Dr. Shlomo Aronson is a Schusterman Visiting Professor, University of Arizona, and the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise
The attached report is a letter written by an outraged listener following a panel discussion held at the University of Arizona by the Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies to that center's Director. The participants quoted here were Professor Charles Smith, a self styled "expert" on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian issue, who is known for missing command of both Hebrew and Arabic; Professor Leila Hudson, a Syrian by origin; and Asher Kaufman, an Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Notre Dame.
My more pro-Israel colleagues and I were not invited to participate. As you read this account, by a student whose name has been withheld for protection, please be aware of the usage of this panel in an academic setting to advance personal opinion and political rhetoric - not academic papers supported by research. This method is a time-honored way for anti-Israel propagandists to spread their diatribes under the guise of academic freedom. It is not the only instance of this type of panel occurring during the recent defensive Israeli Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
This letter continues to remain unanswered.
January 29, 2009
I attended last evening's panel discussion on the situation in the Gaza Strip. My one-word description to my friend after leaving the auditorium was "outrage". Since the University of Arizona is a liberal college campus, I expected to encounter a slightly-slanted stance in favor of diplomatic efforts and against all forms of armed conflict. However, I was unprepared for this three-person panel. It appears as though no effort was made to procure a single speaker to defend Israel's policies, or at the very least, to expose the cruelty and terrorism of Hamas, an organization who has in its founding charter, the goal of bringing about the destruction of Israel. For the first time in my nearly two-year enterprise as a graduate student at this university, I was embarrassed, angered, and ashamed to be at all associated with the school and with this program. Here is a summary of the comments made by the three speakers at last night's discussion.
Professor Smith left no question regarding his stance on the recent conflict. His presentation began by arguing, somewhat correctly, that Israel was responsible for the birth of Hamas. However, he continued to tell falsehoods and half-truths, culminating in a justification for Hamas' actions. He stated the resumption of rocket fire was in response to Israel's military operation of November 4th, failing to point out that the rockets did not begin falling at a rapid pace until the ceasefire expired and Hamas refused to continue it. He also made mention that the breakdown of the 2000 Camp David talks was, despite all accounts from individuals present at those negotiations, the fault of the Israeli leadership. He even went as far as to say, "Clinton, Dennis Ross, and [Ehud] Barak all lied about what happened there". Former President Bill Clinton has said repeatedly that his greatest failure as President was his inability to see through Arafat's deceptions. I personally know that Dennis Ross places the blame for the failure of the Camp David talks squarely on the Palestinians. He repeatedly told me this during the 15-week course he taught at Brandeis University on the Arab-Israeli conflict. These details are all properly documented in his book, which, by all accounts, is the most comprehensive work on this conflict. Even Robert Malley, a member of the American negotiating team at Camp David, stated in a New York Times article that he was "frustrated almost to the point of despair by the Palestinians' passivity and inability to seize the moment." At no time during Smith's comments did he indicate from whom his information about the "lies" of the American and Israeli negotiating teams came, since he wasn't there to have firsthand knowledge had by Clinton, Ross, and Malley.
The second speaker can only be described as an Israeli apologist. A self-proclaimed leftist protester of the Israeli government, Professor Kaufman dedicated his time to describing the overt and covert goals of the Gaza offensive. He then detailed how each was a failure and how Israel was weakened in the eyes of world opinion, and how Hamas was strengthened by the recent round of fighting. Kaufman expressed "concern" about the growing undemocratic actions of the Israeli government, including what he described as a growing state influence in the media and the repression of voices of dissent. Had one wandered into the auditorium mid-lecture, they might have assumed the Professor was speaking of Libya, Syria, or Iran, and not Israel, the only democratic regime in the Middle East. He concluded his remarks by intimating his concern for what will become of Israel if the "far-right" takes power. Professor Kaufman seems to forget that a Prime Minister Netanyahu would result from the peaceful transfer of power following a free and fair election by the citizens of Israel, both Jewish and Muslim. None of this could be said about so-called "elections" held in Israel's neighboring countries where dissidents are car-bombed, or even in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas consolidated power by executing its rivals and throwing their families off of rooftops.
Finally, after Kaufman spoke, the microphone was handed over to Professor Hudson, who gave a brief disclaimer indicating that her words were her personal opinions and not those of the department or of the university. Why did she need to give such a disclaimer? Because she then gave a fifteen minute diatribe resembling the one-sided, anti-Semitic rants repeatedly heard in the United Nations Security Council chamber, from the mouths of radical Islamist extremists, and from the powers-that-be in Teheran. Had she felt that she couldn't make her point with the comments she used, I wouldn't have been surprised to hear her call directly for the destruction of Israel. After all, she began by stating that the operation in Gaza was an "illegal, illegitimate massacre of children". She proffered that collective punishment violates the Geneva Conventions, that Israel used unconventional weapons that caused the victims to "melt alive", and that the economic blockade of the Strip endangered the Gazan civilians and prevented much-needed aid from reaching them. Perhaps Professor Hudson should take a moment to reread the Geneva Conventions, for they also prohibit, inter alia, the targeting of civilians, "acts or threats of violence... to spread terror among the civilian population" and the use of human shields. Moreover, these Conventions "especially forbid the improper use of a flag or truce...as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention ...[and] the emblem of the Red Cross". All sides concede that Hamas has engaged in each and every one of these activities, including hiding weapons in hospitals, mosques, and schools, and seeking refuge in buildings designated for the United Nations. She also neglected to explain how a blockade that was so tight as to cut off humanitarian aid to Gaza's residents, proved to be incapable of stemming the flow of weapons and Iranian rockets into the Strip. Had Hamas instead smuggled food and medical supplies through those tunnels the suffering of their people (and yes, they do suffer tremendously) wouldn't be so great. Professor Hudson's silence regarding these issues was deafening. She even cautioned the audience not to believe the "lies told by Israel's defenders". I think Ms. Hudson should take the late-Senator Moynihan's advice that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own set of facts.
The exclusion of differing opinions on this panel resembles the very accusations made by the panelists against Israel. Not a single pro-Israel opinion was presented regarding the recent Gaza conflict. Additionally, none of the three panelists gave a full account of the events that transpired, nor did they place any of the blame either for the launching of rockets into Israel or the subsequent deaths of civilians in the Strip on Hamas. I would expect this one-sided "educational opportunity" to come from Iran's Holocaust deniers; but not from an American educational institution which prides itself on its commitment to freedom of opinion and unbiased analysis. Even more disturbing than the panelists' comments were the responses from the audience, the majority of whom were undergraduate students. One student commented on Israel's "massacre" of the Palestinians and what we could do to stop them. Another spoke of Israel's "police state", making it out to be a totalitarian regime. Presumably she would be equally critical of her own country, despite the fact that it is one of the only places in the world where she could speak so freely. Others enthusiastically thanked the panelists for bringing to light information that cannot be gleaned from American media outlets, who are "controlled by Israel's supporters". Did I attend a panel discussion at an American state university about a recent world event, or was I present among sympathizers at a Middle East-style flag-burning? The chants of "Death to Israel" weren't spoken out loud, however those thoughts surely permeated throughout the auditorium.
It is programs such as last evening's that fail to foster debate and discussion among America's best and brightest. Instead, these programs continue the vicious anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, and Anti-Israeli sentiments that are so commonplace in today's society. If only you were willing to see how important it is to provide all of the facts and opinions from both sides, despite there being contradictory to your own beliefs, you too might feel ashamed to have been a part of such a program.