A newly formed "educational think tank," the International Council for Middle East Studies (ICMES), is poised to influence U.S. policy toward the Middle East in ways that could further harm American interests in the region. It will be led by Norton Mezvinsky, a radical anti-Zionist who recently retired after a 42-year-career teaching Middle East history at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). If Mezvinsky remains true to form, ICMES will advocate for holding U.S. policy hostage to the fallacy that Israel is always at fault for the region's troubles.
ICMES found a welcoming home at the International Law Institute (ILI) at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. And according to Mezvinsky, ICMES's goal will be to build cultural bridges and promote faculty and student exchanges between the United States and Middle Eastern countries.
An immediate question comes to mind: with whom will those bridges be built? That Mezvinsky's new organization is being parachuted into ILI, a group that according to its website "raises levels of professional competence and capacity in all nations so that professionals everywhere may achieve practical solutions to common problems in ways that suit their nations' own needs" is most disturbing. We should question how such a politicized individual as Mezvinsky could operate "practically" and decide what are the needs regarding Israelis and Palestinians when he has devoted his entire career to demonizing Israel.
For example, in 2002 Mezvinsky participated in a weeklong teaching institute for Connecticut middle and high school teachers on the Middle East. Among the myths he perpetrated on his students, as recorded by an attendee, was that:
Palestinians were pushed out of their homes due to the 'Absent-Present Laws' that stated that if people who owned the land weren't on it at a given time, the land was turned over to the JNF (Jewish National Fund); and Israel has created refugees, and has intensified oppression.
Jonathan Calt Harris later reported that Mezvinsky told the entire class of teachers that, contrary to historical fact, "'the well-armed and well-funded Israelis' fought the Palestinians in 1948, but did not mention that armies of five Arab countries first invaded the U.N.-sanctioned Jewish state."
Close observers bear witness to Mezvinsky's influence on his students. Rabbi Stephen Fuchs of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, a participant in the teaching institute, said that, "[Mezvinsky] has slanted the views of a whole generation of students about the Middle East. I am concerned that he has created a negative atmosphere toward Israel."
Mezvinsky endorses the infamous 1975 UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 that declared Zionism a form of racism. Furthermore, his biased views resemble the propaganda fed to eighth graders in Saudi Arabia, who are taught that, "the blood of non-Jews has no intrinsic value" and that, therefore, the killing of non-Jews does "not constitute murder according to the Jewish religion." Such blatant anti-Semitism has nothing on Mezvinsky's claim that Judaism teaches "the killing of innocent Arabs for revenge as a Jewish virtue."
He also places the sole onus for the Palestinian refugee problem on Israel while never acknowledging the estimated 750,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands. That many of those Arab refugees left under pressure from neighboring Arab countries to facilitate the destruction of their Jewish communities is yet another example of how the Arab-Israeli conflict has been taught at CCSU absent any effort to provide historical context or scholarly balance.
Not surprisingly, Mezvinsky joined forced with the late Israel Shahak to co-author Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel. Shahak, a kindred spirit, was embraced by neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and Holocaust deniers and was warmly welcomed into the circles of Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said. When Mezvinsky updated the book and wrote its introduction, Amazon.com published Chomsky's endorsement: "An outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value."
Shahak's hatred of Israel went far beyond the simple endorsement of Arab and Palestinian views or fashionable anti-Zionism, a common enough sentiment among Israeli academic leftists. He openly hated Judaism and Jews. Shahak's entire body of work rests on his conviction that Judaism is the font of all evil and that most global issues can ultimately be traced back to Judaism via a world wide Jewish conspiracy.
Mezvinsky and Shahak are prime examples of Jewish academics who throughout their careers questioned their own religion and the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Edward Alexander of the University of Washington sums up this malady in The Jewish Divide over Israel Accusers and Defenders:
Jews who assign responsibility for anti-Jewish aggression to Jewish misbehavior not only save themselves from the unpleasant and often dangerous task of coming to the defense of the Jews coming under attack but also retain the delightful charms of good conscience. Hitler's professors were the first to make anti-Semitism both academically respectable and complicit in murder.
Mezvinsky is associated with other supporters of Shahak, including the One State for Palestine/Israel group, which advocates the "one-state solution." (They fail to note that "one state" requires no Jewish State, or that this is part of the Palestinian phased plan to destroy Israel as the Jewish homeland.) At their last conference Mezvinsky was joined by a host of radical anti-Zionist Jewish activists, including: Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada; Joel Kovel, author of Overcoming Zionism, in which he advocates the elimination of Israel; Phyllis Bennis, an antiwar activist and a fellow at the far-left Institute for Policy Studies; Ilan Pappe a zealous anti-Zionist who now teaches at the University of Exeter in England; and Gabriel Piterberg a professor of history at UCLA and devotee of Edward Said. These luminaries gathered to discuss a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a "rational - academic fashion" and, true to form, proffered the one state solution, which is de facto the modern-day "final solution."
This lamentable record underscores how a tenured professor who taught generations of undergraduates and was influential and an active head of CCSU's Middle East Lecture Series, was able to spread his ideas through the many anti-Israel/anti-Zionist speakers he brought to campus to "educate" the university community. His career illustrates one of the most serious weaknesses in contemporary Middle East Studies: the politicized writing and teaching that have displaced objective scholarship, and the redefinition of academic freedom as the liberty to dispense with academic standards. All of the above should raise serious questions about the credibility and education Mezvinsky will disseminate to a much larger audience through his International Council for Middle East Studies.
Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct scholar for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum