Monday, April 6, 2015

UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies White Paper

UCLA's Center for Near Eastern Studies, like most all Middle East Studies departments in academia, is notoriously anti-Israel. The below article is currently running on their departmental web site. It is a defense against recent criticism directed at them and is written by Professor James Gelvin, a well-documented academic opponent of Israel. It is actually a re-hash of a letter he wrote to the Daily Bruin last year. Contrary to providing an effective defense, it actually helps makes the case of its critics.

Dr Doom
James Gelvin

In section 1, Gelvin says that the Israel-Palestinian conflict only makes up 11.7% of its programming. Thus, they are not "obsessively fixated" on Israel at the expense of other Middle Est issues. That leads to the obvious question of whether there is any balance  as to how that conflict is presented. Gelvin answers that question for us.

"3. Those responsible for programming at CNES saw no reason to “balance” the criticism of the governments of Arab states, Turkey, Iran, and other states by bringing in speakers who would defend them. Speakers invited by CNES are, after all, accomplished scholars presenting original work. Likewise, in that programming where the Israeli government has been criticized, those responsible for staging events saw no reason to bring in speakers who would defend it. Needless to say, lectures and other events are followed by questions and comments from the floor during which members of the audience may voice their support or disagreement with the speakers’ methodologies, facts, conclusions, etc. (CNES cannot podcast questions and comments for legal reasons.)"

So as I interpret this, CNES has no responsibility to balance discussion of the issue because their ant-Israel presenters are "accomplished scholars" presenting original work. Besides, CNES is equating democratic Israel with Iran, Ottoman Turkey, and Arab nations, where human rights don't (or didn't exist) exist. Besides, the audience members can defend Israel if so inclined. (In many cases, questions at these events have to be written on cards and passed up front, which means that only selected questions are voiced. Other Q and A rules similarly limit the ability of audience members to effectively challenge speakers.)

In addition:

"CNES sometimes initiates co-sponsorship of programs with other units of the university (other centers, programs, endowed chairs, departments, etc.) for financial and promotional purposes. Other units of the university also approach CNES for the same reasons. It can be assumed that those units would not cooperate with the center on programming with which they disagree."

We all know that other humanities entities in academia are also dominated by leftists who are no friends of Israel. What does this mean-that this is another justification to avoid exposing students to any semblance of balance?

"The large number of co-sponsored events concerning Israel/Palestine, as well as events concerning Jewish communities outside Israel, demonstrates that CNES undertook programming on this subject to which many other units at the university lent their support. Thus, CNES is by no means outside of the norm of programming on this and other topical issues at UCLA. Furthermore, as can be seen from the list below, much of the programming on Israel/Palestine and Jewish communities outside Israel does not concern conflict or politics; rather topics run the gamut from cinematography to food to music and dance. (NOTE: Some of the Jewish topical programming does not appear as such in the statistical breakdown above. In some cases programming with Jewish content has been placed in categories deemed more appropriate):"

This is followed by a list of sponsored events including:

1. “Preserving the Two State Solution,” UCLA International Institute.

7. “West Bank Story: The Role of Humor and Art in Peacemaking,” Younes and Souraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies, Center for Jewish Studies, Herb Alpert School of Music, UCLA Mickey Katz Chair in Jewish Music.

12. George E. Bisharat, “Violence’s Law,” UCLA International Human Rights Program, UCLA School of Law,Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law.

15. “What Does a Jew Want? On Binationalism and Other Specters,” Department of History, Department of Comparative Literature, Center for Jewish Studies.

16. “Imagining ‘Back Home’ in an Era of Homeland Insecurity: Palestinian-American Youth, Education, and the War on Terror,” UCLA International Institute, Program on International Migration, UCLA Division of Social Sciences.

18. “From Pashas to Pariahs: The Arrogant Years of Egypt’s Jewry,” Center for Jewish Studies, Maurice Amado Program in Sephardic Studies.

19. “The Tigers of Jinbah: Smugglers and Border Entrepreneurs in the Southern West Bank and Israel (2005-2010), UCLA International Institute, Program on International Migration, Irene Flecknoe Ross Lecture Series in the Department of Sociology.

20. “Beautiful Resistance: Defying the Occupation through the Theater and the Arts,” Department of History.

21. “Palestine and the UN,” Burkle Center for International Relations, Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies.

24. “Pinkwashing: Gay Rights and Queer Indigeneities,” Center for Gender Studies, Graduate Council, Department of Sociology Gender Study Group.

25. “Perspectives on Peace, Health, and Hope: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey from Personal Tragedy to a Search for Peace and Human Dignity,” UCLA Student Affairs, Burkle Center for International Relations, International Institute, Fielding School of Public Affairs, Department of History, Hillel, Abrahamic Faiths Peace Initiative, New Vision Partners, Olive Tree Initiative.

27. “The Settler-Colonial Paradigm: Debating Gershon Shafir’s Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on its 25th Anniversary,” Department of History.

29. “Ralph Bunche and the Politics of Binationalism in Palestine,” Department of History.
( I attended none of these and can only guess at their content, but by Gelvin's own admission, CNES has sponsored no pro-Israel events.)
"V. Governance: 
"Some critics of CNES have been particularly harsh on the past three center directors, all of whom are distinguished scholars. Critics have noted that the directors have signed petitions and otherwise voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. It should be noted that such support, while controversial, is not out of the mainstream within the scholarly community: as of this writing more than 700 anthropologists (two of the three most recent directors of CNES are anthropologists) recently signed a boycott petition, and an online BDS petition attracted more than 600 signatures from the wider Middle East studies scholarly community. Two former CNES directors also signed a petition for the University of California system to stop Education Abroad Programs (EAPs) to Israel. They did so because Palestinian-American students from the system were either harassed or prevented entry into that country. It’s their job and responsibility to look after the welfare of all UCLA students engaged in work on or travel to the region."

Thank you, Mr Gelvin for making our case. The fact that the past three CNES directors are "distinguished scholars" changes nothing nothing. If anything, it is an indictment of the bias so prevalent within academia. Where is the diversity of opinion?

"Critics claim that the directors’ stance is the stance of CNES and that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic because it delegitimizes Israel. Since the official State Department list of anti-Semitic activities does not mention support for the BDS movement as an act of anti-Semitism, one report criticizing CNES had to add an additional criterion of its own to make its case. As the petition signed by forty Jewish Studies professors and published in the Jewish Daily Forward (October 1, 2014) put it, that report’s “definition of antisemitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless.” CNES has not taken a position on BDS, nor will it. Directors, as well as affiliated faculty, are free to express their political opinions as they wish."

BDS may not be listed among the criteria issued by the State Department, but holding Israel to a higher standard than the myriad of other countries in the world with worse human rights records than Israel, including virtually all of the Arab states and Iran, is considered anti-Semitic as well as comparing Israelis to Nazis, denying Jews a homeland etc.  Here is the DOS definition.  Can Gelvin absolve his department and invited speakers of these charges?

"One other criticism of CNES underscores how little critics of the center know about academic governance and how academic institutions are actually run. In 2010, Saudi Aramco donated $14,643 to CNES, earmarked for outreach. Aramco annually donates $10-20,000 to several Title VI Middle East centers across the country. The money was used for the intended purpose at the discretion of CNES, since in the academy there is firewall that separates donors from interfering in the scholarly activities they support, be it the selection of the recipient of an endowed chair or the content of programming. During the same period (2010-14), CNES received $1,928,106 from the federal and state governments, of which the largest sum ($600,000) went for language instruction (it is a frequent, but ill-informed criticism of Title VI programs that they neglect language instruction). Covering .76% of an institution’s budget does not buy much influence—if buying influence in this case were even possible."

Indeed the Saudi funding of Middle East studies in US colleges is a problem and one reason why there is little to no balance in their study of Israel and other regional matters. Middle East studies departments are uniformly pro-Arab, anti-West, post-colonialist, and anti-Israel. The Saudis don't have to dictate anything to CNES when they give them money because they know CNES will spend it in a way they deem favorable. They already know that CNES presents no favorable reporting on Israel.

Gelvin must not be all that bright if he thinks he is "setting the record straight" on CNES. In truth, this body is nothing more than an academic echo chamber of like-minded pinheads marching in lock-step to the anti-Israel beat. This is not what I consider to be scholarship.

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