My first time representing SPME as its assistant director took place at the fourth annual ASMEA conference in Washington DC, where I was honored to chair a panel entitled The Power of Messages and Perception in the Middle East which included three of our SPME members (Joel Fishman, Ernest Sternberg and Richard Landes) and Prof. Jeffrey Herf of the University of Maryland. The panel tackled the following subjects:
- Nazi Propaganda in the Arab World
- "A Disaster of another Kind": Zionism=Racism, Its Beginning, and the War of Delegitimization against Israel
- The Role of the Mainstream News Media in Jihadi Cognitive Warfare: Pallywood and The Case of Muhammad al Dura
- The Dynamics of Global Demonization of Israel: The Murder-for-Organ-Harvesting Libel and the Flow of Atrocity Stories
All four panelists were extremely qualified and were able to unravel the many layers which we face when dealing with how Jews and Israelis are depicted by the Arab-Muslim world. This in its own right was extremely valuable to our audience as they learned the origins of this growing problem and its pervasiveness.
One of SPME's major goals is to combat anti-Semitism and delegitimization of Israel. Here we had the ability tackle Israel's demonization and delegitimization in an academic and non-intimidating setting, as opposed to the conditions so frequently found in Middle East Studies departments. Part of the uniqueness of organizations like SPME and ASMEA is the ability to approach sensitive issues without the suffocating political correctness so common in the academic world.
Under the leadership of Professors Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, its founders, ASMEA has been able to fill the void caused by the absence of free inquiry and honest scholastic debate on Middle East research while vigorously defending academic freedom. All of this goes hand in hand with the goals of SPME where many of our members who are faculty must confront this environment.
Bernard Lewis writes about anti-Semitism in the Arab world that, "the Arab reader had at his disposal a wide range of anti-Semitic literature, all of it Christian and European or American origin. It included the products of clerical and anti-clerical, right wing and left wing, socialist and fascist anti-Semitism. Some of these books were translated several times, and went through many editions. As well as books, there were articles in newspapers and magazines, broadcasts, public lectures, and exhortations, all of which helped to familiarize the Muslim Arab reader with the set of themes and images previously unknown to him - the Jew as a ritual murderer, as Freemason, as capitalist, as communist, as reactionary, as subversive, and as the center of an evil conspiracy aiming at the domination of the world."
Consequently, anti-Semitism and demonization have evolved into the primary lens through which the Muslim world projects the Israeli-Palestinian conflict throughout the Arab media. The comparison of Israeli actions with Nazi war crimes trivializes the significance of the Holocaust: if the Israelis are no better than the Nazis, then the Nazis' actions were no worse than the Israelis'. Such is the perception that the Arab world is trying to spread in the West.
Finally, it is only through more open and honest debate on such topics by organizations like SPME and ASMEA that will help restore a climate of civil debate on sensitive subjects relating to the Middle East.