Professors and Pundits: An occasional column devoted to makers and brokers of ideas

Falk pas. It was amusing to see British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) "Panorama" trot out Princeton University's Richard Falk to declare Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon indictable for war crimes. It happened in "The Accused," the attempt by "Panorama" to cast Sharon as a war criminal over the Sabra and Shatila massacres of 1982. Since the program didn't add one iota of evidence to the record, three "expert" opinions constituted the crux of the argument. Falk, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice, was the most unequivocal of the lot: he found Sharon indictable, "no doubt whatsoever."

I hadn't seen Falk's authority invoked so reverentially since my own student days at Princeton. Back then, he was the leading campus enthusiast of the Ayatollah Khomeini. "The depiction of Khomeini as fanatical, reactionary, and the bearer of crude prejudices seems certainly and happily false," he wrote in 1979. "Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane government for a third-world country."1 I well recall watching him preside over a "teach-in" in support of the revolution, which was going to end human rights abuses in Iran. And I recall student groupies applauding fanatically, as if in a trance.

Falk is famous for his one-size-fits-all definition of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 1998, for example, he warned officials responsible for implementing the United Nations sanctions against Iraq of their "criminal accountability for complicity in the commission of crimes against humanity." The insistence of U.S. leaders on continuing the sanctions regime "subjects them to potential criminal responsibility."2 Extracting such ex cathedra rulings from Falk is easy business. This year it is Sharon, next year it could be George Bush senior or Bill Clinton. Stay tuned to the BBC.

More from Old Nassau. When Israelis and Palestinians clash, the academic tribes rally. It's happening once more across America. Activist organizations spring into action. Faculty members speak out. All of this is legitimate. What is illegitimate is when the very institutions of a university—academic units such as departments, centers, and institutes—turn themselves into blatant partisans of one side or the other. This is just what happened at Princeton in the spring of 2001.

Background: in 1994, Prince Moulay Hicham Benabdallah of Morocco, a Princeton alumnus, bestowed a hefty gift on the university to establish something called the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia. Princeton, of course, has a renowned department of Near Eastern studies, the oldest in the country. But the prince wanted something all his own and was prepared to pay for it. A Moroccan anthropologist, Abdellah Hammoudi, directs the vanity institute. It organizes conferences, many of them outside the country, and passes out a couple of fellowships each year.

This past spring, the Institute for Transregional Study announced a lecture series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When genuine academic units organize lecture series, the usual approach is to recruit speakers who will represent diverse views. After all, diversity is the mantra of the American university. In fact, what one often gets are identical views expressed by people of diverse backgrounds. Call it false diversity. The Institute for Transregional Study, in its spring lecture series, produced what must be regarded as the textbook case, the purest form, the ideal type, of false diversity.

The nine-lecture series brought together a truly broad collection of supporters, sympathizers, and apologists for the Palestinian cause. Celebrities? Edward Said and Richard Falk addressed the "end," the "collapse" of the peace process, and who could doubt where they would lay the blame? Journalists? Inveterate Israel-basher Robert Fisk, of the London Independent, delivered his usual indictment. Sylvain Cypel, international correspondent of Le Monde, analyzed the approach of the French press, with its predictable sympathies. (Notice: no American journalists.) Academic experts? Palestinian professor Salim Tamari and Lebanese writer and militant Elias Khoury demanded the "right of return." Sara Roy, perpetual "research associate" at Harvard University, once again explained Israel's "political economy of dispossession."

Israelis? Of course there were Israelis. After all: diversity rules the university. There were two. Ilan Pappé, the zealous anti-Zionist at Haifa University, a man for whom even the post-Zionists are Nakba-deniers, described what he thought would be a "fair settlement." (Pappé thinks it must be based on Israel's total and abject acceptance of all responsibility for the conflict and all of its consequences.) Amira Hass, the very engagée Palestinian affairs correspondent of Ha'aretz, now a resident of Ramallah, lectured on "The Israeli Policy of Closure: A Means of Domination and a Form of Neo-Occupation."

And that was it. This was the entire line-up of the institute's semester-long lecture series on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

No doubt this would pass for diversity at the Mohammed V University in Rabat, former home to Professor Hammoudi. Perhaps it would pass for diversity in Moulay Hicham's palace. It shouldn't pass for diversity at Princeton. The question is whether Princeton will continue to ignore the abuse of its name for blatantly political purposes or will affirm the basic neutrality of its academic units—even a cash cow like the Institute for Transregional Study.

"E" as in "Egregious." MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has never amounted to much in the world of Middle Eastern studies. It has no program, no center, and no department. But it does have the historian Philip Khoury, a star of Arab-American academe, chronicler of modern Syria, and dean of humanities, arts, and social sciences.

And what has MIT to offer if not technology? In the spring, the MIT Electronic Journal for Middle Eastern Studies made its first appearance.3 Khoury chairs the advisory board, a who's who of the Middle Eastern studies establishment. The editor is a graduate student of architecture.

According to the "statement of purpose" of the e-journal, its editorial board "is committed to non-partisanship." To judge from the first issue, this claim is utterly false. As the editor puts it, the journal's "alternative" approach "is directly connected to issues of justice—of acknowledging the repressions, physical and psychological, which accompanied the creation of the state of Israel in 1948." And she means it: the first issue is comprised almost entirely of indictments of Israel.

There is the ubiquitous Ilan Pappé, again lamenting Israel's refusal to acknowledge the sin of its birth. Other articles blame Israel for the free-fall of the Palestinian economy and for alienating "Arab-Jews" (Jews expelled from Arab countries) from their Arabness. Israel, it turns out, also had a secret ally: one author insists that National Geographic photographs prepared America to accept Palestinian "dispossession." (The photos exoticized the Palestinians.) There is a tribute to the Paris-based Revue d'études palestiniennes, the leading magazine of pro-Palestinian opinion in Europe, on which the MIT journal would appear to be modeled. In short, this is a journal of bald partisanship, operating behind a thin façade of scholarship. ("Publications decisions [are] based solely on academic merit," and submissions "are subject to a process of blind peer review.")

Now it comes as no surprise that a band of militantly pro-Palestinian professors and students should launch a propaganda campaign from MIT. (The place is also home to Noam Chomsky.) It is not even surprising that the journal should attempt to disguise itself as objective scholarship. What is astonishing is the brazen use of MIT's name, and even of MIT's symbol: it's the centerpiece of the journal's logo. A university's name and symbol are proprietary trademarks; their use is generally restricted to activities that enjoy full university sanction and approval. One can only hope that MIT, for its own sake, will act to salvage its good name and bar the use of its symbol on the "cover" of a magazine of totally one-sided political advocacy.

MESA Mandarin. Congratulations to Joel Beinin, Stanford University historian, who in November 2001 assumes the presidency of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA). No one more perfectly personifies the values and norms that prevail in Middle Eastern studies today.

Beinin is the avatar of the "new left" insurgency that swept through Middle Eastern studies in the 1980s. As a member of a Zionist-socialist youth movement, he had gone to live on a kibbutz in Israel. Hell hath no fury like a socialist scorned: the experience turned him into a fervent anti-Zionist and critic of Israel. When he is not lecturing, writing, and demonstrating on behalf of Palestine, he is railing against the "perils of a neoliberal, repressive ‘pax Americana'."4 "I'd encourage students to get involved in all political issues," he told The Stanford Daily during the 1998 U.S.-Iraq confrontation, "because the political system in the United States is corrupt."5

Beinin is entitled to his radical views. What is telling is that the membership of MESA, that supposed reservoir of collective wisdom about the Middle East, should have chosen him as president. MESA presidents don't do a great deal—the job only lasts one year—but the choice says a lot about the state of academic consensus. And what Beinin's elevation says is quite simply this: never has the Middle Eastern studies guild been more opposed to American values, U.S. policy, and U.S. influence in the Middle East.

It's worth remembering this in the fall of 2002, when MESA next convenes in Washington, and its boosters again assert that academic Middle Eastern studies are in "the nation's interest." This questionable claim, invoked to justify continuing federal subsidies under Title VI, deserves closer scrutiny than ever before. This is the task of Congress.

Indeed, why shouldn't Congress invite Beinin to make the case for Middle Eastern studies? Surely one duty of a MESA president is defense of the multi-million dollar government subsidy enjoyed by his constituents. This column urges the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee to invite President Beinin to testify at its spring budget hearings. This journal will be delighted to report the proceedings.

The Suitcase and the Coffin. Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, Palestinian-American political scientist, passed away in June. He died (of lung disease) in Ramallah, West Bank, but an East Jerusalem hospital issued an Israeli burial permit under his name. With this document, his kin succeeded in having him buried in his native Jaffa, next to his father, just as he wished. Edward Said and Georgetown University professor Hisham Sharabi (also a native of Jaffa) attended the funeral.

Unlike Said, Abu-Lughod was a genuine refugee. In 1948, still a teenager, he fled Jaffa by the last departing boat. Shortly thereafter, he went to America, where he took his degrees and built a 34-year-long career at Northwestern University. His Princeton doctorate, published as Arab Rediscovery of Europe (1963), was a work of solid scholarship. But after 1967, he turned to writing almost exclusively about the loss of his Palestine. The Transformation of Palestine (1972), his best-known volume, served as a kind of activist handbook.

Abu-Lughod never had the impact of Edward Said, in part because he felt no need to have Jewish or Israeli admirers, and never showed the slightest interest in cultivating friends across the aisle. He even attacked the Israeli "new historians," for perpetuating the Zionist narrative in a new and deceptive guise. In his angriest years, Abu-Lughod wrote in a style that was crude and shrill. In one infamous example, from 1974, he described the Middle East centers at Princeton, Chicago, Harvard, and UCLA as "Zionist instruments and bases for Israeli-American espionage."6 (Those were the days.)

Abu-Lughod, then, was not "user-friendly" to advocates of peace and reconciliation. But in the reportage of his funeral, journalists and commentators missed the point. Most of them headlined the funeral as "the return of Abu-Lughod," a posthumous exercise of his "right of return." But Abu-Lughod had already returned. In 1992, he took early retirement from Northwestern, to become vice-president of Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. Later he became a consultant to the Education Ministry of the Palestinian Authority. In every interview, he called this move his "return." Yes, he had visited Jaffa in 1991, after an absence of more than forty years, and he continued to visit it. But so much had changed. "Though Jaffa is my city," he wrote, "I could not help feeling that the life that runs through its veins today is a very different life from the one that I had lived."7

In principle, Abu-Lughod remained a firm advocate of the "right of return." In practice, he compromised. And in Ramallah, he restored the honor he had lost in Jaffa and that Jaffa could never restore to him. Henceforth, let this be called the "Abu-Lughod Solution."

Palestine Revised. The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is part of the Smithsonian Institution. It occupies a wing of the Ronald Reagan Building, just off the mall. Each year the Wilson Center awards in-residence research fellowships, allowing scholars to pursue significant research projects in ideal conditions. The entering class of fellows includes Philip Mattar, executive director of the Institute of Palestine Studies in Washington. His subject: "Towards Palestinian Revisionism."8

This is something of a phantom subject, if one is to believe Mattar himself. "I don't think there's a single Palestinian revisionist," he told The New York Times in 1999, "and I don't think there will be until this conflict is resolved and they don't feel they are revealing too much about their weaknesses and mistakes." As an example of what a Palestinian revisionist might analyze, Mattar pointed to the Palestinian rejection of favorable compromises that would have created a state of Palestine.

A historian by profession, Mattar explained how the work has to be done: "The history has to be far more forthright and detailed. It has to be based on the archives, it has to totally ignore public perceptions and official narratives and stick to the facts as they emerge without being mindful of the political, social, and economic consequences." To which he added this skeptical conclusion: "That's a tall order, and I don't think any Palestinian is willing to do it."9

The question now is whether Mattar is willing to do it, in political circumstances that are much less auspicious than they were when he wrote his fellowship proposal. Add to this the fact that for years he has been a servant of an institute that exists in order to embellish and maintain the great Palestinian narrative. One wonders whether Mattar and the Wilson Center have overreached. But here, a confession: I have known Mattar for over twenty years; it is impossible not to respect this gentle man. I can only wish him success.

Does something on your campus or hallway deserve comment? Notify this column: mideast@columnist.com.

Martin Kramer is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.
1 Richard Falk, "Trusting Khomeini," The New York Times, Feb. 16, 1979. This article somehow has escaped from Falk's own list of publications, at www.wws.princeton.edu/~rfalk/papers/cv.html.
2 Richard Falk, "Implementing Sanctions against Iraq Involves the Commission of Crimes against Humanity," at www.nonviolence.org/vitw/htv8.html.
3 At web.mit.edu/cis/www/mitejmes/.
4 Joel Beinin, "Palestine and Israel: Perils of a Neoliberal, Repressive ‘Pax Americana'," Social Justice, Winter 1998, p. 20.
5 The Stanford Daily, Feb. 20, 1998.
6 Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, "As-Saytara as-Sahyuniyya ‘ala ad-dirasat al-‘arabiyya fi Amrika (Zionist Control over Arab Studies in America)," Al-Adib, June 1974, p. 6.
7 Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, "After the Matriculation," Al-Ahram Weekly, Apr. 30-May 6, 1998, at www.ahram.org.eg/weekly/1998/1948/lughod.htm.
8 Summary of Mattar's proposal at http://wwics.si.edu/fellows01/mattar/mattar.htm
9 Patricia Cohen, "Palestinians in Dispute: Was Jordan Ever Their Friend?", The New York Times, Feb. 13, 1999.