A new Middle East or old Israel hatred?

Portraying Jews as Nazis, Israeli prime ministers as Hitler and the Star of David as equal to the swastika is now common in the Islamic world.

By JOSEF OLMERT, GIULIO MEOTTI
May 27, 2012 22:35
Protesters flee Tahrir Square.

Egyptian protesters flee Tahrir 311 R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

The momentous events of the Arab Spring offer us another opportunity to review the discussion of the Middle East in the US and Europe. The picture emerging is that old habits die hard, and the main themes which dominated the discourse before the eruption continue to top the agenda.

The media completely failed to anticipate the events, something which is largely attributed to the excessive concentration on the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict as the most important issue at the expense of everything else. No attention was given to the yearly reports, published by the UN and written by Arab academics, on the state of human development in the Arab world.

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These amazingly candid and insightful reports have portrayed a dismal picture of affairs and contain specific warnings – that the status-quo in the Arab world could not last for too long, for instance. They were ignored by the press and the academic world. Yet as the events started to unfold, as if by Pavlovian reflex, many in the press and the academia came quickly back to the Israelis and Palestinians.

A case in point is the writings of Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. Friedman’s well-written columns leave the reader with the definite impression that so many factors behind the Arab Spring notwithstanding, the key to a better Middle East in the future continues to be a quick resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is for Israel to do the one thing which will lead to a new Middle East.

When the same Times, however, dealt with events in Syria, five scholars were invited to discuss the situation – and none of them were Israeli. One is left to wonder if it was not a subtle message that somehow Israeli scholars are not legitimate participants in a forum about Syria.

Much of this discussion deals with the question of sectarianism. While this has clearly been a crucial factor behind the conflict, the floor is wide open to those who deny the obvious.

This was the case on March 18, when the Washington Post published a typical piece by Wadah Khanfar, the former CEO of Al Jazeera, claiming that “modern Syria has never witnessed primary [sic] religious conflict.” Many such outrageous distortions appear almost daily in so many places, leaving the impression that if sectarianism is not the problem, then the Arabs are exempted from the need to blame themselves – with Israel and the blame game put back on center stage.

While American public opinion polls consistently show large measure of support for Israel, academia offers a different picture altogether, particularly in international relations, political science and Middle East studies. There, the book on AIPAC titled The Israel Lobby,authored by Mearsheimer and Walt, continues to figure prominently, and the two are ranked by their peers among the most influential scholars in the field.

In terms of its impact, this is a cult book.

A sympathetic review of the book claiming that it slammed into “the opinion–making community with a category five force’’ may not be altogether exaggerated.

The situation in Europe is much worse.

University campuses are witnessing the most severe wave of anti-Israel prejudice since April 6, 2002, when 123 academics signed a letter, published in the Guardian, calling for a moratorium on all cultural links with Israel. Since then, dozens of universities hosted EU-funded events that equated Israeli policies with South Africa’s Apartheid. Moreover, even US universities in the Ivy League promote “Israel Apartheid Week.”

The definition of the Jewish state as an “apartheid state,” with the subliminal comparison between Aryanism and Zionism, has become the code word for evil.

Portraying Jews as Nazis, Israeli prime ministers as Hitler and the Star of David as equal to the swastika is now common in the Islamic world, but these horrible comparisons have also made major inroads in Western academia.

Zygmunt Baurman, regarded as one of the world’s most influential sociologists, declared in an interview to the Polish weekly Politika, that “Israel is taking advantage of the Holocaust to legitimize unconscionable acts’’ and he went on to compare the Israeli self-defense fence to the Warsaw Ghetto, from where 400,000 innocent Jews were sent to the death camps. The German historian Ernst Nolte said in a lecture in Italy that “the only difference between Israel and the Third Reich is Auschwitz” and that “the liking for the Palestinians is more widespread than that given to the Holocaust victims.”

No wonder that words like these cross oceans, as in UC Irvine, one of the epicenters of anti-Israel agitation, the Jewish state is described as “the Fourth Reich.”

Altogether, a new generation of Western academics, particularly in the humanities, is imbued with these anti-Jewish, anti- Israel notions. Zionism is cast as a cause for anti-semitism, not as a legitimate response to it. The worldwide view of these academics is internationalist and third word-list.

They consider Israel’s sovereignty as “racist,” and reject the notion of Jewish national identity, at the same time, that they preach for the entire world to accept the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism.

For them, Islamophobia is the worst kind of racism, hence another reason why they can’t accept the simple fact that in the Islamic Middle East there is so much conflict between ethnic and religious groups, as to accept it will be to, God forbid, cast a shadow on the entire Islamic religion.

Most of these academics are Marxists, whose picture of the world on every issue is in sharp contrast to the Islamic one, and yet They find a common denominator, as the bottom line of both groups about the Middle East is the negation of Israel’s rightful existence. With this in place, it can be safely said, that many Western academics are fast becoming one of the most influential offspring’s of anti-Israel in the world.

We know from history, that there is nothing new in this irrational obsession.

Josef Olmert is an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina. Giulio Meotti is an Italian writer.


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