shields concurred, adding that the Center attracted a community of people from other parts of the world who otherwise would not have considered Arkansas home. The mosque built close to the university serves as a testament to the persisting influence of the Arabic community formed by the Center.188
Dean Shields further noted that the Center’s fellowships and programs have made it easier to recruit students from Middle Eastern countries.189 Recruiting these students substantially increases the university’s revenue, as foreign students (or the countries sponsoring them) typically pay the full price of out-of-state tuition to attend. For instance, as a result (in large part) of the university’s efforts to recruit Iraqi students,190 the University of Arkansas received $42 million from Iraq between 2013 and 2018, making it the largest recipient of Iraqi funds of all American universities.191 The university has clearly benefited financially from tailoring the King Fahd Center’s programming toward the interests of Arab students, so it is no surprise that it continues to do so.
The University of Arkansas case study illustrates the great lengths to which a university with an appetite for prominence and wealth will go to achieve its goals. The King Fahd Center clearly uses the University of Arkansas’s name and Arab funds to benefit Arabs materially. The Center’s support of an ethnocentric poetry contest that only gives awards to those of Arab heritage underscores its adopted purpose.
The University of Arkansas used suspicious practices to establish the King Fahd Center. The disarray of the Center’s records from the early years makes it difficult to determine how far these practices extended. While it appears that the university made some improvements to its reporting procedures since then, more reforms must be made to address the deeply rooted transparency issues.
The university’s treatment of the start-up donation from Saudi Arabia highlights the extent of its transparency issues. To this day, the university argues that it was not required to report the initial $3.5 million gift:
The College Foreign Contract and Gift Report only includes gifts from foreign countries. If a gift was from a private individual, foundation or organization, it would not be recorded there. Also keep in mind it’s been 30-plus years, and in looking into this it appears those bonds may have been given anonymously by individuals.192
A 1995 document, however, clearly denotes that the gifts came from Saudi Arabia.193
The flagship Fayetteville campus is not the only campus in the university system that failed to report its Saudi funds. Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock still have not reported the combined $850,000 (plus accrued interest) that they received as part of the Saudi gift.194
The King Fahd Center continued to obscure the actual nature of the Saudi gifts until the author probed the university to clarify the discrepancies. In December 2021, the university quietly made changes to its website to reflect that the Center had received $21 million from the Saudi government, not $20 million. Fulbright College Communications Director Andra Liwag said the discrepancy was a “typo.” But Joel Gordon, also a prior center director, reiterated this “typo” in a 2014 report.195
Some professors directly associated with the Center also repudiated interviews around the same time that FOIA requests were made on behalf of the author. During her visit in mid-October 2021, the author spoke with both an Arabic-language lecturer and the Center’s first director, Adnan Haydar. While the lecturer initially agreed to an on-the-record interview, she sent a frantic email several weeks later demanding that her name and statements not be used in the report (the information discussed during the interview was mostly benign). The author only spoke with Haydar for a few minutes while she was on campus; however, he enthusiastically invited her to reach out to continue the conversation at a later date. When the author attempted to schedule a call with Haydar following her visit, he turned the conversation over to Liwag due to a “conflict.”196 The “conflict” appeared only a day after Liwag requested to speak to Haydar over the phone about a FOIA request that directly cited his name.197
It remains unclear whether these public information requests were completely fulfilled. The university’s FOIA office relied on the individuals cited in the requests to search and transfer internal communications (i.e., emails) themselves. This practice easily lends itself to errors and evasion. Professors and administrators can accidentally miss documents when they sift through troves of emails. They can also purposefully “miss” or delete emails to avoid scrutiny. Other universities have more efficient systems in place, where either the FOIA office or the IT department directly acquire and disseminate the requested documents. It is vital for the University of Arkansas to institute a more comprehensive and efficient system, especially given that the King Fahd Center has a history of failing to track expenses properly that spans nearly a decade.
Sidewalks etched with the names of University of Arkansas graduates clearly show that the university prizes its history and traditions. Arkansas’s conservative and Christian culture still influences much of the atmosphere on campus. Nonetheless, the decision to house the King Fahd Center in a state-designated historic site sends a clear message that the university aspires to displace the state’s current cultural mores. The King Fahd Center reflects the modern shift in Middle East studies in that it focuses on self-study and advocacy of Arab students rather than benefit to American citizens.
The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin (UT-Austin) established its Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) as a National Resource Center in 1960. Since its founding, CMES focused heavily on foreign language instruction. Faculty who taught Arabic and Hebrew founded CMES, and its first leader was linguistics professor W.P. Lehmann.198 The Center still focuses its courses and programming primarily on advanced language instruction and the nature and history of the contemporary Middle East.
UT-Austin’s CMES engaged in regular activity in the decades after its founding, but it was especially active during the 1970s. Like many other National Resource Centers, CMES established an outreach program in the mid-1970s that continues to this day. Beginning in 1975, the university also took part in an archaeological excavation led by Middle Eastern Studies professor Harold Liebowitz in Tel Yin’am (located in northern Israel). The excavation was a great success: Liebowitz and his team discovered remnants of Bronze Age buildings and an iron smelter, both of which were considered highly significant archaeological findings.199
As is often the case, CMES began to attract political attention and controversy as it grew in prominence. Unlike other MESCs, however, the CMES at UT-Austin made a concerted effort to avoid politicization during the 1980s. In 1980, for example, the Center invited Arab League representative Clovis Maksoud to speak at an event. An Israeli organization in the area, in response, requested that CMES invite a speaker with pro-Israel views to present the university community with balanced perspectives. CMES proceeded to ask a local rabbi for speaker recommendations. But university officials soured on the idea and expressed fears that the CMES would become embroiled in sterile arguments over Arab–Israeli foreign policy. They stated that they were “not here for Arabs or Israelis” and that “anyone who has an official position should not be invited,” adding that “a representative of the Arab League will represent the Arab League.”200
Taken together, CMES’s focus on archaeology and languages and its aversion to politics made the Center somewhat of an anachronism in the 1980s, whose intellectual tone was reminiscent of the pre–World War II Middle East studies of Hitti and Breasted. The Center’s more traditional academic approach, while noteworthy, did not endure. In 2022, UT-Austin’s courses and programs related to the Middle East appear much the same as those at other MESCs in that they are riddled with activist goals. The insatiable desire for funds and the perceived need for conformity within the discipline has eliminated CMES’s individuality.
Like many other leaders of area studies centers founded under the National Defense Education Act, CMES administrators were concerned about the Center’s financial longevity during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1980, word spread that the federal government might only fund four National Resource Centers for the Middle East.201 CMES decided to pursue alternate sources of funding. The university initially planned to contact Saudi businessman Nasser Al-Rashid, a wealthy UT-Austin alumnus and frequent donor to the university’s engineering school, to propose the idea of a permanent endowment for the Middle East studies program.202 CMES, however, ultimately decided to pursue more traditional funding options. Since 2000, the Center has secured over $7 million in external grant funding, which has enabled it to maintain one of the largest Middle East studies programs in America.203
UT-Austin offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees related to Middle East studies. Since 1997, the university has also been one of the few institutions in the country to offer a stand-alone undergraduate major in Islamic Studies. During the Fall 2021 semester, the university offered more than 40 courses related to the Middle East.204
Language instruction remains a core part of the Middle East Studies curriculum, and the university still provides extensive instruction in Arabic and Hebrew to this day. The university also offers courses on Persian, Turkish, and older languages such as Akkadian and Aramaic. Courses typically limit enrollment in its modern language courses to non-native speakers. Other courses, which are open to foreign students and American students alike, focus on contemporary issues. Coverage includes cultural, historical, and political topics, from the Arab Spring to Israeli pop culture.
Some of the courses teach students important information about the history and nature of the Middle East, such as “Dead Sea Scrolls,” “Islam in the Early Modern World: Religion and Culture,” and “Introduction to the Old Testament.” But others blend their instruction with the political indoctrination that has become typical of the modern American academy. Scholars design designs its courses to counter or “deconstruct” what they see as Eurocentric or pro-Western narratives about the Middle East, such as Samuel Huntington’s famous “clash of civilizations” theory.
The course “French Empire: The West and Islam” attempts to debunk the notion that Muslim societies are incompatible with secular European society (a “clash of civilizations” view of the world).205 Students read books such as Europe and the Islamic World, a sizable text that outlines the purported historical links and common roots between European and Islamic societies. Students also spend a considerable amount of time reading Said’s Orientalism and evaluating his critiques of Western views of the Middle East. The course “Arabs and Modernity,” meanwhile, focuses primarily on positive contributions from Arabs in an attempt to combat “negative stereotypes about Arabs” that have been reinforced by “the [W]estern media on issues of war and injustice.” The class discussions eschew fact-based instruction and instead focus on winning converts to the professor’s ideological agenda.
Even courses with a historical focus bring in modern post-colonial theory as an interpretive filter. “Africa and Rome” is supposed to provide a historical analysis of Africa during the Roman Empire.206 Instead of considering both Roman and African perspectives, however, the course dismisses the Roman accounts as “colonial mythologies” that “cast Africa as barbaric” and focuses its attention on the African accounts. The course “Ideas of East,” similarly, elevates the perspective of those from Asia and dismisses European or Western perspectives on Asian history and ideas as Orientalist.207
Other courses reveal that CMES has moved away from its previous desire to avoid political disputes. Linguistics professor Mohammad Mohammad, for example, teaches “Palestine and the Palestinians: A Journey through Time,” which gives students an overview of Palestinian history and culture with an emphasis on the “Palestinian experience.”208 Mohammad is Palestinian himself and grew up in Iksal, Jordan, which he describes as an “insignificant ancestral village in historical Palestine.” The course heavily relies on a newer concept in academia known as lived experiences. Mohammad’s “lived experience” presumably lies behind his use of the Arabic term nakba (catastrophe) in reference to the First and Second Arab–Israeli wars. The term is emotive and partisan—the equivalent of using The War for Southern Independence or The Great Rebellion to refer to the Civil War. It illustrates precisely why “lived experience” should not be the basis of scholarship.
CMES’s curriculum maintains a strong language core, as intended by the Center’s founders. But just as at other university centers, the professors at UT-Austin’s CMES routinely intertwine their personal political agendas with their instruction in the classroom. In leaving this politicization unchecked, the Center has rejected its academic roots and has instead entered the business of political indoctrination.
Outreach and Events
Most of the external programming at UT-Austin’s CMES focuses on K–12 education, with a special emphasis on the intersection between K–12 education and immigration and refugee issues. CMES frequently provides input on Texas public school curricula. CMES representatives regularly attend the annual meetings of organizations such as the Texas Council for the Social Studies, the Texas Alliance for Geographic Education, and the National Council for the Social Studies.209
One program unique to UT-Austin’s CMES is the Refugee Student Mentor Program, which provides mentorship and remedial language instruction for Texas’s swiftly increasing refugee population (Texas accepted more refugees than any other state between 2010 and 2019).210 The program helps refugee children acclimate to American schools. The program began in 2015 as a joint project between the university’s Arabic Flagship program and the Austin Independent School District. While many public schools offer English as a Second Language programs, UT-Austin claims that these programs often do not cater to students who speak Arabic. The university claims that the mentorship program helps to fill the gap for refugee students. Mentors come from the pool of undergraduate and graduate students at UT-Austin and typically spend 2–5 hours each week with their mentees.211
CMES has also worked closely with the Qatar Foundation, an educational donor organization controlled by the Qatari government, to develop several of its external initiatives. In 2013, UT-Austin received around $165,000 from the Qatar Foundation to promote Arab language instruction in a local school district.212 The university also created the Teacher Leadership Program in partnership with the Qatar Foundation to prepare K–12 teachers to address topics related to the Middle East in their classrooms. Teachers in the social sciences, humanities, and arts may partake in the two-year training program. Topic coverage ranges from religion to geography.213
CMES also organizes travel abroad trips for K–12 teachers to locations such as Morocco, Turkey, and Moorish Spain.214 An academic representative from the university accompanies teachers on the trip and offers insights on how they can incorporate what they have learned on the trip into their classroom instruction. Teachers pay for expenses such as airfare and travel health insurance, while the university arranges the itinerary and subsidizes activities such as guided tours and hotels.
UT-Austin’s CMES offers a wide selection of courses and a unique mixture of outreach programs. Like many other MESCs today, CMES has adopted an activist approach to education: its scholars get involved in the community and attempt to influence policy and change perspectives. Many CMES courses, in addition, rely on subjective personal experiences rather than fact-based instruction.
The Center’s involvement in refugee issues, in particular, has no clear connection to its public mission. UT-Austin is an institution supported by taxpayer funds, yet CMES spends a significant amount of time and resources to improve the welfare of non-citizens. The devotion of resources to humanitarian causes may be appropriate for charities, but CMES is not a charity. The university’s obsession with refugee issues results in the diversion of taxpayer funds away from their intended purpose: the education of citizens.
UT-Austin’s case study demonstrates the shift in the mission and focus of Middle Eastern National Resource Centers. Many of these institutions dedicated themselves to strong language instruction and the advancement of American national security interests in the early years. Centers have since shifted from fact-based instruction to outright political advocacy. They now seek to peddle their influence in as many places as possible—from the ivory towers to elementary school classrooms. It is disappointing to see UT-Austin’s CMES stray from its earlier commitment to nonpartisanship. But it is unfortunately expected given the remarkably homogeneous landscape of Middle East studies today.
Duke University/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies is a unique collaboration between Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). Both universities have departments that study the Middle East and Islam, but the Consortium enables them to pool their resources. The Consortium was founded in 2005, but collaboration between the two universities on Middle East studies programming dates back to at least 1994.215
In 1997, Duke, UNC, and Emory University in Georgia created the Carolina-Duke-Emory Institute for the Study of Islam, which claims to be the first institute dedicated to the study of Islam in the United States. Graduate students from the three universities could receive in-depth training on the history and culture of Islam through the Institute. The universities eventually dissolved their collaboration, and Duke took over the ownership of the Institute, renaming it first the Center for the Study of Muslim Networks and later the Duke Islamic Studies Center.216
In 2005, the Duke Islamic Studies Center received a $1.5 million gift from James P. and Audrey Gorter for an endowed professorship in Islamic studies. The Gorters were connected to Duke through their children, two of whom had attended the university.217
UNC, meanwhile, established a formal MESC of its own in 2002. The university funded the Center’s operations by reaching out to private foundations, applying for Title VI funding, and taking advantage of fundraisers held by cultural groups such as the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association (based in Turkey).218 In 2009, UNC’s College of Arts & Sciences received a $666,000 gift from the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association to establish the Kenan Rifai Chair, which focuses on Sufism and Islamic spirituality.219 This donation was not reported to the Department of Education.
Donor Spotlight: Turkish Women’s Cultural AssociationThe Turkish Women’s Cultural Association (TURKKAD) was established in 1966 by Turkish writer and Sufi mystic Samiha Ayverdi. TURKKAD promotes education and research of Sufism and has established several chairs and centers in honor of the prominent Sufi thinker Kenan Rifai. In addition to the UNC chair, TURKKAD has established a Kenan Rifai Islamic Studies Chair at Peking University in China and a Kenan Rifai Center for Sufi Studies at Kyoto University in Japan.220
The two institutions decided to pool their resources in 2005 and created the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. It later became a National Resource Center in 2010. In 2022, the Consortium changed its name to the North Carolina Consortium for Middle East Studies, and it now serves all Middle East studies departments in North Carolina.
The Consortium received significant attention after an ED probe in 2019 accused it of misusing federal funds to teach materials outside of the intended national security purpose. ED questioned whether courses within the Consortium, such as those on Iranian film and art, related to the dissemination of language instruction and whether the Consortium’s curriculum sufficiently covered topics related to national security.221 Some believe ED’s letter was sparked after a 2019 UNC event, “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,” which featured an anti-Semitic song by a Palestinian rapper.222
The probe stirred considerable debate over ED’s public approach. Some believed ED’s letter threatened academic freedom because it placed external pressures on the university.223 Another worry was that ED’s criticisms, such as those that claimed the Centers should offer a “balance” of perspectives, was difficult to enforce. As the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), then called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, wrote:
To what extent is “balance” required to “fully understand” an area? The contours of what constitutes a “full understanding” of a subject of study are properly determined by an academic institution, not the federal government. 224
Whether or not the law created an unconstitutional condition on federal funding, the probe did not cause the Consortium to lose its NRC status. UNC did, however, amend its anti-bias training to include anti-Semitic behavior.225
In Fall 2021, Duke University and UNC offered more than 75 courses that covered topics related to the Middle East.226 Language courses account for close to 40% of the total, with a focus on Arabic and Hindi–Urdu instruction. The two schools’ Asian and Middle Eastern Studies departments offered a fifth of the courses, which covered topics such as “Transnational Feminisms of the Middle East and South Asia,” “Special Topics in Critical Asian Humanities Methodologies,” and “Introduction to Islamic Civilizations.” The third-most represented discipline was religion: students could take classes such as “Muslim Ethics and Islamic Law: Issues and Debates,” “Religion and Culture in Iran,” and “Gender and Sexuality in Islam.”
As at other institutions, many of the courses offered through both universities avowedly aim to minimize the differences between the East and the West. This motivation likely drives the Consortium’s disproportionate focus on Sufism—Islamic mysticism. Sufism’s emphasis on the inarticulately mystical makes it a more attractive subject for those looking to bridge cultural divides between the East and the West than, for example, Wahhabism.227
Duke and UNC place a significantly stronger emphasis on instruction about Sufism than many of its peer programs. The former co-director for UNC’s Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, Carl Ernst, specialized in contemporary Sufism and published extensively on the subject, with books such as Refractions of Islam in India: Situating Sufism and Yoga (2016), Teachings of Sufism (1999), and Words of Ecstasy in Sufism (1985).228 A 2019 job posting for the Kenan Rifai Fellow in Islamic Studies at UNC, additionally, specified that the applicant should have a focus in Sufism or other specializations such as critical race theory, gender and sexuality, and ethnography of religion.229
Duke and UNC also offer a number of courses that discuss Sufism, including “Sufism,” “Islam and Islamic Art in South Asia,” and “Modern Muslim Societies.” Even some of the language courses at the universities engage with Sufism; “Advanced Hindi-Urdu II,” for example, has students read and translate medieval Sufi poetry.
Sufism deserves its scholars. It should be noted, however, that a study of Christianity would be somewhat distorted if it focused on mystics George Fox and Teresa of Ávila more than theologians such as St. Augustine and Martin Luther. Mysticism is an essential component of most religions—but even more so are the expositors of doctrine.
Besides Sufism, the two universities specialize in courses that reiterate social justice talking points. These courses fall into two main categories: those that challenge borders and those that focus on identity issues such as sexuality or race. One unnamed course at UNC had students examine “bordering practices” in the Arab world through film, literature, and art. Students addressed the following question throughout the class: “What can imaginative works do to process, mitigate or undermine bordering practices?” The course overview polemicized against borders, portraying them as inherently evil and brutal. A more sophisticated approach might note that a border has no intrinsic moral valence, and that walls usually become attractive when enemies approach and communities require self-definition.
An example of a course that focused on identity issues was a first-year seminar, “Pop Culture in the Arab World.” The course looks at the positive aspects of Arab culture and intentionally shies away from depictions of “dictators,” “the land of ISIS,” and oppressed women in veils. That’s because the class is particularly concerned with what it deems to be negative and dated portrayal of Arabs and hopes to provide a more contemporary and positive outlook. By the end of the course, students are supposed to understand terms such as “popular culture,” “subculture,” and “mainstream culture,” and to possess the skills to make “an informed opinion about current representations of the region.” The class seeks to shape students’ opinions according to the professor’s biases rather than equipping students to form their own opinions based on factual material.
Outreach and Events
Like many other MESCs, the North Carolina Consortium’s programming focuses on “cultural exposure” to make Islam palatable to the average American and to deconstruct stereotypes of Muslims. The Consortium achieves this goal primarily through K–12 materials and teacher training workshops. The Teacher Fellows Programs provides 10–15 teachers from various school districts in North Carolina with “intensive, professional development opportunities [intended] to expand their expertise in Middle East studies.” As part of the programs, teachers create lesson plans for their classrooms that are then posted online for other teachers to reference. Previous lesson plans posted on the Consortium’s website include “Lesson for K-5: The Smelling Spice Test,” “Refugee Survival and Success,” and “Power of Poetry-Sufi Poets, Past to Present.”230
Through the Teacher Fellows Programs, teachers design lessons that acclimate students to different cultures. “Using Food to Unite and Understand Cultures,” a curriculum designed for Grade 3 students, teaches children about Middle Eastern cuisine. Students read Queen Consort of Jordan Rania Al-Abdullah’s The Sandwich Swap, a story of two friends who share many similarities but who get into a food fight because they eat very different types of food.231 The book, while it may teach some important lessons about curiosity and friendship, may also teach students to conflate respect with agreement.
The Sandwich Swap’s lesson plan outlines several discussion questions for the book, including the following:
The first question is particularly loaded: The phrasing assumes that diversity is important and discourages students to ask whether diversity is good in and of itself. A better prompt would pose questions such as “Is diversity important?” or “What are the advantages and disadvantages of diversity?” These questions do not assume a correct answer and allow different perspectives in the classroom. But our recommendations are more appropriate for older students. It’s likely that third graders do not know what diversity means. The subject, therefore, gives teachers the opportunity to push diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) propaganda on impressionable children.
The lesson plan also includes an optional activity that teaches students how to show respect for others’ food choices. Teachers discourage students from labeling foods they dislike with impolite words such as “yucky” or “gross.” But what happens when a child tries a new food and legitimately dislikes it? Students could either remain silent or respond along the lines of, “My food looks different than yours. How does my food look to you?” The activity rewards students who are open to new experiences and discourages those who express negative reactions—but it never teaches students how to handle actual disagreement. The week-long lesson plan does, however, carve out time for students to try hummus and pita sandwiches and learn a Lebanese dance called dabke.
Lessons of this nature expose students to a superficial form of diversity that avoids more vital questions related to faith, politics, and national identity. In any case, teachers should not waste precious classroom hours on diverse eating habits when more than 50% of North Carolina elementary and middle school students struggle with reading and math on statewide exams.232
Other lesson plans, such as “Deconstructing Stereotypes of Islam and Muslims,” “Stories in Poetry-Filling in the Gaps,” and “Humanizing the ‘Other’ in Shakespeare’s Plays: The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice,” focus on breaking stereotypes and combating Islamophobia.233 In their effort to “break down stereotypes,” the lesson plans minimize the elements of truth that underlie many common perceptions about Muslims.234 A presenter note for “Deconstructing Stereotypes,” for instance, acknowledges that Muslim women face oppression; however, it instructs the presenter to highlight the oppression of women that occurs in other religious contexts to demonstrate that the phenomenon is not unique to Islam. The lesson plans use these sorts of tactics to distract from the more dangerous aspects of Islam. As a result of this biased coverage, students may never learn about atrocities such as Muslim honor-killings of women, acid attacks, or female genital mutilation.235 The Teacher Fellows Programs’ “lesson plans” actually instruct teachers not to teach about vitally important elements of Islamic history and culture.
The lesson plans distort instruction about the Middle East and Islam even further by importing concepts from modern American identity politics. The lesson plan “Humanizing the Other,” for instance, has students study Shakespeare’s Othello to “define the concept of ‘other’ during Elizabethan times and connect to contemporary, modern examples of ‘other-ing.’”236 Students only receive “an initial overview and quick read of Othello for plot and character familiarity.” Students spend much more time on pseudo-science such as “implicit biases.” Not only does the lesson plan misapply Shakespeare, but it teaches students to view the Islamic world through a distorted lens of social justice.
The Consortium also produces “Middle East Explained” videos in which university professors provide brief introductions to Middle East–related topics that teachers can use in the classroom. Most of the information in these videos is relatively straightforward and factual—albeit with no added value beyond what can be found through a casual Google search. Yet there are telling absences. A video titled “The Aftermath of 9/11,” for example, describes the September 11 attacks and outlines the national security initiatives that followed, such as the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration and the Global War on Terror. The video includes discussion prompts about topics such as al-Qaeda’s role in the attacks, the passage of the Patriot Act, and the effect on American Muslims post-9/11. But the video and the prompts ignore the effect that 9/11 had on the families of the victims and never mentions their lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for its culpability in the attacks.237
Taken together, the North Carolina Consortium’s resources and materials for K–12 teachers inculcate selective blindness about the reality of Islam and discourage curiosity about politically inconvenient subjects.
Given the ubiquitous bias in the Consortium’s coverage of subjects related to the Middle East, it is no surprise that ED chose to investigate UNC’s activities. ED’s probe identified several problems with Duke-UNC’s MESC:
Our analysis of the Consortium’s materials confirms many of ED’s concerns. ED, however, understated the deeply rooted and broader nature of these problems. Political and religious bias permeate the course materials, even those that ostensibly focus on required subjects such as language and culture. Moreover, the bias extends beyond Duke and UNC’s curriculum—the Consortium’s outreach programs for K–12 educators fail to offer useful knowledge about the Middle East. Outreach materials, instead, push radical social agendas onto children.
This deviation from the national security mission of Title VI National Resource Centers is likely purposeful. The current director of the consortium, Charles Kurzman, wanted the Obama administration to increase funding for National Resource Centers and view them as necessities in society. In a 2013 blog post, he wrote:
This need goes beyond the logic of national security, which was the original rationale for the National Resource Centers (the Higher Education Act was originally called the National Defense Education Act). This need goes beyond the logic of economic globalization, the other major rationale, which views international education in terms of workforce preparation. The greatest need for international education is to promote global understanding in an era when radical movements on all sides are encouraging us to shrink our horizons of empathy.238
Used in this context, “global understanding” typically refers to being positive and non-judgmental—not possessing the deeper knowledge that prepares students to engage with complex ideas. Such hollow “understanding” betrays higher education, which should be aimed at the pursuit of truth and informed judgment, not the inculcation of positive perceptions. The desire to use education to promote or suppress social movements distracts from higher education’s purpose.
ED’s suggestions to develop a more balanced approach may have been well-intended, but they failed to address the deeper issues within biased programs. A surface-level solution would likely worsen the underlying problems, as NRCs could simply replace pro-Islam pablum with ecumenical pablum to avoid future probes. Universities should seek truth, wisdom, and understanding. But enforcing political “balance” is not a rigorous way to do so, even if the law nominally requires it. Instead, we should expect universities to follow the spirit of the law: to investigate and present facts and to pose questions that make it possible to subject emotional responses to rational evaluation. Such objectivity requires a change in the professional standards in the field (not to mention larger sectors of academia) rather than a change in regulations.
Also, ED’s concern about students lacking vocational support appears to be correct, yet this complaint, too, is not unique to Middle East studies departments. It is intrinsic to the American model of higher education. Higher education traditionally did not concern itself with vocational training. Even today, the skills students (especially graduate students) learn in higher education tend to prepare them better for an academic career than for other jobs.
Nevertheless, the examples of curricular bias brought to light by the ED probe and confirmed in our analysis of Duke-UNC’s materials are troubling. They are not just the work of a few rogue scholars. These examples reflect a deeply ingrained institutional agenda, created and enforced by our own scholars—not by foreign interests. When UNC received Turkish money for an Islamic Chair, the university—not the Turkish donors—took the initiative to add critical race theory as a job requirement. The social and cultural priorities of today’s academics have rerouted Title VI funding away from serving the American national interest and toward political and ideological activism. Only a thorough replacement of personnel at these centers, together with genuine institutional support for objective teaching and research, could turn the tide.
Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, established its first Arabic and Islamic Studies Program in 1841.239 Given this long history, it should come as no surprise that Yale continues to provide a robust study of the Middle East and related subjects to this day. The university still offers an Arabic program, in addition to programs in Iranian studies and Near East studies, courses in Modern Hebrew, and a Council on Middle East Studies.
The Council on Middle East Studies (CMES) is part of the larger MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies, which focuses on education and research for international affairs. The MacMillan Center, which was founded in 1960 to provide an interdisciplinary approach to area studies, established the CMES in 1970.240
During the early 2010s, the MacMillan Center began to consider external donors after the federal government made major cuts to Title VI funds. The CMES, along with councils in African and Latin American studies, relied particularly heavily on these federal funds.241
Beginning in 2013, Saudi businessman Abdallah S. Kamel gave Yale Law School regular donations to offer lectures on Islamic law and civilization.242 In 2015, Kamel gave the school a $10 million gift to create a center for Islamic law.243
Donor Spotlight: The Kamel FamilySaleh Kamel (1941-2020) was a Saudi businessman whose net worth was $2.3 billion in 2017. Kamel established the Dallah Al-Baraka Holding Company (DBHC) in 1969. In just one decade, his banking and real estate enterprise became one of the largest contractors for the Saudi government.He previously worked for the Saudi government’s Ministry of Finance.Kamel was named in a lawsuit filed by the families of 9/11 victims, but the lawsuit was eventually dismissed.In 2017, Kamel was arrested as part of an anti-corruption crackdown by the Saudi government. He died in 2020. The DBHC is currently run by his son Abdallah S. Kamel.Some have speculated that Saleh Kamel was the real donor behind Yale’s Islamic law program, acting via his son Abdallah. Yale removed the announcement of Kamel’s 2015 gift from its website after various groups criticized the university’s decision to accept funds from Kamel, whose company DBHC allegedly funded Al-Qaeda.244
Yale offered more than 60 courses related to Islam, the Middle East, and associated topics during the Fall 2021 semester. The Modern Middle East Studies (MMES) and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC) departments offered most of the courses. While the content covered by the two departments overlaps, MMES courses focus on teaching information that students can apply directly in government and policy fields, while NELC courses focus on the ancient study of the region. In Fall 2021, MMES courses included “Making of Modern Iran,” “Advanced Modern Hebrew: Daily Life in Israel,” and “Social Change in Middle East Cinemas.” NELC courses emphasize language instruction, and students can learn anything from a Levantine dialect of Arabic to the endangered language of Aramaic. The NELC department also offers graduate degrees in Assyriology and Egyptology. Examples of NELC courses in Fall 2021 included “The Ancient Egyptian Empire of the New Kingdom,” “From Gilgamesh to Persepolis: Introduction to Near Eastern Literatures,” and “Reading, Editing, and Copying Cuneiform Tablets.”
As is typical of courses that tackle contemporary issues, MMES courses are often riddled with progressive dogmas. Students in “Introduction to Maghrebi Literature and Culture” study concepts such as “social justice,” “anticolonialism,” and “feminism” through the lens of Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian media. “Middle East Uprisings” teaches students how the 2011 uprisings in Middle Eastern and North African countries were “classed, sexed, and gendered.” The course is cross-listed with the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department and incorporates feminist theory and jargon—to wit, the use of “class,” “sex,” and “gender” as verbs.
Other MMES courses clearly demonstrate an anti-Western bias. “Islam Today: Jihad and Fundamentalism” introduces students to the Muslim religion and addresses topics such as the “ideals of Shari’a and jihad” and the political ideology of Islam. The course does not shy away from negative perceptions of Islam, but it attempts to reframe the most dangerous aspects of Islam as a “reactive force to Western colonialism.” Critical theory–inspired pedagogy even attributes negative aspects of Islam to the West.
Some MMES courses feign historical salience while abandoning historical rigor. The literature course “Decolonizing Memory: Africa & the Politics of Testimony,”245 which is cross-listed with several departments including MMES, teaches students to take personal testimonies of Western “colonial violence” as historical evidence rather than as exercises in literary polemic. They justify this approach by claiming that they are correcting so-called “archival silences”—a progressive euphemism for lack of evidence. Yet authors covered in the course such as Antjie Krog should hardly be taken at face value:
The uncertainty as to whether one is reading a transcription of actual utterances [before South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Committee], a reconstruction of what Krog remembers, or testimony she has simply invented, increases when Antjie in one instance comments on the understanding of truth that lies behind the form of Country of My Skull. She stresses that she has taken creative licen[s]e in many respects, including inventing an entire character.246
MMES imports into Middle Eastern studies the progressive academic fashion that blurs the distinction between fact and fiction and teaches radical polemic as history.
Events & Outreach Programs
Between 2000 and 2019, Yale’s Council on Middle East Studies hosted more outreach activities than any other National Resource Center. The CMES uses its prolific outreach program to promote the pet issues of progressive ideologues.
The CMES engages in extensive K–12 outreach and hosts an annual Summer Institute for Teachers as part of its outreach efforts. The theme for the 2021 Summer Institute was “Expect the Unexpected.” The four-day event featured a keynote address on “BLM in the MENA: The Global Impact of an American Movement,” a musical retelling of the Palestinian and Syrian diasporas, and a presentation on the Sephardic & Mizrahi Jewish experiences.247
The 2021 Summer Institute aimed to “flip the script” on how educators talk about Middle Easterners. Teachers from New Haven Public Schools who attended the conference received a “special set of book resources” for their classrooms. The list of 37 recommended resources included books such as Moustafa Bayoumi’s How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (2009), Sara Saedi’s Americanized: Rebel Without a Green Card (2018), and Thomas Borstelmann’s Just Like Us: The American Struggle to Understand Foreigners (2020).248Many of these stories purport to help Americans understand the immigrant experience and appreciate non-Western cultures and customs, but they present immigrants as plaster saints and advocate for loose immigration policies and/or immigration amnesties. Saedi’s Americanized, for instance,details the author’s path to American citizenship after she discovered her parents had overstayed their visas. Saedi explicitly stated that she wrote the book to “challenge [existing] narratives” and to counteract “negative descriptions of immigrants and undocumented immigrants” that had come up during the 2016 presidential election.249
By only presenting students with books that advance a pro-immigration agenda, educators sidestep meaningful debate on the issue and bias students toward their own progressive views. Books such as Americanized try to elicit sympathy for immigrants by evoking irrelevancies such as the shared adolescent experiences of acne and preparing for the SATs and simply ignoring the complexities and the substance of the immigration debate. By exclusively recommending these types of books, without any consideration of opposing arguments, educators shape the way their students view the United States and sway them to support progressive policies.
The university also hosts a number of events through the Kamel Center. The Center opens its lectures to the public, and many of its presentations are available to view online. Past presentations covered topics such as “Islamic Family Law in American Courts,” “Internationalism or Revolt against the West? Pan-Islamism and the Crisis of World Order,” and “The Normalization of Saudi Law.”
The financial history of Yale’s CMES provides another illustration of universities’ active pursuit of foreign support. As we noted earlier, Yale officials promptly sought external donors after the federal government reduced Title VI funding for the 2010–2013 cycle. MacMillan Center director Ian Shapiro said many thought that federal support of NRCs would end. But an unexpected $2.5 million gift from a Broadway producer to Yale’s Council on African Studies more than made up for losses in federal funds. Shapiro, thus, pursued private donations from foundations and individual donors because, “It’s a model of what we’re going to have to be doing going forward.”250
Soon after, Kamel gave sizable donations to Yale’s Law School to establish the Islamic law program, an affiliated program of CMES. There were no apparent connections between the Kamel family and Yale prior to 2013. As with Georgetown and the University of Arkansas, the university actively sought out foreign donors.
Yale’s center also further illustrates that MESCs have become highly politicized and intensively promote progressive ideologies. The scholars at Yale’s CMES explicitly incorporate social justice ideology and support for progressive social movements into their teaching. So too do Yale’s outreach programs, which thrust this aggressive political agenda into local community institutions, particularly public schools. Legislators did not have this outcome in mind when they made it possible for Yale to receive federal funding to promote national security and economic progress.
Yale’s Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC) department, in contrast, provides a more promising example of what a Middle East studies department can and should be. Students receive a robust education in subjects they may not encounter elsewhere. For instance, students may take courses on ancient languages such as Akkadian, training them in the translation of important historical documents. Therefore, it is possible for Yale to provide a rigorous curriculum on the Middle East and related subjects. The best way for Yale to do this would be to eliminate the overly political CMES and focus resources instead on the more academically rigorous NELC.
Several themes emerge from our analysis of the data and case studies of Middle East centers. These themes reflect the self-conception of Middle East scholars as educator-activists rather than just educators and researchers. Middle East scholars, in other words, view their occupation as a calling to enact social and political change by altering beliefs about the Middle East, rather than the disinterested pursuit of truth.
Because of their activist tendency, modern MESCs fail to uphold their academic and security missions. Centers not only fail to fulfill these missions, but they also actively do the opposite and deceive taxpayers about their intentions.
Middle East scholars attempt to accomplish their activist goals through carefully crafted, seemingly anodyne messages of “understanding.” These messages avoid anything remotely negative toward Islam or Muslims, making academic study more concerned about perceptions than truth. Academics at American universities also diminish Western and American concerns by fixating on pro-Muslim perspectives. These platitudes and PR campaigns, created in the academy, are then disseminated through the K–12 system to impressionable young minds. Much of this operation is supported by American taxpayer dollars. Still, centers displeased with their level of public funding look to wealthy foreign donors to provide immense financial support. Foreign donors do not constantly push centers to support policies that favor Middle Eastern priorities; the academics already serve as their advocates.
Americans lose from this entire arrangement. Students do not receive an essential understanding of the cultures, politics, and social realities of the Middle East—a grave misfortune for the academy and American national security.
False Understanding & Bridges to Nowhere
One of the major themes that emerged from our case studies was the intense focus on “bridging” cultural divides between the East and the West. Centers diminish cultural differences to “break barriers.” By doing so, Middle East scholars hope that people will shed negative perceptions of Arabs, Muslims, and other groups part of the Middle East. This outlook represents a shift away from the older Orientalist approach, which did not concern itself with countering negative public perceptions when learning about a religion, culture, and region. The more traditional approach to studying the Arab world, instead, attempted to provide objective, factual information about the region’s cultures, religions, and peoples, and to encourage students to come to their own conclusions. Scholars did not always achieve perfect objectivity, but objectivity was the aim nonetheless—married to liberty of judgment.
Several centers in our case studies use the language of “bridging” or “understanding” in their mission statements or titles. Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding states in the “History” section of its website that it “promote[s] improved understanding between Muslim and Christian communities worldwide.” The word “promote” or “promotion” is crucial to the activities of these centers: scholars do not exist to simply research and teach; scholars want to elevate a particular worldview.
Discussions about the hijab use similar techniques of cultural bridging and understanding. Lessons on the Muslim headgear for women at UNC-Chapel Hill and UT-Austin attempt to establish an equivalency between its use by Muslims and similar headgears in other religions. A speaker’s note for a North Carolina K–12 lesson plan advised teachers to tell students that oppression of women is not a unique phenomenon to the Arab world. In the UT-Austin course, “French Empire: The West and Islam,” students must read Joan Scott’s The Politics of the Veil, which discusses the “hijab ban” in France during the early 2000s. Based on the course syllabus, there appeared to be no discussion of the fact that countries such as Saudi Arabia require women to wear veils, regardless of whether they observe Islam. This exclusion makes it seem as if the West uniquely imposes dress-code laws when they are far more prevalent and intrusive in non-Western countries.
These approaches mislead Westerners: the extent to which a headgear is required in other world religions is not nearly as significant as it is in Islamic societies, and many Muslim women welcome freedom from the hijab.251 Yet academics, with feminist American audiences in mind, frame wearing the hijab as a women’s empowerment issue—even though discarding the hijab would seem to be a more intuitively feminist policy. That Middle East scholars present wearing the hijab rather than discarding the hijab as a “feminist” policy is a measure of how badly their ideological commitments distort a straightforward understanding of the Middle East.
Another important way Middle East studies scholars promote cultural bridging is through their disproportionate emphasis on Islam’s mystical tradition of Sufism. Sufism became popular among American graduate students (and eventually academics) during the counterculture movements of the 1960s and 1970s.252 This Islamic school of thought is generally perceived by Westerners as more moderate and peaceful, and thus a useful tool to counter perceptions of Islam as rigid, violent, and repressive. However, Sufism is not within the mainstream of Islamic thought, and its adherents are not typical Muslims. Indeed, Sufis themselves have been the subject of persecution by other Muslims.253 But Sufism is taught in almost all universities with MESCs we examined. Many of the most prominent scholars of Islam at the centers, such as Carl Ernst at UNC, specialize in Sufism. On the other hand, a much smaller number of classes are devoted to discussing the more fundamentalist forms of Islam like Wahhabism and Salafism, even though these schools of thought are more representative of Islam in the Middle East today. Also, since these schools of thought animate the more violent forms of anti-American sentiment, it is far more urgent for American policymakers to know their tenets and sociocultural dynamics. This disproportionate emphasis on Sufism gives students a false impression about the nature of Islamic societies—and illustrates how the educator-activist agenda cuts against the traditional academic ethic to know and speak the truth.
Much of the academic focus on cultural bridging is driven by a social agenda to decrease what academics perceive as hostility to and fear of Muslims in the West—sentiments that they reduce to “discrimination,” even when a more accurate rendition might be prudential caution inspired by consideration of the relevant facts. In doing so, academics must work against the often-negative reactions by Westerners to events such as 9/11, the refugee crisis in Europe, and continued Islamic terror attacks. Scholars at these centers work from the assumption that these negative reactions and prudential cautions are unwarranted, should be eliminated, and should have no effect upon public policy.254 These presumptions are those of ideological activists rather than of scholars. Such activism and true scholarly research cannot coexist.
Edward Said’s Orientalism, which critiqued previous Middle East scholarship because of its perceived Eurocentrism, has heavily influenced study of the region. Said and his followers argued that this Eurocentrism had produced systemically biased scholarship of the Middle East, where negative interpretations of Middle Easterners served both Western interests and Western self-regard. But the response in the Middle East studies field was not to seek a more objective perspective. Instead, scholars adopted a postmodern view that no scholarship could possibly be objective; therefore, they must lean into subjectivity and counter what they saw as negative views of the Middle East and Muslims by attempting to teach and study the region from an exclusively Middle Eastern perspective.
The consequence has been that their portrayal of current events involving America and the Middle East is quite unusual, sometimes in a way which reveals a pathological anti-American bias. 9/11 is a powerful example: instead of focusing on the horrific suffering of Americans, Middle East scholars have presented the attacks as tragic mainly because they resulted in increased discrimination against Muslims. They could just as easily present the Iraq War as tragic because it created negative perceptions of Americans among Middle Easterners—yet they do not. Their interest in Middle Eastern perspectives is clearly selective and tendentious.
This process of assuming the perspective of the “other” is referred to as “de-centering” the curriculum away from a Western lens. The centers are quite proud of this approach and mention it in many of their activities and lessons. Yet the de-centering and cultural bridging goals can conflict with one another. Many Middle Eastern countries are quite conservative and traditional, and treat homosexuals, women, and other disfavored groups in sometimes brutal ways. Adopting the Muslim perspective on these issues would require a defense of this treatment, which American Middle East scholars conspicuously fail to do. Most of the time, academics instead try to avoid discussion of these subjects. When they do discuss LGBT issues or feminism, they cherry-pick their sources to find opinions by Muslims who agree with these primarily Western movements—the native collaborators of the new woke imperial order.
Middle East centers deprive students of a proper education about the region by using a progressive policy agenda to deliberately pick and choose which facts to present to students. Students should learn and understand the Arab world accurately, regardless of what reactions proceed from that knowledge. The academics’ fear of allowing students to form negative reactions prevents them from providing proper scholarship and instruction.
The original purpose of Middle East NRC outreach programs, introduced in the 1970s, was to help K–12 educators encourage young students to pursue foreign language education and improve knowledge of the Middle East. NRCs provided K–12 educators with professionally assembled resources that contained accurate information about the region, along with foreign language expertise that was unlikely to be found elsewhere.
Yet since that time, educator-activists have transformed Middle East NRCs’ K–12 outreach programs into another venue for propaganda, in this case targeted at young children. The materials they provide to K–12 educators focus on the propaganda themes of cultural bridging and Muslim perspective rather than providing actual knowledge about the Middle East. Children are taught to anathematize free debate and differing views, and to believe that understanding is synonymous with approbation.
Even worse, Middle East NRCs provide instructional materials that actively promote pernicious ideologies such as critical race theory. As mentioned earlier, UT-Austin’s Middle East center participates in an annual conference, for which its doctoral students produced instructional materials geared toward “sustaining critical race literacy.” Outreach program after outreach program pushes DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) ideology, which “challenge stereotypes” and “break down misconceptions.”
MESCs are not the only parts of the university that promote these ideologies. But their influence is more potent than most of their peers because they conduct outreach to K–12 educators, who then pass along such teachings to minor children, who are even less prepared than college students to recognize propaganda. There is no reason such programs should be introduced into K–12 schools, and the government certainly should not reward centers engaged in these activities with federal funds.
Many Americans already have raised concerns about the considerable degree of foreign funding of MESCs. They were right to do so—not least because they only knew about the tip of the iceberg. We still do not know the full extent of this foreign funding, but current evidence suggests that it is far more widespread than previously realized. Significant amounts of funds have gone unreported to the Department of Education, including the University of Arkansas King Fahd Center’s initial $3 million donation and the entirety of the George Mason University Islamic Center’s founding donation.
Many of these gifts come directly from foreign governments and government officials, particularly the Saudi Royal Family. Even when donations come from private individuals, the high degree of government control over the economy in many Middle Eastern countries makes the distinction between public and private quite fuzzy. In any case, these individuals and governments must receive something of value by donating to these centers. We may be skeptical that the benefit consists entirely of a reputation for philanthropy.
It is this undefined quid pro quo that creates most of the concern about foreign funding of MESCs. What precisely do the centers provide in return? Do they create and promote government propaganda for the Saudi Royal Family? Do they produce biased research which omits important facts to benefit the donors? Do they create American foreign policy elites incapable of conducting Middle East policy with a realistic sense of the region and a prudential desire to forward the American national interest?
To answer these questions, it is helpful to compare these centers to another set of centers funded by a foreign government: Confucius Institutes (CIs).255 The Chinese government set up and funded CIs at American universities to promote Chinese government propaganda. CIs have created issues with academic freedom at the host universities. While some MESCs broadly resemble CIs, they convey foreign influence in a subtle and distinctive manner.
They do so not least because the relationship between the U.S. and China is different from the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. and China view each other as geopolitical rivals and potential adversaries, while Saudi Arabia’s relationship to America is economic partnership, military dependence, and a thread of underlying popular hostility expressed by endemic nongovernmental Saudi support for anti-American terror groups such as Al-Qaeda. The Saudi extension of influence upon America registers the complexities of Saudi power, dependence, and rancor.
These complexities, as well as the more loose-jointed political structure of the Arab states, have led Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States to create foreign funding agreements that usually differ substantially from those that China makes with American universities. Middle Eastern funding agreements are looser, with fewer concrete stipulations, and often take the form of partnerships. Major gifts to American universities establish positive ties with American politicians, such as the Saudi gift to the King Fahd Center at the University of Arkansas after Bill Clinton was elected president. The Saudis are not very concerned about how precisely the universities use the gifts. They focus rather on the political capital they accrue in Washington by establishing these friendly relationships.
MESCs also differ from CIs because Islamic countries in the Middle East are committed to their state religion rather than to Communist ideology and Chinese national culture. They therefore aim to promote Islam more generally, rather than a state ideology, national interests, and national culture. Syrian or Iraqi Ba’athists in their heyday might have supported MESCs with a commitment to a secular ideology and a national culture, and Turkish support for MESCs includes some support for Turkish nationalist policy—but the Ba’athist moment has passed, and Turkish nationalism now also has an Islamic cast. MESCs, less tightly directed than Confucius Institutes, instead loosely promote positive perceptions of Islam and Muslims to a Western audience, not least to facilitate the spread of Islam in Western countries. This soft-focus publicity campaign complements rather than replaces direct lobbying of politicians and close relationships with Western leaders, which is the main means Middle Eastern countries use to secure specific national interests.
American Middle East studies scholars are in any case strangely eager, of their own volition and even without the benefit of foreign cash, to promote the interests of Middle Eastern countries and peoples, even at the expense of American interests. All MESCs forward the same type of activist propaganda, whether or not they receive foreign funds. That is not to say, however, that these foreign funds are not a problem. If they do not create the anti-American animus of Middle East scholars, they give it a megaphone and a lifeline. Foreign support creates new MESCs, strengthens existing ones, and prevents the dissolution of MESCs that have fallen on hard times. Foreign support makes MESC anti-Americanism a permanent influence upon American public opinion and elite education.
The best way to disrupt foreign-funded MESCs, and to weaken or eliminate their influence, is to end their federal funding.
MESCs’ three main contributions to Middle East studies have been to fund archaeological expeditions and analysis, to subsidize the study of rare languages for translation purposes, and to increase the number of Americans proficient in a modern foreign language. Universities that study the Middle East should continue these achievements. In contrast, MESCs have failed to prepare graduates to serve American interests by providing a genuine understanding of Middle East societies and cultures. The MESCs dissemination of political ideology by means of course materials and classroom instruction have compromised their ability to contribute to the rigorous study of the Middle East, or to assist in the formation of American foreign policy to secure the national interest. Furthermore, their lack of financial transparency, and that of their host universities, raises further questions about whose national interests they actually promote. American policymakers should not allow the MESC status quo to continue any longer.
We provide the following recommendations for policy reform:
Foreign funds to public universities often are funneled through university foundations, institutions which manage university assets. However, these foundations are legally separated from their affiliated institutions and thus escape public scrutiny. There is no reason that foundations created for the sole purpose of managing assets of a public university should be treated differently. Congress should require, as a condition for federal funding, any “funnel” institution for a public university to be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, so as to strengthen public university’s accountability to the American public. Domestic donors who wish to remain anonymous should continue to enjoy that privilege, but because of national security interests, foreign donors (whether governments, organizations, or individuals) should not.
The U.S. Department of Education reiterated in a 2019 letter that higher education institutions must declare transparently all foreign gifts of more than $250,000 in a calendar year.256 Federal lawmakers should build on this first step. The law should require all colleges and universities participating in federal programs (that is, nearly all of them) and their associated foundations to report all foreign donations above $50,000 received since 2000; to report all foreign gifts and grants more than $50,000 in a calendar year; and to include in their report all gifts and grants received via “funnel” institutions, including but not limited to their associated foundations. Universities should also be required to report the purpose of the funding and the donor’s name.
The Cold War ended a generation ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union; we no longer face the kind of security threat that requires federal support for National Resource Centers. America in any case now possesses an extensive and well-financed academic infrastructure for study of the Middle East and of its languages. Much of it, alas, has degenerated into activism for progressive and anti-American ideologies. Federal funding is not well suited to impose reform on Middle East studies, but neither should the American public be required to fund a system of education antithetical to the national interest. Federal lawmakers should end federal funding for Middle East studies. The end of the NRC system will keep faculty focused on their individual departments—which at worst will do no harm, and at best will reintroduce academic rigor to a field softened by “interdisciplinarity.”
If America still needs specific investment in modern study of foreign languages, that should be supported by means of federal funding for Language Resource Centers.
Since lawmakers may not act for several years, the Department of Education should use its existing compliance tools to strip funding from resource centers that are failing to serve the letter and spirit of Title VI.
Regardless of whether a university is publicly or privately operated, dealings with other countries should be easily accessible, without cost, to the public. No college or university should have secret deals with foreign governments.
American universities funded by American taxpayers should serve American interests—proudly and voluntarily. This reform will provide a signal to the American public that universities, and particularly Middle East Studies Centers, have reaffirmed their civic mission.
Trends Section Methodology
Most of the data in this report, particularly in the “Trends in Middle East and Islamic Studies” section, comes from the International Resource Information System (IRIS). The Department of Education’s International and Foreign Language Education (IFLE) division provides this online database. IFLE oversees Middle East National Resource Centers, among other Title VI–funded programs. IRIS is a compilation of the information that IFLE receives through the various mandatory reports made by these centers.
We supplemented the IRIS database with NRC funding information from the Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education (OPE). OPE provides annual summaries of total awards made to NRCs under the International Education program. However, the current version of the website (as of May 2022) only provides this information from 2014 onward. We, therefore, used archived versions of the website from the Wayback Machine to obtain the funding data between 2000 and 2014.
Finally, unless indicated, all dollar values are inflation-adjusted using the monthly Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) series from the Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED) database provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. We average the values by year to create an annual series.
We used the current and archived OPE data to infer years of activity for Middle East NRCs. We define a center as “active” if it received a Title VI grant during that academic year. We also tried other definitions of activity, such as whether a center conducted any outreach programs or reported expenditures during the academic year. However, missing data for those items led us to conclude that the funding-based definition was the most accurate. Figures 5 and 6 use this definition of activity. Figure 8 uses the funding amounts from the OPE data.
Data for the budget section comes from the IRIS database. The categories shown in Figure 9 are exactly as reported in the data. Data for the instructional materials comes from the corresponding section of the IRIS database and is organized according to the categories provided. Finally, data for the outreach section also comes from the corresponding section of the IRIS database.
Area studies centers report intended audiences for each instructional material and outreach program. While many types of audiences are reported, we group them into seven categories: business, government, foreign government, higher education, K–12, other, and public. For most events or materials, there were slight alterations of one of the category names we used. In some instances, it was clear under which event the category fell (i.e., “military” was placed in the “government” category). The “other” category includes many uncommon audience types such as healthcare or legal professionals.
We used these categories to create Figures 10 and 11, which show the intended audiences of instructional materials and outreach programs over time. An important note for interpreting these charts is that many materials and programs have multiple audiences reported in the data. Thus, the percentages for each year sum to greater than 100. This does not present a problem for interpreting the percentages over time. But it could cause issues for cross-sectional comparisons if some types of audiences are systematically overreported. To check if this was the case, we examined the written descriptions of a sample of materials and programs, which often contain more specific information about the types of audience members in attendance. We did not find any systematic bias in the audience reporting for the sample we examined.257
We used the outreach programs database from IRIS to analyze topic coverage trends across time. We could have also used IRIS data on language or area studies courses. But many courses are repeated over several years and use the exact same wording. Thus, course data does not provide useful variation. In addition, the titles and descriptions of outreach programs are significantly more detailed than those of courses.
Ideally, we would use outreach program titles and descriptions to form estimates of topic prevalence. However, many outreach programs lacked event descriptions. Some schools were more likely to include descriptions than others. Therefore, relying on this data would bias our results toward the handful of schools which did report descriptions. It would also reduce our effective sample size. Thus, we use only the program titles for our statistical analyses.
We use simple dictionary methods to construct estimates of the prevalence of certain topics among NRC outreach programs. Specifically, for any topic of interest, we construct a list of words (a “dictionary”) that reasonably pertain to that topic. We then match these words with each outreach program title, assigning a “1” if the title contains one or more words in the dictionary and a “0” if not. The proportion of programs assigned a value of “1” in any given year is our measure for how much that topic was covered that year.
There are several potential pitfalls to these methods. One issue is that the same word may have different meanings in different contexts. This is a typical objection to the use of dictionary-based methods for sentiment analysis—words perceived as positive in some contexts may carry negative connotations in others. However, we think that this objection carries relatively little weight in this setting. Our dictionaries are designed specifically for this dataset, and the words in our dictionaries tend to have specific meanings. Terms such as “terrorism” or “feminism,” for example, have relatively unambiguous meanings.
Another potential issue is underestimation—human error could lead to the neglect of important words for a given topic. That’s because the dictionaries were constructed in a somewhat ad hoc fashion. We worked to mitigate this possibility by constructing the dictionaries in an iterative fashion. We created a starting list of words and examined the titles selected by those words. Many titles contained other words that were not in our original list. But these words were clearly relevant to the topic of interest. We added these words to the list and repeated the process until no new words were found. Finally, we searched the entire dataset for portions of words to find any typing errors. As a result, our dictionaries contain misspelled words.
We created dictionaries for the following topics: climate change, feminism, Israel & Palestine, immigration, LGBT, pluralism, and terrorism. We provide the full set of dictionaries below:
*Misspelled words are intentional
We calculated the average and standard deviation of coverage for each topic by year to compare topic coverage across schools. Then, we used these estimates to calculate a z-score for each school in each year andt averaged the z-scores across years. We used this method to control for the fact that some NRCs only existed for a portion of the period analyzed, and topic coverage varies systematically by year. For example, the topic “terrorism” reached its peak coverage in 2001 and declined steadily afterwards. Emory University’s NRC was only active from 2000 to 2003. If we compare Emory’s total coverage of terrorism to that of an NRC which was active from academic years 2000 to 2019, we would likely overestimate Emory’s coverage of terrorism. Instead, our method compares Emory’s coverage of terrorism during its years of activity only to other active NRCs in those years.
Figures 13 and 15 are based on the output of two LASSO-based models trained on a random sample of outreach program titles. In this section, we describe the procedure used for these models.258
LASSO is an acronym for Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator. It was originally proposed by statistician Robert Tibshirani in a 1996 paper.259 It is a prediction model, which means given input variables Xi, it returns a prediction f(xj) of some output variable Y. The original LASSO model is a regression model, so Y must be continuous. Newer variations such as the LASSO-logistic model used to produce Figure 13 (K–12) extend the technique to allow for discrete Y.
The LASSO procedure was developed to deal with high-dimensional data, where the number of predictors (k) is large compared to the number of observations (n). A typical linear regression model estimated using Ordinary Least Squares suffers from overfitting once k approaches n, and is not feasible once k>n. The LASSO model introduces a penalty term to the least squares loss function that shrinks the fitted coefficients to control for overfitting. The specific penalty LASSO imposes has the added benefit of shrinking many coefficients to zero, meaning that it adaptively performs variable selection.
These properties are particularly useful for text data. We use a bag-of-words approach to process the outreach program titles, meaning that each unique word in the corpus of text receives its own column of data. Thus, there are many predictors relative to the number of observations, and LASSO-style regularization is necessary to avoid overfitting.260
Before fitting the model, we preprocess the data. The titles are tokenized at the individual word level. That is, each outreach program corresponds to a row of data, each unique word corresponds to a column, and each cell is “1” if the word is present at least once in the title of the outreach program and “0” otherwise. We then drop all tokens corresponding to a customized list of “stop words,” which include typical uninformative words like “the” and “of.” We also include topic-irrelevant words such as “Friday” and “lecture.” We, additionally, restrict the number of tokens to the 1,000 most common words, after removing stop words.
Next, we replace the 1s and 0s in the data with TF-IDF statistics, which are often used in text modeling to measure the relative “importance” of words in a corpus of text.261 TF-IDF stands for term frequency-inverse document frequency and is the product of the two measures with those names. Term frequency is calculated by dividing the total number of occurrences of a particular word by the total number of words in the document. Inverse document frequency is the logarithm of the inverse ratio of the number of documents containing a given term to the total number of documents. In our case, a document corresponds to a single outreach program, and the set of all outreach programs constitutes the corpus of text. The formula is written below:
Here t is a word, dis a document (outreach program title), and Dis the corpus (the set of all outreach program titles).
After calculating TF-IDF statistics, we normalize all the columns of data so that the shrinkage and selection operation is not biased due to the different scales of the predictors. In the K–12 model, we finish the preprocessing by using the Synthetic Minority Oversampling Technique (SMOTE) to oversample K–12 titles, since these titles only represent a minority of all program titles.262 For both models, we randomly split the data 75–25 into a training set and a test set.
After preprocessing, we tune and fit the model to the training set. The model is fit by minimizing the LASSO loss function for the year-of-program model:
Or the LASSO-logistic loss function for the K-12 model:
Here Y is the vector of output values, either a dummy variable for K–12 in the K–12 model or the year in the year-of-program model. X is the matrix of predictors, β is the vector of coefficients to be estimated, and λ is the hyperparameter to be tuned. The i subscript refers to the vector or scalar value of the corresponding variable for individual outreach program i. A larger λ means a harsher penalty and will result in more shrinkage and fewer variables with non-zero coefficients. We fit the model using the glmnet package in the programming language R, which uses highly efficient optimization routines to compute the optimal β vector.263
Tuning is performed using 25 bootstrap resamples and a grid of 50 values for λ. The booststrap resamples are stratified by K–12 in the K–12 model and by the year of the program in the year-of-program model. All of these procedures are performed using the tidymodels family of packages in R, using the built-in defaults.264 After fitting the model to the resampled data, the optimal value for λ is chosen according to the receiver operating curve-area under the ROC curve (ROC-AUC) score for the K–12 model and the root-mean-square error (RMSE) for the year-of-program model.
We fit the model one final time to the training data using the optimal λ. The charts in the report show the largest (in absolute value) positive and negative coefficients that result from this final fit.
For each of our case studies, apart from Georgetown, we consider subject matter coverage of courses. We used university websites and course rosters to collect information for the Fall 2021 semester. For comparability purposes, we classified courses into the following groups: Middle East and Islamic Studies (MEIS), Language, History, Government, Religion, and Other. “Other” consists of relatively uncommon categories (among Middle East courses) such as Women’s Studies and Music. Below is a crosswalk between the university departments which offer the courses and our categorizations:
African and African American Studies
African, African American, and Diaspora Studies
Asian and Middle Eastern Studies
Gender and Sexuality Studies
Geography and Geoinformation Science
Middle East and Islamic Studies
Middle East Studies
Middle Eastern Languages
Middle Eastern Studies
Modern Middle East Studies
Policy and Government
At UT-Austin, many courses were listed under the Middle Eastern Studies department instead of the department that most closely corresponded to the course’s subject matter. We used course titles and descriptions when available to further categorize UT-Austin’s Middle Eastern studies courses in a comparable way to other centers. We provide our categorization below:
Middle Eastern Studies
Gateway To The Middle East
Middle Eastern Studies
Mid East: Rel/Cul/Hist Fnd-Wb
Middle Eastern Studies
Intro Mus In World Cultures
Middle Eastern Studies
Intro To Jewish Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Jewish Civ: Begin To 1492
Middle Eastern Studies
Revltn/Decoloniztn N Africa
Middle Eastern Studies
Intro To The Old Testament
Middle Eastern Studies
History Of Israel
Middle Eastern Studies
US Foreign Policy/Mid East
Middle Eastern Studies
Art/Archeo Ancient Near East
Middle Eastern Studies
Divn Persasn Bibl Time/Plce
Middle Eastern Studies
Soundtrack Of Revolutions
Middle Eastern Studies
The Arabian Nights-Wb
Middle Eastern Studies
Youth/Violence Mid East/Eur
Middle Eastern Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Islm Early Mod Rlg/Cul-Wb
Middle Eastern Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Middle Eastern Studies
Modern Arabic Poetry
Middle Eastern Studies
Reading Arabic Literature-Wb
Middle Eastern Studies
Shii Islam: History & Resis
Middle Eastern Studies
The Islamic City
Georgetown offers an abundance of Middle East–focused courses across many different departments. Because of the richness of the information, we decided to report the more granular department distribution for Georgetown’s Middle East courses instead of categorizing it like we did for our other case studies. We consolidated very close departments into one, but this was a relatively uncommon occurrence (e.g., Law consists of “Law (Graduate)” and “Law (JD).”
Figures and Tables
This section provides sources for figures and tables in our report that were not already cited.
Figure 1: American Middle East and Islamic Centers
1 The scope of Middle East studies expanded over time to include study of Iran (Persia) and Turkey (the Ottoman Empire). Islamic studies also became popular over time and can overlap with study of the Middle East. Some universities simply have departments as opposed to centers, which typically administer public outreach activities. In our study, we include centers that are not strictly focused on just the Middle Eastern region. To keep the terminology simple, we have chosen to refer to the different types of centers under the umbrella term of Middle East Studies Centers (MESC).
8 Michael P. Zirinsky, “A Panacea for the Ills of the Country: American Presbyterian Education in Inter-War Iran,” Iranian Studies 26, no.1/2 (Winter/Spring 1993): 119–37, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4310827; Necrological Reports and Annual Proceedings of the Alumni Association, vol. 3 (Princeton: C. S. Robinson & Co., 1900), 134.
15 Ludlow Bull, Ephraim A. Speiser, and Albert Ten Eyck Olmstead, “James Henry Breasted 1865–1935,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 56, no. 2 (June 1936): 113–120, https://www.jstor.org/stable/594659.
21 It should be noted that it was likely many of the Middle East academics who worked in the OSS were not interested or educated in politics, but were more likely dragged into these positions because of their knowledge or expertise in a language or culture of relevance.
37 Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978).
38 Amy Allen, “Adorno, Foucault, and the End of Progress: Critical Theory in Postcolonial Times,” in Critical Theory in Critical Times, eds. Penelope Deutscher and Cristina Lafont (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017).
43 Dale F. Eickelman, “The Re-Imagination of the Middle East: Political and Academic Frontiers (1991 Presidential Address),” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 26, no. 1 (July 1992): 3–12, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23060861; Yvonne Y. Haddad, “Presidential Address 1990: Middle East Area Studies: Current Concerns and Future Directions,” Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 25, no. 1 (July 1991): 1–13, https://www.jstor.org/stable/23060979.
46 “Making the Arab World Collapse,” Journal of Palestine Studies 11/12 (Summer/Autumn 1982): 209–14, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2538350; Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century (Washington, DC: Project for a New American Century, 2000); Study Group on a New Israeli Strategy Toward 2000, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, 1996.
60 We would like to thank Jonathan Arnold for his contributions to the Lasso Models in this section. For more information on the methods, please see the Trends Section Methodology in Appendix A.
61 Dictionaries covered the following topics: terrorism, Israel & Palestine, immigration, climate change, feminism, and pluralism. Dictionaries do include misspelled words. This section includes analyses of a few illustrative topics; however, readers interested in more findings related to our dictionaries should see the Trends Section Methodology in Appendix A.
64 UCLA’s center is actually called the Center for Near Eastern Studies, but the categories of Middle Eastern and Near Eastern studies both fall under the Middle East category in Title VI funding administration.
65 Figure 22 shows $443K as the amount received from the UAE because the donation amounts have been adjusted for inflation.
81 The Higher Education Act’s Title VI initially funded area studies and language centers. Later iterations now include overseas research centers, international business education, and grants for students. See Higher Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1121 et seq. (2022).
90 AKDN agreements are with the states and may include university partnerships. But they can also include other entities. The Agreement of Cooperation with Illinois, for example, allows AKDN to partner with Chicago Public Schools.
94 Safran clarified that he tried to acquire funds from other sources before accepting the CIA funds, in consideration of the public’s “peace of mind.” See Babai, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, 47.
124 We considered courses offered by the Arab Studies department as CCAS courses due to the department’s close affiliation with the center. In addition, many Arab Studies courses fulfill core requirements for the Master of Arts in Arab Studies (MAAS), which is supported by CCAS.
130 In 2017, the Trump administration banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries over terrorism concerns. Critics of this policy called it a “Muslim ban,” accusing the Trump administration for primarily instituting such a ban due to hatred of Muslims. Guantanamo Bay detention facilities detain terrorists. The facilities have been accused of abuse and mistreatment of detainees, and most detainees are Muslim men. See William Roberts, “Why is Guantanamo Bay Prison Still Open 20 Years after 9/11?,” Al Jazeera, September 11, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/9/11/why-is-guantanamo-bay-prison-still-open-20-years-after-9.
151 Established Turkish families, such as the Kocs and the Sabancis, focused on advancing the country of Turkey, whereas newer generations of donors, which tend to get their riches from entrepreneurial activities, focus on promoting Islam and Islamic nations.
156 We discussed the theories with former Fulbright College Dean Todd Shields, who served as the interim director of the Fahd Center up until 2022. (As of August 2022, Shields works at Arkansas State University as its chancellor.) Of the theories proposed, he provided definite confirmation for the first. Regarding the other theories, he cautioned that he could not speak with full assurance of the ideas since he had just graduated in 1994, but said the theories seemed reasonable.
174 Thomas Paradise to Lisa Avalos, April 7, 2017.
175 Thomas Paradise to Lisa Avalos, April 7, 2017.
176 Swedenburg postulated that a “rock flying from a lawn mower” could have broken Paradise’s window and did not understand why “this [broken window] non-fact got circulated.” Winfield Myers of Middle East Forum and Chesler herself reported on the broken window. We can confirm the shattered window at Paradise’s private residence along with its relation to the surrounding controversy. Perpetrators remain unknown. The shattered window, along with the overall panicked tone of Paradise’s communications, demonstrates that fear and intimidation pushed Paradise to disinvite Chesler. Threats may have come from more than one source. Chesler wrote in an article that Paradise was warned by “an administrator that funding to the Center would be cut and/or the entire conference cancelled if I [Chesler] were not dis-invited.” See Winfield Myers, “Academic Malfeasance: U. of Arkansas Disinvites Phyllis Chesler,” Daily Caller, April 27, 2017, https://dailycaller.com/2017/04/27/academic-malfeasance-u-of-arkansas-disinvites-phyllis-chesler/; Phyllis Chesler, “Being a Zionist Is Even Worse Than Being an Islamophobe,” Israel National News, April 26, 2017, https://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/20439; “Note from Ted Swedenburg,” Arkansas Times, obtained April 26, 2021, https://arktimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/pdf-note_from_ted_swedenburg.pdf.
192 Andra Liwag, email to author, December 2, 2021.
193 “As you recall, the Kind Fahd Program is supported by an endowment established by two gifts from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The first gift, in 1992, consisted of bonds with face value of approximately $3.5 million and was presented to the University of Arkansas Foundation. The second gift, in 1994, amounted to approximately $18 million and was awarded to the University of Arkansas Foundation by the State Board of Higher Education Foundation from the $20 million gift from the Kingdom to the State of Arkansas.” Letter from Fulbright Dean Bernard Madison to Georgia Elrod, President of Arkansas Board of Higher Education, August 31, 1995, FOIA request received October 28, 2021.
194 Bernard Madison, The King Fahd Middle East Studies Program Progress Report, September 1995, FOIA request received October 28, 2021.
199 Harold Liebowitz, “Excavations at Tel Yin’am: The 1976 and 1977 Seasons: Preliminary Report,” Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research 243 (1981): 79–94, https://doi.org/10.2307/1356660.
200 CMES decided that in the future they only would sponsor scholars. See “Minutes of CMES Executive Committee,” Center for Middle Eastern Studies, March 4, 1980, University of Texas Archives.
201 Ian Manners to James Bill, “Critical Issues Discussed at the Conference of NDEA Center Directors, Washington, March 23-24, 1980,” March 27, 1980, University of Texas Archives.
226 Course information was retrieved from the following website: https://mideast.unc.edu/students/courses/. We also relied on syllabi obtained through a FOIA request for UNC courses offered between Spring 2020 and Fall 2021.
234 Lee Jussim et al., “Stereotype Accuracy: One of the Largest and Most Replicable Effects in All of Social Psychology,” in Handbook of Prejudice, Stereotyping, and Discrimination, ed. Todd D. Nelson (New York: Psychology Press, 2016).
243 In the DOE’s Section 117 reports, it is unclear whether Yale reported the full gift for its Islamic law center. Between 2015 and 2020, Yale reported that it received $2 million each year, which totals $10 million. Donations for 2020 clearly denote that the funds were earmarked for the center, but the purpose of the funds for the other years was not stated. The exact amount given for the Kamel lecture series is also unclear. In 2013, Yale only reported $100,000 from Saudi Arabia. No donations from Saudi Arabia were reported for 2014.
246 Alexandra Effe, “Postcolonial Criticism and Cognitive Literary Studies: A New Formalist Approach to Antjie Krog’s Country of My Skull,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 56, no. 1 (2020): 97–109, https://doi.org/10.1080/17449855.2019.1702084.
251 We can infer this based on the choices of Muslim women in Western countries that do not restrict clothing such as the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of Muslim women in the U.S. did not wear or only sometimes wore the hijab. See “Religious Beliefs and Practices,” Pew Research Center, July 26, 2017, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2017/07/26/religious-beliefs-and-practices/.
252 Robert Irwin, Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties (London: Profile Books, 2011).
257 We did correct for some reporting errors. For example, between academic years 2006 and 2012, and in academic year 2018, UC-Berkeley reported all types of audiences for every single outreach program. In addition, the specific audiences reported were identical for all programs, leading us to believe that this anomaly was due to reporting error. Thus, we excluded all audience data from UC-Berkeley in those years.
258 Jonathan Arnold helped write the portion of the appendix concerning the LASSO models.
263 Noah Simon et al., “Regularization Paths for Cox’s Proportional Hazards Model via Coordinate Descent,” Journal of Statistical Software 39, no. 5 (2011): 1–13, https://doi.org/10.18637/jss.v039.i05.
Last week IAM reported that pro-Palestinian groups have been using the “kidnapped” Yemenite Children Affair to bash Israel. The IAM post stressed that not a single case of a kidnapped child was evidenced. The accusations of kidnapped children came from Israeli activists, among them academics. A lively debate took place on the Academia IL Network in 2020.
Dr. Nathan Shifriss, University of Haifa, one of the academic leaders of the accusers, blamed the Israeli establishment for kidnapping the missing Yemenite children. He wrote an email with the headline, “Indeed, a campaign of silence on the case of the kidnapped children of Israel.” Shifriss attached his summary of research from 2019, titled “The case of the Yemeni children as a case of systematic removal, banish and disappearance of healthy toddlers from their families.” Shifriss began by quoting David Ben Gurion, the then Prime Minister and Minister of Defense. They spoke in a government meeting on 7/6/1949, just a few weeks before the beginning of the great wave of immigration from Yemen, and said: “After learning about the high mortality among children, and hearing the opinion of Prof. [Shaul] Adler, that the army should intervene, I contacted the head of the medical service. I told him that this was not a military matter but a question of saving children. You have to approach the thing like an army matter… Several actions are needed to save the children. Most of the children are of Mizrahi descent, whose parents don’t know what hygiene, cleanliness, or medical treatment is. Not only do they not know it, but they don’t allow doctors or medics to go to see the children. There were cases where nurses were attacked, beaten, and driven away when they wanted to take the children to be treated. To correct the situation, three things are necessary: A. Hygienic action is necessary to destroy the flies, mosquitoes, and other creepers that transmit the diseases; B. an educational training operation for parents that they know how to take care of children; C. Hospitalization of the children, taking the children out of the camps, isolating them from the mothers, because they prevent help to the children (emphasis mine, N.S.).
Shifriss stated, “there is an institutionalized kidnapping, showing the methods of defrauding the families, taking the children away, making them disappear, and suppressing protests. One by one, the parents negate all the ‘reassuring’ explanations of the establishment according to which things never happened. In particular, based on several assertions by the State’s Commission of Inquiry, I demonstrate that the report issued is clearly false. I am often asked how I dare to go against the conclusions of three commissions of inquiry, the last of which is a state commission. The very question dumbfounds every time: Should the world of academia stand up to the government and its investigative courts, which, as we know in many cases, produce investigations on behalf of it?”
According to Shifriss, a total of 2,050 cases of disappearance have been recorded. The affair lasted close to 100 years: the disappearance of children spanned about 45 years, starting in 1934 amid the British mandate period and ending in 1980, about three decades after the establishment of the state. Of the known kidnapped cases, approximately 115 (6%) occurred in medical institutions of the Jewish community from before the establishment of the state to its first days; about 1,760 (86%) in the first decade – to the state, of which about 925 in the years 1949-1950; and about 170 (8%) between 1959 and 1980. The children were hospitalized, the healthy ones for preventive medicine purposes, the sick for healing, and those born right after birth in at least 65 institutions all over the country. The disappearance of the children from the sight of their parents, and above all when the families still lived in the camps, usually took place according to a fixed pattern. A structured three-station traffic route, beginning in medical institutions in the camps, mostly nurseries, continued in hospitals in the cities and ended in children’s institutions of the women’s organizations.
For Shifriss, it was sudden death notifications for children in normal medical conditions while refraining from showing parents a body, participating in the funeral, or showing them a grave.
Several academics countered these arguments. Dr. Dov Levitan, Ashkelon Academic College, has researched this issue for over 35 years. He explained that the problem was the failure to report to the Ministry of the Interior, the children who died. This resulted in the children continuing to be registered as if they were still alive, hence the sending of army conscription orders to children who had passed away a long time ago. In a census conducted in 1961, dozens of cases appeared again in which, on the one hand, the missing child had a file (because it was not recorded that he died), and on the other hand, the child was not absent (because he died). In his stupidity, an official at the Ministry of Interior recorded in the files that these children (who were born 8-12 years earlier) had ‘left the country’ in 1961 (or around that time)… So family members who saw this listing in the relevant files at the Ministry of Interior, and received conscription orders for the missing child, had no doubt: the child was smuggled out and adopted abroad in 1961 or at a nearby date. However, since then, the State of Israel has tried to correct the terrible mistakes and established three commissions of inquiry. These commissions all concluded that not a single child was abducted or adopted illegally.” Still, family members are convinced that in the early days of the State of Israel, terrible crimes were committed, and children were kidnapped for adoption or to conduct medical experiments on them. Levitan says this is a”blood libel against the State of Israel.”
Prof. Esther Meir-Glitzenstein, Ben Gurion University, wrote, “I researched the case of Yemenite Jews immigrating to Israel. In light of the findings of my research on the considerable extent of diseases and mortality during the aliyah journey in Yemen and the transit camp in Aden, and knowing the conditions that prevailed in the immigrant camps in Israel, including the polio disease that broke out at the same time, I argued that the high mortality is the explanation for the disappearance of most of the children. These things are in line with the main conclusions of the State Commission of Inquiry.“
Prof. Yechiel Michael Bar-Ilan, Tel Aviv University, wrote an academic article about the case. He summarized, “The tragedy of the Yemeni immigrants was the infant mortality which reached over 60%. The average at that time was 3%. Today’s mortality in Israel is 3 per thousand. These are almost unimaginable numbers. The mourning of death was suppressed and replaced by an ethos of institutionalized kidnappings. This baseless ethos degrades and hides the true grief and the price paid by the immigrants from Yemen and Aden. The health policy regarding all immigrants (not necessarily those from Yemen, and no less concerning Holocaust survivors) was to isolate the babies as much as possible, and certainly the sick babies and children, in open or closed institutions (with accommodation), i.e., children’s homes. Many parents refused to hand over sick children to hospitals, and there is clear documentation that the babies died in the orphanages. In many cases, the sick or suspected ill babies were taken by stealth or force to the hospital. Under these circumstances, it is not true to say that the doctors ‘kidnapped’ or ‘stolen’ babies, just as it is not true to say that the unwilling parents ‘neglected’ the children and ‘abused’ them.
Bar Ilan argued that ‘In my research, I have gathered diverse testimonies about babies who died in a tent in the passage after their parents refused to hospitalize them or after no place for hospitalization could be found for them. Focusing only on babies who were hospitalized and disappeared or died is flawed. Military medicine tried to promote stronger measures to control epidemics. The medical corps demanded that doctors and medical teams be mobilized by emergency order, that the immigrant camps be quarantined (as was sometimes imposed on residences of permanent servants and kibbutzim when epidemics broke out in them), and that all babies be removed from the camps. The Ministry of Health, the immigrant medical service (on behalf of the Ministry of Health and in cooperation with Hadassa), opposed this policy and, in fact, created sub-hospitalization for sick babies among the immigrants. Delegations from abroad in the children’s homes in the immigrant camps were of medical consultants and benefactors from abroad for donations. Unlike the babies’ parents, these guests were not carriers of typhoid and other contagious diseases, so they had more access to the babies than family members. However, doctors tried to limit their access to babies. The doctors had severe criticism both towards the health habits of Ashkenazi immigrants and also towards the veterans. Terrible (relatively) outbreaks of paralysis of children occurred in kibbutzim that refused to obey the instructions of the Ministry of Health.”
Bar-Ilan conducted a detailed study of the documents of institutions which shows the total numbers of “children’s arrangements” during the Great Aliya period – “what were the criteria for ‘outside the family’ arrangement and where were the children transferred (to institutions and not to adoption or foster care).” The news of the death of these children was a “surprise only to the hopeful parents and researchers who did not check medical records but declared that the children were in a ‘reasonable’ condition, with ‘mild diarrhea’ and so on. In the state archives, you can find complete lists of all the children in the Jerusalem Wizo dormitory, etc. Names are blacked out, but the birth dates and weights of the babies are recorded, as well as medical diagnoses. It can be seen that these children suffered from serious illnesses and were significantly underweight. They are not babies that anyone would be interested in buying. On the contrary, orphaned and abandoned babies of veterans (not new immigrants) stayed for many months without finding a place for them. There is documentation of many orphaned babies staying in institutions, and it is not clear why it was necessary to wait for Yemeni immigrants to kidnap children for adoption.”
Bar-Ilan then argued that “it was not acceptable to show a pregnant mother the dead baby in those days. Death certificates were not routinely issued, and there was no need to ask the family for consent for an autopsy. Licensed burials were also carried out without family members. There were no procedures for identifying babies and newborns, etc.”
The studies quoted above have highlighted the possible sources of the problems with the Yemenite (Mizrachi and Balkan) children affair. Cultural clashes, the chaos in the state’s early days, which was overwhelmed with waves of mass migration, and bureaucratic mistakes combined created the phenomenon. This is not mentioned in the work of activist scholars like Shifriss, who constructed their work around a theory that the Yemenite babies were stolen and given by Ashkenazi clerks to Ashkenazi parents or sent abroad. Not incidentally, this story fits well with the narrative that the “hegemonic” Ashkenazim abused the non-European Jews and the Palestinians. As well known, this is part of the metanarrative used to demonize the Jewish state.
מול מופעי המכחישנות והמשתיקנות, הליצנות והכזב, כולל ברשת אקדמיה, אביא בצרופה הראשונה שוב את תקציר מחקרי, בסימן עשרת ימי תשובה הממשמשים ובאים; ובצרופה השנייה – הזמנה לאירוע זום על הפרשה בימים הקרובים, בסימן מחאה על תביעת ההשתקה הנ”ל.
בייחולים להוצאת האמת הכואבת לאור השמש המטהרת,
פרשת ילדי תימן כפרשה של הוצאה שיטתית, הרחקה והעלמה של פעוטות בריאים ממשפחותיהם נתן שיפריס לאחר שנודע על התמותה הרבה בין ילדים, ושמעתי חוות דעתו של פרופ’ ]שאול[ אדלר, שהצבא צריך להתערב, פניתי לראש השירות הרפואי. 1 אמרתי לו שזה אינו עניין צבאי, זוהי שאלת הצלת ילדים. יש לגשת לדבר כמו שניגשים לעניין צבאי. ]…[ להצלת הילדים דרושות כמה פעולות. רוב הילדים הם מעדות המזרח, שההורים אינם יודעים מה זאת היגיינה, ניקיון, טיפול רפואי, לא רק שאינם יודעים זאת, אלא אינם נותנים לרופא או לחובשת לגשת לילדים, היו מקרים שהתנפלו על אחיות, היכו אותן, גירשו אותן כאשר רצו לקחת את הילדים לטיפול, ולתקנת המצב נחוצים שלושה דברים: א. נחוצה פעולה היגיינית להשמדת הזבובים, היתושים ושאר הרמשים המעבירים את המחלות; ב. פעולת הדרכה חינוכית להורים שהם ידעו לטפל בילדים; ג. אישפוז הילדים, הוצאת הילדים מהמחנות, בידודם מהאמהות, כי הן מונעות עזרה מהילדים )ההדגשות שלי(. )ראש הממשלה ושר הביטחון דוד בן גוריון, ישיבת ממשלה מ – – 6.7.1949 , שבועות ספורים לפני תחילת הגל הגדול של העלייה מתימן( “היתה תקופה שבאו כמות אנשים מאמריקה למחנה ]עין שמר[ א’, ג’, ה’, ושיחקו עם הילדים. אחת ישבה עם – ילדה, צלצלה לה באוזן, עשתה לה כל מיני תנועות. ראיתי בדיקת רופאה שישבה לידה. הבנתי שהיא באה לבדוק אם היא רואה טוב, אם היא שומעת טוב. באו, הביאו שק של בובות. אז חילקו לכל ילד למיטה. הם בעצמם נכנסו, לא אמרו מאיפה באו, לא כלום. כמו זרם של גשם, לא יותר משבועיים. לא דיברו איתנו מילה. צעירות, נגיד בגיל 30 , 32 , 20 , נראות יפה, אלגנטיות. היו חוזרים למחרת ובאים לאותו ילד, לאותה מיטה. מנהל המחנה לא בא איתם. ]…[ המנהלת לא באה, ]…[ האחראית לא באה. רק הם נכנסו לבד לכל המחלקות. נעלמו הרבה באותה תקופה, היה כל יום חסר ילד. איפה הוא? חולה, שלחו לחיפה. והוא היה בריא, אכל ארוחת ערב ולא היה לו כלום. גם בביתן א’ סיפרו לי חברות שהיו שמה עוד יותר אנשים, הביאו המון מתנות לילדים”. )יהודית דורני, מטפלת בבית תינוקות במחנה עין שמר, עדות בוועדת – החקירה הממלכתית, 7.10.1996 ) “הגיעו מכוניות יפות ומהמכוניות היו יוצאים אנשים, לבושים יפה, לבושים עירוני. דיברו בשפה זרה. האחיות היו מתעסקות איתם. לקחו תינוק או תינוקת. עטפו אותם, לקחו אותם ונסעו איתם במכוניות. ]…[ שאלתי את האחיות: רגע, לאן לוקחים אותם? למה לוקחים את התינוקות? אז הן אמרו: לוקחים אותם לבתים יותר טובים כדי לשפר את המצב שלהם, לתת להם תנאים יותר טובים. הם הולכים להיות במשפחה אחרת ששמה יש להם סיכוי להישאר בחיים, שלא יקרה להם עוד פעם מצב רפואי, שלא יתייבשו. שייתנו להם נוזלים, שייתנו להם אוכל. שיהיה להם טיפול יותר טוב והם יישארו בחיים. כשבאו ההורים הביולוגיים, שיקרו להם שהילדים מתו. יש פה הורים שבוכים על הילדים שנעלמו להם ואין להם כל סיכוי למצוא אותם. היינו עדוֹת לזה. אבל לא היה טעם להגיד אחרת, מפני שזה מה שאמרו המנהלות של המקום, שהילדים מתו, קברנו אותם. ]…[ אנחנו ידענו איפה הילדים! שהם לקחו אותם במכוניות יפות ובבגדים מערביים. הבנו שקורה פה משהו מלוכלך. ידענו שהולכת שם רמאות. אבל מה יכולנו לעשות בקשר לזה? לא היתה לנו שום סמכות להתערב. היינו בסך הכל עוזרות”. )שושנה שחם, מטפלת מתלמדת בבית תינוקות במחנה ראש העין, – ראיון עיתונאי עם תמר קפלינסקי, ‘ידיעות אחרונות’, 5.10.2018 ) חלפו כבר שבעים שנה מתקופת הגאות ב’פרשת ילדי תימן’, בימי העלייה הגדולה של ראשית המדינה, ובעיקר מתימן; עשרים וחמש שנים מגל המחאה העיקרי על הפרשה בהובלתו של הרב עוזי משולם ז”ל ) 1994 (, שנפטר לפני שש שנים )גילוי נאות: התחלתי לעסוק בחקר הפרשה בראשית שנות ה- 90 , ופעלתי להבאתה לציבור דרך תזכירים והחתמה על עצומה להקמת ועדת חקירה ממלכתית, עם פרוץ המחאה הצטרפתי אליה ואף נעצרתי עקב כך ונכלאתי לשלוש שנים(; וכשנות דור מסיום פעילותה של ועדת החקירה הממלכתית בדלתיים פתוחות, שהוקמה הודות לאותה מחאה ופסקה בתום פעילותה שרובם המכריע של הילדים היו חולים ונפטרו. אף שברקע למינויה ניצבו חשדות כבדים מצד משפחות הנעדרים שהילדים נחטפו בתהליך שיטתי ומאורגן, ואם כך מתבקש שלתהליך יתלוו רישומי פטירה תואמים, השתיתה הוועדה את תזת הפטירות על סמך מסמכים ורישומים מבלי להטיל כל ספק בתוקפם ובאמינותם. וכבר עמד על כשל בסיסי זה ביחס לכלל תפקודה של הוועדה המשפטן פרופ’ בועז סנג’רו, שטען כי היא לקתה בליקוי הבסיסי ביותר שחקירה יכולה ללקות בו, היעדר חשד. 2 1 ד”ר חיים שיבר )שיבא(, מייסד השירות הרפואה הצבאי וקצין הרפואה הראשי הראשון של צה”ל דאז, מקורבו של דוד בן גוריון. – 2 סנג’רו בועז, ‘באין חשד אין חקירה אמיתית: ‘דו”ח ועדת החקירה הממלכתית בעניין פרשת היעלמותם של ילדים מבין עולי תימן”, תיאוריה וביקורת, 21 ( 2002 ,) 47 — 76 . עתה, אומנם מאוחר מידי, ובכל זאת, הגיע שלב המחקר האקדמי של הפרשה, שביטויו בהופעתם באחרונה של שני הספרים המחקריים הראשונים על אודותיה: א. קובץ המאמרים ‘ילדים של הלב: היבטים חדשים בחקר פרשת ילדי תימן’, בעריכה של פרופ’ טובה גמליאל ושלי )רסלינג והאגודה לטיפוח חברה ותרבות(; ב. הספר ‘ילדי הלך לאן? פרשת ילדי תימן: החטיפה וההשתקה’, מחקרי על הפרשה )ספרי עליית הגג וידיעות ספרים(. בספרי, כמו גם במאמר שכתבתי לקובץ המאמרים, אני מוכיח בשורה ארוכה של טיעונים שמאחורי פרשת ילדי תימן עומדת חטיפה ממוסדת, מציג את השיטות להונאת המשפחות, להרחקת הילדים מהן, להעלמתם ולדיכוי מחאות ההורים, מפרק אחד לאחד את כל ההסברים ה”מרגיעים” של הממסד שלפיהם לא היו דברים מעולם ובפרט מדגים על סמך שלל קביעות של ועדת החקירה הממלכתית שהדו”ח שניפקה הוא כוזב במובהק. רבות אני נשאל כיצד אני מעז לצאת נגד מסקנותיהן של שלוש ועדות חקירה, האחרונה שבהן ממלכתית, וכל פעם מחדש משתומם על עצם השאלה: האם על עולם האקדמיה לכוף קומה מול השלטון ומול ערכאות החקירה שלו, שכידוע במקרים רבים מייצרות חקירות מטעם? האם בסיס ההצדקה לקיומה של האקדמיה אינו להקשות על המוסכמות, להטיל ספק, לתהות על אמינותו של ידע/ “ידע” הגמוני, לחתור להעמיק לחקר האמת ללא מורא וללא כחל ושרק? קובץ המאמרים ‘ילדים של הלב’ הרקע לפרשה בשני מרחבי הקשר – עם כ- 15 מאמרי הקובץ, הבוחנים בשלל דיסציפלינות ושאלות מחקר את הפרשה וממשקיה, נמנים ארבעה מאמרים המציגים את הרקע לה, על האווירה החברתית והתרבותית ועל המעשים הפוליטיים והציבוריים שנגזרו ממנה, אווירה ומעשים שקדמו לפרשה, שנכחו במהלכה ושהשתלשלו ממנה. רקע זה, החיוני להבנתה, כולל שני הקשרים מרכזיים שבתוכם היא שזורה: א. ההקשר המקומי החברתי עדתי שלושה מאמרים בקובץ נדרשים להקשר זה. מאמרה של פרופ’ בת ציון עראקי – – – קלורמן מתאר את הדימויים האוריינטליסטים השליליים שראשי היישוב ואנשי תנועת הפועלים ייחסו לעולים מתימן. מ”תוקף” דימויים פטרונליים אלו יועד לעולים תפקיד נחות של “פועלים טבעיים” הנחוצים למיזם “כיבוש העבודה”, והם הופלו לרעה ביחס לעולים מאירופה בהקצאת משאבים, קרקעות ושכר. מאמרן של ד”ר דפנה הירש וד”ר סמדר שרון מפנה את הזרקור מהדימויים השליליים הכלליים שרחשה ההגמוניה האשכנזית בתקופת המנדט ובראשית ימי המדינה כלפי העולים מהמזרח, ובפרט מתימן, למרכיב מרכזי אחד מדימויים אלו, תפישת עולים אלו כנעדרי כשירות הורית ראויה. מ”תוקף” שיח ההורות הלקויה נגזרה הקריאה הרווחת להציל את ילדי העולים וננקטו פרקטיקות הגמוניות, בעיקר בתחומי הבריאות והרווחה, של התערבות בחיי משפחותיהם בהתאם לתאוריות הטיפוליות המערביות בנות הזמן. ומאמרה של פרופ’ אסתר הרצוג, המתחקה אחר מדיניות הרווחה של מדינת ישראל מאז הפרשה ועד ימינו בסוגיית ‘קטינים בסיכון’. מדיניות זו “מצדיקה” במקרים לא מעטים מעורבות מערכתית, והפעם בגלוי ובגיבוי בית המשפט, בהוצאה כפויה של תינוקות, ילדים ובני נוער מקבוצות מוחלשות ובהעברתם לאימוץ במשפחות מבוססות יותר או בהשמתם הכפויה במוסדות רווחה; בבחינת אותה גברת בשינוי אדרת. ב. ההקשר העולמי מאמרה של ד”ר רות אמיר ממקם את פרשת ילדי תימן של ראשית ימי המדינה בהקשר הרחב – של מפעלי העברה בכפייה של ילדים בני שכבות כלכליות ו/ או חברתיות מוחלשות, שנעשו בעת ההיא על ידי קבוצות הגמוניות בשורה של מדינות בעולם. בקנדה ובאוסטרליה הממסד כבר הודה במעשים, קיבל אחריות ופעל לתיקון. ואילו אצלנו? יוק! הספר ‘ילדי הלך לאן’ הפרשה בעשרה פרקים – המחקר מתבסס על מגוון סוגי מקורות, אולם מושתת בעיקר על כ- 980 העדויות שנמסרו בוועדת החקירה הממלכתית ותומללו לפרוטוקולים רשמיים המשתרעים על פני יותר מ- 17,000 עמודים. מבין עדויות אלה נעשה שימוש במיוחד בשני מכלולי עדויות מרכזיים: כ- 815 מצד משפחות הנעדרים וכ- 90 מפי אנשי מערך הקליטה בשנות העלייה הגדולה. שאלת המחקר הראשית מוקדשת להתחקות אחר מסלולי התנועה של הילדים למן השלב שבו הוצאו מחיק משפחותיהם למוסדות רפואה ורפואה מונעת ועד לשלב שנעלמו מאופק ראייתם; והודות לעדויות הקולטים ולחומר נוסף מתאפשרת אף “הצצה” חטופה לשלב שמעבר לכך. שאלת רוחב זו של מסלולי התנועה נבדקת לפי שלל שאלות עומק המתייחסות לתחנות השונות במסלול זה ולמגוון סוגיות בכל תחנה ותחנה: האם הילדים נלקחו או נמסרו? מה היה מצבם הרפואי? איך נרשמו? כיצד טופלו? אילו דפוסי תקשורת התקיימו בין הקולטים לעולים סביב אשפוז הילדים? מה היו מאפייני הזיקה בין ההורים לילדיהם המאושפזים בתחנת המוצא ובתחנות הבאות? מה היו משכי האשפוז בכל תחנה? כיצד הילדים הועברו מתחנה אחת לאחרת? האם להורים הייתה מעורבות בהעברות אלה, ואם כן מה היה אופייה? מה נמסר להם על יעדי השיגור של ילדיהם? מה נמסר להם בעל פה ושמא אף בכתב בסוף – ההתרחשויות על גורל ילדיהם פטירה או היעלמות? אילו ראיות נמסרו להם או הוצגו בפניהם ביחס לפטירה? מול – אלו מערכות פעלו ההורים לאחר בשורת הפטירה או ההיעלמות? שאלות אלה, ואחרות, שרובן טרם לובנו עד כה במחקר, נדונו בדרך כלל תוך שילוב בין מחקר איכותני למחקר כמותי, ונבחנו במספר רמות: טענות המשפחות, טענות הקולטים, סוגי מקורות רלבנטיים נוספים, ההשוואה בין כל אלו, קביעות הוועדה בנדון, השוואה בין סוגי המקורות השונים לבין גרסת הוועדה, ולבסוף מסקנותיי שלי. הספר מורכב מחמישה חלקים. שלושת הראשונים מוקדשים לשלוש תחנות מרכזיות בדרכם של הילדים: בתי תינוקות במחנות, בתי חולים מחוץ למחנות ומעונות ילדים של אירגוני הנשים. ביחס לכל אחת מתחנות אלה נבחר כמקרה מבחן עיקרי המחנה או המוסד שביחס אליו נמסר מספר העדויות הרב ביותר, מצד המשפחות ו/ או מצד הקולטים. כך למשל ביחס לתחנה הראשונה נבחר אחד משני מחנות עולי תימן הראשיים, עין שמר, על בתי התינוקות – שלו. ביחס אליו נמסרו בוועדה 127 עדויות משפחות על היעלמות ילדים ו- 13 עדויות מצד עובדי המחנה. אולם הדיון כלל לכל אורכו התייחסויות גם למחנה הראשי הנוסף, ראש העין, וליתר המחנות, הן של עולי תימן הן של יוצאי יתר התפוצות. שני החלקים האחרונים של הספר מתייחסים לשתי סוגיות מובחנות, האחד להתרחשויות לאחר בשורת הפטירה או ההיעלמות, ובעיקר למאמצי ההורים לזהות גופה, להשתתף בלוויה ולראות קבר, והאחר לעניין האימוצים, שלב שכבר היה מחוץ לטווח הידיעה של ההורים. להלן עיקרי הממצאים: א. היקף הנעדרים יותר מאלפיים: בפני שלוש ועדות החקירה שהמדינה הקימה לפרשה ) – 1967 — 2001 (, הוצגו כ- 1,100 תלונות על היעלמות ילדים; מאז נאספו עוד כ- 950 תלונות, חלקן במסגרת מחקרי וחלקן האחר בעיקר על ידי עמותות ‘עמרם’ ‘ו’אחים וקיימים’, העוסקות במסירות בהנכחת הפרשה בציבוריות הישראלית ובדרישה לפתרונה. בסך הכול תועדו כבר 2,050 מקרי היעלמות. לנוכח העובדה שכמעט חצי מהתלונות לא הוצגו בפני ועדות המדינה, ומכיוון שכל הזמן נחשפים מקרים נוספים, ברי כי היקף הפרשה רחב משמעותית מהידוע עתה. ב. פרשה שנמשכה קרוב ליובל שנים: תופעת היעלמות ילדים השתרעה על פני כ- 45 שנים, החל מ- 1934 , בעיצומה של תקופת המנדט, וגמור ב- 1980 , כשלושה עשורים לאחר קום המדינה. מבין המקרים הידועים התרחשו כ- 115 ( 6% ) במוסדות רפואה של היישוב היהודי מלפני קום המדינה ועד לימיה הראשונים; כ- 1,760 ( 86% ( בעשור הראשון – למדינה, שמהם כ- 925 בשנים 1949 — 1950 ; וכ- 170 ( 8% ( בין – 1959 ל- 1980 . ג. מרכזיות העולים מה’מזרח’, ובמיוחד מתימן: הנעדרים היו מגיל לידה ועד ארבע, ורובם המכריע מהעולים בראשית ימי המדינה, בעיקר מארצות ה’מזרח’ ולרוב מתימן. ההתפלגות לפי מוצא של 2,050 מקרי ההיעלמות הידועים היא: מתימן כ – – 1,160 ( 57% (; מיתר ארצות ה’מזרח’ כ – – 740 ( 36% (; מ’אשכנז’ כ – – 150 ( 7% (. שיעור הנעדרים המקורב מתוך קבוצת המוצא הגילית שלהם הוא: ‘אשכנז’ אחד מכל – 255 ילדים; ‘מזרח’ אחד מכל – 53 )בערך פי 5 (; תימן – אחד מכל 5 )פי 10 משאר יוצאי ‘מזרח’ ופי 50 מיוצאי ‘אשכנז'(. ד. עשרות מוסדות ציבור כתחנות בנתיב ההיעלמות: הילדים אושפזו, הבריאים למטרות רפואה מונעת, החולים לריפוי והנולדים לאחר לידתם, ב- 65 מוסדות לפחות בכל רחבי הארץ )ובמחנה היציאה מתימן(, בתי תינוקות, מרפאות, בתי חולים ומעונות ילדים באתרי הקליטה ובערים הוותיקות. המוסדות היו כפופים לממשלה, לסוכנות, לג’וינט, להסתדרות, לרשויות העירוניות ולארגוני נשים. בין בתי החולים המרכזיים בפרשה: רמב”ם, חיפה; הדסה בתל אביב, בירושלים ובבאר שבע; צריפין; צהלון, יפו; בילינסון, פתח תקוה; העמק, עפולה. – – – ה. דפוס היעלמות קבוע לפי מסלולי תנועה מובנים: היעלמות הילדים מאופק ראייתם של הוריהם, ובעיקר כשהמשפחות גרו עדיין במחנות, התרחשה לרוב לפי דפוס קבוע, במסלול תנועה מובנה משולש תחנות, שתחילתו במוסדות רפואה במחנות, לרוב בתי תינוקות, המשכו בבתי חולים בערים וסיומו במוסדות ילדים של ארגוני הנשים. 1 ( בתי תינוקות: במחנות עולי תימן הונהגה בשנות העלייה הגדולה, ובעיקר ב- 1949 — 1950 , מדיניות אשפוז ייחודית כלפי הילדים הבריאים הרכים בשנים. הם הוצאו בשיטתיות מהוריהם סמוך ככל האפשר לעלייתם או ללידתם, תכופות אף בכפייה, כדי להכניסם לבתי תינוקות ששכנו במבני קבע, בטענה ששם שוררים תנאים נאותים יותר לשמירה על בריאותם מאשר באוהלים, וזאת עד צאת משפחותיהם ליישובי הקבע. לקיחת התינוקת מלכה יעקב )שרעבי( ממשפחתה לבית תינוקות במחנה ראש העין במעמד רישום המשפחה במחנה עם העלייה, אוקטובר – 1949 )הצלם: טד בראונר, לשכת העיתונות הממשלתית(; לאחר כעשרים יום המשפחה התבשרה על פטירתה עם הכנסתם לבתי התינוקות הוזמנו האימהות להניקם מספר פעמים ביום. לפי רוב העדויות של סגל בתי התינוקות, ככלל הילדים שם היו בריאים, במיעוט מקרים לקו במחלות קלות שטופלו תרופתית במקום, ולא היו שם פטירות. התינוקות היו אמורים להימצא במוסדות אלו לפחות מספר חודשים, במקביל לתקופת השהייה הממוצעת בת כחמישה החודשים של המשפחות במחנות עד צאתן להתיישבות. אולם בכשלושה רבעים מהמקרים הילדים שהו שם משכי זמן קצרים בהרבה, מימים ספורים ועד חודש! שכן ממוסדות אלו ומהמחנות בכלל נשלחו מאות ילדים בשיטתיות ובפתאומיות, ללא עילה רפואית ברורה, לבתי חולים מרוחקים בתואנה שחלו ונזקקים לטיפול. הוצאת הילדים התרחשה כמעט תמיד באישון לילה, ללא אישור ההורים וללא יידועם מראש. 2 ( בתי החולים בערים: מיד עם העברת הילדים מהמחנות לבתי החולים החלו הורים רבים לתור אחריהם. עבור העולים החדשים, חסרי הכול, שלא שלטו בשפה המדוברת ולא הכירו את מפת הארץ ואת מערך התחבורה הציבורית, הייתה זו משימה מורכבת מאוד. אולם בעיות פיזיות אלה היו משניות ביחס לקשיים הגדולים שהקולטים ערמו עליהם, במקרים שלא הנחיתו עליהם עוד במחנות בשורת פטירה מידית: במקרים רבים לא נמסרו להם יעדי השיגור; כשהופנו לבתי חולים מוגדרים, לרוב התבשרו על פטירה ילדם עם הגיעם, או שהוכחש בפניהם הימצאותו שם, או שהם הופנו ליעדים אחרים; כך טורטרו ממוסד אחד למשנהו ופניהם הושבו ריקם בשיטתיות; רק הורים מעטים הצליחו למצוא את ילדיהם בבתי החולים ולראותם, וכמעט תמיד במצב רפואי תקין או לפחות רחוק מסכנת חיים, אך גם אז בתוך יום עד מספר ימים, בביקור הבא שם או במוסדות המחנה התבשרו – על פטירתם. לפי עדויות המשפחות, בכ- 77% מהמקרים הילדים שהו בבתי החולים עד שבוע, ובכ- 90% עד שבועיים. עדויות – אלה נתמכות בתיעוד הרפואי שהציגו ועדות החקירה, שלפיו הילדים אכן שהו בבתי החולים תקופות קצרות ביותר. גרסה מנוגדת מסרו רוב העדים מסגל בתי החולים, שלפיה ילדים רבים היו מאושפזים שם שבועות וחודשים, ההורים כמעט שלא באו לבקרם, ואפילו בתום האשפוז לא באו לאוספם; לפי גרסה זו גדשו הילדים את המחלקות עד מחנק, הניסיונות להחזירם למחנות כשלו, ובלית ברירה נאלצו הקולטים במקרים רבים לשגר את הילדים הרכים לכתובת חדשה, מעונות הילדים של ארגוני הנשים הציוניות. 3 ( מעונות הילדים של ארגוני הנשים: לפי שלל עדויות ומסמכים, רבים מילדי העולים, ובפרט מתימן, הועברו מבתי החולים למעונות ילדים של ארגוני הנשים הציוניות, ובראשם המוסדות של ויצ”ו ושל ארגון אימהות עובדות, תנועת הנשים של מפא”י. בחלק ניכר מהעדויות הוסברו שיגורים אלו בהיעדר יכולת לאתר את המשפחות ולהשיב להן את הילדים. ברם, בעוד שבמקרים רבים ההורים סבבו את הארץ והקיפוה במאמציהם העילאיים למצוא בבתי החולים את ילדיהם, הרי שהתחנה הבאה במסלול תנועתם, אותם מעונות, הוסתרה מהם באופן גורף. עובדים מאותם מוסדות העידו כי דייריהם היו לרוב ילדי עולים, חלק משמעותי מהם מתימן, שהוגדרו “מנותקי קשר” מהוריהם, ולכן לא היה מנוס אלא לשגרם לאימוץ. לפי עדויות ממעון ויצ”ו צפת המרוחק, לא דרכה שם כף רגל של אף הורה ולפי אחת העדות תירצה זאת מנהלת המוסד בטענה שההורים “לא רוצים את הילדים שלהם, יש להם עומס, ובעד זה לא באים לקחת אותם. אנחנו רוצים להחזיר אותם והם לא רוצים אותם”. מנגד, מעדויות המשפחות עולה כי ההורים לא ביקרו במוסד זה ודומיו משום שבמקום להודיע להם שילדיהם נשלחים לאותם מוסדות הודיעו להם שהם כבר נפטרו או שנעלמו. ואפילו במקרים נדירים, פחות מאחוז, שהורים הצליחו לאתר מוסדות אלו שלא דרך המערכת הרשמית ולבקר בהם, הם לא זכו לשיתוף פעולה מצד עובדיהם. נוכח העובדה שכתובתם החדשה של הילדים אותם מעונות ילדים של ארגוני הנשים הוסתרה מהוריהם – – בעקביות, מתבקשת המסקנה שמגמת אותו תהליך סדור הייתה מלכתחילה להפקיעם מהם, החל מאיסופם השיטתי של מאות ילדים בריאים מחיקן החם של משפחותיהם לבתי התינוקות במחנות, דרך הוצאתם השיטתית ללא עילה רפואית ראויה מהמחנות ושיגורם מהמחנות לבתי חולים מרוחקים, יישום אחד לאחד של דברי בן גוריון – המצוטטים לעיל, תוך הכשלת ההורים להגיע אליהם, וגמור בהפנייתם כ”מנותקי קשר” ממשפחותיהם וללא יידוע ההורים למעונות הילדים. בתחנה זו האחרונה הם הפכו בין לילה ל”נטושים” ולמועמדים “כשרים” לאימוץ. ו. מוסדות סגורים ומאובטחים: מוסדות הרפואה שבהם הילדים אושפזו היו בעיקרון סגורים בפני המשפחות, כאשר לבתי התינוקות רק האימהות המניקות הורשו להיכנס, בשעות קבועות; בבתי החולים שלטה מדיניות ביקורים נוקשה; ומעונות הילדים של ארגוני הנשים היו בכלל מחוץ לתחום, שכן כאמור המידע על תפקודם במסלול העברת הילדים מתחנה לתחנה מודר מההורים. הסגירות הכמעט הרמטית בפני ההורים של המוסדות הושגה באמצעות מערך אבטחה שסבבם. מעדויות המשפחות מתברר כי מערך זה הופעל פחות על מנת לשמור על הילדים עבור הוריהם עד צאת המשפחה במלואה מהמחנה, ויותר כדי להגן על הילדים מהוריהם, ובמשתמע להוות מרכיב חיוני בתכנית הניתוק ובמסלול ההרחקה. כך התייצבו שומרים ושוטרים במלוא “עוזם”, כולל תוך שימוש בכוח, נגד הורים שניסו מסיבות שונות להוציא/ “לחטוף” את ילדיהם שלהם מבתי התינוקות. ומנגד, כשהילדים נעלמו בהיחבא באישון לילה מאותם מוסדות מתחת לאף של הוריהם ליעדים בלתי ברורים, אותם אנשי אבטחה לפתע פתאום נעמדו מנגד מבלי לסייע להורים, ובחלק מהמקרים אף התגייסו לסלק מהמוסדות את אותם הורים “טורדנים”. ז. נהלי רישום קפדניים: נהלי הרישום של המשפחות בקליטתן במחנות ובהעברתן להתיישבות הקבע, כמו גם של הילדים באשפוזם במוסדות הרפואה ובשיגורם ממוסד ולמוסד, היה מוקפד מאוד, וכלל שלל טפסים לרישום ולמעקב, ובמקרה של העוללים אף הוצמד לזרועם צמיד זיהוי אישי )ראו תצלום(, ש אפשר זיהוי ומעקב קבוע, לכל אורך מסלול תנועתם. הנהלים הקפדניים של רישום ילדים רכים בשנים גובשו במערכת הקליטה עוד בהקמת בית תינוקות ראשון לעולי קפריסין ב- 1947 , ומאז ואילך רווחו בכל המערכת. ובכלל, בשנות השיא של הפרשה מזרק שהוכנס לבית תינוקות או מגבת שהוצאה לכביסה משם לוו בתיעוד, וספל או מזלג שנופקו לעולים נרשמו בדקדקנות להתחשבנות עתידית. טיפול בתינוק עם צמיד זיהוי במתקן רפואי במחנה היציאה של עולי תימן, שליד עדן )החוברת ‘יציאת תימן’, קרן היסוד( ח. בשורת פטירה פתאומית “סיטונאית” לילדים במצב רפואי תקין: לפי חלק ניכר מעדויות המשפחות חלף פרק זמן קצר ביותר, ממספר שעות ועד יממה, מהפעם האחרונה שהילדים נראו בעיני הוריהם בריאים, או לכל היותר לוקים בליקוי רפואי קל, ובמקרים רבים אף ינקו מאימהותיהם, לבין בשורת הפטירה. תופעה זו אינה מוכרת בעולם הרפואה. על סוגיית המוות הפתאומי העידו בוועדה שני רופאים בלשון זו: “מישהו שהיה בריא ויונק, ולמחרת נפטר, לא מתקבל על הדעת הרפואית”; “ילד שינק בערב, לא צריך למות בבוקר. אם הוא ינק, זה מצביע על כך שיש לו מספיק חיות להחזיק מעמד עוד 24 שעות. המצב התזונתי והתברואתי היה ירוד ביותר, ואף על פי כן אינני מקבל מוות תוך 12 או 18 שעות בקנה מידה גדול. מאוד קשה מבחינה רפואית לשער שזה קרה בממדים גדולים”. ט. הימנעות מלהראות להורים גופה, לשתף בלוויה ולהראות קבר: בעדויות המשפחות ביחס לשורה ארוכה של מוסדות, הסתיים אשפוז הילדים בדיווח לקוני על פטירה או על היעלמות. מסירת הדיווח התאפיינה במקרים רבים בהודעות סותרות בדבר גורלם של הילדים, בהתחמקות, בהתעלמות ובהתנערות מאחריות, לעתים תוך סילוק אלים של ההורים ממוסדות הרפואה ומהמשרדים. ומכ- 95% מעדויות המשפחות משתמעת שלילה סדרתית של זכות ההורים לראות את גופות ילדיהם, ללוותם בדרכם האחרונה ולראות את קבריהם. ואפילו במקרים המועטים שבהם לכאורה התאפשר להורים לראות גופה או קבר או להשתתף בלוויה, בחלקם היה מדובר בגופה/ בחבילה שאינה ניתנת לזיהוי, או בגיבוב סמרטוטים. כשהוצגה גופה בת זיהוי, לטענת ההורים היא לא – התאימה לילדם, מבחינת הגיל, המין ומצב ההשתמרות. כשזומנו ללוויה, בחלק ניכר מהמקרים נמנעה מהם לבסוף ההשתתפות במעמד. כשהופנו לחברה קדישא ו/ או נשלחו לבית קברות, לרוב הקבר לא נמצא או לא זוהה. כך, אף באותם מקרים מעטים שבהם הוצגו בפני ההורים ראיות לכאורה לפטירת הילד, הועצם חשדם לעתים אף עד ידיעה – שאין מדובר לא בגופה, לא בלוויה ולא בקבר של ילדם. – י. היסטוריה שכנגד “תחיית המתים”: לצד עדויות המשפחות על היעדרות ילדיהן תועדו כבר שורה של מקרים – שלפיהם הורים שנלחמו בחירוף נפש לאחר בשורת הפטירה לראות את גופות ילדיהם, שאיימו והשתוללו, חזו ב”תחיית המתים” כשילדיהם הוחזרו להם לפתע פתאום בריאים ושלמים מחדר צדדי או ממוסד מרוחק. “היסטוריה שכנגד” זו חותרת תחת אמינות בשורת הפטירה, בשעתה, ותחת תוקפן של תעודות הפטירה, שהוצגו ברובן המכריע בפני המשפחות רק שנים הרבה לאחר האירועים על ידי ועדות החקירה השונות. הפרשה במבט היסטורי שנים אחדות לאחר השואה, וזמן קצר לאחר שהיישוב היהודי בארץ ישראל הצליח סוף סוף להקים מדינה ריבונית, – ניצלו בכירים במערכות הקליטה והרפואה וסביבן, בסיוע עובדים צייתנים, את כוחם הפוליטי והמעשי להרחיק המוני עוללים ממשפחות שזה מקרוב עלו ארצה, לנתקם ממשפחתם וממורשתם ולהעלימם. חטיפה כזאת, שרקעה תשתית רעיונית גזענית אוריינטליסטית בדבר היעדר מסוגלות הורית ביהדות המזרח, מוגדרת במשפט הבין לאומי “פשע נגד – האנושות”. לאחר כאלפיים שנות גלות, כשהקמת המדינה ונחשולי העולים מקצות תבל הצטיירו כקרובים ביותר להתגשמות נבואות הגאולה בדבר שיבת ציון, קיבוץ הנידחים והתקומה, דווקא בתוך אותו עם שראה את ייעודו הרוחני כאור לגויים וכמגדלור מוסרי אירעה מפולת מוסרית. תהום נפערה בין ערכי היסוד שעל אדניהם נוסדה המדינה לבין המעשה המחפיר. חסרי אונים ניצבו העולים העשוקים מילדיהם מול כוחה העצום של המדינה. מתוך כיסופים לציון, אהבת ישראל, הכרת הטוב מול הקולטים וראייתם כשליחים בתהליך הגאולה, רחשו רוב העולים אמון מוחלט בהם, ולכן האמינו לבשורת הפטירה. רק לאחר כשנות דור מאז ההתרחשויות החלו המשפחות להיוודע לכך שמדובר בתופעה הכוללת מקרי היעלמות רבים באותם דפוסים ולקשר בין המקרים, והתעורר חשדן שמאחורי ההתרחשויות עמדה יד מכוונת. מחקרי, הצורף יחדיו את עדויות המשפחות, עדויות הקולטים ויתר סוגי המקורות למקשה אחת, מוכיח שחשדן של המשפחות לא היה לשווא, חושף כיצד פעלה מערכת הקליטה לנכס את הילדים ולהרחיקם לצמיתות מהוריהם וקורא להכרה מדינתית בפשע ולתיקונו. נספח: תכני העניינים של שני הספרים א. תוכן העניינים של קובץ המאמרים ‘ילדים של הלב’ טובה גמליאל, הקדמה: מעמדה האינטלקטואלי של הפרשה שער ראשון: קצוות בטווח הטרגדיה בת ציון עראקי קלורמן, יחס מנהיגות היישוב ליוצאי תימן כרקע להבנת תופעת היעלמות הילדים לאחר קום המדינה – סיגל עוזרי רויטברג, המחאה המתמשכת על פרשת ילדי תימן: בין ‘עדה’ ל’מדינה’ – רות אמיר, פרשת ילדי תימן בראי תופעת ההעברה בכפייה של ילדים במאה ה – 20 אסתר הרצוג, הפקעת הורות מפרשת ילדי תימן ועד היום – שער שני: מוראותיה של מעבריות אסתר מאיר גליצנשטיין, בין תימן לישראל: מ’מרבד הקסמים’ לפרשת ‘ילדי תימן’ – דפנה הירש וסמדר שרון, “אמהות מזניחות”: הבניית האמהוּת של נשים מזרחיות בתקופת המנדט ובראשית שנות החמישים נתן שיפריס, בעקבות הילדים הנעדרים בנתיב היעלמותם, או: כיצד פעלה השיטה? טובה גמליאל, ‘חַ ק’הוּם להוּם’: על אובדן ומלנכוליה אזרחית שער שלישי: לימבו: בין אין מוצא לתקווה מנשה ענזי, “אם אח אני, איה אחוָתי?”: על גל המחאה הראשון שהובילו ‘הוועדה הציבורית לגילוי ילדי תימן’ ועיתון ‘אפיקים’ – דב לויטן, מדוע נחקרה פרשת ‘ילדי תימן הנעדרים’ לראשונה רק בשנים 1967 — 1968 ? בועז סנג’רו, ‘באין חשד אין חקירה אמיתית’: על דו”ח ועדת החקירה הממלכתית לעניין העלמות ילדי תימן שושנה מדמוני גרבר, דיווח או טיוח? פרשת ילדי תימן בראי התקשורת הישראלית – נסים ליאון ואורי כהן, מעמד הביניים המזרחי ושאלת מיצוי הבירור הממלכתי בפרשת ילדי תימן עדות אישית שושי זייד, אירועי יהוד: מס עי כעדה חוקרת אל האמת והצדק שמאחורי ה”כת התימהונית” יוסף ויילר, אפילוג דיאלוגי ב. תוכן העניינים של הספר ‘ילדי הלך לאן’ פתח דבר מפה: יישובים ומוסדות הקשורים לפרשת ילדי תימן מבוא: לחשוף את האמת בפרשת ילדי תימן ועדת החקירה הממלכתית יוצאת לדרך המאפיינים של מקרה ההיעלמות הפרטי איך הצטברו התלונות ליותר מ־ 2,000 מקרים מקורות המידע העיקריים קירבת העדים לאירועים ומהימנות העדויות הרקע ההיסטורי גורמי הקליטה: אחריות, סמכויות, תקשורת עם העולים התפלגות מקרי ההיעדרות לפי תקופות תחנות היציאה בדרכם של הילדים התפלגות מקרי ההיעדרות לפי קבוצות מוצא גודלן של משפחות העולים מתימן קריסת ההסברים המימסדיים ההקשרים הרחבים של הפרשה תפיסת “ההוֹרוּת הלקויה” חלק ראשון: בתי התינוקות במחנות מחנה עין שמר כמקרה מבחן פרק א: הכנסת הילדים למוסדות הרפואה במחנות לאן הועברו הילדים במחנות, ואיך נעשה הדבר? מצבם של הילדים במוסדות הרפואה במחנות נוהלי רישום הילדים במוסדות הרפואה במחנות פרק ב: השהייה בבתי התינוקות תקופות האישפוז בית התינוקות כמוסד סגור פרק ג: הפינוי מבתי התינוקות אל מחוץ למחנות המצב הרפואי של הילדים ערב הפינוי נוהלי פינוי הילדים מהמחנות יעדי שיגור הילדים ממוסדות הרפואה במחנות הוצאת הילדים ממחנה עין שמר המידע שנמסר להורים וביקוריהם – ביקורי הורים ממחנות אחרים בבתי החולים יעדי השיגור של ילדים מראש העין גירסת הקולטים — פרק ד: יעדי שיגור נוספים: אימוצים ומעונות ויצ”ו שיגורי ילדים מהמחנות ישירות לאימוץ גירסת ד”ר שטרנברג: העברה המונית של ילדים מהמחנות למוסדות ויצ”ו בית התינוקות של ויצ”ו בראש העין עוד עדויות על העברת ילדים מהמחנות למוסדות ויצ”ו בערים סיכום: בית התינוקות כמכשיר להוצאת ילדים מרשות הוריהם חלק שני: בתי החולים מחוץ למחנות בית החולים רמב”ם כמקרה מבחן פרק א: הכנסת הילדים לבתי החולים מסלולי הילדים בדרך לבתי החולים מאין הגיעו הילדים לבית החולים רמב”ם נוהל קבלת הילדים לאישפוז שאלת הרישום גירסאות הוועדה — פרק ב: תקופת האישפוז בבתי החולים משך האישפוז בבתי החולים הקשר בין ההורים לילדיהם בתקופת האישפוז המצב הרפואי של המאושפזים ושיעורי הפטירה פרק ג: הוצאת הילדים מבתי החולים נוהל שיחרור הילדים לאחר האישפוז בעיות בהחזרת הילדים למשפחות האחריות על החזרת הילדים להורים ריכוז סודי של ילדים ברמב”ם? דיווח כוזב על פטירה ברמב”ם ושיגור לאימוץ: סיפור צבי עמירי אל מעונות הילדים של אירגוני הנשים בדרך לאימוץ — גורלם של הילדים מנותקי הקשר גירסת הוועדה — סיכום: הפניה סידרתית של ילדים מבתי החולים למעונות ילדים חלק שלישי: מעונות הילדים של אירגוני הנשים המוסד לאם ולילד של ויצ”ו בתל־אביב כמקרה מבחן פרק א: מוסד אומנה של אירגון אמהות עובדות בחיפה פרק ב: מעונות הילדים של ויצ”ו מעון ילדים/בית הבראה של ויצ”ו בצפת המוסד לאם ולילד של ויצ”ו בתל־אביב עדויות המשפחות סיכום: מעון הילדים כמוסד להסתרת ילדי העולים מהוריהם חלק רביעי: לאחר בשורת הפטירה או ההיעלמות סיום האישפוז מה נמסר להורים — פרק א: בטרם בשורה תיחקור ההורים על מצבם המשפחתי והכלכלי מסרים מן הקולטים: הורים צעירים, ילדים רבים מקרים נוספים של התעניינות בילדים מצד אנשי הסגל הרפואי ואחרים בשורות פטירה לאחר הזמנה לשיחרור או לאחד משני אחים סיכום פרק ב: היחס להורים עם בשורת הפטירה או ההיעלמות מסירת ההודעה למשפחות במחנות: מידע מפוקפק, הרחקה וסילוק בבתי החולים: הדרה וסילוק סיכום פרק ג: הצגת גופה, שיתוף בלוויה, הפניה לקבר דחיית הבקשה לראות גופה וקבר: בית החולים צריפין היענות חלקית לבקשת ההורים לראות גופה וקבר הלוויה והקבורה גירסת ועדת החקירה — סיכום פרק ד: ענייני רישום הפטירה ובירורים במעגלים רחבים רישום ותיעוד בסוף האירוע בירורים מצד המשפחות מול גורמים נוספים סיכום: מידור עקבי של ההורים לאחר בשורת הפטירה חלק חמישי: אימוצים אימוצים בראשית ימי המדינה: בין תיאוריה למעשה פרק א: התחיקה בתחום האימוץ פרק ב: תופעת האימוצים והיקפה פרק ג: האימוצים למעשה פרק ד: הוצאת ילדים לאימוץ ממעונות הילדים פרק ה: סחר בילדים לאימוץ פרק ו: אימוץ ילדים מהארץ בחו”ל פרק ז: אימוצים גירסת הוועדה — סיכום: ילדי האימוצים כמשאב יקר אחרית דבר רשימת 2,050 הילדים הנעדרים מי ומי בפרשה וסביבה מקורות והפניות לקריאה נוספת שלמי תודה מפתח
בימים הקרובים יוצא לאור מאמר בן למעלה מ60 עמודים הסוקר את פרשת “ילדי תימן וכו'” מנקודת מבט רפואית ומשפט רפואי. המאמר מגובה במסמכים ובספרות רפואית רבה ומקורית, אשר עד כה לא נעשה בה שימוש בדיון בפרשה.
המאמר יופיע בגליון הבא של משפט רפואי וביאותיקה היוצא על ידי הקריה האקדמית אונו.
1. הטרגדיה הנוראית של עולי תימן היתה תמותת התינוקות שהגיעה למעלה מ 60% . הממוצע בישוב המבוסס אז היה 3%. התמותה כיום בישראל היא 3 לאלף. אלו הם מספרים בלתי נתפסים כמעט. שכול המוות הודחק והוחלף באתוס של חטיפות ממוסדות. האתוס חסר הבסיס הזה מוזיל ומסתיר את השכול האמיתי ואת המחיר היחידאי ששילמו עולי תימן ועדן לעליה ארצה.
2. מדיניות הבריאות בנוגע לעולים כולם (לאו דווקא יוצאי תימן, ולא פחות ביחס לניצולי שואה) היתה לבודד ככל הניתן את התינוקות ובוודאי שאת התינוקות והילדים החולים, במוסדות פתוחים או סגורים (עם לינה), היינו בתי ילדים.
3. הורים רבים סרבו למסור ילדים חולים לאשפוז, ויש תיעוד ברור כי התינוקות מתו באהלים. במקרים רבים התינוקות החולים או החשודים כחולים נלקחו בעורמה או בכח לאשפוז. בנסיבות אלו אין זה נכון לומר שהרופאים “חטפו” או “גנבו” תינוקות, כמו שאין זה נכון לומר שההורים הסרבנים “הזניחו” את הילדים ו”התעללו” בהם. העיסוק בפרשה לוקה באנכרוניזם קשה. במחקרי אספתי עדויות מגוונות על תינוקות שמתו באוהל במעברה לאחר שהוריהם סרבו לאשפזם או לאחר שלא נמצא להם מקום אשפוז. ההתמקדות רק בתינוקות שאושפזו ונעלמו או מתו הינה לוקה בחסר.
4. הרפואה הצבאית ניסתה לקדם אמצעים יותר תקיפים להשתלטות על המגפות. חיל הרופאה דרש לגייס בצו חירום רופאים וצוותים רפואיים, להטיל הסגר על מחנות העולים (כפי שהוטל לעתים על שיכונים של משרתי קבע, וקיבוצים בעת שפרצו בהן מגפות), ולהעביר את כל התינוקות מחוץ למחנות. משרד הבריאות, השירות הרפואי לעולה (מטעם משרד הבריאות ושיתוף פעולה עם “הדסה”) התנגדו למדיניות זו ולמעשה יצרו תת אשפוז של תינוקות חולים מקרב העולים.
5. משלחות מחו”ל בבתי הילדים במחנות העולים היו של יועצים רפואיים ושל נדבנים מחו”ל _”שנור”. בניגוד להורי התינוקות, האורחים הללו לא היו נשאים של טיפואיד ומחלות מדבקות אחרות, ולכן היתה להם גישה לתינוקות יותר מבני משפחה. אולם, הרופאים ניסו לצמצם את הגישה שלהם לתינוקות.
6. לרופאים היתה ביקורת קשה גם כלפי הרגלי הבריאות של עולים אשכנזים, וגם כלפי הוותיקים. התפרצויות נוראיות (יחסית) של שיתוק ילדים אירעו בקיבוצים שסרבו להשמע להנחיות משרד הבריאות.
7. עיון מפורט במסמכים של מוסדות, משרד הרווחה ומשרד הסעד מציג את המספרים המלאים של “סדור ילדים” בתקופת העליה הגדולה – מה היו הקריטריונים לסידור “מחוץ למשפחה” ולאן הועברו הילדים (למוסדות ולא לאימוץ או אומנה).
8. בחינה פרטנית של המצב הרפואי של ילדים רבים, כפי שמביא שיפריס בספרו, מעלה כי מדובר במקרים רפואיים קשים עם פרוגנוזה רעה ביותר. הבשורה על מותם של ילדים אלו הייתה הפתעה רק להורים מלאי התקווה ולחוקרים שלא בדקו כלל את הספרות הרפואית, אך חזרו והצהירו כי מדובר בילדים במצב “סביר”, עם “שלשולים קלים” וכד’.
9. בארכיון המדינה ניתן למצא רשימות מלאות של כל הילדים במעונות ויצ”ו ירושלים ועוד. השמות מושחרים, אך תאריכי לידה ומשקל התינוקות רשומים וכן אבחנות רפואיות. ניתן לראות כי הילדים הללו סבלו ממחלות קשות ותת משקל משמעותי. אין הם תינוקות שמישהו יהיה מעוניין לקנות. אדרבא, תינוקות יתומים ונטושים של ותיקים (לא עולים חדשים) שהו חודשים ארוכים מבלי שנמצא להם סידור. יש תיעוד על תינוקות יתומים רבים ששהו במוסדות, ולא ברור למה היה צריך לחכות לעולי תימן על מנת לחטוף ילדים לאימוץ – מוסד שלא היה ממש קיים בזמנו.
10. עד לחקיקתו של חוק אימוץ ילדים (1959), לא הייתה כל מסגרת אימוץ בה מתקיים ניתוק קשר בין המשפחה הביולוגית לזו המאמצת. לא ניתן היה להשיג תלושי מזון לילדים מאומצים ללא העתק של תעודת הלידה המקורית, ועל כן (ומסבות נוספות המבוארות במאמר) חטיפה לשם אימוץ היתה התנהלות בלתי סבירה עד בלתי אפשרית, גם אם מישהו חשב לעשות זאת.
11. התנהלויות רבות הנראות לנו כיום כבלתי אפשריות או אנושיות, היו מקובלות, וחוקיות באותם ימים – לא היה מקובל להראות לאם שכולה את התינוק המת, לא הונפקו תעודות פטירה דרך שגרה, לא היה כל צורך לבקש מן המשפחה הסכמה לשם נתיחה שלאחר המוות, רשיונות קבורה הוצאו גם ללא נוכחות בני משפחה, לא היו כל נהלים לזיהוי תינוקות וילודים, ועוד.
12. כאשר הוחלט לסגור את בית החולים של ראש העין, פנו עשרות רבני ונכבדי העדה לממשלה בעצומות והפגנות בדרישה להשאיר את המוסד על מכונו. מנהיגי העדה התימנית כתבו בעצמם כי יהיה חשש לילדים חולים משום שהורים רבים יסרבו לאשפז אותם. מקדמי אתוס החטיפה והקיפוח מתייחסים בזלזול והתנשאות כלפי מנהיגי העולים אז, כאילו אין הם יודעים כי עשרות (מאות?) ילדים נחטפו כבר (לכאורה) באמצעות בית החולים של ראש העין.
13. כמו במקרה זה, גם במקרים אחרים, טענות לגבי “מסוגלות הורית” הושמעו כל ידי מנהיגי העולים עצמם. בכל מקרה, הרופאים דחו את הטענות (מכיוון התקשורת והרווחה) על פיהן פיגור תרבותי הוא המפתח לתחלואה והתמותה הגבוהה. המדיניות הרפואיות התייחסה לתנאים החומריים ולא לרקע התרבותי של העולים.
14. לא היה מחסור ברופאים בישראל הצעירה. היה מחסור משווע ברופאים שהיו מוכנים לשרת את העולים, ובעובדים מיומנים באפן כללי. בבית החולים בעין שמר (130 מיטות) ממנו “נעלמו” תינוקות רבים, היה עובד אחד בלבד ששלט בעברית, והוא ביצע את כל מטלות הרישום והפקידות. בחדרה גרו 8000 איש, מתוכם 20 רופאים. במעברת חדרה שהו 18000 עולים ולהם רופא אחד בלבד. במחנות לא שהו רופאים בשעות הלילה, רק אחיות (מה הפלא שתינוקות רבים פונו לבתי חולים בשעות הלילה). הפעילים החברתיים האמיתיים בסיפור היו צוותי הרפואה שהתמסרו לעולים.
15. הספורים על ניסויים רפואיים בילדים עולים הם עורבא פרח. מקורם באי הבנות ובעגה לקויה. למשל, בדיקות לבירור הימצאותו של “דם כושי” בילדי תימן היו בדיקות רפואיות חדשניות ביותר הנוגעות לאנמיה חרמשית ואשר היו רלוונטיות למגפת המלריה שהכתה שמות בעולים. בשל חוסר הבנה רפואי, ההנגשה של אמצעי הרפואה המתקדמים ביותר לטובת עולי תימן מתוארת כניסויים אכזריים בבני אדם ר”ל.
16. כשהמגפות השתוללו במחנות והתמותה הרקיעה שחקים, הממשלה עסקה במריבות על חינוך ילדי עולים (חרדי, דתי או חילוני) ואף הוקמה ועדת חקירה בנושא (ועדת פרומקין). הירידה החדה בתמותת התינוקות בעשור הראשון למדינה היא עדות ניצחת לחוב שכולנו (כולל עולי תימן) חבים לבירוקרטיה של המדינה הצעירה, לבריאות הציבור, מפעלי הדסה וויצו ולרופאים שהתמסרו לעליה.
לסיכום, ההתנהלויות התמוהות לכאורה של הצוותים הרפואיים, כלל אינן תמוהות למי שמכיר את הרפואה ואת החוק בימיים ההם. תרחיש החטיפה הינו בלתי סביר בעליל להסבר ההתנהלויות התמוהות שכלל אינן תמוהות. שיעור הנעלמים הינו זעום ביחס למספר התינוקות שלא חלו תקלות קריטיות ברישומם.
מסקנות מעשיות העולות מן המאמר הינן רלוונטיות גם כיום, בעיקר בסוגיות של אסון המוני רח”ל:
1. נוהלים וטכנולוגיה של זיהוי ושיוך תינוקות (וחסרי אונים בכלל) הינו קריטי לניהול משבר פליטים וכל אסון.
2. נוהלי אחריות מוגדרים ביחס לכל מי ש”שוחרר מאשפוז” אך עדיין לא חבר עם משפחתו הינם קריטים. העדרם בימים ההם פתחו פתח לצרות.
3. עד היום אין הסדרה בחקיקה ראשית של ניהול העורף במצבי אסון. חס וחלילה, שוב יעמדו צוותי ההצלה מול האחריות להצלת חיים, מבלי שיש להם סמכויות ברורות, והם יטלטלו בין ויתור (ומחיר בחיי אדם) לבין שימוש באמצעי אכיפה ומניפולציות ללא סמכויות ונהלים ברורים.
4. כל ביקורת על מפעל אנושי, צריכה לצאת מאמות מידה ריאליות על פיהן שופטים מפעל זה. למשל: כיצד אמורים להודיע על שחרור מאושפזים ועל פטירות כאשר במחנה עולים אחד יש קו טלפון בודד שלא תמיד מתפקד, אין אמבולנסים, והאחראי על הרכב של המחנה מסרב בעקביות להקצות אותו לשם פינוי חולים ויולדות.
מה ניתן לעשות מן הבחינה המחקרית?
האתגר המשמעותי ביותר הוא תיקי האימוצים הרבים. אלו הם חסויים על מנת להגן על פרטיות האמהות (חלקן אמהות נוטשות ומרקע קשה כגילוי עריות וכד’) וממילא הילדים. אבל נראה לי שוועדה מקצועית של הרווחה יכולה לעבור על התיקים וליצור מסד נתונים אנונימי לעיבוד סטטיסטי. השאלות הבאות הינן קריטיות לדיון:
1. כמה צווי אימוץ הוצאו, כמה על ידי בתי משפט וכמה על ידי בתי דין רבניים?
2. כמה צווי אימוץ ניתנו שלא במעמד אחד ההורים ומבלי שיש תיעוד חד משמעי כי ההורים מתו?
3. כמה צווי אימוץ הוצאו לטובת קרובי משפחה (היינו דוד המאמץ אחיין וכד’. אלו היו רוב האימוצים לפני קום המדינה)?
4. כמה צווי אימוץ הוצאו על פי התפלגות עדתית (ילדים והורים) וגילית?
5. כמה צווי אימוץ הוצאו לטובת מאמצים תושבי חו”ל (ככל הידוע, בכל פעם שנציג המדינה השתתף בדיון כזה, הוא התנגד לכך)?
למרות כל הכתוב לעיל, עצם החסיון על תיקי אימוץ ימשיך להערכתי ללבות את להבת אתוס החטיפות. לכן, יש חשיבות מיוחדת לנסות וללמוד קצת יותר על פרק זה בהיסטוריה החברתית של המדינה הצעירה.
א. מכתב התגובה שכתב ד”ר נתן שיפריס רווי ביטויים לא מכבדים כמו “קפצה כנשוכת נחש”, “לבי לבי עליה” בצד האשמות ב”השתלחויות בוטות”, “התרת דם אקדמית”, “סיכול ממוקד”, “התקפה מתלהמת” ו”חוסר יושרה אקדמית”. הביטויים הללו לא רלוונטיים לוויכוח המתנהל כאן, אבל הם מזכירים לי מדוע במשך תקופה כל כך ארוכה נמנעתי מלהשתתף בוויכוח.
ב. נכונים הדברים שאני עצמי הצהרתי על כך שמעולם לא חקרתי את פרשת ילדי תימן, אכן כך. אבל כן חקרתי את פרשת עלייתם של יהודי תימן לישראל. לאור ממצאי המחקר שלי על ההיקף הכל כך גדול של מחלות ותמותה בזמן מסע העלייה בתימן ובזמן השהות במחנה המעבר בעדן, ומתוך ידיעת התנאים ששררו במחנות העולים בישראל, כולל מחלת הפוליו שפרצה באותו זמן, טענתי שתמותה גדולה היא ההסבר להיעלמותם של רוב הילדים. הדברים הללו עולים בקנה אחד עם עיקרי מסקנותיה של וועדת החקירה הממלכתית. חבל שאף הסבר שאינו תואם את עמדותיו המוקדמות של ד”ר שיפריס לא התקבל על דעתו.
ג. עם כל הכבוד להורים התימנים ועם כל הכבוד לניצולי השואה, המחקר ההיסטורי אינו מסתמך על עדויותיהם כדי להוכיח מדיניות של ממשלות, לא של השמדה וגם לא של חטיפות. וחבל שד”ר שיפריס נדרש לעניין השואה בהקשר לפרשה זו.
ד. מוזרה גם הטענה שדווקא ילדיהם של ניצולי השואה היו אמורים להיות במצב רפואי פחות טוב מזה של עולי המזרח. הרי ילדיהם של ניצולי השואה לא נולדו במהלך המלחמה אלא אחריה.
ה. אבל הדבר החשוב מכל הוא שמכתב התשובה הזה בעצם מיותר. מאמרו של פרופ’ יחיאל בר-אילן, העתיד להתפרסם בקרוב, עוסק במצב הרפואי במחנות של עולי תימן ומתאר את ההיקף העצום של התמותה במחנות העולים ואת התנהלות הצוותים הרפואיים. זהו המחקר המיוחל – מחקר המתבסס על המסמכים הרבים המצויים בארכיונים הישראליים. המחקר הזה גם מוכיח שנכונים דבריו של ד”ר לזוביק, שכל החומר בנושא זה פתוח לעיון הציבור. כל שיש לעשות – לחקור.
אסתר מאיר-גליצנשטיין, אוניברסיטת בן גוריון.
4. הודעתו של ד”ר דב לויטן, ראש החוג הרב-תחומי במדעי החברה, המכללה האקדמית אשקלון
הדיון המעניין והערני שהתנהל בשבועות האחרונים ב”רשת אקדמיה” בפרשת “ילדי תימן” מלמד, כי מדובר בפרשה מיוחדת שאין לה מקבילה בהיסטוריה הפוליטית של מדינת ישראל. הפרשה שתחילתה בשנים הראשונות מדינת ישראל ואשר נחקרה בידי שלוש ועדת חקירה, האחרונה שבהן ועדת חקירה ממלכתית, ממשיכה להעסיק את הציבור היום כ-70 שנים לאחר התרחשותה.
במשך למעלה מ-35 שנים אני חוקר את הפרשה. פרסמתי ארבעה מאמרים אקדמיים בסוגיה זו והחמישי בדרך. במהלך השנים ראיינתי מאות בני משפחה, רופאים ואחיות, עובדי ומנהלים במערכות העלייה והקליטה, ראשי וחוקרי שלוש ועדות החקירה, ילדים מאומצים ומשפחות מאמצות. כמו-כן נסעתי לארה”ב כדי לבחון את הטענה לפיה ילדים תימניים אומצו בדי משפחות יהודיות בצפון אמריקה. בעקבות זאת הגעתי למסקנות חד-משמעיות:
ילדי תימן לא נחטפו ולא נמכרו לאימוץ בארץ או בחו”ל וכי כמעט כל הילדים נפטרו במהלך קליטת העלייה הגדולה.
אין זאת אומרת שמדינת ישראל פעלה בצורה נכונה והגונה בפרשה כאובה זו: אפשר להצביע על כמה משגים חמורים שנעשו בידי קברניטי ופקידי המדינה ומערכת הקליטה ואשר הזינו וממשיכים להזין את המיתוס ש”ילדי תימן” כביכול חיים היום. אזכיר כמה מהם בקצרה:
1. הגישה המתנשאת כלפי העולים מארצות המזרח בכלל וכלפי עולי תימן בפרט.
2. אי-חקירת הפרשה בראשית שנות ה-50 כאשר כבר היה ברור כי קיימת פרשה ציבורית שדורשת בירור וחקירה. אם הגורמים האחראים היו עושים זאת, הפרשה לא הייתה מתפתחת כפי שהיא אכן התפתחה, ואפשר היה לחקור ולסיים את הפרשה כאשר כל המסמכים ועדויות עדיין היו נגישות. הדבר היה מביא לסגירת כמעט כל התיקים והנפקת תעודות פטירה וקבורה בהתאם. אולם מסיבות פוליטיות הדבר לא נעשה, כפי שהוכחתי במאמר האחרון שפרסמתי בנדון.
3. אי דיווח למשרד הפנים (“גנזך ההורדות) לגבי ילדים שנפטרו. הדבר הביא לכך שהילדים המשיכו להיות רשומים כאילו הם עדיין בחיים ומכאן משלוח צווי גיוס (צווי התייצבות) לילדים שנפטרו מזמן.
4. במפקד האוכלוסין שנערך בשנת 1961 הופיעו שוב עשרות מקרים בהם מצד אחד היה לילד הנעדר תיק (כי לא נרשם שהוא נפטר) ומצד שני “הילד” לא נפקד (כי הוא נפטר). פקיד במשרד הפנים רשם, ברוב טיפשותו, בתיקים של הילדים האלו (שנולדו 12-8 שנים קודם לכן) “עזב את הארץ” בשנת 1961 (או במועד קרוב לכך). על-כן נאמר שעשרה חכמים לא יכולים להוציא אבן אחת שטיפש השליך לבור. לגבי בני המשפחה שראו את הרישום הזה בתיקים הרלוונטיים במשרד הפנים, וחלקם אף קבלו צווי גיוס-התייצבות עבור הילד הנעדר” אין ספק: הילד הוברח ואומץ בחו”ל בשנת 1961 או במועד סמוך.
אולם, מאז מדינת ישראל ניסתה לתקן את הטעויות המצערות והטרגיות והקימה שלשו ועדות חקירה. הועדות האלו הגיעו כולן למסקנה כי לא נמצא ולו ילד אחד שנחטף או אומץ בדרך לא חוקית.
למה אם כן ממשיכים גורמים שונים לטעון שאלפי ילדים נחטפו ואומצו ו/או הוברחו לחו”ל? למה הפרשה לא נסגרה בעקבות פרסום מסקנות ועדת החקירה הממלכתית בשנת 2001?
הסיבה העיקרית היא פעילותם של עוזי משולם וחסידיו ממשיכי דרכו. “באירועי יהוד” (1994) הפגינו עוזי משולם וחסידיו סלידה ושנאה כלפי מדינת ישראל היהודית-ציונית, ויחד עם זה התבצרות אלימה וצבירת נשק שהופעל נגד אנשי המשטרה. פעילותם של עוזי משולם שהיה עבריין אלים, והטענות שלו ושל תומכיו שהופצו בתזכירים ובאלונים, בהם נטען כי 4500 ילדים נחטפו ואומצו , ממשיכים להזין את חסידי “הקונספירציה” עד היום הזה.
פעילי העמותות שמשמעים את קולם היום בנושא “ילדי תימן” ממשיכים את דרכו של עוזי משולם ואף “מקדשים” את זכרו. הם דורשים לתת לו ריהביליטציה ולהכיר בצדקת דרכו וטענותיו. כמה פוליטיקאים, דוגמת השרה גילה גמליאל, מיישרים קו והצטרפו לדרישה “לטהר את שמו” של משולם.
האווירה המתלהמת שמוצאת את ביטויה בהפגנות ובעיקר בשיח אלים ברשתות החברתיות פוגעת בראש ובראשונה בהורים ובבני המשפחה מהדור השני והשלישי. הם, בני המשפחה, משוכנעים כי בימיה הראשונים של מדינת ישראל אכן בוצעו פשעים נוראים ונחטפו ילדים לצורכי אימוץ, או כדי לערוך בהם ניסויים רפואיים. באשר לפעילי העמותות ותומכיהם, חשוב להדגיש כי לא מדובר באמת היסטורית או בוויכוח עניני אלא בעלילת דם נגד מדינת ישראל.
כמי שעוסק בפרשה שנים כה רבות, אני יודע לצערי הרב כי את רוב בני המשפחות כבר לא ניתן לשכנע. אי לכך היום חשוב היום לעודד את המחקר האקדמי בסוגיה. המחקר הזה חייב להיות מחקר שעומד בסטנדרטים האקדמיים המקובלים, ולא בפרסומים שלא עברו את הביקורת האקדמית המקובלת כפי שקרה לגבי כמה ספרים שפורסמו בפרשה.
מי שמעוניין בפרסומים אקדמיים בנושא מוזמן לפנות אלי:
Last week, Academia for Equality, an anti-Israel academic group based at Tel Aviv University, announced a new exhibition at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Brunei Gallery. The exhibition explores “The Missing Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan Children Affair.” Academia for Equality advertised “Now in Brunei Gallery at SOAS London: an exhibition on the case of the disappearance of children of Yemen, the Mizrachi, and the Balkans. The exhibition shows documents, testimonies, and photographs revealing the policy of separating children from their parents and how this policy led to disappearances and uncertainty about the fate of these children. The exhibition also presents the role of children’s institutions in the case – and the involvement of international organizations. For our friends in London – we strongly recommend visiting the exhibition, which will be on display at the museum until December 10th.”
Prof. Avshalom Elitzur and his peers founded a website for those unfamiliar with the “Affair of the Kidnapped Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan Children.” The website aims to “gather comprehensive and reliable information on the subject, to correct a distorted public discourse that developed around it, and to help grieving families find information regarding the fate of their loved ones.”
As the website explains, in the early years when the State of Israel was established, during an existential war and times of austerity, the young country of some 600,000 inhabitants absorbed close to a million new immigrants. The new immigrants were accommodated in temporary camps, in harsh sanitary conditions, and under raging epidemics. As a result, many difficult human tragedies occurred. Especially tragic was the case of immigrants from Yemen who arrived in Israel after arduous journeys while many arrived in poor medical conditions. In this reality, hundreds of families lost their children to deadly diseases. About a decade later, various sources spread rumors that the children did not die but were victims of kidnappings and were given up for adoption. These claims led to “The Affair of the Kidnapped Children” or “The Missing Yemenite, Mizrahi and Balkan Children Affair.”
The SOAS exhibition, titled “Empty Cradles: Israel’s Disappeared Children,” explains that “The disappeared children belonged to Jewish families who migrated to Israel from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1940s and 50s and were staying in temporary immigration camps. Over half of the children were from Yemen. The state officially maintains that the children died, but the families were never shown bodies, graves, or death certificates. Instead, they believe their children were sent away to homes run by women’s organizations and in many cases illicitly adopted, perhaps even abroad. A growing body of evidence, much of which is assembled in the new exhibition, has been uncovered to support the families claims. The exhibition shares moving testimonies from mothers who had their children taken from them, often by force. It also reveals their experiences of condescension and racism by the Israeli authorities towards them, and how they were frequently accused of being unfit to raise their own children.”
The exhibition records “the policy of systematically separating Yemenite children from their parents, and how this led to their disconnection and disappearance. The exhibition also charts the role of so-called ‘baby homes’ in housing ‘lost’ children and putting them up for adoption. While the disappearances took place in Israel, the exhibition documents how international women’s organizations, including some based in the United Kingdom, were also a crucial part of the story. Publicity material from the time shows that volunteers, donors, tourists, and members of the public around the world were aware of, and involved with work, with the children and shared assumptions about the ‘unfitness’ of the parents, and even visited the ‘baby homes’ when many parents could not. The organizations involved still operate today, and many of the disappeared children could still be alive. Now families, campaigners, and researchers are hoping that conversations and awareness generated by the Empty Cradles exhibition may encourage members of the public with knowledge about these events to come forward.”
The SOAS exhibition is a blatant misrepresentation of the story. Worth noting that not a single case of any kidnapped child has ever been identified. Each time there was uncertainty, the authorities went so far as to exhume a child buried in a Tel Aviv cemetery and conducted DNA testing. The test proved that the child was of Yemenite origin, had died, and was not kidnapped, as the theory suggested.
Clearly, the exhibition is not interested in unraveling the tragedy of the children’s death from diseases. The purpose is to delegitimize Israel.
SOAS’s Brunei Gallery is pleased to present a major new exhibition, Empty Cradles: Israel’s Disappeared Children on display from 23 September to 10 December 2022.
The disappeared children belonged to Jewish families who migrated to Israel from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1940s and 50s and were staying in temporary immigration camps. Over half of the children were from Yemen. The state officially maintains that the children died, but the families were never shown bodies, graves, or death certificates. Instead, they believe their children were sent away to homes run by women’s organisations and in many cases illicitly adopted, perhaps even abroad.
A growing body of evidence, much of which is assembled in the new exhibition, has been uncovered to support the families’ claims. The exhibition shares moving testimonies from mothers who had their children taken from them, often by force. It also reveals their experiences of condescension and racism by the Israeli authorities towards them, and how they were frequently accused of being unfit to raise their own children.
Documents and photographs reproduced in the exhibition record the policy of systematically separating Yemenite children from their parents, and how this led to their disconnection and disappearance. The exhibition also charts the role of so-called “baby homes” in housing “lost” children and putting them up for adoption.
While the disappearances took place in Israel, the exhibition documents how international women’s organisations, including some based in the United Kingdom, were also a crucial part of the story. Publicity material from the time shows that volunteers, donors, tourists, and members of the public around the world were aware of, and involved with work, with the children and shared assumptions about the “unfitness” of the parents, and even visited the “baby homes” when many parents could not.
The organisations involved still operate today, and many of the disappeared children could still be alive. Now families, campaigners, and researchers are hoping that conversations and awareness generated by the Empty Cradles exhibition may encourage members of the public with knowledge about these events to come forward.
This exhibition is produced by researchers at Queen Mary University of London and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (grant reference AH/S012982/1). For press enquiries please email Lindsey Frodsham at email@example.com
Organiser: Queen Mary University, Brunei Gallery SOAS
A new exhibition opening at the Brunei Gallery will share stories of how the children of Jewish migrants in Israel were systematically removed from their parents in the 1940s and 50s.
On display from Friday 23 September to Saturday 10 December, Empty Cradles: Israel’s Disappeared Children brings together documents and photographs exposing the Israeli State policy of systematically separating Yemenite children from their parents and explains the role of so-called “baby homes” in housing these “lost” children and putting them up for adoption. The exhibition will also feature moving testimonies by mothers whose children were taken away by force, detailing the racism and condescension they experienced from the authorities.
To mark the opening of this groundbreaking exhibition, we spoke to one of the curators of the exhibition, Dr James Eastwood. James’s research concentrates on Israeli politics and society. We asked him a few questions about the importance of sharing these stories and what he hopes visitors will take away from the exhibition.
When did you first learn of the disappearances of children in Israel? What were your aims when you started this research?
I first learned of the disappearances from the work of the Amram Association, an Israeli organisation that campaigns for justice and recognition. They have done vital work in collecting testimonies from the affected families and raising awareness.
My aim with the research was initially to find out why this happened and what it could tell us about the nature of Israeli society. I’m still very interested in those questions. But as I worked more closely with Amram, they made me appreciate that we still need to investigate something much more fundamental: what actually happened to these children? Thousands of families have never received a satisfactory answer to this question, and there is much that we still do not know. The exhibition is an attempt to raise public awareness, but it is also an attempt to gather information. There are people and organisations, including some potentially based in the UK and around the world, who might know something – however small – which could help us uncover more of the truth.
What do you think were the reasons behind the widespread removal of children?
The immediate reason was a widespread belief among the Israeli medical and welfare authorities that these children would be better off away from their parents and placed in somebody else’s care. Their parents were seen as unfit to look after their own children, and even as a danger to them. The narrative of needing to “rescue” the children was very strong. But I think this immediate rationale also needs to be put in a wider political context, not only of racism towards the families but of the project of trying to build a new state and populate it with the “right kind” of people. There are strong parallels with comparable colonial projects – in the United States, Canada, or Australia, for example.
The new Israeli state was trying to establish its control over territory that it had recently conquered in war, and it was also absorbing a huge number of new Jewish immigrants – many of them from the Middle East and North Africa. These immigrants brought with them ways of life that the founders of the state viewed with suspicion and condescension. While the parents were often seen as beyond redemption, their children were seen as a malleable new generation who could make more of a contribution to the state – if they could be wrestled from their families.
How did racism play into the narrative of ‘unfit’ parents?
Racism is really crucial for understanding how this narrative operated. Modern hygiene was seen as a crucial component of European and Western identity, and this is the kind of society that the Zionist movement believed it was trying to build in Israel. Women’s organisations, in particular, believed in pursuing Western standards of cleanliness, infant care, and nutrition as a means of “civilising” new immigrants to the state. In addition, they stigmatised parents – and especially mothers – from the Middle East and North Africa as ignorant, unhygienic, neglectful, superstitious, and also often abusive.
The research of Dafna Hirsch in particular has been crucial for helping me understand this. The authorities also believed that centuries of living in Islamic societies had bred problematic attitudes towards infant welfare and had led to racial degeneration, which even manifested itself in the physical weakness of the children. When they removed the children from their parents, they believed they were rescuing them from racial deterioration and raising them in a modern setting. You can see this clearly in the literature they produced about their work, some of which we show in the exhibition. They emphasised the cleanliness and order of the “baby homes” they ran, highlighted the deficiencies of the mothers, and contrasted the babies’ brown skin with the whiteness of the linen and nurses’ aprons.
Have there been instances in other historical contexts of this happening? What makes this case particularly unique?
Yes, such instances were unfortunately common in the history of the twentieth century. Canada, the United States, and Australia systematically removed Indigenous families from their parents and placed them in boarding schools or gave them up for adoption. Britain removed working class children from their parents and sent them to the colonies to work as farm labourers. Many Latin American regimes also removed children from political dissidents, Indigenous communities, and the working classes. There are many more cases besides this – Spain, Ireland, Switzerland, the list is sadly long.
Israel is not the only country with a difficult past to confront. But there are a few unusual features of the Israeli case which make it distinctive. The first is the prominent role of medical institutions, including hospitals, in the removals – this is not something we commonly see elsewhere, where churches, schools, and prisons were the usual settings. The second is the fact that, unlike similar colonial contexts, the principal target for the removals was not the existing Palestinian population, but a racialised group of new Jewish arrivals to the state. We don’t often see this pattern elsewhere. And finally, Israel is also unusual because a full reckoning with the past has yet to take place. Thorough investigations, truth and reconciliation, apologies, and compensation have generally taken place elsewhere. While this has not always been to the fullest extent needed, in Israel, the process has been particularly lagging and inadequate. The problem is still commonly denied.
What do you think justice looks like for the families and children involved?
This is not really for me to say. But the demands which have been put forward by the Amram Association and others representing the families have included: a call for official recognition of the affair and its racist background; a public investigation of the medical aspects and scientific evidence, including DNA; adding the affair to school curricula in Israel; transparency in releasing relevant archival material; establishing a professional body to locate the children; compensation; and clearing the name of campaigners who struggled for recognition in the past who were vilified, including the late Rabbi Uzi Meshulam. Above all, whatever steps are taken need to be agreed with the families and satisfy their demand for answers.
Why did you feel it was important to tell/show people this story through an exhibition?
Exhibitions allow people to imagine and empathise with situations that they have not encountered themselves, but also to make connections with their own knowledge or experiences. For this exhibition, we wanted to connect people with a very unusual and difficult set of circumstances in a place and time quite far removed from them. But also to encourage them to see how this could relate to attitudes or practices, and perhaps even institutions and people they might recognise. Even though the events depicted took place in Israel, some of the organisations involved were founded and funded worldwide, including in the UK. One of the things that surprised us when researching the exhibition was how much material about these children was available in English and produced for English-speaking audiences and how much access people from Europe and North America had to the spaces to which the children were taken. And one theory that we wanted to explore and seek information about is the possibility that some of these children may have ended up abroad, as many people suspect.
What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?
Most fundamentally I hope the exhibition will raise awareness and persuade people of the injustice that took place. I want people to hear the voices of the families affected, and to understand the experiences and evidence which give weight to their concerns. I hope that people will leave the exhibition better informed about this story, with a sense that serious and legitimate questions still need to be answered about what happened to these children.
Do you hope that some of the children and families involved in this come forward after seeing the exhibition?
This is exactly what we are hoping for, even though we recognise this could be very difficult to achieve. More stories of disappearances and more accounts from people with questions about their childhood are coming to light all the time. With each person that comes forward to share their experience, we learn something new and important. But adoption and family reunion are complex processes. Some will wish these matters to remain private, and that is their right. We do not pretend that coming forward would be easy for those affected, and we want to be as respectful as possible of the pain and trauma this can involve, as well as of the positive experiences people have with their adoptive families.
Beyond the families and children directly affected, there may also be those with information or knowledge which could help others to answer their burning questions. A growing number of people who worked in the organisations where the disappearances took place have also given testimonies. Coming forward does not necessarily mean making a public disclosure. We encourage anyone who has a story or information to share to contact the Amram Association.
In the early years of the State of Israel, and especially in the fifties, thousands of babies and toddlers disappeared from their families – families of immigrants who came to Israel and were housed in transit and absorption camps. About two-thirds of the children were from families of Yemenite immigrants. According to low estimates, in those years every eighth child of a Yemenite family disappeared. The remaining third of the children were from other Mizrachi families – Tunisian, Moroccan, Libyan, Iraqi and others – and a small number were children of families who immigrated from the Balkans. Thousands of testimonies by parents indicate a similar method: parents were asked to give their children to nurseries or hospitals under the pretext that there “they will be given more appropriate care.” Sometimes children were violently taken by social workers or nurses, placed in ambulances and forcibly transferred to these institutions. The parents were not allowed to stay with their children and were told to go home and to return only to breastfeed their babies. A few days later the parents were told that their child had died. The parents never saw their child’s body and were not allowed to take their child to be buried. In many cases, parents did not receive a death certificate or received it much later, retroactively. A few dozen children were returned to their parents after the latter’s fierce protests, but the fate of most of the children is unknown. Many appeals to law enforcement agencies, government offices and various officials were unsuccessful. The children were not located and proof of their deaths was not found. On the contrary: some of them were found years later in the bosom of other families.
The affair came to light again a few years later, when most of the families received draft orders from the IDF for the children pronounced as “dead.” Over the years, and only after strong public criticism, official inquiries were conducted by the state. The first was an inter-ministerial joint committee of the Departments of Justice and Police, which operated between 1967 and 1968 (the Bahlul- Minkowski Committee). The Shalgi Committee, which was defined as a committee of inquiry and operated between 1984 and 1988, was the second committee. Only in the late nineties, after the protest of the late Rabbi Uzi Meshulam was the official investigative committee established, and it published its findings in 2001. Later a gag order was placed on all the committee’s materials, until 2066. All the committees concluded that most of the babies had died, and that the fate of about a dozen babies is unknown. The fact that the important materials of the investigation remained inaccessible and confidential for another seventy years creates serious resentment.
The manner in which the investigation committee dismissed the children’s disappearance is deeply disturbing. The Committee found it necessary to note that in those years official records were improperly taken and were in evident disarray, in order to dismiss the records in which it was documented that the babies had not died. At the same time, it relied upon lists of infants’ deaths that were composed retroactively, and accepted such records as a credible and reliable source of information. The committee did not see fit to investigate why two important archives related to the affair were destroyed around the time this committee operated, and it was satisfied with the explanation that the archives were destroyed “by mistake.” Moreover, the Committee focused on examining the claim of “establishment kidnappings,” but did not consider that it is highly possible that the disappearance of the children was a phenomenon which took place in parallel channels, under the auspices of an indifferent establishment which looked the other way, rather than being a result of a direct instruction or an expressed intention of the establishment (for further reading see Prof. Boaz Sangero’s article – Hebrew).
The adoptees and the missing adoption flies
Over the years we learn of more and more stories of children who went missing, and at the same time – of adults who have discovered they are adopted, and are trying to locate their biological parents. The adoptees all speak of a similar experience – on the one hand the desire to find out who their real parents are, and on the other hand – the great difficulty of confronting their adoptive parents, who perceive this move as ingratitude and distrust. Even those who manage to overcome these difficulties, tell us that in fact it is impossible for them to locate the biological family – adoption files do not exist, or exist but contain only partial records, and this does not enable them to locate the biological family. Families seeking to locate their children who disappeared encounter similar problems: non-existent documents, incomplete records, forged signatures and procedures which block access to information (especially in the Ministry of the Interior). Even in cases where parents were able to locate their child, they cannot force the disclosure on the child, for both legal and emotional reasons.
The tragedy of the families and the adopted children is manifold – the many parents whose child was taken away and have passed away in recent years without ever learning of his/her fate; children who were separated from their parents and families, many forced into institutions and orphanages, believing that they were abandoned by their parents; siblings and entire communities that grew up in the shadow of this tragedy. The families continue to bear the pain of this affair even now – when the denial and concealment prevent them from finding out what happened to their loved ones, or from the chance of finding some comfort in discovering what occurred, and perhaps reuniting with their disappeared children and siblings. (For further reading about the adoptees see Shlomi Hatuka’s investigative report).
Similar affairs from around the world
Similar affairs in the Western world, of removing babies and children from their parents, and handing them over to “more worthy” families or to institutions, have come to light in recent years. In Canada, Australia, and Switzerland children were taken out of families perceived as “backward,” and given to adoption or sent to an institution, as part of a policy of “assimilation” designed to re-educate those groups and eliminate their spiritual and cultural existence. In Ireland, young women who gave birth out of wedlock were forced to give their children up for adoption, imposed by Catholic institutions with the state’s approval. About 1,500 children and infants were taken from their families in the colony of Reunion and sent to France. They were falsely promised education and welfare there, but in practice they served as cheap labor, suffered psychological , physical, and sexual abuse, and were entirely cut off from their families. In Argentine, hundreds of babies of dissident parents were kidnapped during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. In Spain thousands of babies were kidnapped close to their birth and sold for adoption after the parents were told that their child had died. The kidnapping was committed for financial gain, and it involved nurses, doctors, private hospitals and nuns. In many cases, exposing the affairs resulted in media exposure and heavy public pressure that eventually led to procedures of inquiry, recognition and the acceptance of responsibility by the state.
In the affairs referred to here, several factors that enabled the deeds exist simultaneously – racism, and a patronizing attitude that assumes there are parents and families who especially deserve to raise children, and on the other hand – there are families who do not deserve to raise their children, “inferior” people from whom it is acceptable and even desirable to take away the children. Families from the “wrong” groups – poor families, families of low social status, single mothers or families with a different culture or a different political outlook – all these are seen as groups that cannot and do not deserve to raise their children. These affairs, like the disappearance of the children of Yemen, the East and the Balkans, can be termed “crimes of racism and patronising”.
Demands and Goals
Official recognition of the affair of the children’s disappearance – infants and toddlers were taken from their parents by fraud and coercion. The children were given to adoption, sometimes sold for money, sometimes transferred to orphanages, all without their parents’ knowledge or approval.
Official recognition of the of the racist background of the affair – these actions became possible in the context of a racist and discriminatory perception of the immigrant families, most of them immigrants from the East, as families that are incapable and do not deserve to raise their children.
A public investigation of the medical and scientific aspects of the affair. The state must come clean regarding the nature of the medical treatments used on the immigrants, including experimental treatments for scientific research which were used on the immigrants without their consent.
Adding the affair of the children of Yemen, the East and the Balkans to secondary school curricula.
Complete public transparency regarding the affair, and the release of all the relevant materials and documents which are in government and private archives, in order to enable the children to be located and all the levels of the truth about the affair to be exposed.
Setting up a professional body for locating each of the children, including funding DNA tests for the families and the adoptees, and examining adoption and late registration files.
Clearing the name of Rabbi Uzi Meshulam.
Compensation for the victims of the affair
We have a number of purposes for re-igniting the public debate on the affair:
Providing a space for the families and their stories, for the enormous pain and suffering that was their lot, which continues to be denied by Israeli society. Even today the families are treated as suffering from “hallucinations,” and sometimes parents are even accused of abandoning their children. The families, who lost hope that the affair will be handled appropriately by the establishment, continued carrying the open wound without being able to speak legitimately about the tragedy that struck them. Therefore, the primary goal of our consciousness-raising evenings is “community healing” – not to wait for recognition by the establishment but to work within the community and for the community to alleviate even a little of the suffering of the families.
Carrying out the wishes of the deceased parents- many parents whose children disappeared continued to search for them, and they left us a will: “We want our children to know we did not abandon them.” Knowing this is important not only for the families but also for adopted children who grew up with a serious feeling of abandonment.
Applying public pressure to open the archives that are closed to the public. We demand to open the relevant files to any family and anyone who requests them, in order to understand what happened to their missing children, as well as full access to the testimonies given to the investigation committee by the different agents involved in the affair.
Israeli society must recognize the case as a serious crime of patronizing. The removal of children from their families by force and deceit is defined by the UN as genocide. Israeli society must learn from this affair of the dangers of racist and patronizing attitudes, and conduct some serious soul-searching concerning the past and present of this society.
Naama Katiee on the Kidnapped Children Affair (from the web series, “Prophets” – with English subtitles)
Last week, an interesting article was posted on the Bashaar-IL forum from Times Higher Education, titled “Do universities teach critical thinking skills?”
The article attracted considerable attention, and scholars debated what universities provide their students.
The article discusses a book that was recently published, which claims that “There’s a discrepancy in that people are qualified – they have the stamp from universities that says they can do certain occupations – but then employers find they don’t have the skills needed for the workplace.”
The book discusses the results of tests conducted by the OECD that were published on 30 August under the question ‘Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?’ The results were disappointing since only 45 percent of the students were proficient in critical thinking.
One of the book authors said, “Critical thinking is a skill that I think [many people] just assume is taught… Universities, at least the ones that we have talked to, have said ‘It is not our job; they should have learned these things in high school’…everyone feels like it is somebody else’s responsibility to teach these things.”
The book suggests that some of the world’s “largest employers are losing faith that a good university qualification guarantees a candidate of a certain quality.”
Interestingly, however, none of the scholars mentioned the case of the critical theory, the postmodern theory that permeated the social sciences along with the neo-Marxist scholarship.
The two theories hijacked the liberal arts education in favor of a dogmatic view of reality comporting with the left-leaning political agenda of scholar-activists.
Hundreds of Israeli scholar-activists have been recruited to teach critical, neo-Marxist themes in the last three decades. They have been promoting each other.
For example, when Neve Gordon, then a professor at Ben Gurion University Department of Politics and Government, wrote his book Israel’s Occupation at UC Berkeley under the guidance of Nezar AlSayyad in 2005, he wrote that since 1967, during the Israeli occupation’s first two decades, in the health field, “practices were introduced to encourage women to give birth at hospitals (a means of decreasing infant mortality rates and monitoring population growth) and to promote vaccinations (in order to decrease the incidence of contagious and noncontagious diseases). Palestinian teachers were sent to seminars in Jerusalem, where they were instructed in methods of ‘correct’ teaching. A series of vocational schools were established to prepare Palestinians who wished to join the Israeli workforce, and model plots were created to train farmers. Many of these controlling devices aimed to increase the economic productivity of the Palestinian inhabitants and to secure the well-being of the population.”
Most unbiased readers would applaud Israel for helping the Palestinians to improve their living standards. But for Gordon, all these good measures were “Biopower,” a term taken from critical theory denoting the means of governing and control.
As for promoting each other, Professor Yehouda Shenhav, another critical scholar who was recruited to research the Sociology of Organizations but shifted to exploring the “Arab Jews,” helped to recruit Yael Berda to the Sociology Department at the Hebrew University. Berda has recently published an article about Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy, that “British colonialism here is not a thing of the past.” She writes. “Israel-Palestine is one of the few remaining places in the world where the organizing principles of British colonialism form the basis for present-day bureaucratic, legal, and political mechanisms. One of the central characteristics of British colonialism is the combination of racial hierarchy and extreme violence meted out against non-European subjects.”
According to Berda, Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy “looms large over the Israeli regime’s obsession with separation and segregation of communities and its racial discrimination against native and ‘uncultured’ groups.”
Berda’s article is another example of “critical” theory.
Using the term “critical” scholarship for denoting leftist agenda robbed students of engaging in critical thinking.
Professional services giant PwC’s recent announcement that new recruits will no longer require at least a 2:1 degree was seen by many as the latest sign that some of the world’s largest employers are losing faith that a good university qualification guarantees a candidate of a certain quality.
The firm is by no means the first to look for new ways of determining the talent and potential of recent graduates as employers become increasingly vocal about the supposed failures of even the top universities to ensure that those entering the workforce have obtained the status of being “job-ready”.
In response, governments and policymakers around the world have emphasised the need for more practical, vocational degree courses that are closely tied to real-world experiences. But a new publication from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) argues that it is in the teaching of more generic critical thinking skills where universities can make the most difference.
“There’s a discrepancy in that people are qualified – they have the stamp from universities that says they can do certain occupations – but then employers find they don’t have the skills needed for the workplace,” said Dirk Van Damme, who co-edited the new book and recently retired as the OECD’s head of innovation.
“The assessment done by universities doesn’t guarantee that candidates have the problem-solving skills that employers think are important, and so they have to find ways to test this themselves.”
The notion that institutions are lacking in this regard has long been suspected, and the researchers behind the study think they may finally have come up with a way to prove it.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because it is. Many of those involved in the research also worked on the OECD’s aborted Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes (Ahelo) project, which sought to establish a global system for assessing students’ skills at the end of their degrees.
Billed as a university-level equivalent of the highly influential Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) tests for school pupils, the scheme faced stiff opposition from elite institutions – some of which were arguably motivated by fears for their positions at the top of the hierarchy if teaching outcomes were to become better known.
More fundamental questions were also raised about whether such skills could accurately be assessed across institutions and borders, and the project fell apart in 2015.
A handful of countries remained committed to the idea, however, and have been testing students’ critical thinking skills ever since using the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+), developed by the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), a US-based non-profit. The assessment includes a performance task and set of questions designed to test a student’s cognitive thinking, rather than their ability to recall knowledge.
“There’s no way that any one specific assessment can measure all of critical thinking,” acknowledged Doris Zahner, CAE’s chief academic officer and the co-editor of the new book.
“What we do really well is measure a specific, well-defined component of critical thinking: namely, analytical reasoning and evaluation and problem-solving,” she said.
“That includes data literacy, understanding quantitative information, being able to gather information from various sources and then making a decision based on this and crafting an answer that supports your argument and refutes the opposite – that’s what the assessment does.”
The results of the tests, published by the OECD on 30 August in the book Does Higher Education Teach Students to Think Critically?, are stark: on average, only 45 per cent of tested university students were proficient in critical thinking, while one in five demonstrated only “emerging” talent in this area.
What’s more, the “learning gain” of students between the start and the end of their courses was found to be small on average, while there were big discrepancies between courses, with those studying fields closely aligned to real-world occupations – such as business, agriculture and health – scoring the worst.
For Dr Van Damme, the results reflect a move away from the teaching of critical thinking in higher education, with less emphasis being placed on engaging with content and with some sectors abandoning exercises such as essay writing.
“Critical thinking is a skill that I think [many people] just assume is taught,” Dr Zahner said. But she pointed out that it has never been reported in university transcripts, so there has traditionally been no way of knowing if a student has developed these skills. “Universities, at least the ones that we have talked to, have said ‘It is not our job; they should have learned these things in high school’…everyone feels like it is somebody else’s responsibility to teach these things,” she said.
The authors recognise the limitations of the research, particularly the self-selecting sample of students, confined mostly to campuses in the US, with only a fraction coming from the other five countries taking part – Chile, Finland, Italy, Mexico and the UK – meaning that data for these countries could not be said to be representative.
But the authors believe they have demonstrated that “an international, cross-cultural, comparative assessment of generic learning outcomes of higher education is feasible”.
While the OECD does not yet seem to have mustered the will for another go at instigating an Ahelo-type project, the study’s repercussions could be major.
“What I personally believe this will do is lay the foundations for placing greater weight on the quality of teaching in higher education,” Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills, told a launch event for the book in Hamburg.
He said that employers had “seen through” the degree system and that students were becoming more discerning consumers because they were having to shoulder more of the cost of their education.
Therefore, he continued, it was getting harder to “hide poor teaching behind great research”, while demand for skills that were easiest to test and teach – such as memorising and regurgitating knowledge – were exactly the areas that were losing value most quickly.
“Teaching excellence needs to obtain the same status – the same recognition – as academic research, which is still the dominant metric for valuing academic institutions, whether you look at rankings, research assessment frameworks or performance-based funding,” Mr Schleicher said.
To critics, all this sounds suspiciously like groundwork for the creation of a new ranking, something that was never an aim of Ahelo even though many thought its data were likely to eventually feed into institutions’ scores in global league tables.
Dr Van Damme said that while many criticisms of rankings were justified, there should be a recognition that they are not going to go away and, therefore, it would be better to find ways to ensure that they accurately reflect the quality of teaching – something that could change the complexion of league tables completely.
“In an ideal world, where you have as much transparency for teaching and learning as you have for research, there would be a profound impact not only on rankings but the hierarchy and landscape of the system,” he said.
“It is certainly not the case that universities that are excellent in research are also automatically excellent in teaching and learning; and if you placed greater weight on teaching, you would get different results [in rankings].”
As well as an upheaval in institutional reputation, greater focus on the teaching of critical thinking could fundamentally alter the types of courses that are seen as necessary for societies and economies to thrive, according to Dr Van Damme.
Politically influenced drives towards utilitarian approaches to education that produce students who are immediately employable in a certain occupation – which tend to favour the STEM subjects – neglect to consider volatility in the labour market and the need to train young people for their entire lifetime, he said.
“The economy and labour market are in transformation because of digitalisation, and so the job reality in 10 years’ time will be completely different from today. There should be more interest in teaching the generic skills that matter in the long term,” he added.
In this world, it is the much-maligned humanities that truly come into their own, and the CLA+ results showed that those students pursuing these fields displayed much higher levels of critical thinking, according to Dr Van Damme.
He said studies have demonstrated that while vocational training produces better employability results in the short term, these wane after five years and “those with better generic skills have much better employability and earning prospects over a lifetime”.
Dr Zahner said universities would likely come under increased pressure from industry and governments to address these issues, whether they like it or not.
“Hopefully the universities will hear this messaging. It’s great if you can graduate your students, but it is not so great if you graduate all these students and they don’t have success in their careers. We’re hoping being able to increase critical thinking skills will be able to close that gap.”
The Queen is dead, but her colonial legacy lives on in Israel-Palestine
While the British Mandate ended 74 years ago, its legacy of racial hierarchy, divide and rule, and emergency regulations is still visible in Israeli policy.
By Yael Berda September 20, 2022
This article was published in partnership with Local Call.
Of all the countries Queen Elizabeth II visited over the course of her 70-year reign — of which there were over 120 — she never once set foot in Israel. But she needn’t have; the legacy of the British Mandate continues to have a tangible impact on the day-to-day management of the Israeli regime.
Israelis tend to think about the British Mandate as a historical remnant, and the rule of the Monarchy as a brief moment in time that belongs in the past. Israeli Jews who hold liberal views often joke that they hope for the “return of the British Mandate,” as if British rule over Palestine ushered in an era of infrastructure and efficiency, replete with cars, maps, statistics, and electricity. The implication is that ever since the British left, things have only gone downhill.
While they may say these things in jest, British colonialism here is not a thing of the past. In fact, Israel-Palestine is one of the few remaining places in the world where the organizing principles of British colonialism form the basis for present-day bureaucratic, legal, and political mechanisms.
One of the central characteristics of British colonialism is the combination of racial hierarchy and extreme violence meted out against non-European subjects, with a near-obsessive preoccupation with political legitimacy and legal normativity. In other words: a fixation on the rule of law.
Since the days of the East India Company— which was the first to use emergency legislation to establish the death penalty and the practice of deportation — this obsession meant that as long as there was some semblance of procedure, any violence against a given population could be justified under the pretext of warding off “security risks.” As “hostile” natives increasingly resisted the violence of empire, however, the definition of “security risks” had to be muddied further.
In recent years, historians of the British Empire from across the political spectrum have come to understand that colonialism and liberalism — including the importance of the “rule of law” as a supreme value — cannot be separated. But while the world tries to rid itself of this legacy and begins to think about decolonization in the realm of politics, society, and even the economy, it ignores the fact that British colonialism continues to shape the lives of citizens, residents, and subjects between the river and the sea.
The British administrators in the colonies realized fairly quickly that they could not maintain control over native people through force alone. Therefore, they began to adopt advanced population management methods, including the classification of different populations in accordance with their supposed level of security risk. This is the first organizing principle of colonial bureaucracy: the systematic separation of populations, followed by the creation of separate governing practices for each group.
Another key tool used by the British was the restriction of movement. This was done through declaring closed military zones; administrative detentions; preventing passage from one colony or subdistrict to another; and permit regimes, which blocked, limited, and slowed the movement of the population. British surveillance systems turned not only policemen and soldiers into sources of control and intelligence, but also teachers, postal clerks, and medical staff.
One can recognize some of these colonial organizing principles in Israel-Palestine today. They are, of course, most strongly expressed in the privileged treatment of Jewish settlements on both sides of the Green Line — whether the kibbutzim and moshavim inside Israel, or the settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The first principle is racial hierarchy: initially between Europeans and natives, and later within Jewish population groups— Mizrahim, Ethiopians, Jews from former Soviet states — according to how “cultured” they are. The second principle is administrative flexibility, meaning the management by officials in the field, due to their proximity to the subject population, rather than by laws passed in parliament.
The third is secrecy. While most bureaucracies work with published laws, colonial bureaucracy uses secret laws, unknown decrees, directives, and internal regulations that even colonial officials don’t know about, cloaked under the guise of threats to security or “the order of the colony.” The fourth is personalization. A person’s identity determines the laws or the practices that will be applied to him — the exact opposite of equality before the law. The fifth is the creation of exceptions. This form of control is actually based on a collection of exceptions, which constantly change in a routine manner, as opposed to long-term planning.
Legacies of racial separation and partition
In Israel, the historical relationship between Zionism and British colonialism is usually considered through two prisms. The first is that of the final two years of the British Mandate, during which the three Jewish underground organizations — Haganah, Etzel, and Lehi — declared armed struggle against British rule to expel the occupiers, which the colonial authorities deemed “terrorism.”
The second prism through which the relationship is viewed is that of one of the main tools of the executive authority in Israel: emergency legislation. We tend to forget that both the construction of relations between Jews and Palestinians as one of racial hierarchy, as well as the 1947 Partition Plan — which sought to split Palestine between Palestinians, who made up the majority of the population at the time, and mostly Jewish settlers — were both born out of an imperial desire to manage the conflict while maintaining its control and influence over the region.
When the British Mandate came to an end, the newly established State of Israel adopted the (Emergency) Defense Regulations, enacted by the British during its rule, which grant extraordinary powers to Israel’s executive authority. In fact, a declared state of emergency has been in effect ever since the founding of the state.|
There is no doubt that these regulations are the beating heart of the Israeli regime, nor is there any doubt that their abolition is an essential step on the way to the establishment of a truly democratic regime. In practice, the Defense Regulations shaped how Israel’s first governments treated its Jewish opposition, but most importantly it shaped the military government that ruled over Palestinian citizens of Israel between 1949 and 1966, allowing the government to seize Palestinian land and property under the guise of “military necessity,” and prevent Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons from returning to the homes that the state expropriated after 1948 as “absentee property.”
The organizational infrastructure of the occupation is also based on the emergency regulations. While preparing military orders for a possible future military occupation in 1963, four whole years before Israel would come to control the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the army cut out the words “His Majesty” as the ultimate sovereign in the region, and replaced them with “the military commander of the area.” Israel’s Supreme Court, far from questioning the existence of these regulations, has continually upheld their legitimacy and the military occupation that derived from it.
Israel’s anti-terrorism law, which was passed by the Knesset in 2016 and which contains broad and vague definitions of terrorism while entrenching many of these emergency regulations into law, turned British colonial legal tools that had been in use for 80 years into legislation. This same logic — which transforms any political risk into a security risk — was the motivation behind the decision by Defense Ministry Benny Gantz to declare six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groupsand try to have them shut down.
Queen Elizabeth II’s legacy is not only seen in Israel’s emergency regulations. It looms large over the Israeli regime’s obsession with separation and segregation of communities and its racial discrimination against native and “uncultured” groups living between the river and sea under a single government, without fixed borders of sovereignty. In that sense, even in her passing, the empire she represented is still very much with us.
A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.
Yael Berda is an assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at Hebrew University and a visiting researcher at Harvard Kennedy School. She is the author of ‘The Bureaucracy of the Occupation’ and ‘Living Emergency: Israel’s Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank.’
Recently, a group of thirty-eight Jewish scholars, among them prominent figures of the radical political left, have written “A letter from Jewish Scholars to the UN.” The group, which describes itself as “scholars, experts and Jewish leaders,” addressed their letter to Mr. Federico Villegas, President of the UN Human Rights Council, with copies sent to Mr. António Guterres, UN Security-General, and Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, UN High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC).
They expressed concern over the “instrumentalization of antisemitism against UN Commission of Inquiry.”
The letter was triggered by an interview with Miloon Kothari, a member of a commission to investigate human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The U.N. Human Rights Council created the commission during the Israel-Gaza conflict in May 2021. In the interview published by the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss, Kothari used the phrase “Jewish lobby,” a well-worn antisemitic trope. Kothari said: “We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by – whether it is the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us, but the important thing is our mandate is based on international human rights and humanitarian standards and that we are all seeking the truth… the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a U.N. member state. They, in fact, consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine U.N. mechanisms.” After a storm of protest, Kothari was forced to apologize.
In their letter, the Jewish scholars and activists praised Kothari’s apology: “we agree that ’s words in a recent interview about Israel’s UN status and ‘the Jewish lobby’ were mistaken and poorly chosen. We therefore welcome Mr. Kothari’s letter to you, in which he clarified his intentions and expressed regret about the offense his words have caused.”
However, the signatories agree with Kothari’s message: “Mr. Kothari was specifically criticizing Israel’s systematic refusal to cooperate with UN investigations and the escalating campaigns by politically-motivated groups to discredit and delegitimize the work of the UN Human Rights Council in general and the UN Commission of Inquiry in particular. Neither of these critiques are in and of themselves antisemitic, although both should have been articulated appropriately and with more sensitivity.”
The letter states, “In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic. Regrettably, the Israeli government has been applying the same approach.”
For the Jewish scholars and activists, right-wing groups and the Israeli government are “seizing this opportunity to leverage allegations of antisemitism, in order to divert attention from the gross human rights violations taking place in Israel-Palestine.” The group ends by urging the Human Rights Council “not let this political instrumentalization, which targets the human rights mandate and mission of the UN as such, succeed. Undermining and blocking human rights investigations in such circumstances neither helps the global fight against antisemitism, nor international efforts to secure and protect the human rights and well-being of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Human rights in Israel and Palestine and the safety and well-being of Jews across the world must both be advanced. Indeed, these are two mutually reinforcing goals.”
Among the group are several well-known radical Israeli political activists, including Moshe Behar, Alon Confino, Amos Goldberg, Eva Illouz, Anat Matar, Atalia Omer, Adi Ophir, Raz Segal, Oren Yiftachel, and Moshe Zuckermann. The group includes prominent Jewish figures, among them Peter Beinart and scholars such as Sara Roy, Ian S. Lustick, and Libby Lenkinski, the vice-president of the New Israel Fund.
There are several problems with their letter. The group’s concern is with the charge of antisemitism in the words that Kothari expressed. They don’t see any problem with an investigator’s biased views against the subject of his inquiry. It is unacceptable that an investigator is selected when it is known he holds biased and prejudiced views before his investigation.
Some of the scholars have held anti-Israel and anti-semitic views themselves. Prof. Adi Ophir once described Israel in a co-authored article, “the garbage heap of Europe.” Prof. Moshe Zuckermann once called the Israeli soldier “Kalgas,” loosely translated as a Nazi-like soldier. Prof. Oren Yiftachel pioneered the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Dr. Anat Matar has been calling for BDS against Israel for two decades. Profs. Alon Confino and Amos Goldberg often equate the Holocaust to the self-inflicted Palestinian Nakba. Moreover, by negating the right of “right-wing” views, the group aligns itself with left-wing views, suggesting that right-wing views are not morally accepted. Clearly, expressing concerns about human rights abuses is not truly what motivates the group.
There are often reports on human rights abuses by the two Palestinian dictatorships against the Palestinian people, such as the hanging of dissenters, physical abuses, and the abuse of children by turning them into soldiers. Not once did these Jewish and Israeli scholars express their dismay. For that matter, neither did the UN Human Rights body.
More to the point, the scholars failed to discuss the broader issue of antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiments in the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights. For once, the Palestinian probe is unprecedented in the sense that it is open-ended. No other country, even the most egregious human rights violators, was subjected to an open-ended examination of its record. Navi Pillay, the former High Commission for Human Rights and the head of the Palestinian commission, has lobbied for sanctions against the “Israeli apartheid state.”
To recall, the widely adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) states that using double standards to target the Jewish state alone is antisemitic. Just because these scholars are Jewish or Israelis does not absolve them from the charge of antisemitism. Even worse, they are being used as stooges by antisemitic and anti-Zionist regimes eager to prove that Israelis share their views.
Genuine concern for human rights is based on equality. By singling out Israel, the UN Human Rights Council (and the signatories of the letter) are politicizing human rights advocacy and robbing it of the legitimacy needed for success.
TO: UN Human Rights Council Mr. Federico Villegas, President
CC: Mr. António Guterres, UN Security-General Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos, UN High Representative for the UNAOC
Concerns: instrumentalization of antisemitism against UN Commission of Inquiry
Dear President of the Human Rights Council,
As scholars, experts and Jewish leaders, we agree that Miloon Kothari’s words in a recent interview about Israel’s UN status and “the Jewish lobby” were mistaken and poorly chosen. We therefore welcome Mr. Kothari’s letter to you, in which he clarified his intentions and expressed regret about the offense his words have caused.
At the same time, the response to Mr. Kothari’s words deserves our careful attention. Since being aired, his words have been repeatedly misrepresented and mischaracterized.
In his interview, Mr. Kothari was specifically criticizing Israel’s systematic refusal to cooperate with UN investigations and the escalating campaigns by politically-motivated groups to discredit and delegitimize the work of the UN Human Rights Council in general and the UN Commission of Inquiry in particular. Neither of these critiques are in and of themselves antisemitic, although both should have been articulated appropriately and with more sensitivity.
Human rights defenders must apply a level of care and precision in their language when raising their concerns. This is true in every case, including and perhaps especially when it comes to sensitive issues such as the situation in Israel-Palestine. But a parallel responsibility rests on civil society organizations, opinion leaders and governments to honestly reflect the concerns of human rights defenders and to fairly address the context in which they operate.
In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic. Regrettably, the Israeli government has been applying the same approach.
With the recent escalating call from Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid to “disband” the Commission of Inquiry in response to Mr. Kothari’s statements, the Israeli government and groups politically aligned with it are doing exactly that — seizing this opportunity to leverage allegations of antisemitism, in order to divert attention from the gross human rights violations taking place in Israel-Palestine.
We strongly urge you to not let this political instrumentalization, which targets the human rights mandate and mission of the UN as such, succeed.
Undermining and blocking human rights investigations in such circumstances neither helps the global fight against antisemitism, nor international efforts to secure and protect the human rights and well-being of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
Human rights in Israel and Palestine and the safety and well-being of Jews across the world must both be advanced. Indeed, these are two mutually reinforcing goals.
We also welcome the clarifications of Commissioner Navi Pillay in her letter to you and call on all UN Member States, including Israel, to support and protect the Commission of Inquiry in its important work.
Anita Altman, co-founder ReelAbilities Meir Amor, Dr. (ret.), Concordia University, Montreal Leora Auslander, Professor, Associate Chair, Department of Race, Diaspora and Indigeneity; Professor, Department of History; Arthur and Joann Rasmussen Professor of Western Civilization, University of Chicago Moshe Behar, Dr., Programme Director, Arabic & Middle Eastern Studies, School of Arts, Languages & Cultures, The University of Manchester Peter Beinart, Associate Professor of Journalism, Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism; Associate Professor of Political Science, City University of New York Seyla Benhabib, Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science and Philosophy, Emerita, Yale University; Senior Research Associate, Columbia Law School David Biale, Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of History, UC Davis Avraham Burg, former Speaker of Knesset and Head of the Jewish Agency Alon Confino, Pen Tishkach Chair of Holocaust Studies, Professor of History and Jewish Studies, Director Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst Hasia R. Diner, Paul And Sylvia Steinberg Professor of American Jewish History, New York University Debórah Dwork, Director, Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, Graduate Center, City University of New York Efrat Gal-Ed, Professor Dr., Heinrich Heine University, Düsseldorf Katharina Galor, Hirschfeld Senior Lecturer in Judaic Studies, Brown University Amos Goldberg, Professor of Holocaust Studies, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Atina Grossmann, Professor of History, Cooper Union, New York Eva Illouz, Professor, School of Advanced Studies, Paris Natasha Josette, Director, Breathe (UK) Marion Kaplan, Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History, New York University Brian Klug, Dr., Emeritus Fellow in Philosophy, St. Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford Daniel Levy, President, US/Middle East Project Libby Lenkinski, Vice-President, New Israel Fund Ian S. Lustick, Professor Emeritus, Bess W. Heyman Chair, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania Anat Matar, Dr., Department of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University Paul Mendes-Flohr, Professor Emeritus of History and Religious Thought, University of Chicago; Professor Emeritus at the Divinity School, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Atalia Omer, Professor, The Keough School of Global Affairs, The University of Notre Dame; Dermot TJ Dunphy Visiting Professor of Religion, Violence, and Peace Building, Harvard Divinity School Adi Ophir, Professor Emeritus, The Cohn Institute, Tel Aviv University, Visiting Professor, The Cogut Institute, Brown University Katheen Peratis, Co-chair, Jewish Currents Na’ama Rokem, Associate Professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, Director the Joyce Z. and Jacob Greenberg Center for Jewish Studies, University of Chicago Michael Rothberg, Professor, 1939 Society Samuel Goetz Chair in Holocaust Studies, UCLA Sara Roy, Dr., Senior Research Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University Raz Segal, Associate Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Endowed Professor in the Study of Modern Genocide, Stockton University Rachel Shabi, Journalist and Author Simone Susskind, Former Belgian Senator and Former Member of the Brussels Parliament Jessy Tolkan, Founder and President, Drive Agency Barry Trachtenberg, Associate Professor, Rubin Presidential Chair of Jewish History, Wake Forest University Enzo Traverso, Susan and Barton Winokur Professor in the Humanities, Department of Romance Studies, Cornell University Oren Yiftachel, Professor, Lynn and Lloyd Hurst Family Chair of Urban Studies, Geography Department Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba; University College London (Hon.) Moshe Zuckermann, Emeritus Professor in History and Philosophy, Tel Aviv University
(JTA) — A United Nations investigator has apologized for recently using the phrase “Jewish lobby” and suggesting that Israel could lose its U.N. membership, comments that drew widespread condemnation, including from U.S. officials.
Miloon Kothari sent an apology letter on Thursday to Federico Villegas, head of the U.N. Human Rights Council, for statements he made during a podcast interview last week with the anti-Zionist Mondoweiss site.
Kothari is a member of the Human Rights Council’s commission to investigate human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinain Territories that was formed following Israel-Gaza violence in the spring of 2021.
In the interview, he said, “We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by – whether it is the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs, a lot of money is being thrown into trying to discredit us, but the important thing is our mandate is based on international human rights and humanitarian standards and that we are all seeking the truth.”
He added that “the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a U.N. member state. They, in fact, consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine U.N. mechanisms.”
At the time, the head of the commission, Navi Pillay, defended Kothari’s comments as being taken out of context. Deborah Lipstadt, the State Department’s special envoy on antisemitism, and Michèle Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, both condemned Kothari’s rhetoric.
“We are outraged by recent antisemitic, anti-Israel comments made by a member of the Israel COI,” Taylor tweeted last week.
In his letter sent Thursday, Kothari wrote that “It was completely wrong for me to describe the social media as ‘being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby.’ This choice of words was incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive.”
Israel, which has refused to participate in the U.N. commission’s inquiry, was unsatisfied with Kothari’s apology. A deputy director general at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the statement “pitiful” and “unconvincing.”
Dozens of Jewish scholars around the world signed a letter sent to the United Nations which urges member countries to support the UN’s probe into Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
The letter comes after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has come under attack from Israeli groups who accuse the body of being biased and antisemitic in its targeting of Israel.
“In recent years, right-wing advocates, representing both Jewish and non-Jewish groups, have invested enormous energy and resources to frame legitimate criticism of Israel and attempts to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing violations of international law as inherently antisemitic,” the letter read.
The latest pressure on the UN body comes after commissioner Miloon Kothari gave an interview chastising Israel for not cooperating with the investigation, adding that if Israel wants to be part of the UN, it has to abide by its rules.
“I would go as far to raise the question of why are they even a member of the United Nations, because the Israeli government does not respect its own obligations as a UN member state. They in fact consistently, either directly or through the United States, try to undermine UN mechanisms,” he told Mondoweiss.
The UN investigation’s primary critics, Israel and the US, pounced on the statement as evidence of the body’s apparent bias. One pro-Israeli organisation went as far as to accuse Kothari of questioning Israel’s right to exist and antisemitism, charges he denies.
Kothari recently also faced accusations of antisemitism after claiming social media was “being controlled largely by the Jewish lobby”. Kothari later apologised for his remarks, saying his choice of words was “incorrect, inappropriate, and insensitive”.
But the letter’s signatories say that Israel and pro-Israel groups are capitalising on the special rappartour’s remarks to attack the validity of the probe and taint it with claims of antisemitism.
“I signed the letter because I strongly object to practices, all to common, by Israel advocacy groups and by the Israeli government, to avoid substantive discussion of real issues by making ad hominem attacks on critics,” said Ian Lustick, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Atalia Omer, a signatory to the letter and a professor of religion, conflict and peace studies at the University of Notre Dame, told Middle East Eye that the “accusation of antisemitism undergirds and entrenches Israeli impunity”.
“It needs to be called out, especially when deployed to demobilise an inquiry into Israeli state violence at the level of the United Nations.
“The letter is significant because it again demonstrates that many Jewish scholars and public intellectuals reject the weaponisation of antisemitism to avoid holding Israel accountable for its policies and actions while also recognizing that antisemitism is a real phenomenon.”
Last year, the UNHRC agreed to launch an investigation – with a broad mandate – to probe all alleged violations Israel had committed against Palestinians following its May offensive on Gaza, which killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children, according to the UN.
The first of its findings which came out this June said that Israel’s occupation and discrimination against Palestinians are the main causes of the endless cycles of violence in Israel and Israeli-occupied territory, UN investigators have concluded.
Earlier this year, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories also submitted a report to the UNHRC that concluded that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid.