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.
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.
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
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
,authored by Mearsheimer and Walt, continues to figure prominently, and the
two are ranked by their peers among the most influential scholars in the
In terms of its impact, this is a cult book.
review of the book claiming that it slammed into “the opinion–making community
with a category five force’’ may not be altogether exaggerated.
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
The definition of the Jewish state as an “apartheid state,” with
the subliminal comparison between Aryanism and Zionism, has become the code word
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
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
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
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
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
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.