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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Last night I attended a talk at Boston College entitled "Restoring Intellectual Integrity: The Truth About Apartheid in the Middle East." Held as part of the response to a series of smash Israel events on campus, the evening featured BC Professor Dennis Hale, BU Professor Richard Landes and CAMERA's Dexter Van Zile. The audience was small, well behaved, unfortunately with only a small number of students. There were a few challenging questions at the end. I may have a few things to say about that later, but for now I just wanted to get the video up.

Here are each of the three speakers. I haven't bothered with the Q&A for now. I have the transcript for Professor Hale's address and have posted that after the videos [Update: Have now added Dexter Van Zile's text.]. If I get the other speakers' transcripts I will post those as well. The BC students did an excellent job putting a short series of events together on very short notice.

BTW, I'm trying a new video hosting service, Blip.tv. Motionbox decided retroactively to start charging bucks for videos that got much traffic, so I've had to remove everything from there (Thanks to those who did a "view source" and took the embed code off the Geert Wilders video, in spite of the fact that I had it set to private and did not provide it. You helped put me over the limit). Let me know if you have any problem with these. YouTube's 10 minute limit makes it impractical for long events.

Here is Part 1 with Professor Hale. Parts 2 and 3 follow below.


Richard Landes:

Dexter Van Zile:

Remarks by Dennis Hale:

This panel is obviously a response to the presentations during the Israeli Apartheid week over the past week or so.

What can we make of the viewpoint represented by Israel Apartheid Week?

What are its origins, what does it mean, and what are its consequences?

These are important questions to those of us who follow these matters closely. But many people must wonder why a conflict so far away has so many echoes on the American college campus. Why should you worry about Israel Apartheid Week, or about the many other efforts to demonize Israel, to portray Israel as the sole cause of the wars in the Middle East, or to work for the elimination of the Jewish state? I want to try to answer these questions, for the way in which the conflict is portrayed is in some ways more important than the conflict itself - which by the standards of modern world conflict is a relatively small one.

I want to talk first about the elements of what I will refer to, in honor of its authors, as the "apartheid narrative," and then consider its effects in three dimensions: 1) on Israel; 2) on Arab Palestinians; and 3) on those who promote the apartheid narrative, the circles in which they travel, including especially the academy.

On occasions like this, we often hear about the need to "balance" the discussion of controversial political topics, and so in some quarters this panel tonight might be considered an effort in the direction of a more balanced presentation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But the word "unbalanced", or the phrase "one-sided", as they are generally used, refer to an overly uncritical presentation of a single point of view. Thus, we might give an "unbalanced" or "one-sided" view of our favorite candidate's performance in a presidential debate, either by exaggerating his performance or by exaggerating the flaws and flubs of his opponent.

However, if we said to someone who didn't know any better that our favorite candidate performed splendidly in the debate, while his opponent did not even show up, we would not be giving an "unbalanced" or "one-sided" summary of the debate. We would be telling a lie.

And so it is with the Israeli apartheid narrative. It is not an exaggeration of a truth; it is not an overly enthusiastic bit of cheering for one side as opposed to the other. It is simply not true. If you have attended any of the other events over the past week that were not sponsored by IAW, then you have already heard some of the arguments and evidence in this respect. I'll just mention a few of many:

  • In South Africa - where apartheid was invented and practiced for a century or more - the victims of apartheid, black South Africans, could not vote, hold office, move freely about the country, practice any of a number of professions or trades, form their own independent political organizations, or live where they wished.
  • By contrast, Arab-Israelis can do all of these things, and they do them regularly, and they do other things as well. Israeli Arabs - who are roughly one-sixth of the country's population - serve in the police, the military, on the Supreme Court, in the Knesset, and in the Israeli diplomatic service. They form political parties, newspapers, interest groups, and civil associations without hindrance, and Arab Muslims and Arab Christians are completely in control of their own religious institutions.
  • South Africa was a nation run by a minority of whites whose ancestors first set foot in Africa only in modern times.
  • By contrast, there has been a continuous Jewish presence in what the Romans called Palestine - although in varying numbers, to be sure - since ancient times. And in modern times, Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since 1863. The notion that Jews, like the Dutch, were "interlopers" or "colonizers", is simply false. Jews are as natural to the Middle East as Arabs: they figure prominently, for example, in the Koran and in the sacred biographies of Mohammed.

If apartheid -- which means "separate" or "apart" - does not describe the reality of Israeli Arabs, does it describe the reality of Arab Palestinians living in the West Bank - the territory captured during the 1967 Six-Day War? Much has been made during IAW of the separation barrier dividing Israel from the West Bank, and of the military checkpoints that so disturb the lives of Arab Palestinians. But the barrier separates West Bank Jewish communities from Israel as well as Arab communities, and in any case the barrier was not built until 2002 - 35 years after the 1967 war, and only as a result of the terrorist atrocities of the Second Intifada, when suicide bombers recruited by Hamas and Fatah killed one thousand Israelis and maimed thousands more.

So if the apartheid narrative is not true, why do people promote it?

We have been told by certain academics that this question makes no sense - that is, the question of whether a "narrative" is true or false is said to be a meaningless question, since all narratives are conditional, or "contingent"; that what are erroneously called "true" narratives - what used to be called "history" - are merely the narratives favored by those with power. Some of you may have heard such theories propounded in your own classrooms.

It's a confusing idea: that no story can be true except the story that no story can be true. But let's see how it sounds outside the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Let's look at what we might call the Nazi Party narrative about the First World War.

Here's how it went: Germany (said Hitler and, therefore, his followers) should have won World War I (the Great War, as it was then called, since there hadn't yet been a second): it's arms, its tactics and strategy, the racial characteristics of its soldiers - these were all superior to the forces arrayed against the Reich by the Allies. And Germany would have won the War, except for one thing: Germany was stabbed in the back by the Jews. What is the conclusion of this narrative - which must be a superior narrative, according to the current academic fashion, because when it was invented the Germans were the weaker party, and it was the Allies who were powerful, and who were busy writing the history books? The conclusion is simple: next time when Germany goes to war, it must deal decisively with its Jewish problem. And Germany proceeded to do precisely that.

Now we can say many things about the Nazi narrative about World War I; but the most obvious thing to say is that it is false. What happens when large numbers of people believe preposterously false stories, and then proceed to act upon them? They commit terrible crimes, and they make terrible mistakes. In Germany's case, the crime was the Holocaust. The mistake was to go to war with England, America, France, and Russia simultaneously - precisely the mistake Germany made in the first war. Except, of course, Germans had been convinced by Hitler that they had lost that war because of the Jews. But as events were to horribly demonstrate, that's not why Germany lost the first world war.

So the narrative was wrong, and the consequences of believing it were catastrophic.

What are the consequences of believing the false Israeli apartheid narrative?

For Israelis, the consequence is obvious: instead of winning the world's support in its struggle against the Arab governments and movements that have tried to destroy the country for the past sixty years, Israel gets the world's condemnation simply for defending itself, which means that the war continues, and will continue far into the foreseeable future. For example, what can possibly be the effect on Hamas, Fatah, the PLO, and Hizbullah of watching a credulous world community blame Israel for going to war in Gaza, after experiencing thousands of rocket attacks for more than three years? Even the Saudis blamed Hamas for the Gaza war - but not the liberal churches or the human rights activists on college campuses and in the UN. The effect is clear: the terrorist organizations responsible for waging the war will be encouraged to continue their activities. Hamas has already declared that it was victorious in the Gaza war, and will therefore, sooner rather than later, cause more suffering to both Israelis and Arabs alike. After all, Hamas has said very clearly that Jews will lose because the Jews love life, while Hamas loves death.

Which brings me to the second dimension of the consequences of the false apartheid narrative: its effects on Arab Palestinians.

Many Arabs living on the West Bank would almost certainly welcome an end to hostilities and the beginning of a genuine effort at political and economic reconstruction. These people are called "moderates." How many moderates are there? We don't really know; and one reason we don't know, is that the people who are not moderate, who want the war against Israel to continue to the bitter end, will promptly kill anyone who gets in their way. A very brave Arab in East Jerusalem circulated a petition back in the 90s, just as the PLO was about to be installed as the Palestinian Authority. The petition said: We Arabs of East Jerusalem do not want to be governed by Yasser Arafat. He collected 20,000 signatures before gunmen caught up with him and shot him seven times. Surprisingly, he lived; not surprisingly, he stopped circulating his petition.

The war against Israel might have ended decades ago, if only those who fuel it wanted it to end. Instead of producing suicide bombers, the West Bank might be producing goat cheese, olive oil, wine, and computer chips. But Palestinian leaders have chosen, instead, to continue the war against the Israeli occupation - by which they mean not just the West Bank, of course, but all of Israel as well. One reason they continue this war is that they believe they will win. And one reason they believe they will win is that so many people outside the region, who think they are pursuing peace and justice - like the Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, who says the "crime against the Palestinians is a century old" -- have joined the terrorists in their campaign to eliminate the Jewish state. What do we call people who do whatever they can to keep a war going? When I was in college we called such people "warmongers." But these warmongers live far away from the carnage they help to create (isn't it often that way?), and they will never see the Arab children who are taught by Palestinian TV to seek martyrdom, and they will never see the results of the terrorist handiwork that their "narrative" helps to inspire. Too bad.

And this brings me then to the final set of consequences. What does the promotion of the false apartheid narrative do to those who get caught up in it?

Let's start with what it does to their grip on reality - that is, on their ability to understand what's going on in the world, how the world really works, and even where their own interests lie. We've already seen what anti-Semitism did to the Germans' ability to understand something as basic as the folly of repeating the mistakes of WWI. Do you think that this is an extreme example? Don't be too sure.

I've just been shown an article from the American Jewish Yearbook from the 1940s. It describes the campaign being run by Father Coughlin, Senator Burton Wheeler, and Charles Lindburgh, the purpose of which was to convince Americans that a small group of clever Jews was leading a campaign to oppose Nazi Germany, and that America had no reason to be on unfriendly terms with Nazi Germany. (This was before America entered the war.)

What "narrative" do you suppose convinced such men that it was in the interest of the United States for Nazi Germany to succeed?

What did embracing that narrative do, furthermore, to the souls of those who possessed it? We know what it did to Coughlin, Wheeler, and Lindburgh: it recruited them into the ranks of one of the most evil and destructive political movements the world has ever seen, and their shame will be remembered until the end of days.

What does the Israeli apartheid narrative do to its devotees?

Look at the news footage of the demonstrations against Israel, in America, Canada, and Europe, during the campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Notice the hatred, the rage, the embrace of the most vile slogans about "Jewish Nazis", the demands to "Smash the Jewish State", the open embrace of Hamas, Fatah, and Hizbullah - organizations responsible for the slaughter of thousands of innocent people, Jews and Arabs alike.

If you are concerned about Arab Palestinians, then you owe it to yourself to ask two questions: Is this who you want to become? Are these the people you want as allies in the struggle for peace and justice?

Or look at the infamous Oliphant cartoon from a recent New York Times: a publication that is often mentioned as part of the "Zionist media" controlling what Americans see and hear about the Arab-Israeli conflict. It depicts a jack-booted, headless soldier, pushing a Star of David with teeth, which is pursuing a helpless little Palestinian woman with a baby.

This cartoon should not simply make you angry; it should make you afraid. Because this is how Jew-hatred starts; but this is never how it ends.

One more consequence: the impact of anti-Israel demonizing on the university.

Look at the success of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, whose book on how the Israel lobby controls American foreign policy made them rich and famous - despite its failure to demonstrate a single American foreign policy decision that could be traced to the influence of the Israeli government, or even Israel's supporters in the United States, and despite its amazing ability to misunderstand every important foreign policy decision over the past 30 years.

And notice the way in which all this talk about "narratives" subverts the most important aims of scholarship: the search for truth. After all, if there is no truth, then what is a university for? The insistence that history cannot tell a true story, but only a contingent one, is the end of scholarship, and the death of the University and all that it stands for; it is the opening wedge in the transformation of learning into propaganda, and is therefore the mortal enemy of everyone who values learning and the search for truth.

That is reason enough for everyone to be concerned about events like Israeli Apartheid Week. It is time, not for a "balanced" discussion of the Middle East, but for a discussion that demonstrates a respect for the truth, and a willingness to seek it - because peace and justice cannot possibly be constructed on a platform of lies.

Remarks by Dexter Van Zile (These are notes. He did not read verbatim.):

1. Professor Hale has asked me to talk about the role mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. have played in framing the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since 2005, I've been working to counter the effects of what I've come to regard as anti-Zionism in mainline churches in the U.S. Initially my work dealt primarily with public statements from which means the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

2. These churches have played an important role in the formulation of civil religion in the U.S. They helped create the system of values and the vocabulary Americans have used to respond to the great moral issues they confront. For example, leaders from these churches, especially the Congregationalists (antecedents to the UCC), helped frame slavery as a moral evil.

3. Members of these churches comprised what has been called the "Protestant Establishment" and exerted influence in excess of their numbers in American society. For example, the number of Congregationalists (antecedents to the UCC) who were listed in Who's Who in America was disproportionate given their percentage of the American population.

4. The membership of the mainline churches has declined significantly since 1965. In 1965, when the U.S. population was approximately 145 million, the six largest mainline denominations had approximately 28 million members. In 2005, when the country's population was approximately 300 million, these churches had approximately 20 million members. In other words during a period of time when the population of the U.S. doubled, these churches lost eight million members.

5. Despite their decline in numbers since 1965, these churches can still serve to legitimize or mainstream ideas in American society. If someone is looking for a way to introduce an idea onto the agenda of the American people, mainline churches are an obvious place to start.

6. Since 1967 one of the ideas these churches have been promoting, to varying degrees, is the notion that there is something wrong, or inherently unacceptable about Jewish sovereignty and self-determination. In other words, they have promoted an anti-Zionist agenda.

7. At first glance, it looks like these institutions have a problem with Israeli policies, not Israel's existence. In 2004, the PC(USA) passed a resolution that called for divestment from companies doing business in Israel and said the occupation was at the root of violence against innocents on both sides of the conflict. In 2005, two denominations (the UCC and the Disciples of Christ, which is affiliated with the UCC through its shared Global Ministries) passed resolutions asking Israel to take down the security barrier without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction.

8. These resolutions prompted anger in the Jewish community and contempt for the churches in Israel for both their content and their timing. These resolutions were passed near the end of the Second Intifada, which took place after the collapse of the peace talks at Camp David in 2000. They heaped contempt on Israel when it was most deserving of support, and excused Palestinian mistakes when the Palestinian national movement was in most need of admonition and correction.

9. These resolutions were only the tip of the iceberg. The mainline community is not merely criticizing Israeli policies, but helping to mainstream opposition to Israel's existence as a Jewish state into American discourse. Leaders, pastors and peace activists in these churches have wittingly and unwittingly portrayed Jewish sovereignty as the cause of conflict and suffering in the Middle East.

10. This anti-Zionist narrative is not restricted to the "peacemaking" or "social witness" resolutions put forth by activists and affirmed at national legislative gatherings held every two, three, or four years by mainline churches. This narrative is evident in books, newspapers and websites published by these churches. It can be seen in public statements and pastoral letters issued by denominational leaders, and ecumenical organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. It can also be seen in magazines such as Christian Century (regarded as the house organ of mainline Protestantism in the U.S.) and Sojourners, a magazine that targets progressive Christians and enjoys a wide readership and good reputation in mainline churches.

11. The story told in these venues has two components. First, Israel has the ability and the obligation to bring a unilateral end to the Arab-Israeli conflict through a magical combination of concessions peace offers and territorial withdrawals. Secondly, Israel is unwilling to enact these policies because of flaws in its national identity, namely an obsession with the Holocaust and a violent interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures. The consequence is that the Jewish people are not capable of making peace with their neighbors in the Middle East and consequently, are not entitled to a sovereign state of their own.

12. This narrative ignores important facts, namely that Israel has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the Oslo Accords. Israel turned cities and towns in the West Bank over to the Palestinian Authority after the Oslo Accords in the 1990s only to see these areas used as recruiting grounds for suicide bombers during the Second Intifada. Israel withdrew, under fire from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to see an increase in attacks after the withdrawal. And Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 only to be attacked by Hezbollah in 2006. Jewish acquiescence and self-reform did not lead to peace, but led to further violence. Moreover, the number of Israeli deaths inside Israel's 1967 boundaries increased after the signing of the Oslo Accords in Sept. 1993.

13. People who think that settlers in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace should be horrified by this turn of events, because they undermine the assurance that any land-for-peace deal modeled on UN Resolution 242 will actually make life safer for Israelis. The peacemaking model that was used for Northern Ireland was that of confidence building measures. Israel's withdrawals represent attempts at building confidence and every one of these confidence building measures has been responded to with increased violence. Given this history, what assurances can would-be Christian peacemakers make to the Israelis that they will be safer if they withdraw from the West Bank?

14. Clearly, there is another factor aside from the occupation that needs to be addressed by Christian peacemakers - Muslim theology regarding land and the Jewish people. Just as Christians have had to pay close attention to their theology regarding land and the Jewish people, Christians have an obligation to pay close attention to Muslim teachings regarding these issues.

15. Muslim land theology states that land previously governed by Muslim rulers needs to remain that way. To be sure, not every Muslim believes this, but this belief is a powerful component of hostility toward Israel in the Middle East.

16. Muslim teachings also portray the Jewish people as enemies of God. Again, to be sure, not every Muslim accepts these teachings, but these teachings are a powerful driver of hostility toward Jews in the Middle East.

17. To be clear, it was Christians, not Muslims who were responsible for the Holocaust, but the notion of a sovereign Jewish state is a threat to the Muslim nomos or sense of order, just as the continued existence of the Jewish people was a threat to the Christian faith in the Middle Ages.

18. On this score, I'll quote Mustafa Abu Sway, a Muslim scholar who got his Ph.D. in philosophy here at Boston College. He has said "Theologically there is no possibility of accepting a Jewish state. But Jews should trust Islam. They will be treated justly in an Islamic state, because they'll be under the protection of Allah."

19. Israel was created for the purpose of giving the Jewish people a place where they could be free of exactly this type of thinking and the behavior it encourages - where they could be a sovereign people. Anyone who believes in the legitimacy of the Jewish state and wants peace has to address these issues.

20. Nevertheless, Muslim theology regarding the land or the Jewish people is just not a subject that Christian peacekeepers want to talk about. These churches talk extensively about the evils of Christian Zionism and about the religious beliefs of Jewish settlers in the West Bank but have remained silent about Muslim religious beliefs regarding the land and the Jewish people.

21. This was troublesome because these churches have all done a lot of work to address the Christian roots of anti-Semitism much in the same way the Second Vatican Council did when it issued Nostra Aetate in 1965. These churches have condemned anti-Semitism and have abandoned the notion that the Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus Christ. The great irony was that the Protestants who were most amenable to investigating how Christian beliefs contributed to the Holocaust had proven unwilling to address how Muslim teachings regarding the Jewish people have contributed to the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

22. By broadcasting the narrative they do about the Arab-Israeli conflict, mainline Protestant churches help portray anti-Zionism, or hostility to Jewish self-determination, as a progressive cause. The implicit message offered by mainline peace and justice activists is that Israel, which has been subject to attacks by its neighbors virtually every year of its existence - is not entitled to the sympathy or support from right-minded people in the U.S. and that maybe the world would be better off if Israel were banished from the community of nations and ultimately dismantled. This message is made much more explicitly in the "Historic Peace Churches" which includes the Mennonites, the Friends (Quakers) and the Church of the Brethren, but I have seen some commentators in the mainline community start to pick up this message as well.

23. And while Jewish nationalism is portrayed in largely negative terms, Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jews is regarded as a component of a liberationist movement that will wither away once liberation is achieved. Hamas and Hezbollah are not merely intent on achieving Arab sovereignty. By their own description, they are annihilationist movements intent on depriving the Jewish people of their sovereign homeland.

24. By legitimizing anti-Zionism and downplaying hostility toward Jews and Israel in the Middle East, mainline churches have provided cover for groups that use anti-Zionism not as a cover, but as a vehicle for anti-Semitism in the U.S. One example of this phenomenon was a June 2007 Washington, D.C., rally organized by the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation. This rally, sponsored in part by the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, featured protesters carrying signs that read "F*&K Israel" with the "s" in Israel drawn to look like a Nazi swastika - a clear and undeniable expression of anti-Semitism. Other protesters carried signs that read "From the River to the Sea Palestine Will Be Free" - a clear and undeniable call for Israel's destruction. During recent fighting in the Gaza Strip, we saw a lot of this type of rhetoric.

25. The mainline churches have been offering this distorted peacemaking narrative against a backdrop of rising levels of hostility toward Jews and Israel throughout the world. Israel is being used as a scapegoat, or target of feelings of fear, anger and uncertainty that have erupted in response to globalization, not just in the Middle East, but in many parts of the West. Currently, the world is in a frightening period of history. Globalization has had a destabilizing impact on societies in throughout the world, particularly the Middle East and Israel and the Jewish people are a convenient scapegoat in this environment.

26. At this point, it is useful to consider the writings of René Girard, a French literary critic who has written extensively about scapegoating and collective violence. In his books, The Scapegoat, I see Satan Fall Like Lightening, and Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Girard describes the narratives used to justify violence against individuals and minorities in various contexts.

27. Girard writes about the role ritualistic accusations play in directing violence and anger toward vulnerable minorities. He also writes of the tendency of groups to perpetrate violence against sacrificial victims in an attempt to diminish fear and disunity caused by crises which they lack the resources to solve and which threaten to cause these groups to fracture. Girard writes that groups who engage in acts of collective violence achieve a unity in the face of crisis that they cannot obtain otherwise. These acts of violence ultimately help keep peace within the societies that perpetrate them.

28. Girard writes that for the act of collective violence perpetrated, a story needs to be told about why the victim deserves to be killed, and also someone needs to throw the first stone at the victim. The first stone, Girard writes, is the hardest to throw, "Because it is the only one without a model. (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, page 56).

29. According to Girard, the Deuteronomy's insistence that no execution can take place without the testimony of two witnesses, both of whom must be the first to throw stones at the victim, is an attempt to constrain this process. By requiring a second witness to enact an execution, Deuteronomy attempts to deprive angry crowds of the model they need to initiate a stoning, just as Christ did when he issued the challenge "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to thrown a stone at her." (John 8:7)

30. Jesus' defense of the woman accused of adultery by an angry crowd is one of the most profound expressions of the Christian mandate in the Gospel - to interrupt the process of scapegoating. Sadly mainline churches have assisted and facilitated in this process.



3 Comments

All good, good reminders and emphases. You've piqued my interest in the follow-up Q&A session.

Alright. Let me think about that.

Oh, I didn't intend to impose, your brief description made it sound intriguing. The videos are more than enough and do in fact serve as important reminders, emphases. Please don't bother unless you otherwise think it's worth the additional effort.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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