A Santa Clara University course optimistically titled, "The Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes," was the setting for a February 26 academic debate on one of the world's most intractable disputes: The Arab/Israeli conflict.
San Jose State University Middle East history lecturer, David Meir-Levi, represented the pro-Israeli side of the equation, and UC Berkeley Islamic studies lecturer, Hatem Bazian, argued the pro-Palestinian position. Interestingly, each embodied the nationality of his respective side of the debate. David Meir-Levi is an American-born Israeli who once served in the Israeli Defense Forces, while Hatem Bazian is a Palestinian native.
Bazian is notorious for his transparently biased approach to the Arab/Israeli conflict. His call for "an intifada in this country" at a 2004 San Francisco anti-war protest is just one of many radical statements. More of an activist than an academic, Bazian personifies the politicization of Middle East studies today.
Meir-Levi, on the other hand, is known for his scrupulous scholarship on the subject of Middle East history. His recent book, History Upside Down: The Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression," as described by Middle East Forum director Daniel Pipes, "applies great common sense where demagogues and ignorami too often dominate."
Throughout the debate, Meir-Levi succeeded in turning history or, rather, the inaccurate historical narrative popular on college campuses, upside down, exposing the fallacy of Bazian's arguments in the process.
Bazian's approach was to vilify Israel and paint the Palestinians as the aggrieved party. But Meir-Levi demonstrated in no uncertain terms that a Palestinian state could have emerged many times over if not for the anti-Semitism that has subsumed their society and, in a larger sense, the Muslim world. "Absent that," he stated, "all issues could be resolved just as other nations have done."
While Meir-Levi was able to expound upon a variety of subjects, Bazian kept consulting his laptop, resulting in an array of flimsy talking points. Meir-Levi took note of the latter, accusing Bazian of engaging in "red herrings," and, at one point, stating coolly, "There's only one thing wrong with what you said. It's contrary to the historical record."
Proving his point, Bazian touted post-Zionist Israeli academic Ilan Pappé as an authority on the alleged "systematic expulsion of the Palestinians" from 1948 onward. Bazian's stated source for this outlandish claim was Pappé's book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.
Meir-Levi then conveyed a revealing admission the author made to him during a 2002 radio debate. As Pappé put it, "I care less about veracity because I have an agenda to advance."
The same could be said for Bazian, whose coterie of falsehoods included the assertion that Israel is depriving Palestinians of water. Bazian, Meir-Levi responded, must have "fallen prey to a misrepresentation." He then set the record straight on Israel's preservation of the water table and rebuilding of the West Bank and Gaza's sewage systems.
Following Bazian's condemnation of Israel's security barrier, Meir-Levi noted that the purportedly ominous wall is composed largely of chain-link fencing. The actual wall section, he pointed out, was built to prevent Palestinian snipers from shooting at Israelis and suicide bombers from getting into Israel. He concluded by stating the obvious: "If there was no terrorism, there would be no fence."
Taking a page from controversial Columbia University professor, Nadia Abu El-Haj, Bazian flatly denied Israel's archeological foundations. "There is no evidence of a major [ancient] Jewish civilization," he stated matter-of-factly.
When not promoting canards, Bazian tried to impress the audience with his credentials. He referenced his position at UC Berkeley several times for no apparent reason, and then went on to do the same with his 2004 appearance on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor." Yet, he managed to conveniently omit the fact that he was invited on the show to explain his aforementioned "intifada" comments.
In a further display of boorish behavior, Bazian, responding to Meir-Levi's favorable reference to Daniel Pipes, accused Pipes and, for good measure, David Horowitz, of being one of the "the drum beaters of Armageddon."
Despite such heated rhetoric, Meir-Levi retained his composure throughout the debate. In contrast, Bazian gave way to frustration and anger quite easily. At one point, he fumed, "This is not a discussion," and later threatened to end the debate early, exclaiming, "This is nonsense!" But the "nonsense" in question consisted entirely of facts, and it was clear that Bazian, a skilled propagandist when dealing with the uninformed, was no match for the knowledgeable. As Meir-Levi pointed out, "one side in a debate descends into hyperbole when losing."
Nevertheless, some of the students in the classroom were not ready to hear the facts, at least when it came to the bigotry and genocidal ambitions of the Palestinian "resistance." The idea that both sides of a conflict are not on the same moral footing is difficult for those indoctrinated by years of relativism to accept. Several students accused Meir-Levi of demonstrating a "lack of constructive criticism" and of being "overly negative" for his denunciation of what he termed, "Arab Jew-hatred." One young woman asked him, "Why do we have to focus on hatred?" before walking out. The majority, however, remained cordial and stuck it out until the end.
To the protestations of Bazian and his student supporters, Meir-Levi answered with a profound, yet simple, statement: "Peace begins with trust. Trust begins with truth."
Unfortunately, Middle East studies academics such as Bazian appear to have little interest in truth, and it is the students who suffer the consequences. That is why spirited debates such as this one are so important.