Several months ago, as part of an investigation into allegations of anti-Israel indoctrination, I completed a course called “Politics of the Middle East” 155B at Diablo Valley College in northern California.
In a detailed article for Frontpagemag about my experiences, I revealed that the professor of the course, an imam named Amer Araim, had taught things that were patently untrue and that one would expect to find in the classrooms of totalitarian Middle East societies like Saudi Arabia or Iran. (Among other historically illiterate claims, he informed students that, throughout its war for independence, Israel boasted a military superior to the invading Arab armies.)
Shortly after the publication of that article, I met with Mark Edelstein, the president of Diablo Valley College. Edelstein also arranged for the Vice President of Academic Affairs, Alice Murillo, who is responsible for course content at the college, to attend the meeting. I asked Edelstein if he’d read my article after I completed the course. He said he had.
I began the meeting by saying, “The reason I wanted to meet and speak with you is not as an investigative journalist, but as a member of the community. I live here. I feel that the man you have teaching does not belong in the classroom, and if you are going to continue offering this class, you need to get someone who can teach truthfully to the students, not lie to them or give them false information. If you can’t find someone to replace him, you should not offer the class.”
“I don’t think you or I will ever agree on how to conduct higher education,” Edelstein replied. Besides, he said, having someone like Araim teach a course offered a broader education to students at the college.
I found this line of argument unpersuasive. “Araim,” I noted, “taught students in the class that Jews and Christians are not persecuted in the Arab countries of the Middle East. He also told the class that women are not stoned in Iran.” I asked Vice President Murillo whether she was aware that this was a common practice in Islamic countries. She replied she had not heard about such things.
I was taken aback by that response. After all, she was responsible for the course content. “These things are reported about constantly in the newspapers,” I said. “I don’t mean to be offensive, but I’m appalled that as an academic responsible for choosing what is taught about the Middle East, and who is responsible over the faculty to teach that, that you are unaware of such things.” Murillo was unmoved. “There are lots of things in the newspaper,” she replied.
I tried a different tack: “Do you think it broadens students’ education when the instructor lies to them or teaches them things that are considered only acceptable in the totalitarian societies of the Middle East? The course was patently anti-Israel and to a lesser degree against the United States.” I explained how, in tandem with film professor Ken Valentine (who students have complained is a Marxist ideologue), Araim had shown a two-hour propaganda film produced by the PLO to a captive audience. I then pointed out that the film, which in my view was anti-Semitic, had claimed that boatloads of Jews came to Palestine and stole Arab homes. I also noted that when I attempted to challenge this perspective, by explaining to Professor Araim that the Zionist movement legally purchased all their land prior to 1948 and that Jordan was supposed to be part of Israel, he simply dismissed it as untrue. Moreover, I said, Araim had repeatedly told students that Israel is an “apartheid” state, and that the terrorist groups Hizbollah and Hamas are “liberation” movements.
“He lectured in class that the Sheba Farms in northern Israel was a justifiable reason for Hizbollah to attack Israel. Even the United Nations said Sheba Farms was never part of Lebanon,” I said. I repeated my point: “Don’t you think you instructors have an obligation to teach the truth?”
“There are different truths,” replied Edelstein. “The instructor, by teaching from his own perspective, gives the students the ability to develop critical thinking,” he answered. “We allow our instructors to teach from their perspectives.”
“No sir,” I objected, “an instructor can teach his point of view, but he has to back it up with scholarly research and facts. If he lies to the students to get them to adhere to his own opinions, that’s indoctrination.” Araim clearly had no desire to show both sides of the issue, I explained. Whenever the accuracy of his instruction was called into question, he brushed it aside as “propaganda.”
Just as unfortunate was the fact that, far from engaging in critical thinking, students in Araim’s course were merely parroting historical untruths. In particular, I cited the case of one student in Araim’s class who had argued in his final presentation that the Palestinians were the ancient Philistines. This was false—a myth promulgated by the PLO’s nineteen propaganda ministries in the Palestinian Authority so the Arabs could claim to have inhabited the Holy Land as long as the Jews. What happened was that the student had gotten all the information from PLO websites. Araim made no effort to correct his presentation in class. When, afterwards, I showed the student that the Philistine connection was untrue and gave him supporting sources, he replied, “You have your propaganda and the professor has his.” To that student, there is no truth and fabricated history will always have as much validity as facts. That is how totalitarian societies educate their masses.
My example fell on death ears. “If, for example, an instructor says that America is a racist state, that puts the students in a position of developing critical thinking,” Edelstein said.
I disagreed. “If a professor says that America has been guilty of racism in its past and cites historical examples, then he is educating his students,” I said. “If he also shows the progression of the Civil Rights Movement during the same period of time, then he is developing critical thinking skills for them.” I continued, “But if he makes a declaratory statement that America is a racist state, and he provides only examples of racism in order to have his students finish the course with the mindset that America is a racist state, then that’s indoctrination. The instructor is forcing his opinions on students to make them adhere to his own opinions by denying them all the information. And if he presents false information to his students even if from his ‘own perspective’ then that’s not education but indoctrination.”
I relayed to him how one Palestinian professor at UC Berkeley told her students that 500 Jews did not go to work on September 11 because they had advanced knowledge of the terrorist attacks. The rumor started in the Egyptian press. Does such information, created in a totalitarian society with a totalitarian press, become legitimate because it’s taught in the classroom? I asked.
Edelstein replied that there will always be differing opinions on things, even if some are not true. “For example, there were things in your article that weren’t true,” he said. I asked him to cite examples, noting that, as a journalist, my credibility depended on the accuracy of my reporting.
“You stated that Noam Chomsky is a Holocaust denier,” he said. But Chomsky had indeed been involved with Holocaust denial, I protested. I pointed out that Chomsky had defended the book of notorious Holocaust-denier David Irving and that he had even written the forward to a French book that denies the Holocaust. I even offered to send Edelstein sources, such as the Anti-Chomsky Reader, chronicling the MIT radical’s dalliances with Holocaust denial and its practitioners.
With time running short, I asked Edelstein whether he was going to continue to permit Araim to teach his course. If so, I suggested that perhaps the Diablo Valley College Board of Trustees, and even Governor Schwarzenegger, might be interested in hearing about the nature of the content sanctioned by the college. Edelstein just shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not going to say we’ll not have him teach here any more or that the class will not be continued. We’ll look into it,” he said noncommittally. Getting up to show me the door, Edelstein added, “It’s all been very irritating.” He doesn’t know the half of it.