Former CIA analyst and Georgetown University security studies researcher Paul Pillar ("one of the wisest people" on the Middle East, according to Khalidi) began the panel by dredging up the well-worn assertion that the U.S. suffers from its alliance with Israel. Downplaying broader jihadist motives, he claimed that the Arab-Israeli conflict is a "highly exploitable issue" that exacerbates "extremism and specifically, terrorist threats to the U.S." American support for Israel is a "major drain on U.S. political and diplomatic capital," he added.
Pillar defined Israeli interests in the Palestinian territories as "based on religious, nationalist, and economic reasons," with no mention of self-defense. "When people have peaceful effective channels for pursuing their interests, they tend to use them," he stated, implying that Palestinian terrorism is merely the result of oppression. The "denial of self-determination and democracy to a whole population shows the United States to be a hypocrite," he maintained, as if this alleged "denial" were a policy.
Despite acknowledging bilateral military cooperation, Pillar perceived little commonality between Israel and the U.S. concerning terrorist threats. Unlike "transnational jihadists," terrorism against Israel "is not really threatening the American people," he declared, denying any link between the two. His superficial and callous assessment held that the "only Americans Hamas has killed are the ones that happened to be on the wrong street corner [in Israel] at the wrong time," although Palestinian terrorists have killed more Americans than the Islamic State. He also asserted that Hezbollah's "highly lethal terrorism" against Americans ended with the 1996 Saudi Arabian Khobar Towers bombing, despite the continuing global reach of Iran's terrorist proxy.
Envisioning a greater nuclear threat from Israel, a "nuclear outlaw state," than from Iran, Pillar criticized the "intense recent effort by the Israeli government to kill one of the most significant advances in nuclear nonproliferation," the Iran nuclear agreement. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, agreed with Pillar, calling the ineffective deal the "most intrusive inspections regime known to man." Munayyer chastised opponents of the agreement's sanctions relief and labeled it an "effective moving of the goalposts."
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), alleged a conspiratorial "connection . . . between the Islamophobia network and the pro-Israel machinery" that "has been hijacking U.S. foreign policy." He accused Middle East Forum (MEF) president Daniel Pipes of being a "central figure in the Islamophobia network" and a "failed academician." In fact, Pipes—who has consistently emphasized that "radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution"—has taught at Harvard, the University of Chicago, Pepperdine, and the U.S. Naval War College.
Arab American Institute executive director Maya Berry charged Campus Watch (CW), a project of MEF that analyzes and critiques the field of Middle East studies, with "targeting professors" and causing the "suppression of free speech on college campuses," a false and disproven allegation that further demonstrates professors' expectation to be free of criticism. "This is a massive campaign funded by very, very, very, very well endowed organizations," added Khalidi melodramatically. It translates into "the protection of the status quo," while pro-Palestinian "activism is grassroots."
Awad went on to blame this alleged network for the outcome of the 2008 Holy Land Foundation (HLF) trial, claiming that the "government bought into the pro-Israel propaganda machinery against HLF." He described HLF merely as the "largest relief organization for Muslims in the country," which funded "low-credit projects" in the Palestinian territories, when, in fact, the American government convicted HLF in 2008 for supporting Hamas. As Awad put it, the list of unindicted conspirators in the case, such as the aforementioned CAIR, is a "Who's Who in the [American] Muslim community."
Munayyer and other panelists drew a predictable analogy between African-Americans and Palestinians as two "oppressed peoples." He claimed that "it is very easy for Palestinians to identify with [the] Black Lives Matter" movement, while Khalidi asserted that American police forces undergoing Israeli riot control training are learning "how to subdue colonized populations" from the "masters of that kind of repression."
The panelists presented these linkages as a broader shift in American attitudes towards Israel. "The younger you are, the more progressive you are, and the darker your complexion," stated Munayyer, "the more likely you are to be sympathetic towards Palestinians and critical of U.S. policy." Berry cited July 2015 data from pollster Frank Luntz, in which "almost half of Democratic opinion elites found Israel to be racist." As a 2012 Democratic convention delegate, Berry witnessed the controversy over what Khalidi called the "disgusting plank" in the party platform reaffirming Jerusalem as Israel's historic capital.
Thus did the panel present a near-perfect blend of radical politics, biased scholarship, and conspiracy mongering in the cause of ending America's longstanding support for Israel, which Khalidi labeled a "consensus of idiocy." In this alternative universe, Iran is more trustworthy than the region's only democracy, concerns over Islamism are a unfounded, and the violent, corrupt Palestinian Authority ruled by sharia is a virtuous polity. This distortion of reality demonstrates the malign influence of contemporary Middle East studies, which provides intellectual cover for apologists of bigotry and violence, something all persons of good will should oppose.
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies. You may follow Harrod on twitter at @AEHarrod.