If you tuned into the live stream of the Harvard Kennedy School's Gaza "debate" ["The Road to Peace After Gaza" -- A conversation with: Shai Feldman, Rashid Khalidi, Moderated by: Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns] last night, you got an earful of what's wrong with the University culture of Israel bashing. In spite of the virtual shutout of Israeli and Zionist arguments, ideologues like Rashid Khalidi, President Barack Hussein Obama's dinner party buddy and their apologists like the evening's moderator, Nick Burns, Foggy Bottom's unofficial Secretary of State, perpetuate the interminable whine that their opinions never get heard by the American public. Spare me. Of the dozen questions fielded by the speakers, 10 were hostile to the Jewish State.
Burns set the tone for the evening by citing The Twin Horrors That Justify-Every-Horrendous-Act-of-Arab-Violence: THE OCCUPATION and THE SETTLEMENTS. There is no longer any debate, any questioning these axioms. If you disagree with these eternal truths, you will be banished to the dark realm of "fascists", "colonialists" or into the ninth circle inhabited by "Zionists", child molesters and serial killers.
In this corner we have Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Middle East Studies at that bastion of free speech and non-intimidation, Columbia University, those folks that gave us Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's evening of honor. The Brooklyn- born Khalidi is coming off one of his more embarrassing bouts having been caught fabricating a quote by Moshe Ya'alon. In addition to the revealed truth of THE OCCUPATION and THE SETTLEMENTS he has added GAZA AS A GIANT PRISON. With rare objections these axioms are unassailable in the university culture.
And in this corner we have Shai Feldman, Director of Brandeis University's Crown Center for Middle East Studies. Shai is typical of Israeli intellectuals abroad who, almost to a person, seem to exist only to validate the arguments of their strident Arab opponents. It's the fulfillment of the old saw, "One lies and the other swears to it." Yes, THE OCCUPATION is horrendous, yes, THE SETTLEMENTS are the chief obstacle to peace, yes, GAZA IS A BIG PRISON and yes, Israel is an APARTHEID STATE - they dutifully parrot. Feldman certainly is not so groveling as most, for example, Naomi Chazan, Ilan Peleg, Gershom Gorenberg, to name a few, but he failed to answer the repeated slanders hurled at Israel by Khalidi and his sympathetic audience. This charade has been played out on college campuses for decades. Strong speakers like Ephraim Karsh, Ephraim Inbar, Martin Kramer and even Natan Sharanksy rarely make it onto Middle East Studies rolodexes.
The bout was entirely predictable:
- Arab excoriates Israel as oppressor, occupier, Apartheid monger and wagger of the US tail (the poor Palestinians, having to resort to lobbing rockets every 5 minutes for 6 years at Jewish children - all because they don't have F-16's and tanks).
- Jew takes it on the chin, agrees with his Arab accuser most of the time with an occasional "But Israel wants peace, peace, peace..."
The roles are from central casting and the dialogue rarely varies. The Jew is the engineer of peace. He is the tireless analyst, working Plan A, but always with the central theme that Israel must make PC's (painful concessions), concessions that always entail real, concrete actions like returning to the June, 1967 borders, releasing thousands of Palestinian prisoners, dismantling settlements or supplying goods to their enemy during a hot war (the question is never asked how many medical convoys crossed into Sderot from Gaza during years of rocket attacks).
The Jew is the supreme logician. And if Plan A is not working, then he pulls out Plan B, C, etc. Feldman came across more as a policy wonk than a defender of a country that has been under siege for 60 years. He can design a logical peace. And no rational opponent can resist logic, can he? If the Palestinians' answer to Painful Concessions is increased terror, then it must be some strategic failing of the Jews. Not to worry, we'll just ratchet up the analysis and self-incrimination. Logic will win out.
The Arab, on the other hand, knows how to play to the balcony. He emotes, accuses, excoriates and prevaricates. As the perennially aggrieved party, he wins the audience by annealing the Palestinian national, theocratic and fascist movement to the crowd's self congratulatory "Progressive" feelings, no matter how intrinsically absurd that marriage is. The crowd doesn't want to hear, "Well, we can take practical steps to address the Palestinian right of return", or "we can discuss and adjust the route of the security fence". I call it the "Tel Aviv University monotone", devoid of emotion and conviction. Audiences don't want to go to a debate to hear a cost/benefit analysis of this conflict. They want to hear from their Arab interlocutor, "Israel and Zionism are fundamentally evil, stooges of a capitalist USA, jailers of Arab children and perpetrators of genocide." With the occasional exception of Alan Dershowitz they've never heard an impassioned argument from the other side. And Guess which debater almost always wins on college campuses (and ultimately in 99% of the world)?
Until Israel fields strong spokespersons who can vigorously defend and articulate historical reality, Arab and Muslim debaters on campus will score knockouts whenever they appear. Israel and Jews in The Middle East have been under siege for over 100 years; Most Palestinian Arabs have never given up their dream of annihilating every Jew in Israel; Israel has made overture after overture and scores of concrete concessions (the Gaza evacuation, prisoner release, etc.) for decades. The only demand put on Palestinians by Israel is to cease their addiction to killing Jews on sight, a nasty habit they have never been able to break. Palestinian Arabs have not made one concession for peace in 60 years, but they know how to sway a crowd. Until strong, emotive Israeli speakers venture out to enunciate their defense of The Jewish State, the case for Israel will always lose on college campuses.