Stanford Middle East history professor Joel Beinin's appearances on the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center (PPJC) Palo Alto cable television program "Other Voices" reliably produce anti-American, anti-Israel invective. In September 2008, Beinin declared, "The American empire is going down," and during a taping for the February 2009 show, "Gaza and the Future," he pronounced, "The United States aids and abets Israeli war crimes."
What Beinin labeled Israeli "war crimes" (i.e. defending its citizenry) and U.S. collusion therewith were central to his discussion, as the show aired soon after Israel's military incursion into Gaza in December 2008.
One might have thought Obama's election would make Beinin optimistic about the prospects for weakening U.S. support for Israel, but his mood was decidedly downbeat. Obama, Beinin predicted, would "act like all America presidents" by "pushing U.S. interests with foreign policy." (What country doesn't pursue its own interests with foreign policy?) But, Beinin allowed, if Obama were to simply issue a "statement" telling Israel "it's committing war crimes," "going against U.N resolutions," and that "the U.S. will no longer sell Israel weapons," "the Israel Lobby and AIPAC would crumble." The crowd of mostly aging hippies murmured in agreement.
Jimmy Carter, the most rabidly anti-Israel U.S. president and author of the widely criticized book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, was the only American leader Beinin praised. Beinin lauded Carter as a "deeply religious man" but, he qualified with a chuckle, "in a good way." Apparently, he only sees the minority of practicing Christians who toe the anti-Israel line as palatable.
In a case of tortured logic, Beinin blamed Israel for making "Hamas and Hezbollah…heroes in the Arab world" with its defensive military actions. "It's almost as if Israel was trying to make Hamas appear to represent the Palestinian cause," Beinin continued—apparently forgetting that Gazans elected Hamas by a landslide—and then quipped, "not to get conspiratorial or anything."
Beinin proceeded to do exactly that by echoing many of his peers in the perennially anti-Israel field of Middle East studies with the statement:
The Gaza operation was premeditated. It had nothing to do with rockets, terrorism, or anything the Israeli government claims.
Regarding Hamas's deliberate use of civilians as human shields and civilian buildings as targets, Beinin made the equally preposterous statement:
Of course Hamas hides among civilians. Gaza's a very small, densely populated place. Where else are they going to hide?
Similarly, on the advisability of either Israel or the U.S. negotiating with Iran and Syria, Beinin made the axiomatic statement that, "You have to talk with the people you're trying to negotiate with."
On the prospects for a two-state solution, Beinin claimed that "successive Israeli administrations have done everything to prevent it from happening: The settlements, the wall, the roads." There was no word on the role of Palestinian violence toward Israelis in the failure of the "peace process," which, he allowed, was "effectively dead."
Beinin also avoided focusing on internecine battles among Palestinian factions, either in the Middle East or in the U.S. When an audience member asked him about a highly circulated video produced by Minnesotans Against Terrorism depicting a pro-Palestinian rally at the state capital in St. Paul that descended into a pitched battle between Fatah and Hamas supporters, Beinin was clueless. (The rally featured the first Muslim congressman, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, being shouted down by followers of Hamas, apparently for not being radical enough.) Seemingly unaware that Minnesota is a center for Islamist activity, Beinin was surprised that a story from that state could have any significance and brushed the question off.
Beinin's actions since this interview have amplified his anti-Israel credentials. Although Middle East studies academia has largely avoided Israel Apartheid Week since its inception in 2005, Beinin took part this year, with a talk at the University of California, Berkeley on March 5th. So too did University of Massachusetts Boston political science assistant professor Leila Farsakh, who spoke at York University the same day. Beinin's participation in this propagandistic and offensive week of Israel-bashing further affirms his lack of objectivity on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Although Beinin's audience at the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center likely consists of like-minded viewers, his students are another matter. They should treat most of what he says with the skepticism one reserves when listening to ideologues.
Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.