A conference on media coverage of the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict being held tomorrow (April 3) at the University of California, Los Angeles, looks to be yet another opportunity for anti-Israel invective. Titled "Covering Lebanon," the conference is co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.
Conference speakers include UCLA history professor Gabriel Piterberg, who specializes on the Near and Middle East. Piterberg is best known for teaching a course extolling the virtues of the father of anti-Orientalism, Edward Said, and another that examines "the dispossession of the Palestinians by the state of Israel during and after the 1948 war, the meaning and use of the Holocaust, and the extent to which the term 'a Jewish democratic state' is sustainable."
Appearing at a "speak-out" held by the Muslim Student Association in 2000, Piterberg went so far as to oppose a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict. As he put it, "You can't have a Palestinian state with its own rights, when you have 150,000 Jewish extremists sitting in the middle."
Other highlights of his career include signing a 2003 petition calling for UC divestment from Israel, canceling a class to attend a student anti-war protest, and fashioning himself the imagined "victim" of Campus Watch. Considering his background, there is little doubt what Piterberg will contribute to the UCLA conference.
UCLA professor of anthropology and co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women's Studies Sondra Hale will also be speaking at the conference. Seeing as Hale was one of the academic signatories to a 2002 open letter warning that Israel would use the Iraq war to perpetrate "ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinians, her presence at the UCLA conference inspires little confidence. Hale was also one of the scheduled participants in the canceled American Association of University Professors (AAUP) conference on academic boycotts (i.e. against Israel) that was to have taken place in Italy in 2006.
Nubar Hovsepian, an associate professor of political science and international studies at Chapman University and former associate director of the Middle East Center at the University of Pennsylvania, is another of the UCLA conference speakers. Hovsepian served as a Political Affairs Officer for the United Nations' International Conference on the "Question of Palestine" in 1982-84, an association which, considering the UN's blatantly hostile attitude towards Israel, hardly bespeaks impartiality. Hovsepian is the editor of the reader "War on Lebanon," the title of which gives some clue as to his one-sided views on that conflict. Not to mention that fellow contributors include such politicized professors as Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi, Stephen Zunes and Richard Falk.
Richard Falk, as it happens, is also slated to speak at the UCLA conference. Falk is a professor of international law at Princeton University and a visiting professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Like Hovsepian, Falk has his own history with the United Nations, having served on a UN-appointed "Human Rights Inquiry Commission for the Palestine Territories" in 2001.
In a 2002 article for The Nation, Falk betrayed the sort of moral equivalence towards the Middle East conflict that has become all too common in the halls of academia. He labeled both the Passover suicide bombing at Netanya and the Israeli military reaction "equally horrifying" and bemoaned the fact that Americans, by and large, did not view Palestinian terrorism as "reactive and understandable." It's not much of a leap to imagine that Falk is likely to draw the same morally vacuous conclusions at the UCLA conference.
Other speakers include Stephen Sheehi, an associate professor and Arabic Program director at the University of South Carolina, whose "teaching interests" are listed on his faculty page as "[sic] critical theory especially radical political and Marxist theory, poststructuralist and postcolonial liberationist theory," along with the usual glowing references to Edward Said.
Then there's As'ad Abu Khalil, a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and a visiting professor at University of California, Berkeley. Khalil founded a blog called the Angry Arab News Service and describes himself as an "atheist secularist." Yet somehow Khalil, who was born in Lebanon, manages to make the claim that, in regards to religious freedom, "I have lived half my life in 'Western society' and never encountered…those principles." He also blames Israel for Hezbollah's existence, stating that "the Israel occupation of Lebanon gave us Hezbollah."
Considering the presence of professors with such politicized views of the Middle East, it's difficult to imagine that the UCLA conference will provide an objective or scholarly approach to the Israeli/Hezbollah war, let alone the media coverage thereof, which is a controversial topic in and of itself.
The outcome remains to be seen.
Update (April 6, 2007): An article in the Daily Bruin titled "News Accuracy in Covering Israel-Lebanon Conflict Questioned" provides some details from the UCLA "Covering Lebanon" conference, namely participants' overwhelming conclusion that U.S. media coverage was somehow biased in favor of Israel. As CSU-Stanislau political science professor As'ad Abu Khalil (referenced above) put it, "Americans peddled the story Israel gave them, which was untrue...but there was no accountability in the media to find the truth."
While the latter half of Abu Khalil's statement may be somewhat accurate, as the blogosphere-uncovered "fauxtography" scandal made clear, the first part is not only inflammatory, but contradicted by the evidence. Apparently, neither Abu Khalil, nor anyone else at the conference, for that matter, explained how numerous U.S. and international media sources putting forward as fact staged and altered photos and false accounts designed to damage Israel's image is evidence of bias in Israel's favor.
Indeed, Abu Khalil tipped his hand when, according to a UCLA International Institute article on the conference, he stated that coverage "highlighting the anguish and discomfort of Hezbollah fighters," or rather, terrorists, would have been preferable.
If anything was one-sided, it appears to have been the conference itself, which hardly speaks well for the objectivity of its co-sponsor, the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.