Stanford's Islamist Threat
By: Alyssa A. Lappen
Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Professor Joel Beinin says the chief causes of terrorism are U.S. "imperialism" and Jews.

He denounces American “imperialism” on Al-Jazeera Television. A former Zionist, he refers to jihadist suicide bombers as “martyrs.” He praised Mideast scholars for ignoring the issue of terrorism, and he regularly repeats the most twisted and paranoid claims of Islamist regimes as though they were historical fact. He is Stanford Middle East history professor Joel Beinin, and his influence extends far beyond his classroom.

If one individual can showcase all the flaws of Middle East Studies in academia, Joel Beinin is that man. A former president of the Middle East Studies Association, Beinin teaches Middle East history at Stanford University. This professor’s politics color his work; the result is mediocre scholarship, baseless conspiracy theories, and partisan classroom instruction.

Beinin’s biography reads like a parody of an American radical. Born in 1948 to Labor Zionist parents,[1] he experienced an ideological transformation at age 22 while living on Kibbutz Lahav.  Beinin joined the “New Left” at Hebrew University, then migrated to Trotskyite anti-Zionism and finally to Maoism.[2] A Marxist ever since,[3] he received his BA, MA, and Ph.D. from Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Michigan respectively. He has received Ford Foundation funds, and has taught in France, Britain, Israel and Egypt.[4] 


Beinin and his wife Miriam support the Jewish Voice for Peace,[5] a Bay area group and reported Palestinian front.[6]  The professor appears regularly on radical Radio Pacifica,[7] although he refuses many local invitations to legitimate debate.[8]  Beinin blames the United States for major problems facing the Middle East, and he attributes U.S. actions to aggression and ill will.  Just a few examples of his most outrageous actions include: 


Before the 2003 Iraq war, Beinin appeared on Al-Jazeera to condemn U.S. “imperial” policy in the Arab world. President Bush, he informed his Middle Eastern audience, planned to establish “a puppet regime” in Baghdad to benefit U.S. oil interests and force what he called “Israeli dictates” on the Palestinians.[9] 


After the war began, Beinin accused Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and other U.S. policymakers of collusion with “Israel’s Likud Party”[10] and asserted that the U.S. and Israel had collaborated with Arab regimes to block “democracy and economic development in the Arab world.”[11] Beinin insisted that the U.S. was bent on showing “the overwhelming military power of the US…to make and unmake regimes and guarantee access to oil.”[12]  American conservatives, in his opinion, wanted to ensure that “Islamist forces would forsake legal political action and engage in armed struggle.”[13]


Beinin rejects critical thought regarding terror, and with it any opportunity to sensibly evaluate the current U.S. war. He mocks this effort as “terrorology.” A year after 9/11, he actually congratulated fellow MESA academics for their “great wisdom” in refusing to examine terrorism, much less address what nearly all agree is the gravest national security threat to the United States.[14]


Pro-Palestinian Apologist


Beinin’s antagonism toward Israel pervades his commentary concerning the Jewish state.  He maintains that exodus of Jews from Arab lands after 1948 resulted not from their forced expulsion by Arab governments but from “provocative actions by Israeli agents.”[15] Despite the fact that Israel offered Jews a haven from mass murder in Europe, and atrocities and mass expulsion from Muslim lands,[16] Beinin holds that “Modern Zionism is a revolution against traditional Judaism, not its fulfillment.”[17] (He shares this view, ironically, with a tiny minority of anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews.)


The violence of the first intifada (1988-92) was, in Beinin’s view, actually a “strike for peace.”  With Hamas-like rhetoric, he has praised “the first martyr of the uprising,” and excused the “small number of violent incidents” against Israelis[18] (overlooking that they led to 160 murders).[19]


After September 11, 2001, Beinin ignored Osama bin Laden’s explicit calls for jihad; instead, he pointed to “Israel’s disproportionate use of force” against Palestinians.[20]  This ignores the obvious fact that Al-Qaeda opposes Israel’s very existence, rendering irrelevant the level of force it deploys.


In spite of overwhelming evidence, Beinin refuses to acknowledge the threat that Islamic terrorism poses to civilians.  In March 2002, a Hamas terrorist entered a hotel in Netanya, Israel, and killed 30 civilians, including children, as they celebrated the Passover holiday.[21] The following day, Beinin addressed an anti-Israel demonstration and did not even mention this atrocity.[22]  Instead, he insouciantly denied that Palestinian terrorism “posed an existential threat to Israel.”[23]


As for American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, despite staggering diplomatic efforts and vast sums of money given to the Palestinian Authority, Beinin can see only a “consistent [U.S.] denial of independence and self-determination” for the Palestinians.[24]


Whitewashing Egyptian Anti-Semitism


Beinin’s specializes in Egyptian history.  Here, too, his work bears an anti-Zionist tone and frequent contradicts the facts of history.  In opposition to “the Zionist project,”[25] he instead favors “Levantinism,” an Israel-replacement ideology that calls for revitalizing the “fruitful compromise” of cultures he believes existed in the past.[26]  Scholars and Jewish refugees from Muslim lands both maintain that such idyllic harmony never existed,[27] but Beinin romanticizes and politicizes their history.[28]  He also dismisses bona fide work on Arab and Muslim attitudes toward Jews by such writers as Yehoshafat Harkabi and Bat Ye’or, calling this perspective a “neo-lachrymose interpretation”[29] that inexcusably has “distracted attention from Palestinian claims.”[30]


It appears that Beinin delves into history only to support his own preconceived theories.  He ignores facts that contradict his ideas, sweeping certain events aside as if they never occurred.  In his 1998 book on the fate of the Egyptian Jewish community, The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, Beinin ignores the 1730s riots that destroyed Cairo’s Jewish quarter, killing 5,000 to 10,000, at least half its population.[31] He makes no mention of the 1901 blood libel leveled at a Cairo Jewish woman.[32] He condescendingly informs a former Jewish resident that the harat al-yahud was “not a ghetto,”[33] when in fact it was. He minimizes Egypt’s 1929 Nationality Law,[34] which blocked citizenship for Jews and many Christians, making some 40,000 Jews apatrides—stateless.[35] He downplays the 1947 Company Law that made it nearly impossible for minorities to work in Egypt.[36]  He insultingly twists Egypt’s Jews into “Arabized” nationalists who would have been happier without Israel’s existence.[37]


Beinin even neglects Egypt’s state-sponsored publication of hateful tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an edition of which was issued by Gamal Abdel Nasser’s brother Shawki.[38]  He denies the inherently anti-Semitic nature of arrests of Egyptian Jews during the 1940s and 1950s on trumped-up charges.[39]  He asserts that Nazi officials in Egypt’s government[40] cannot be traced – and anyway, that they had no political influence – ignoring a well-documented record of Nazis having moved to Nasser’s Egypt and their significant impact there.[41]


In 1956 and during 1967-70, Jewish males over 19 were imprisoned in the Abu Za’bal and Tura camps.[42]  They were tortured, forced to walk barefoot on broken glass and recite “I am a coward Jew. I am a Jewish donkey.”[43]  Beinin makes no mention of these camps. 

In Egypt, leaders of Jewish communities were forced to publicly denounce Zionism.  Incredibly, Beinin takes these denunciations at face value.[44]  In fact, these Jews were Zionists; Cairo’s Jews fasted for Israel’s safety in 1967 and then massively resettled there.[45] 

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Alyssa A. Lappen is a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy, former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor, Working Woman and Corporate Finance, and former Associate Editor of Forbes. Her website is www.AlyssaaLappen.org.