As it proceeds with Operation Cast Lead, Israel is under attack on two fronts. While Hamas-fired rockets bombard southern Israel, foreign critics condemn Israel’s defensive reprisal as a human rights atrocity against the Palestinians. This reflexively anti-Israel tendency is particularly pronounced in Western academia, a point illustrated in the current conflict by the case of Jennifer Loewenstein, the Associate Director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Though Jewish, Loewenstein harbors a caustic hatred for Israel, a nation she views as an illegitimate entity with no right to exist. At the same time, she sees Palestinians as innocents, relentlessly oppressed and brutalized by violent, sadistic Jews. Both themes feature in an article that Loewenstein wrote on January 2, entitled “If Hamas Did Not Exist.” In it, she wrote that “[t]he state terror unleashed from the skies and on the ground [by Israel] against the Gaza Strip…has nothing to do with Hamas…nothing to do with ‘Terror’…or the long-term ‘security’ of the Jewish State.” Rather it is a manifestation of Israel’s quest to achieve “the wholesale enslavement” of Palestinians who “dare” to claim their “sovereign rights” and seek to free themselves from the Jewish “Empire’s obscene military bases sitting on [their] cherished land.” In her view, Israel’s latest military campaign is rooted entirely in a “naked desire” for “hegemony,” “power over the weak,” and “dominion over the world’s wealth.” In the final analysis, she concluded, “Israel has no intention of allowing a viable, sovereign Palestinian state on its borders.”
On other occasions, Loewenstein has characterized the Israelis as “masters in the art of destruction” who seek to “devastate” and “decimate” Palestinian society with “record-breaking violations of international law and basic human morality”; who conduct ruthless campaigns of “state-sponsored terror” marked by “killing,” “maiming,” “atrocities,” and “bloody and sadistic torture”; and who, “under a hideous veneer of ‘security needs,’” are waging “a greedy imperial war” that inflicts “on-going brutality and barbarism” upon Palestinian civilians. Lamenting that “Gazans have not yet attained the status of human” in Israeli eyes, Loewenstein declares that Israel “and its US Master” now reside in “the lowest circle of Hell for betraying the name of humanity.”
Loewenstein characterizes Israel’s current war against Hamas, not as a battle for national survival, but “another excuse to destroy Palestine.” She wonders, with seeming bewilderment, “why Hamas, which won power in free, fair and transparent democratic elections has been deemed a criminal terrorist organization” by Israel. She suggests that Israeli officials are privately “grateful” whenever any of their countrymen die as a result of a Hamas-launched Qassam rocket (thousands of which have rained down upon southern Israel in recent years), because such casualties supposedly furnish Israel with a pretext for reigniting its “angry flames of intolerance” and assembling a “racially pure dreamland” devoid of Arabs. Moreover, Loewenstein contends, the Qassams themselves are outgrowths of the “systematic national torture and evisceration” which the Palestinians allegedly have long endured at the hands of Israel. Noting that Hamas stands as “the most popular of the opposition groups in Palestine today,” Loewenstein says that any effort to destroy the organization would be immoral and counterproductive, causing “the further erosion of democratic civil society in Palestine and elsewhere.”
Loewenstein’s assertions about Israel dovetail perfectly with her claim that life in Gaza reduces every Palestinian to “a walking human target, shadowed by hired [Israeli] killers who can destroy you and your surroundings at will.” “In Gaza,” she elaborates, “your livelihood is diminished each day by an impoverishment that is as deliberate as it is merciless.” “The Palestinian economy has all but collapsed,” she complains, “overall unemployment rates are in the region of 60 to 70 percent.”
Loewenstein’s suggestion that Palestinian poverty is somehow part and parcel of an orchestrated Israeli plot cannot be reconciled with a number of inconvenient facts. For example, in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, when five Arab armies jointly attacked the Jewish state in an effort to destroy it, Israel invested hundreds of millions of dollars toward modernizing the infrastructure, roads, sewerage, electricity, telephones, broadcasting systems, and water supplies of the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- all in an effort to improve living conditions in the Palestinian territories and thus heighten the possibility of peaceful coexistence.
Loewenstein’s ludicrous contention is further at odds with the fact that as a result of these massive Israeli investments, the following trends emerged in the Palestinian territories between 1967 and 1994: The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by an average of 13 percent annually; tourism grew exponentially while unemployment almost disappeared and incomes rose to levels far higher than those of other Arab countries; infant mortality rates were cut by 75 percent; inoculation programs led to the eradication of such childhood diseases as polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles; the percentage of children enrolled in school increased dramatically while illiteracy rates declined; and as a result of all these positive developments, the Arab population in the territories increased from approximately 950,000 to more than 3 million.
Genocide does not typically lead to the tripling of a population.
Loewenstein seems unaware of the fact that only after Yasser Arafat took the reins of the newly created Palestinian Authority in 1993 did the Palestinian economy suddenly collapse; that within nine years after Arafat’s ascension, the West Bank’s GDP had shrunk by fully 90 percent; and that according to a 2005 report by the UN Human Development program, the second Palestinian Intifada, which was launched in September 2000, caused Palestinian poverty rates to skyrocket further and ignited a “sharp deterioration in living standards and life chances.” As David Meir-Levi puts it, “It was Arafat’s war, not Israeli rule, that destroyed Palestinian prosperity and bled its people.”
Just as Loewenstein turned a blind eye to the evils of Yasser Arafat, she refuses to see the evils of Hamas, the vicious band of terrorists who refuse to accept any Jewish state in the Middle East. The Hamas Founding Charter, written in 1988, unambiguously affirms that “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious…[and] should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized”; that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it”; that “the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf [religious endowment] consecrated [exclusively] for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day”; that “there is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad”; and that “initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”
Faithful to the sentiments expressed in that Charter, Hamas co-founder and foreign minister Mahmoud Zahar eagerly looks forward to a day when his map of the world “does not show Israel on it.” “Even if the U.S. gave us all its money in return for recognizing Israel and giving up one inch of Palestine,” he expounds, “we would never do so even if this costs us our lives. Similarly, in August 2005, Mahmoud al Zahar, the most senior Hamas member in Gaza, put it this way: “We do not and will not recognize a state called Israel. Israel has no right to any inch of Palestinian land. This is an important issue. Our position stems from our religious convictions. This is a holy land.” “Let Israel die,” he added for good measure. Abu Abdullah, a leading member of the Izzedine al-Qassam Martyrs Brigades, Hamas’ nominal military wing, said in April 2007: “We don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist. We will never allow Jews to remain in our lands.” In February 2008, Hamas cleric Wael Al-Zarad explained that the Islamic attacks upon the Jews “will only subside with their [the Jewish people’s] annihilation.”
Though Loewenstein contends that the Mideast conflict boils down to a question of how to reapportion the region’s real estate more equitably, Hamas’ own words offer incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Characterizing Jews as a despicable “gang” that stands “apart from the rest of humanity,” Hamas makes it clear that it seeks ultimately to subjugate not only the world’s Jews, but indeed all of humanity. During an April 2008 speech that aired on Palestinian Al-Aqsa TV, Hamas cleric Yunis Al-Astal said:
Very soon, Allah willing, Rome will be conquered, just like Constantinople was, as was prophesized by our prophet Muhammad. Today, Rome is the capital of the Catholics, or the Crusader capital, which has declared its hostility to Islam, and has planted the brothers of apes and pigs in Palestine in order to prevent the reawakening of Islam - this capital of theirs [Rome] will be an advanced post for the Islamic conquests, which will spread through Europe in its entirety, and then will turn to the two Americas, and even Eastern Europe. I believe that our children or our grandchildren will inherit our jihad....
Jennifer Loewenstein cannot see the evil in any of this. Like too many of her Ivory Tower colleagues, she believes the future of “democratic civil society in Palestine” depends, in large measure, on Hamas remaining an influential political entity in Gaza. Nor can she comprehend “why Hamas…has been deemed a criminal terrorist organization.” That in itself is a telling commentary on the sad state of modern universities.
What makes Loewenstein’s views particularly troubling is that she is not a fringe academic figure. As the head of UW’s Middle East Studies Program, she is directly responsible for an entire university department. Those parents spending thousands to have their children educated under her supervision should be aware just how extreme are the views they are helping to support.