Thursday, December 16, 2010

Columbia University Establishes a Center for Palestine Studies


At the New Rebublic online, writers Armin Rosen and Jordan Hirsch, both recent Columbia graduates, endorse "Palestine Studies" as an appropriate academic discipline, but express concern that the new Center for Palestine Studies (CPS) at Columbia University already shows signs of a center of anti-Israel political activism.

Here is a prime example: One of Israel's hallmark achievements as a secular, democratic society is its tolerance of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT)persons--unique in the Middle East. It is common for gay Palestinian Arabs to flee Gaza and the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of Yehuda and Shomron ("the West Bank"), where they live in great physical danger, for the tolerant atmosphere of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. So how does legal scholar Katherine Franke describe her own reasons for association with the Center for Palestine Studies? She told Messrs. Rosen and Hirsch that she focuses on “gender and sexuality and how the rights of LGBT people in Israel are being used to punish Israel’s Arab neighbors.” So instead of studying how LGBT people fare in Palestine, which presumably would be the topic most directly related to "Palestine Studies," she instead will emphasize in her work how the positive treatment of LGBT people in Israel is actually just one more weapon wielded by the nefarious Zionists in pursuit of their unceasing persecution of their Arab neighbors.

Rosen and Hirsch also present the example of Mahmood Mamdani, the former head of Columbia's Institute of African Studies, who is now associated with the CPS. Professor Mamdani "justifies his involvement by pointing to a conference he helped to organize titled 'Post-Apartheid Reflections on Israel and Palestine,' which taught him 'how a thematic focus [on Palestine] could bring African scholars … into the mainstream of intellectual discussions.'" This reflects his prior anti-Israel political activism--"in a 2002 speech at a pro-divestment teach-in, Mamdani argued that Israel was an apartheid state and a settler-colonial enterprise comparable to Liberia." So in the case of Mr. Mamdani, as for Ms. Franke, the focus of "Palestine Studies" is not the academic inquiry into Palestine, but scholarship aimed at attacking and ultimately delegitimizing Israel.

Where I depart from the outlook of Messrs. Rosen and Hirsch is their surprise that a Center for Palestine Studies would be devoted primarily to anti-Israel studies and activism. It was inevitable--indeed a Center for Palestine Studies could not be anything other than a center to lay the scholastic groundwork for the delegitimization of Israel. That is because the entire concept of a Palestinian nation arose solely as a means to combat Zionism and the creation of Israel. The Palestinians are not merely anti-Israel, they are the anti-Israel. Of course there was never an independent nation of Palestine. Indeed I challenge the readers to find any reference to "Palestinians" prior to 1948 that refers to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine. The only people who called themselves "Palestinians" during the British Mandate over Palestine, from 1920 through 1948, were the Jewish residents of Palestine.

One need not take my word regarding the nature of Palestinian peoplehood. Read "the Palestinian National Covenant," the constitutional document of the so-called Palestinian people. It largely defines the Palestian nationality by its opposition to Zionism and its objective of eliminating Israel, and by the negation of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish historical ties to the land of Israel. It was not enough to assert, in Article 7, "That there is a Palestinian community and that it has material, spiritual, and historical connection with Palestine are indisputable facts." The Covenant felt compelled to add, in Article 20, "Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood." For the concept of an Arab Palestinian people to flourish, the idea of the Jewish people residing in its historical homeland must be negated.

Indeed, the Covenant even hints that the notion of Palestinian Arab nationality is just a way station toward the higher goal of a united Arab nation, in which, once the Zionist enterprise is uprooted, the concept of a separate Arab Palestinian people would wither away. Thus, Article 12 states, in its entirety:

"The Palestinian people believe in Arab unity. In order to contribute their share toward the attainment of that objective, however, they must, at the present stage of their struggle, safeguard their Palestinian identity and develop their consciousness of that identity, and oppose any plan that may dissolve or impair it."
(Emphasis added.)

In other words, let's first get rid of the Zionists, then we can revisit whether we have any further use for this "Palestinian identity" baggage.

So, Messrs. Rosen and Hirsch, let us not fool ourselves--a Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University is, and could not be anything but, an academic center for anti-Israel studies and political activism.

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