By Varda Stieglitz
Recently, I attended a “teach in” on Gaza at Brown University. The event was sponsored by the Department of Middle Eastern Studies and the Watson Institute and was titled “Why Gaza Matters, The War and its Consequences.”
The panel consisted of five Brown faculty members, one of whom was Beshara Doumani, who also served as the moderator. The panel speakers claimed to be addressing the political, historical and international aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and I was hoping to learn about new developments and perhaps gain a new perspective on the situation.
Sadly, I was mistaken.
Professor Doumani who is the director of the Middle East Studies Department picked panelists who were sympathetic to his cause, therefore the forum ended up being a set up for Israel bashing and intimidating students who were pro-Israel.
As an outside observer, I resented being lectured and indoctrinated about the allegedly “fascist” and “colonialist” state of Israel and all the supposed crimes that it has committed. Not once was it mentioned that Israel is the only democratic country in the region, nor the great lengths that the Israeli military goes to protect civilians on both sides of the conflict. No one ever mentioned the tunnels built by Hamas that were meant to be used this past Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) to murder thousands of innocent civilians. The fact that thousands of rockets were launched towards Israeli civilian areas causing damage, injury, deaths and post -traumatic stress disorder in children was totally minimized, even justified! The horrors that Islamist militants inflict upon innocent people in Syria and Iraq were not even mentioned.
This was not a “forum” – it was nothing more than an opportunity for like-minded Israel haters to get together and give a one-sided view of what is, in reality, a very nuanced situation.
The so-called moderator did not actually moderate what was supposed to be a discussion of the issues related to Gaza. Instead, Professor Beshara Doumani used this event to promote his own anti-Israel agenda and bias. During his presentation, Doumani defended Steven Salaita, a candidate for tenure at the University of Illinois, whose offer was rescinded because of his anti-American, anti-Semitic, bullying rhetoric. Perhaps, Professor Doumani holds the same beliefs?
Imagine you are a pro-Israel or Jewish student studying under the director of the Middle Eastern studies department or one of his professors. What would you do if you had to see Professor Doumani about a grade on a paper related to Israel? If you knew that your professors (who have a monopoly of power in the classroom) hold political beliefs that are completely counter to your own, you would be forced to maintain silence or risk retaliation when your professor grades your assignments. This promotes a culture of silence and fear in the classroom that should have no place in our universities.
Of course, the anti-Israel bullying culture on American college campuses is not new, but it is continuing and increasing in intensity.
Even at Brandeis University, an institution established with funding from the Jewish community, a ListServ used by professors was revealed by a group of students to be rife with anti-Israel rhetoric. These academics exclusively condemned Israel regarding the recent fighting in Gaza and also prior conflicts with the Palestinians. If the faculty is uniform in its presentation of the situation and disagreement is discouraged, what chance do students have of expressing themselves if they have opinions of their own?
At City College of New York a recent last minute resolution to divest from Israel by an anti-Israel student group was shelved after pro-Israel/anti-bullying students were ejected from an anti-Israel event. The anti-Israel activists and academics tried to intimidate the student government into taking up their cause and refused to hear dissenting opinions.
This is not civil discourse.
The fact that young and impressionable students are exposed to this bullying rhetoric on our university campuses is deeply troubling. Is it any surprise that in this toxic climate swastikas are painted on Jewish fraternity houses or that Hillel events are disrupted by anti-Israel bullies? We should instead be encouraging dialogue and civil debate, not intimidation tactics which serve no purpose and will not bring an answer to this issue.
Varda Stieglitz is an educational consultant in Rhode Island. She formerly taught as a reading and ESL specialist at Attleboro High School in Massachusetts.