The Center for Near Eastern Studies has tarnished the highly respected reputation of academia at UCLA.
In their symposium "Human Rights and Gaza," held on Jan. 21, the Center for Near Eastern Studies, once known for its academic integrity and diversity of perspectives, presented a one-sided interpretation of current affairs in the Middle East.
Framed as an opportunity to openly discuss the unique challenges of human rights in the 21st century, the symposium was purported to address human rights as pertaining to all human beings. I went because I had a lot of questions that I wanted answered: How do we defend human rights without simultaneously subverting them? How do we rescue human rights from hijackers without injuring their hostages? How do we deal with racist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, who openly deny human rights to others, while upholding the rights of civilians who support, shelter and embrace such movements? How does civilized society deal with its modern predators, propelled by human shields and bombs, and martyrdom-seeking fanatics, using restraints authored for states and armies?
Instead, what I witnessed that day was a political rally. Masked as an academic discussion of the contemporary conflict in Gaza and Israel, one by one these so-called academics shamelessly stood up and presented lengthy diatribes of what they presented as absolute realities. They vowed to illustrate the reality of the situation that they self-righteously claimed the media withheld from the public, and we believed them because of who they were. What we witnessed that night was anything but academic. Rather, they presented gross oversimplification of an obviously multifaceted conflict, dividing it into only two components: the Israelis as the abusive aggressors, and all Palestinians – not limited to Gaza, the supposed premise of the symposium – as the faceless victims of Israeli cruelty and injustice.
The crowd cheered enthusiastically at the indictments issued unjustly against Israel by the professors. The defamation of Israel was met with deafening applause. During the question and answer portion of the seminar, only a brave few stood up to do precisely what they had come to do – to question – in the face of menacing boos, ridicule and utter intolerance. Despite that, one more dared to question, addressing Hamas' illegitimacy, specifically through the documented usage of human shields. Ignoring the question asked, panelist Lisa Hajjar mockingly replied, "You have your Zionist hat on a little too tight." The comment was inappropriate and disturbing, especially in a purportedly academic setting. Unfortunately, it was only met by the roaring laughter of the audience and her fellow panelists, together chanting, "Zionism is Nazism! Zionism is Nazism!" It was only when the questioner demanded an apology that Hajjar reluctantly retracted her statement.
Shame on the Center for Near Eastern Studies for neither intervening nor preventing such prejudiced and bigoted defamation. As a student at UCLA, I feel completely and utterly betrayed.
Either shockingly weak on facts or intentionally distorting them at will, the panelists invited by the Center for Near Eastern Studies disillusioned any person expecting even a semblance of a balanced portrayal of the situation.
What did this event really accomplish? Did it provide a fair and evenhanded description of the conflict? I think the answer is a resounding no. The only success of the event was its vehement perpetuation of hatred and distorted lies naively associated with the conflict, and more regrettably, the perpetuation of the division of UCLA students on this very sensitive matter by our own faculty. In light of the peace pole recently erected on the heart of campus, should we not expect more from our departmental role models? I would surely hope so.
Meiselman is a graduate student in atmospheric and oceanic sciences and is a member of Bruins for Israel.