Rutgers University professor Jasbir Puar, who has faced sharp criticism for her conspiracy theory that Israel is secretly harvesting the organs of Palestinian terrorists, has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism in a column entitled "Speaking of Palestine: Solidarity and Its Censors," which can be found in Jadaliyya, a supposedly "independent ezine" produced by the Arab Studies Institute. As previously reported by The Tower, Puar has threatened to sue anyone who publishes audio recordings of her controversial February 3 lecture at Vassar, in which she made the claim that many have denounced as a modern-day anti-Semitic blood libel.
In her Jadaliyya column, Puar asserted that her talk at Vassar "was taped without my permission or that of the people who had invited me" and therefore ought to be suppressed. At the same time, she apparently believes that the principles of academic freedom and free speech entitle her to uncritically repeat and elaborate on any accusations the Palestinians level against Israel, while also claiming that her critics have no right to exercise their own academic freedom and free speech rights to criticize her. Referencing her almost decade-long "Palestine solidarity work," Puar denounces criticism of her Vassar lecture as a rightwing "smear campaign" that reflects a "current Zionist strategy" of "silencing and intimidation tactics" intended to constrain the "exercise of free speech and academic freedom."
Complaining that there was "a complete lack of engagement with the substance" of her claims, Puar declares that she "unequivocally" stands by her "research and scholarship." In an apparent effort to demonstrate the soundness of her academic work, Puar devotes several paragraphs of her Jadaliyya column to justifying speculations that Israel is engaged in stealing Palestinian organs. Before addressing Puar's arguments in more detail, it should be noted that her talk at Vassar was criticized not just because of this particularly preposterous claim, but rather for its wholesale demonization of Israel, which made her lecture a good example of the "antisemitic anti-Zionism" that Alan Johnson described so well in a widely cited Fathom Journal essay:
Antisemitic anti-Zionism bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become fit receptacles for the tropes, images, and ideas of classical antisemitism. In short, that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is: uniquely malevolent, full of blood lust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricky, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on.
Puar clearly believes that Israel deserves to be depicted as the Jew among the nations. Addressing one of the most controversial statements she made in her lecture at Vassar, she claims that she just "relayed a simple ethnographic observation" when she said, "Some speculate that [Palestinian terrorists'] bodies were mined for organs for scientific research." She emphasizes that her goal was "to highlight Palestinian voices, and to amplify the speech of those who are routinely censored out of public awareness in the United States, and in mass media more generally."
As it happens, the kind of "speech" Puar wishes to "amplify" attracted some media attention just a few months ago, when veteran Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi shared a Facebook post that Tablet's Yair Rosenberg described as "a viral anti-Semitic meme ... alleging Israelis detain Palestinian children to steal their organs, and that Zionists control the media to suppress this information." Writing on October 16, 2015, Rosenberg noted that the post had been shared over 1,500 times in just two days. At the time of writing, it has been shared over 2,000 times. It is archived here. Rosenberg quoted ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt's condemnation of "Tamimi's propagation of the anti-Semitic blood libel on social media." Greenblatt also asserted that there "can be no justification or support for this type of hate and incitement."
While Tamimi has since deleted his post, Puar argues that Palestinians who suspect Israel of mining Palestinian organs do so with good reason. As "evidence," she cites reports of abuse at the Abu Kabir forensic institute near Tel Aviv that occurred almost two decades ago and have since been thoroughly investigated. Indeed, even the links Puar provides make clear that there was a five-year investigation triggered by complaints from employees at the institute and a series of investigative reports in Israeli media.
While the reports Puar herself cites leave no doubt that these incidents happened in violation of Israeli law and were thoroughly investigated, Puar still insinuates that Israel has a sinister history of stealing organs. Preposterously enough, she claims that this history is "well documented" by linking to a completely discredited article published in a Swedish tabloid in 2009, even though the author of the article admitted that he had "no idea ... no clue" whether his story was "true or not." Another Swedish paper published a somewhat cynical op-ed in response: "Whispers in the dark. Anonymous sources. Rumors. ... That is all it takes. After all, we all know what [the Jews] are like, don't we: inhuman, hardened. Capable of anything. Now all that remains is the defense, equally predictable: 'Anti-Semitism? No, no, just criticism of Israel.'" Professor Puar is now working hard to give such "whispers in the dark" academic respectability. She clearly wants them to be mainstreamed as "just" and, above all, justified "criticism of Israel."
And she fully intends to continue her perverse form of "criticism." As she herself notes, she has not only tenure at Rutgers and the "complete support" of a "phenomenal union" and her colleagues, but her current book project is funded by a grant from the Rutgers University Research Council. She is also working on a film project "tentatively titled The Coming Intifada."
We are, in other words, sure to be subjected to more of Puar's ostensibly well-researched and scholarly insights into the monstrous evils Israel supposedly inflicts on the Palestinians. While she remains determined to prevent public access to materials documenting her Vassar lecture, she maintains that criticism of her research as anti-Semitic has "absolutely no merit" and her "descriptions of life and death in Palestine incited a smear campaign rather than raising concerns about how the Israeli state is treating the bodies of those they colonize."
But it is not hard to demonstrate that her "research" and "scholarship" are indeed anti-Semitic, because she presents falsehoods whose sole purpose is the wholesale demonization of Israel. Thus, she highlights incidents of abuse at a forensic institute that happened some 20 years ago and that give no indication whatsoever of "how the Israeli state is treating the bodies of those they colonize." Indeed, she cannot, since this abuse did not reflect the policy of the Israeli state, but constituted a violation of Israeli laws that was uncovered and duly investigated. Moreover, Puar is completely disingenuous when she claims: "In my lecture, I made clear that I was not making any empirical claims about current organ mining." To be sure, she didn't make "empirical claims," but she validated Palestinian speculations about organ theft when she suggested that Israel might be pursuing "a weaponized epigenetics where the outcome is not so much about winning or losing nor a solution, but about needing body parts, not even whole bodies, for research and experimentation."
With her completely baseless speculations about a "weaponized epigenetics" and other alleged Israeli designs to cause long-term health problems for Palestinians, as well as her repeated claims that Israel is using "maiming as a deliberate biopolitical tactic," Puar constructs an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory deeply indebted to the vicious libels Jew-haters have employed over many centuries. Of course, Jew-haters have always believed that there is solid "evidence" for their libels, and it is thus rather pointless to try to refute them.
Nevertheless, it might be instructive to point out how much Puar had to ignore in her quest to demonize Israel as an evil all-controlling power intent on debilitating the Palestinian population for generations to come. Puar's fantasies about breathtakingly evil Israeli conspiracies depend on ignoring evidence showing that measures introduced by Israel (.pdf) have resulted in dramatically reduced infant mortality and increased life expectancy among Palestinians. Moreover, there are countless media reports documenting how Palestinian children and adults are regularly treated in Israeli hospitals. For example, Palestinian children in need of treatment have benefited from a longstanding program at the Peres Center and Israel's participation in the Save a Child's Heart program. Some of the Palestinian children treated in Israeli hospitals require extensive and prolonged treatment due to severe disabilities caused by generations of endogamous marriages. The resulting medical problems have been researched in Israel in order to help affected Palestinian children. Palestinian patients treated in Israel include family members of Palestinian leaders of all factions. Injured Palestinian terrorists and their victims are often treated in the same hospital. Even some of the victims of the well-documented Palestinian practice of "kneecapping" opponents – which Puar, of course, blames on Israel – have been rehabilitated in Israeli hospitals. Cooperation with Israeli health facilities and the training Palestinian doctors and medical staff receive from Israel have been acknowledged in Palestinian media. Last, but perhaps not least, there are several media reports highlighting some particularly moving cases of Palestinians and Israelis donating organs to each other irrespective of the longstanding mutual distrust and enmity between the two peoples.
By ignoring anything that does not contribute to the demonization of Israel, Puar's "research" – funded by a grant from the Rutgers University Research Council – ultimately relies on the same carefully selected and context-free material routinely offered by websites that cater to anti-Israel activists. Indeed, Puar has repeatedly indicated that she sees herself as a "scholar-activist," which is arguably a contradiction in terms: Scholars are supposed to consider all relevant evidence without preconceived notions, whereas activists inevitably look for material that confirms the righteousness of their cause.
The so-called "pro-Palestinian" activism Puar pursues so passionately aims to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state in order to create yet another Arab-Muslim majority state. Justifying this goal inevitably requires the selection of material that can only be used to demonize Israel, which Puar then presents employing seemingly sophisticated academic jargon to translate "that which the demonological Jew once was" into an ostensibly scholarly presentation of what "demonological Israel now is."
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in contemporary history.