At the end of last year a friend contacted me who was taking a course titled “Politics of the Middle East” at Diablo Valley College, a small community college located in northern California. My friend knew I frequently write about academic matters, particularly concerning anti-Israel and anti-U.S. indoctrination on US college campuses. And he asked me to help provide some written research materials for him to use for a verbal presentation in his class. He called me later to complain.
“You’ll never believe this,” he told me. “The instructor, an imam, dismisses the class, then he spreads paper towels from the restroom on the floor and prays facing East in the classroom for fifteen minutes during school hours. Talk about a separation of church and state in the classroom,” he complained.
“But was that all? What about the course content?” I asked.
“That’s even worse. The instructor taught and insisted that Israel had stolen all its land prior to 1967. My family was actively involved in purchasing the land there during the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s for the Jewish National Fund and when I told him that in class he insisted it was ‘All lies!’” He also said, “When I told him I had official documents I could show the class, including copies of land sales agreements and deeds to the Jewish National Agency and the Jewish National Fund, he said they were probably ‘forgeries’ and he wouldn’t allow me to show them.”
My friend also informed me that the professor had categorically stated that the Kurds in Halapja in 1988 were gassed by Iran and not Iraq. He said Saddam Hussein was framed by the Iranians for gassing people. “This guy used to work for Saddam,” he said.
My friend continued on with a litany of things taught in class that were not true: “The professor stated that the original 1922 Mandate specifically spoke about the rights of the ‘Palestinian people’ and that Israel, from 1922 on failed to respect those rights (Israel did not exist until 1948).” He continued, “When I produced a copy of the 1922 Mandate from my briefcase and asked him to point out where it said what he said, he refused to answer and changed the subject.”
“He told the class that the US supported Israel against the Palestinians to safeguard America’s oil interests and to give the US a Middle East foothold. He denied that the PLO Charter (still not amended) and Arafat wanted the complete destruction of Israel.
“I produced a copy of the Charter also from my briefcase and he changed the subject.”
My friend continued, “He consistently stated that Israel was an ‘apartheid state,’ that it mistreated its Arab citizens rendering them as second-class citizens (Arab-Israeli citizens have the same civil rights as Christian and Jewish Israelis by law). He claimed Arab-Israelis in Israel’s parliament were only ‘tokens’ despite being elected and declared anyone who believed Arab citizens of Israel enjoyed the same rights was ‘naïve and ignorant,’ even ignoring cases I pointed out where Israel’s Supreme Court frequently rules in favor of Arab-Israelis, even Palestinian Arabs in the territories, over Jews.
“The worst was when he taught Islam in class. He told us it was a religion of peace and tolerance. In fact, he handed out a sheet that had several verses from the Koran implying just that. But when I took my copy of the Koran and asked him specifically about verses 190-192 in Surah 2 The Cow (The verse says “slay all non-believers wherever they are found”) and I mentioned I’d read several other verses from other books that said the same thing, he went into a dissertation about how translators don’t translate properly and I obviously had one of those translations! He said in his opinion, as an imam, the best translation was Pickthall’s Glorious Koran, displaying one from his bag. I got that copy and found verbatim what I’d read in class also quoted by Pickthall. When I pointed this out in the next class he changed the subject saying we were not studying the Koran that evening! He also denied Arabs played an active role in the slave trade!
“We started with about 22 students, but after two sessions we were down to 14, by the sixth session down to about ten. The only students who remained seemed to be anti-Israel and anti-US activists, pleased with any anti-Jewish rhetoric. Most were about 18-25 and I was the only ‘adult’ left. Other students who left the class earlier confided in me they dropped out because of the propaganda nature of the course. The ones who stayed usually verbally attacked me whenever I pointed out something being taught that was factually and historically incorrect.
“My fifth week I made a verbal presentation on the origin and founding of the state of Israel. That’s the one you helped me with some research materials. My report included a history of the Jewish people from biblical times to the present and included government organization, exports, imports, population figures, etc. After I finished the teacher chided me in front of the class for not discussing Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ as he taught us, or how Jews mistreated Arabs, etc. I told him I was under the impression this verbal presentation was not supposed to be ‘political,’ but factual and he said I obviously had not listened to him during previous classes! He stated my verbal presentation and backup documents presented to the class were unacceptable to him.”
My friend relayed that his teacher also told him that the PLO and Hamas were not terrorist organizations but “liberation movements.” When he tried to dispute that, the instructor said Israel was an “occupier” of land that did not belong to her and that the PLO and Hamas were only trying to free their land! Despite the fact that it is Israel that has faced successive assaults on its existence since its creation in 1948, the instructor ascribed the blame for the Israeli Palestinian conflict to Israel, claiming that Israel had no right to its land in the first place.
My friend took a long exasperated breath. “This professor spent nearly an entire class on the 1956 Suez conflict. He stated Israel attacked Egypt as the aggressor without any provocation (in fact, Egypt closed off the Straits of Tiran and Israel’s sea access and staged continual terrorist border raids in the Negev). He said Israel ‘conspired’ with France and England to attack Egypt (France and England attacked when Egypt closed the Suez Canal). When I asked about former Egyptian strongman Gamel Nasser sending troops to Israel’s Negev border in the Sinai, the professor said it was ‘all lies’ put out by Israel, France and England. I offered to produce official UN and other documents to the contrary but he refused to allow them in class.
“He spent at least an hour on the alleged massacre at Deir Yassin, another concoction by the Arabs like the massacre in Jenin. He told us that Jews massacred men, women and children without provocation. When I tried to introduce the official Red Cross report that reveals there were Iraqi soldiers disguised as women in Deir Yassin and that the report cites that prior to Jewish soldiers entering the village trucks with loudspeakers told civilian occupants they could leave, he disputed the Red Cross report categorically without any proof.
“I finally complained to the appropriate dean about the instructor and the lies he was teaching in the class. I had my mid-term paper prepared entitled ‘The Arab-Israeli Conflict,’ but I had not yet given it to the instructor. The dean said that he personally would review it instead of the instructor and advise me what he thought. The following week I met with the Dean and he told me my paper was only worth a "B+" because it appeared it had erroneous information in it. I had cited the PLO Charter as calling for the total destruction of Israel. The Dean had apparently asked the instructor about that and the instructor had told him it was untrue. Right there in the Dean's office I accessed the PLO Charter on the Dean's computer and showed him the exact paragraph in the Charter. The Dean was astounded reading it. I showed him that the other alleged ‘erroneous’ information was true as well.”
He added, “Ultimately, the Dean offered me a B grade in the course and told me I did not need to return to class for the remainder of the semester, assuring me that even if I got an A grade on my final, I would never get higher than a B grade in the class. My previous G.P.A. in all courses was a 4.0 but I reluctantly took the B grade and left.
“I assumed this professor would not be returning to DVC to teach the next semester, but when I heard he was teaching the same course again I contact you about this for Front Page.”
My interest was piqued, so I decided to enroll in this course the same as any other student from the local community. Since I write extensively about Middle East studies on US college campuses I decided to experience this class first hand. Was my friend exaggerating? Had the administration at Diablo Valley made corrections after his leaving the class? I enrolled under my own name without exposing my background. By taking the class, I could not be accused of being some outside journalist looking to create a story.
After plunking down $82 in matriculation costs, then spending $107 on books and $50 for parking as any other student would do, I would be enrolled in the Monday night class, online at first and soon I received a confirmation I was in the class, which comprised approximately 40 students.
The first night of class I met the instructor, an imam, named Amer Araim. Araim bears an interesting likeness to the deceased Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with the same knit brow and flaring nostrils. He is very quiet, however, and appears fragile.
My goal was to experience what any 19 year-old college student would experience in Araim’s class. But owing to the fact that I make my living writing about Israel/Palestinian politics, my knowledge of the relevant political issues is better than your average19-year-old’s.
When roll was called for my first class, I unaccountably found myself missing from the roster. Instructed by Araim to write down my name so he’d add me to the course list, I did so. Araim passed out his syllabus of what the class would cover, plus a flyer advertising an Interfaith Group that he belonged to. I noticed the flyer for the Interfaith Group spoke about the “Muslim Jesus.” He urged us all to attend his Interfaith Group.
The syllabus mentioned a need for understanding “the plight of the Palestinian people” and cited Al Jazeerah—hardly a bastion of balanced information—as an excellent source toward this end.
Araim began his course by discussing Middle East politics. He mentioned the course would cover water rights issues. He also told us he would emphasize democracy as a growing movement in the Middle East—so far so good. Then something began to happen after about a half hour into the course. Araim began talking about Israel. As an example of what he believed was misguided American support for Israel, Araim cited the fact that the United States had attacked Iraq in 1991 because Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait. The UN had condemned Saddam’s invasion, he said.
To Araim, this was proof that American foreign policy was “hypocritical.” After all, he reasoned, Israel had invaded the Golan Heights and the West Bank in 1967. Why should the United States support Israel? “Because they are our friends,” commented one young student. Dismissing the comment, Araim contended that support for Israel was something America should not do. It was here, in just the first class, that a pattern emerged in Araim’s lecturing. I call this “speaking in ellipses,” a technique in which the lecturer leaves out just enough detail to elicit the response he wants from his listeners.
Araim’s diatribe was a classic in the form. He never bothered to mention the differences between Israel’s taking the West Bank and Golan Heights in the 1967 War and Kuwait being occupied by Saddam Hussein in 1991. Israel endured artillery shells fired on her civilians in the valley below from Syria in the Golan Heights for 19 years prior to their seizure. And Jordan controlled the West Bank prior to 1967 and attacked Israeli population centers first.
For the average 19-year-old, leaving out these details would doubtless create the impression, which Araim obviously sought, of Israel as a rogue state on par with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq when it seized Kuwait to grab its oil revenues. “How many 19-year-olds fresh out of high school would know these things?” I asked myself.
Moving beyond ellipses, Araim continued the class with recourse to some outright falsehoods. For example, he advised that the five Arab armies that attacked Israel in 1948 lost that war because they were British lackeys, that the British wanted them to lose (in fact, the British foreign office was pro-Arab and Jordanian troops were led by Sir John Glubb, a British officer. The Israelis won but only because their backs were to the sea. While they gained some territory in the north, they also lost territory). But the biggest whopper he told to the students was that the Israelis had a better armed and trained military than the Arabs. In point of fact, the Israeli “army” in 1948 was made up of underground militias organized while the British controlled the area. They were poorly equipped and armed; many were refugees who came from the death camps in Europe and were handed a rifle and sent straight to the front. The Arab states had tanks, and better trained and equipped armies. Such a statement could only be said to students to deceive them. Nonetheless, determined to find out more about Araim’s methods, I held my tongue.
He mentioned that UN Resolutions had condemned Saddam for the invasion of Kuwait. He also mentioned that UN Resolution 242 and other resolutions by the Arab dominated UN against Israel that were ignored. For those who are unaware, Resolution 242 was written by diplomat Eugene Rostow after the 1967 Six Day War. It stipulated in clear language that Israel would have to withdraw from the West Bank to negotiated secure boundaries. At the close of 1948 War, Israeli or Jewish settlements in the West Bank had been captured and taken over by Jordanian forces. The entire West Bank was annexed by Jordan and never was set up as a Palestinian state. Nor did the Arabs living there ask that it be made into a Palestinian state as long as it was all Arab. The Arab press frequently says the Resolution requires Israeli withdrawal from every inch of the West Bank which somehow gets twisted into captured “Palestinian land” today. This is also partly a justification by the Arabs for saying the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are “illegal by international law.” They are, in fact, according to Eugene Rostow, legal by Resolution 242 which only insists a partial withdrawal by Israeli forces only after secure borders are established and Israel obtains parts of what it considers the Jewish homeland. After all, if the guy who wrote the Resolution says that’s what it means, it’s pretty clear what it means. The Arab world, particularly in European publicity, has literally changed the wording in many cases to fit its scenario of making Israel give back every inch of land.
When I pointed this out to Araim in class, he claimed it wasn’t true, and that I was a “propagandist” (tantamount to calling me, a student in his class, a liar). He then sat down in a chair and for almost an hour began telling the class that Israel was “an apartheid state,” where Arabs were not accorded equal treatment to Jews (in actuality, Israel guarantees by law equal civil rights to all Israeli citizens regardless of nationality or religion.) I sat quietly and listened as Araim tried to paint a picture to the class of an Israel that is another South Africa at the height of apartheid. He also discussed UN Resolution 194, which dealt with the “Palestinian refugees” from Lebanon and insisted that Arab refugees from 1948, and their present day grandchildren, have the right to go back and live on the very same spot. The Arab world frequently uses allusions to UN Resolution 194 as justification for the conflict, insisting it says all Arabs must return inside Israel’s borders which would overwhelm Israel’s Jewish population and turn the country into another Islamic state. But what Araim did not tell students was that Resolution 194 also stipulates that the refugees could also receive compensation to set up their lives elsewhere just as many refugees at the end of World War II did. It is not a justification for endless war.
Araim, who frequently lectured in ellipses during the course, conveniently left that fact out. When I raised my hand and tried to point out such discrepancies during class, he simply dismissed them as untrue. Meanwhile, Araim stressed to all of us in class that next week’s class would not be held in the normal classroom, but in a theater across campus where we would all watch “a film about the Middle East.” He urged us all to attend this important film for the class. As we all left I asked about the roster and Araim took my name and assured me I would be enrolled. As I left the class, two women and a young girl criticized me for disagreeing with the teacher. To them, the teacher had to be right and I was just interfering with the class. One student muttered to me, “Sure, why don’t you disagree with the whole room.”
So much for my first class. Araim wasn’t seen on paper towels praying during class this semester. Perhaps there were enough complaints to get the college administration to get him to not do so. His wont of re-interpreting of UN Resolutions was something that could be discussed in a later class—or so I thought.
The following week the class was held in conjunction with another course from the film department, titled Ethnic Film in America. The two classes combined filled the auditorium with about 100 students. Araim introduced the film professor, Ken Valentine, then explained to us all we were about to see “an important film about the Middle East.” I was still not on the roster as a student enrolled in the class when attendance was called.
Then the lights went down. The “important film about the Middle East” was a PLO propaganda film titled “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land.” I’d written about this film being promoted at the Middle East Studies Association Conference in San Francisco just a month earlier. The two-hour film is an interminable bashing of Israel and US foreign policy related to Israel with blatant lies and no counterbalance. It is also anti-Semitic, but in a subtle way: it features every Jewish quisling in the world for the PLO speaking as some of the “experts.” And who are the biggest “experts” cited in the film? Noam Chomsky (the defender of Pol Pot and now an up and coming supporter of Holocaust denial), and University of Texas journalism Professor Robert Jensen, who after 9/11 blamed America for the attacks on the World Trade Center and claimed America was as big a terrorist as those who attacked us. Others included Hanan Ashwari, one of the main media propagandists for the PLO who was prominently featured, along with Hussein Ibish, formerly of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), who has praised Hamas for "running hospitals and schools and orphanages.”
This is a film produced by professional propagandists through some of the PLO’s 19 propaganda ministries, including PASSIA. And it is truly a work of art in indoctrinating the uninitiated. But that was obviously its purpose; this film was designed to deceive.
The film began by defining Israel as an “occupier” that “punishes the Palestinian people.” “Occupation” of course is not defined; in this case it meant all of Israel is occupied by a “colonial power” (all the Arab countries including Israel were once colonies, but to brand Israel a colony today is specious). Nowhere in the film are Palestinian terrorism or suicide bombings mentioned; it is Israel that uses “terror” on an innocent population of Palestinian Arabs. Nowhere is it mentioned that Israel set up a state for the PLO and still provides 70 percent of its operational budget, most of which is stolen by the leadership that encourages war. In this film, the Arabs are just victims of Israeli “aggression,” not self-defense. Robert Jensen, of course, someone who your average 19-year-old student (let alone 95 percent of the class) would not know about, explains as an “expert” that Israelis who “retaliate” (he never uses the word defend) always allude to Palestinian violence as “aggression.” He repackages terrorist attacks and suicide bombings never discussed anyplace directly in the film as resulting from “illegal military occupation.” He accuses Ariel Sharon of making Americans link Israel to America’s 9/11 experiences as a type of deception. Yet Israel by proportion of population has experienced 100 9/11’s from Militant Islamic Terrorism.
Nor is the fact that Arafat, still alive when this film was made, paid and assigned terrorists to murder Israelis ever mentioned. The film claims that over 2,000 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israeli army. Yet the statistics cited include every single combat death of an armed terrorist and every single suicide bomber who blew himself up killing Israelis as “civilians.” Nobody in the classroom at Diablo Valley College knows this. Similarly, no mention is made of the fact that Israel has experienced over 25,000 individual terrorist attacks since the year 2000.
Instead, the film perpetuates the myth of a massacre in Jenin, claiming 1,800 Palestinian dead there at one point (the final UN tally, also agreed to by the Palestinian Authority, is 56 killed of which 48 were armed terrorist combatants. Unmentioned in the film is that Israel lost 23 soldiers in house to house fighting, having abjured aircraft attacks in order to avoid civilian casualties.). Hanan Ashwari, who is paid $800,000 a year by the PA, claims that innocent children are shot deliberately on their way to school — a patent lie. Israel is ridiculed for launching missiles such as the one that was used to kill Sheik Yassin, the former head of Hamas (without mentioning Yassin was responsible for killing over 350 Israelis, nor does the film mention the daily missiles fired into southern Israel into the town of Sderot, one of which targeted a children’s preschool and killed a four year-old boy and others that have killed other children). Every Palestinian Arab killed is “innocent” in the film; every Arab death, the surrounding circumstances notwithstanding, is blamed on Israel. At one point in the film, the deaths of 39 civilians in Bethlehem are mentioned along with the fact they were mostly women and children. What isn’t mentioned is that most of those deaths were Arabs killed by other Arabs who claimed the victims were collaborators with Israel. Yet they too are counted as “civilian” casualties supposedly killed by Israel.
But the film doesn’t just try to misinform and lie about Israel itself. It goes after Jews in America as well, accusing them of being in control of the US government—a veiled form of anti-Semitism. Robert Fisk, a journalist who writes regularly in support of the PLO, makes the statement in the film that “Israel is in the White House,” even accusing the Bush administration of laughing at the plight of the Palestinians (Fisk was a major contributor to the Jenin massacre myth in his articles). Fisk even tries to claim that the democratic state of Israel has a controlled press. In fact, of course, it is the Palestinian Authority, a dictatorship, that controls press freedoms.
The film also contends that Israel somehow prevents access to the holy sites of Moslems and Christians, when in fact the opposite is true. It bemoans “3 million refugees in camps” but makes no mention of the billions in foreign aid given to the Palestinian leadership that is stolen each year. Despite being offered a country at Oslo, and 100 percent of the territories involved in negotiations as claimed by negotiator Dennis Ross, the film revises history and claims the Palestinians were offered nothing significant and claims that having Jews living in a Palestinian state would somehow be objectionable and unfair. It even attacks Dennis Ross personally, someone who continually worked to give the Palestinians as much as possible.
If its allegiance to the historical record leaves much to be desired, the film is nothing if not slick. Besides a parade of Arab flacks like Hussein Ibish, Saeb Erekat, and Hanan Ashwari, the film features every Jewish quisling hack that has ever advocated the dismantling and end of the Jewish democratic state. Radical Rabbi Michael Lerner is featured along with Gila Swirsky and Neve Gordon, who bemoan “checkpoints.” At no point is it explained that the checkpoints are there because the Palestinian Authority encourages and refuses to arrest suicide bombers and terrorists. One scene has an interview with a flack from Jews Against the Occupation, an anarchist group in New York City that advocates dismantling Israel, in which he claims that pregnant women are denied any sympathy in trying to reach a hospital at the checkpoints. The fact that phony pregnancies have been used to hide bombs never gets mentioned, nor the fact that Palestinian Arabs get free medical services in Israel for deliveries.
And this film doesn’t miss a single trick. Palestinian textbooks have been proven by documentation to preach Jew hatred and murder as well as jihad to destroy Israel. The film falsely claims that Israeli textbooks contain anti-Arab hatred without mentioning that Palestinian textbooks do call for the destruction of Israel. Other blatant untruths: the film claims that Palestinians killed at Sabra and Chatilla were killed by Israelis (they were in fact killed by other Christian Arabs a week after the Christians were murdered by gangs of Palestinians in Damour); Gilo is a settlement where only Jews may live (Israeli Arabs can and do live there and Palestinians work there. Also, it is never mentioned that by law selling land to a Jew in the Palestinian Authority is punishable by death.). Hanan Ashwari repeats the blood libel of Jews shooting down Arabs in cold blood and Israel is accused of destroying Muslim and Christian holy sites when the opposite is true. In fact, anything and everything that has been shown to occur in the Palestinian Authority, from indoctrination and incitement of children to become suicide bombers, to even terrorism, has been turned around to be something Israel, the victim, does.
But the major voice in the film is left to Noam Chomsky. Quoted as an expert, Chomsky takes his usual digs at the United States as “empire” and by extension Israel as its tool. Every student I asked after class about Chomsky and Robert Jensen had no idea who these radical talking heads were, yet here they were quoted as intellectual giants by two professors at Diablo Valley College.
The film is far less charitable toward supporters of Israel. A scrolling list of Jewish organizations that counter misinformation in the media or in college courses like the one I was in, especially CAMERA, Honest Reporting or AIPAC, are said to be “propaganda” organizations controlled by a “foreign government.” In fact, most of these organizations, which are in fact run by U.S. citizens, take films such as “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” and expose them for the mendacious propaganda vehicles they are.
When the lights came up and we were asked for comments, I raised my hand. “This was a blatant propaganda film shown to a young audience who has no idea what they are seeing. It is completely untrue and manipulated,” I complained.
Araim then began lecturing the room. He didn’t just stand at a podium at the front but walked the aisles personally talking to individual students. “Israel is an apartheid state,” he would say to students as if in some remake of George Orwell’s 1984. One student, clearly an anti-Israel advocate of Middle Eastern descent chimed in, “Isn’t it true the Israelis persecute the Christians over there?” he asked. “Yes, they do” Araim replied standing near the student. “Like at Beit Shaour (in fact, Christians are persecuted by the Arab Muslim majority in the West Bank and subject to extortion and murder. Israel actually protects its Christian minority.).
I spoke up again.
“This was two hours of forced propaganda on students who really aren’t getting all the facts. For example, Hanan Ashwari in this film claims Jewish Israelis all arrived on boats from Europe and stole the individual homes of Arabs, yet most of Israel’s population are Jewish refugees from Arab lands. In addition, the early Zionists purchased every bit of their land prior to 1948. None of that was mentioned. Jordan was also supposed to be part of the Jewish state but was given away by the British (a documented historical fact). “None of that is true,” said Araim. “None of it is true?” I asked. “You’re denying historical fact before this entire room of students?” Araim replied, “That’s all propaganda.”
I continued, “Noam Chomsky is a known communist who actively opposes the West and has supported Pol Pot. Robert Jensen made excuses for the hijackers on 9/11. The students in here do not know the backgrounds or history of these people and you seem to prefer it that way. Will you screen films showing another point of view?”
The film professor, Valentine, tried to shout me down: “You’re saying Chomsky is a communist is just simple rhetoric,” he said. I pressed on: “This is a blatant propaganda film. Do you intend to show a film to these students from the other side to at least show them what was untrue in this film?” I again demanded.
“All films are propaganda,” said Valentine. “So in other words there is no truth?” I asked.
Valentine again cut me off by shouting me down and refusing to let me continue, all with Araim’s backing. Some of the students acted as if whatever the professors said had to be the truth and asked me why I was disagreeing. “Because they are not showing you the truth,” I told one young girl. One student from Araim’s class behind me didn’t think it was very important.
If I had attended a propaganda film in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany I doubt I could have had any different an experience. To some of the students I was just a troublemaker, rocking the boat. The class was dismissed. I was still not on the roster. I ultimately had to go in person to be added to the course list.
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