One of the factors that has created the current climate of lies about Israel and the Jews is the respect afforded to academics who, despite the fact that they tell blatant lies and thus rewrite history, are regarded as authoritative simply by virtue of the fact that they are university professors. Since the academy is the custodian of knowledge, it is assumed that its representatives are disinterested seekers after truth. Thus what they say mutates into the normative truths of a culture. The problem is that this fundamental premise is no longer true. Great swathes of the academy are no longer disinterested at all. For a variety of separate but sometimes related reasons, including the development of the grievance or victim culture, the rise of interest groups with money to spend promoting that culture, the dependence of academics on such groups for funding and the post-modern deconstruction of the very concept of truth, academia has become a prime site for propaganda. If one reads social science research, for example, one has to pick one's way through a minefield of error and distortion in piece after piece of special interest pleading masquerading as objective research. Some of this finds its way into government policy – much ‘research' upon which the British government bases its policy on domestic violence, for example, offers a disgracefully distorted picture based on the vilification of men, startlingly at odds with the overwhelming amount of truly authoritative research which shares responsibility for such violence equally between the sexes.
When it comes to the Middle East, however, this ability to mislead an entire society has literally lethal consequences. Historians who have produced a false or distorted view of its history have been indulged by the academy and taken seriously enough to provide an apparent academic grounding for what is nothing other than propaganda built upon lies. A glaring example of this has occurred at the prestigious Stanford University, as reported in the Stanford Review. Joel Beinin, a tenured history professor at Stanford, has at times accused others of trying to silence him. There is no evidence of this at all. On the contrary, as the Review notes, he has hardly been silent:
'Beinin has taken on, in the last few years, President Lawrence Summers of Harvard, Dr. Daniel Pipes, and Paul Wolfowitz. He has defended Sami Al-Arian, the alleged al Jihad terrorist operating out of the University of South Florida. He has been photographed by the Stanford Daily carrying placards on "Nakba Day" (the "catastrophe") a day that is known elsewhere as Israel's Independence Day.'
Of course, he is free to attack or defend whoever he chooses. However, if he is poisoning the well of knowledge by teaching demonstrable lies, that is surely a different matter. Beinin teaches an online course sponsored by Stanford, Oxford and Yale entitled ‘Palestine, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.' But what he teaches is highly questionable, as the Review reveals:
‘In the video narrative by Beinin for the first week, Beinin stated that, following the destruction of the Jewish Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70, C.E., Jews had next come to Palestine in the sixteenth century, at the invitation of the Moslem Turks, "to study religious books and to be buried there."
'A poster noted that, in fact, the past two millennia in Palestine that Beinin had implied had little Jewish history were actually chock-full of events. These included Jewish revolts, for over five centuries; the writing and the publication of the Jerusalem Talmud and later, the Shulhan Aruch; and the establishment of a synagogue in Jerusalem by Nachmanides after 1270, a city in which Jews have lived since. Only during the First Crusades, when the Jewish community was burned alive, was there a brief period in which Jerusalem did not have a Jewish community.
‘Beinin lectured that the "only" remnant of the Herodian Jewish Temple was the "Wailing" Wall (an archaic term) and that the Haram, or the Moslem holy site, was located above. A post reminded the class that, actually, the whole Western and Southern Walls were remnants of the Herodian temple, and that the area above had been the Jewish Temple seven centuries before Mohammed was born. A link was presented to pictures of excavations with Hebrew inscriptions such as the Trumpeter's stone covering an area about ten times larger than the one Beinin incorrectly described.
‘In week two, Beinin stated that "Jewish identity before the twentieth century was not rooted in a nation-state," but did not add that the premodern version of Jewish identity included daily prayers for Jerusalem to be restored-- and had included these prayers for centuries. For example, the prayer after meals, said three times daily, has one paragraph about Jerusalem and another about the land.
‘In week three, Beinin alleged that Jewish and Palestinian nationalism developed at "about the same time." In fact, Zionism restricted to its most modern form began at least a generation before Palestinian nationalism. Most Arabs regarded Palestine as part of the sanjak of southern Syria at least into the 1920's, when King Faisal of Syria was deposed, twenty years after the First Zionist Congress of Theodor Herzl. No historical account of Palestinian nationalism predates the Zionist Congresses.
‘The same week, Jewish historical claims were compared to the Palestinians, who, Beinin claimed, might have descended from the Canaanites. In fact, whereas Israel is regarded as the third Jewish commonwealth, there is no basis for ancient claims of a Palestinian state emanating from Canaan. Even the Palestinians who engage in denial of Jewish claims are rarely willing to take that one any distance. Beinin even said "it does not really matter," who was first.'
Such distortions continue, not surprisingly, into modern history:
‘In the later weeks devoted to the United States and Israel, Beinin erroneously stated that the US had spent a trillion dollars on aid to the Jewish state since 1948. Since the true number was about eighty billion, or eight percent of the amount claimed, I questioned Beinin's integrity. He had been challenged on this amount previously, on the Internet, highly publicly, in a previous incarnation of the class and yet still had not changed the videotape for subsequent classes. While our class did not get an apology from Beinin, the administrator of the class summarily announced that the wrong tapes had been sent, and mailed the class new videotapes, identical to the old, except with the editing out of the "mistake."'
Such behaviour surely betrays the ideals and values of a university and should be called to account by that university. Far from silencing him, however, Stanford appears not to have done so. The Review is right to protest at this trahison des clercs. I am forever meeting Arabs and Muslims who are otherwise perfectly fine people but whose view of Israel is founded on precisely such terrible distortions. Through such behaviour and its indulgence, hatred is fuelled and lives are being lost.