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The Absurdity of Campus "Middle East Forums" By: Bruce S. Thornton
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, January 16, 2003


Universities are fond of touting their "commitment to diversity," yet the only diversity that really counts, the variety of ideas, opinions, and minds, is sadly lacking in most of our colleges. There the dominant orthodoxy comprises a mishmash of stale marxism, sentimental liberalism, and anti-Western/anti-American neuroses.

A perfect example of this phenomenon can be found this upcoming semester on my campus of the California State University, in something called the "Middle East Forums." This is supposedly "a series of educational lectures on the US involvement in the Middle East and alternatives to war," one sponsored by campus organizations some of whose funding comes from the taxpayers.

The words "educational" and "forum" are both dishonest, as there will be no exchange of views and ideas, no disinterested and balanced presentation of multiple perspectives that could invite the audience to think for themselves, as those words suggest. The phrase "alternatives to war," which in itself reveals an obvious bias, tips us off to the ideological slant of the series. This hunch can be confirmed by perusal of the list of participants, not a single one of whom represents an alternative point of view to the drumbeat of anti-Israel, anti-American invective.

Sadly, most of the speakers are academics, the very people one would expect to be committed to truth, intellectual balance, and critical thought. There’s an economics professor from Iran, Sasan Fayazmanesh, who will speak on US policy toward that nation since 1979, a policy which has been, according to the abstract of the talk, "duplicitous, irrational, and incoherent, since it was pulled in opposite directions by Israel and the US corporations." The use of a worn-out marxiste paranoid narrative of evil capitalists pulling the strings of the government doesn’t offer much hope that any objective evidence will be presented to support this claim. And the slander of Israel’s occult powers over US foreign policy, a staple of Middle Eastern anti-Semitic propaganda, likewise suggests that ideology, not truth, will be the driving force of the talk.

As bad as this is, more depressing are the Israeli academics who have been corrupted by the fashionable self-loathing and anti-Western bias of American universities. An Israeli-born professor of linguistics from USC , Hagit Borer, will speak on "Zionism: Myths and the Reality." The illusion of balance suggested by the title is quickly dispelled by the smug announcement that the speaker "considers herself an Anti-Zionist." This statement tells us that the speaker believes that the single reality of Zionism is that it is evil––that’s why the professor is against it–– and that any positive definitions of Zionism comprise the multiple myths The complex truth of a historical movement is lost in the speaker’s ideological prejudice.

Another academic slated to speak, Jeff Halper, an Israeli professor of anthropology, likewise eschews a balanced examination of the facts for a predetermined script in which Israel is the villain and the Palestinians the hapless victims. The tenor of his talk, "The Key to an Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Dismantling Israel’s Matrix of Control," can be seen in a version published last October by Americans for Middle Eastern Understanding, an organization, judging from what it publishes on-line, that is programmatically opposed to Israel. Our anthropology professor talks at length about the horrors of checkpoints and house demolitions, without once addressing the issue of why Israel must engage in these defensive measures. The reality of fifty years of virulent hate directed towards Israel, of terrorist attacks, of full-scale military assaults––all aimed not at establishing a Palestinian homeland but at the destruction of Israel–– is erased as thoroughly as Trotsky from a May Day Parade photo.

Then there’s Joe Stork, a functionary of Human Rights Watch, one of those international organizations that hide their ideological prejudices behind a veil of neutral investigations into human rights abuses. Right after 9/11 Stork was interviewed on the BBC about a Human Rights Watch report concerning torture and other abuses by the Palestinian Authority. Think that’s evenhanded? Listen to the BBC: "Joe Stork, an official at Human Rights Watch, says these practices are borrowed from Israel. ‘Most of the security officers have been in Israeli jails.’" Once more, Israel is to blame for everything dysfunctional in Arab culture: "The report blames Israel’s severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, and the destruction of the Palestinian law enforcement infrastructure." Practices as common as flies in 13 centuries of Arab history have suddenly found their origins in Israel’s attempts the last few decades to protect its citizens from terrorist murderers.

And let’s not leave out Susy Mordechay, an Israeli "actively pursuing the cause of Palestinian rights and a just peace." She will talk on "The Assault on Palestinian Civilian Life." Mordechay’s perspective can be gleaned from a petition she signed last year that cried: "Urgent Warning: The Israeli Government may be contemplating crimes against humanity." The petition drops further dark hints about "full-fledged ethnic cleansing," and warns, "an escalating racist demagoguery, concerning the Palestinian citizens of Israel may indicate the scope of the crimes that are possibly being contemplated." Her abstract for her talk employs the same sort of weasel-like indirection, hinting at "something deeper, more sinister" behind Israel’s attempts at self-defense. Put it all together and it’s easy to see the obscene smear lurking behind the loopholes of "may" and "possibly": The Israelis are attempting to commit genocide against the Palestinian people. Again, one doubts if in her talk Mordechay will mention that Israel for fifty years has been fighting for its very existence against nations whose state-run presses employ the same anti-Semitic lies used by the Nazis.

My point is not that these speakers shouldn’t be allowed to present their views, or even to have the taxpayers fund them. Rather, these views should be balanced by others, so that a true "exchange of views and ideas," how my dictionary defines a "forum," can take place. If those organizing this "forum" truly wanted to educate, they could easily have found people to present the other side. We have Victor Davis Hanson on our faculty, whose best-selling An Autumn of War features several essays supporting Israel on the basis of argument and fact.

But of course, "education" and a diversity of viewpoints are not the issue here. Just as in classrooms, in textbooks, in the other phony "colloquia" and "symposia" and "workshops," blatant propaganda and ideological proselytizing are the true aim. The mission of the university––to create free minds by teaching them the tools of critical thought and by exposing them to multiple perspectives –– has been shamefully betrayed.


Bruce Thornton is the author of Greek Ways and Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow-Motion Suicide (Encounter Book}. He is 2009-2010 National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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