Columbia University's Low Memorial Library. (Image source: Wally Gobetz/Flickr)
Should a man who claims to "understand" why people are anti-Semitic be invited to speak at Columbia University? Someone who wrote an opinion piece so dogmatic and bigoted that it was posted on the website of Hamas's military wing, and who recommended an essay by known Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy?
Surely at a time when "student safety" is of primary concern, one of America's most prestigious universities would shun such a divisive figure. Yet, Columbia's Center for Palestine Studies proudly hosted author and journalist this spring to discuss his latest book, Cracks In The Wall: Beyond Apartheid Palestine/Israel.
White is notorious for obfuscating the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. He frequently uses classic anti-Semitic tropes when discussing the conflict, often replacing the word "Jews" with "Israel." His talk at Columbia, moderated by former PLO official, CPS co-director, and Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies Rashid Khalidi, who, according to the New York Observer, is "comfortable and secure in his anti-Semitism," was no exception.
White proudly reiterated his belief in a one-state solution, by which the only Jewish majority state in the world would be replaced by the fifty-first Muslim majority state. "I make the case for a single democratic state for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians," he proclaimed.
It sounds harmless enough, but White does not consider how a Jewish minority would fare in such a state, given the historical and current persecution of minorities in many Muslim countries and the fact that there is no Palestinian political entity remotely interested in pluralism. (Right now in the Palestinian territories, selling land to Jews is punishable by death.) Advocating for a binational state lays the groundwork for yet another ethnic cleansing of Jews from the territory they have lived in continually for 3,300 years.
White summarized his book by naming the "three cracks in the wall" that currently undermine "Israel's ability to maintain an apartheid state." These are: "Factures and division that are visible now" within the Jewish-American community; "the end of the bipartisan era of support for Israel"; and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
By his own admission, White acknowledged that BDS is not interested in peace. The movement, he noted, has been "intelligently designed to disrupt and critique a quite suffocating peace process discourse."
As for his assertions of Israeli "apartheid," the reality in South Africa was a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination whereby, under law, blacks were stripped of their voting rights, banned from serving in government, and segregated from whites in virtually every facet of life.
Given that none of this can be said about Arabs in Israel, arguing that Israel practices apartheid redefines the term and makes a mockery of the suffering blacks endured under South African apartheid.
"The right of self-determination does not equal a right to your own ethnic state," White continued. He then accused Israeli authorities of "discrimination, displacement," and "brutality."
Clearly, White ignores the fact that Arabs receive more rights in Israel than in neighboring Arab countries, which is why poll after poll reveals that the majority would rather live in Israel than in an Arab country, and even in a future state of "Palestine."
Revealing his willful ignorance of demographics and territorial history, White described Israel as administering a "de facto single apartheid state in all of historic Palestine." "Historic Palestine" is not a distinct entity with defined and enduring borders. It has been ruled by different groups at different times, each of which applied different borders to the region. According to the British, Historic Palestine included Jordan and parts of Syria. Does White believe Jordan should abdicate sovereignty and become a Palestinian state? In addition, White disregards Israel's unilateral disengagement and evacuation of all Jewish soldiers and civilians from Gaza in 2005.
Just as traditional anti-Semites demonize and ascribe conspiratorial power to the Jewish community, White believes Israel secretly controls and manipulates Western media and the U.S. government. He smeared Israeli-Jews as "privileged" and referred to them as "settler-colonialists," instead of as refugees who experienced severe persecution and whose families were expelled from the land, but who finally returned home, fulfilling their daily prayers of "Next year in Jerusalem." He ignored that 52 percent of Jews in Israel are of Middle eastern descent, meaning their families did not migrate to Israel from Europe.
Addressing accusations of bigotry, White claimed that "the response to being a Palestinian and speaking up for your own people's rights" has been a "smear of anti-Semitism."
Absent from his argument was the daily hate education and anti-Semitism fed to children in the West Bank and Gaza, where state-run media, television, school textbooks, and mosques frequently deny the Holocaust, glorify Hitler, preach violence against Jews, and characterize them as "apes and pigs."
Similarly, White ignores the Hamas charter, which does not merely call for Palestinian rights, but in chapter seven declares its genocidal ambition of eliminating all world Jewry. If this does not meet the standard of antisemitism for White, one has to wonder what would. Accordingly, towards the end of the lecture, moderator Rashid Khalidi went so far as to bemoan the "myth of anti-Semitism."
In denying Jewish peoplehood, erasing Jewish heritage, and denigrating the Jewish civil rights movement, Columbia University is living up to its reputation as one of America's most anti-Semitic campuses.
Sacrificing detail and nuance for ideology and polemics, Middle East studies departments throughout the United States are increasingly alienating their Jewish students. Portraying the Arab-Israeli conflict as a zero-sum game between Palestinian-Arabs and Israelis disregards historical complexities and ignores the roles of many neighboring countries and international organizations that have shaped the conflict and perpetuated the stateless status of Palestinians. Such misinformation only contributes to an already divisive and intolerant climate on college campuses.