A Brooklyn College Political Science graduate student enrolled in a Middle East course offered at Brooklyn College for this Spring. The newly hired adjunct professor for the course is Kristofer Petersen.
Dismayed after doing some online search on the newly-hired adjunct professor, the student wrote on January 12 to the Department Chair:
Mr. Kristofer Petersen is an active partisan of Palestinians in Gaza. As a recent graduate student, he has published his views in one of the most virulent pro-Palestinian forums and elsewhere, and I have found little else in his online record displaying either balance or a wider scholarly understanding of Israel and the Palestinians… His writings and associations point to an apparent one-sidedness with regards to the Middle Eastern issue of Israel and Palestinians.
Kristofer Petersen's own description of his background includes: "Outside the academy, I worked for some time as a human rights activist in Gaza and the West Bank and I still maintain close contact with the Palestinian activist community."
The student points out Electronic Intifada as the venue for two of Petersen's writings and quotes a pro-Palestinian activist and journalist, Ray Hanania, Member of the National Board of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who wrote, "Electronic Intifada, [is] a place where hypocrisy is the norm, factual inaccuracies are common place, and anger and hatred drive their mission….And they are the first to denounce the killing of Palestinians, but never denounce the killing of Israelis." (NGO Monitor has a Fact Sheet on Electronic Intifada. The Dutch government told an interfaith organization it funds that it may cut off funding if it continues funding Electronic Intifada.)
For that matter, the Israel-Palestinian dynamics are a relatively small part of issues in the Middle East. As the WikiLeaks revealed, the principal Arab state preoccupation is threats from Iran. (BBC Middle East editor: "Now their own people can see that in private they are saying the same things about Iran as many Israelis and neo-conservative Americans.")
Petersen is preoccupied with the Palestinian narrative, as evident in his syllabus on the course, Politics of the Middle East: "the course is structured around the broad theme of identity and will be conducted at two levels: (1) a macro level which focuses on the Arab Middle East in general—and does not include details about Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan or Pakistan—and (2) a micro level which focuses specifically on Israel/Palestine."
There are two required readings in Petersen's course syllabus.. The first is The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World by Mohammed Ayoob, who concludes writing:
Above all, it is the unstinted and unquestioning American support to Israel, especially to its policy of continued occupation of and settlement within Palestinian lands conquered in 1967, that demonstrates to politically conscious Muslims that the United States is committed to treating Muslims and Arabs not only with insensitivity but with utter contempt.
Ayoob footnotes John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and Rashid Khalidi, strident critics of Israel.
The second required reading Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents by Charles Smith, is either lauded as a resource or pointedly critiqued -- for example, "The closing chapters of the book are undoubtedly biased towards the Palestinian account."
Recommended readings for Petersen's Middle East course are mostly of similar tilt.
As the student wrote to the Department Chair:
The key question is whether Mr. Petersen is capable of wide scholarship, balance, and presentations that will bring credit to Brooklyn College and not legitimate criticism from students, alumni or the public. I think it appropriate to have sympathy for Palestinians. However, there is much more to the complex story, as you must be aware. That is why careful and sober scholarly analysis and presentation is so needed. From Mr. Kristofer Petersen's writings available online and his associations, it appears that this may not be what the students at Brooklyn College can be assured to receive.
The student's letter concludes:
Please refer to the list below my signature for some more on Mr. Petersen's online writings. [I include it with sources below the fold. BK]
It should be of interest what the vetting procedure is at Brooklyn College to select a pool of well-qualified candidates, the criteria by which Kristofer Petersen was selected to teach the Middle East, and how Petersen compared to other qualified candidates. Academic transparency should not be -- nor viewed -- as a challenge to academic freedom but rather as its necessary bulwark of credibility.
The department Chair did reply to the student, but requested that I not quote his email. He recognizes the student's reservations but expects the course itself should be fair and balanced.
An indication of Mr. Petersen's more supposedly serious work is the chapter Petersen recently co-wrote, Retooling Peace Philosophy: A Critical Look at Israel's Separation Strategy in the book Peace Philosophy in Action. It is a polemic masquerading as scholarship. Petersen's co-authors, Johannes Schmidt and Jacques Hirsh, are Danish academics. Hirsh is avidly anti-Zionist, writing in the Marxist periodical Monthly Review: "As the focus on the Holocaust evolved, it came to be seen as related to the transformation of the struggle for a secure Israel into one of an expanding and conquering state." Schmidt is active in the international "peace" movement.
Petersen's chapter presents Israel's Zionism as a "philosophy of separation" and "ethnic separation" creating an apartheid state and so treating Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. "This chapter argues that the philosophy of separation is a logical extension of Zionism's exclusionary ideological history and that its implementation in the Gaza Strip has not reduced the level of violence against Israeli civilians." The chapter goes on this "has led some to draw comparisons with South African apartheid, a parallel that has become increasingly justified…"
Now, many within Israel forecast and most now see that Israel's unilateral withdrawal from occupation of Gaza would allow the most violent among Gazans to take control, as Hamas did, and imperil Israel, as homemade rockets and the Iranian arming of Hamas has done. But, Petersen's chapter treats the cause of Gazan violence against Israel as if it is Israel's fault, somehow a consequence of ensuing Gazan poverty: "…Israel's general security situation has actually worsened, roughly commensurate with the plummeting humanitarian conditions in Gaza." There's no exploration of the murders by Hamas of its Palestinian political foes, its authoritarian control of Gazan society, pocketing or use on arms of hundreds of millions of dollars a year of international humanitarian aid from the West, other Arab states avoidance of support for Hamas, or Hamas dedication from its inception to eradicate Israel.
Even a former Board member of J Street, whose start-up funding came from George Soros and is widely criticized for its weak stance toward Palestinian and Iranian extremism, now the State Department's Anti-Semitism Envoy, recently observed, "I think when you hold Israel to a different standard, it is over the line."
Sources approvingly cited for the views expressed in Petersen's chapter tell us much: Noam Chomsky (also in personal conversations with the author concluding the chapter); Norman Finklestein; Walt & Mearsheimer. Other sources are selected, often selectively, to buttress this shabby diatribe.
Is this the quality of scholarship or thought appropriate to teaching a course on the Middle East? The graduate student agrees that the class itself will tell whether Mr. Petersen will be fair and balanced, and looks forward to it being worthwhile and a credible scholarly course.
PETERSEN ONLINE WRITINGS APPENDED TO THE STUDENT'S LETTER:
"Examples of what I have come across online from Mr. Petersen's own work:
• Associated in administrative capacity with the website http://harmonicminor.com/ that posts chilling articles vilifying Israel. As written on another website, 2 "Kris Petersen is a graduate student currently (2007) conducting research in the Gaza Strip. He runs a news/commentary blog at www.harmonicminor.com."
Some sample article headlines 3 on Mr. Petersen's harmonicaminor.com blog include:
1. "Apartheid Regimes Heart Apartheid Regimes: Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons…"
2. "Couldn't Have Said It Better: Let's start with the most obvious. This is a cynical ploy by the Israeli government to divert attention from the findings of the UN report…"
3. "Moral Narcissism: Such a remarkable story could only happen in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A young gay Palestinian man, who is in grave, life-threatening danger and cannot return to his home with his Israeli partner, was saved by a stranger who came to his aid – a religious West Bank settler. (full article…)
Look at this morally narcissistic story. Does the Israeli media also report that their noble military uses sexual identity as blackmail against Palestinians they hope to use as collaborators? Do they report that Palestinian/Israeli couples (of any sexual orientation) are barred from residence in that racist state [Israel]?"
4. "'Academic Freedom' in Israel: Israeli academics are being watched. Vigilantes check what they say or write – and, if they are judged 'anti-Israel,' incite donors to the universities and colleges where they teach to act against them. Students are encouraged to spy on their teachers and to report what they say. Academics on the left are the targets. They are vilified as 'Israel's academic fifth column' and 'our inner scourge.' They are called 'traitors' and are accused of 'treasonous betrayal' and of wanting 'to suck up to and be accepted by the enemy.'"
A sample comment post on his own blog reads 4 :
Kris Petersen (author) said:
Given that the U.S. provides Israel with complete diplomatic support in the U.N. by vetoing any discussion or serious actions against the occupation, the change must come from the U.S. It alone has the power to pressure Israel into ceasing settlement expansion and withdrawing (to any borders). When the U.S. believes that peace in the Middle-East is in its interest, the occupation with end and the work towards reconciliation can really begin.
# 27 April 2008 at 10:01
• Strong personal identification with Palestinian activism, describing himself 5 : "Outside the academy, I worked for some time as a human rights activist in Gaza and the West Bank and I still maintain close contact with the Palestinian activist community."
• Mr. Petersen is author of "Waiting to Enter Gaza" published March 2009 on ElectronicIntifada.net 6 , Canadian Islamic Congress website 7, and Palestinian World Blogspot 8 (amongst others). Article excerpts:
"If there is a single act that characterizes the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation, it is waiting: waiting in lines to pass through the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the West Bank, waiting for Israel to issue an identification card, waiting for permission to travel to the next village or out of the country, waiting for loved ones languishing in Israeli prisons to be released -- waiting for peace, waiting for justice ….
"My heart aches for Gaza: for the fresh sea air and the desert breeze, for the sweet smell of orange groves and the bitterness of unripe pomelo, for the hospitality offered by those who have lost everything but their lives, for my friends suffering indescribable horrors and for the indomitable spirit of a people who refuse to be extinguished in spite of it all. As I catch my flight out of the region, I am acutely conscious of the fact that Israel has scored a minor success by preventing me from entering Gaza. I could not wait there indefinitely. But I know that there are many other ways to fight Israeli oppression. And through it all, Gaza will endure."
• Author of "The Gaza Strip: Disengagement Two Years On" published on Electronic Intifada 9 that beats Israel for withdrawing from Gaza and claims, "However, Israeli control in Gaza two years after disengagement is total; indeed, the very text of the disengagement plan explicitly provides for much of the current strangulation…"
• Author of a research paper Counting Heads: Israel's Demographic Imperative 10 claiming Israel is essentially engaging in ethnic cleansing, as stated: "The implementation of policies including the endorsement of 'transfer'—a euphemism for the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, the razing of Palestinian villages, discriminatory legislation and the creation of facts on the ground—are a logical extension of the Zionist ideology. The construction of the West Bank Barrier (WBB) is the current manifestation of Israeli demographic fears and the Zionist desire to further curb non-Jewish elements."
• Author of a research paper Inventing the Martyr: Martyrdom as Palestinian National Signafier 11 that attempts to normalize and excuse Palestinian suicide bombings/martyrdom.
• Demonstrated personal support for Palestine and Palestinians only, for example: Mr. Petersen wrote the boxed comment below on a blog called "Noticeable Changes: flow like summersaults: the liberation of palestine" 12 which features the running quote, "Remember the solidarity shown to Palestine here and everywhere... and remember also that there is a cause to which many people have committed themselves, difficulties and terrible obstacles notwithstanding. Why? Because it is a just cause, a noble ideal, a moral quest for equality and human rights." --Edward W. Said (1935-2003)"
I discovered your blog on DesertPeace's blogroll… Nice design and great content! You may be interested in my own site: http://www.harmonicminor.com – I am an American graduate student currently conducting research in the Gaza Strip. I have been posting excerpts from interviews and other material relevant to Gaza… Today, for example, I posted an interview with noted academic and journalist, Jennifer Loewenstein.
I will link to you – perhaps you can do the same if you like my site! Keep up the good work! -Kris By: Kris Petersen on October 26, 2007 at 6:27 am Reply
PETERSEN'S FULL COURSE SYLLABUS HERE: http://www.petersen-overton.com//courses.html