"Don't expect me to take a pro-Israel view. I'm an Arab."
So declared Gilbert Achcar—professor of development studies and international relations at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies—at the outset of his lecture last month at the University of California, Berkeley. Those in the audience hoping for scholarly objectivity were thus informed that Achcar's ethnicity trumped intellectual independence and that, despite evidence to the contrary (Nonie Darwish, the founder of Arabs for Israel, comes to mind, as do the majority of Israel's Arab citizenry), an Arab could not be pro-Israel. One had to give him credit for at least confirming his biases up front.
A Lebanese-born, self-described "academic, writer, socialist, and anti-war activist," Achcar was on a University of California speaking tour to discuss his 2010 book, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives. His UC Berkeley lecture was sponsored by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and was held in its Saudi-largesse-provided Sultan Room, with a glowing introduction from CMES vice chair Emily Gottreich. The audience of around 75 students and adults had to strain at times to discern Achcar's words, delivered as they were in a heavy accent and low tones, but the crowd appeared politically sympathetic.
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