Israel's war on academics
Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby is an extremely important and cannily argued exposition of the war that has been waged against academics in the US and elsewhere — including, to name a few, the late Edward Said, Ilan Pappe, Tony Judt, Norman Finkelstein, Robert Fisk and Michael Scheuer — who have dared question the uncritical support that Western governments have given Israel as it continues its oppression of Palestinians (and Lebanese). While some of the individuals mentioned above (Pappe, Finkelstein) have seen their careers affected because of their views, Said, Scheuer, Fisk, Walt and Mearsheimer, for their part, have been accused of being ant-Semitic, in what often was more an emotional response that precluded rational thinking than a well-formulated counterargument.
Finkelstein’s recent brush with Israeli authorities, which resulted in about 24 hours of interrogation by Shin Bet at Ben Gurion Airport and his deportation from Israel — and barred entry for 10 years — serves as the epitome of the treatment reserved academics who tell truth to power. Finkelstein, a Jewish-American born to a Holocaust survivor and known for his books The Holocaust Industry and Beyond Chutzpah, has repeatedly accused Israel of exploiting memories of the Holocaust and the stigma of anti-Semitism to conduct its own widespread repression of a people. Far from being anti-Israel, Finkelstein has long been a proponent of a two-state solution respecting the 1967 borders. More recently, he has come in contact with the Lebanese Hezbollah, partly out of sympathy and partly to better understand the organization and the people it represents — in other words, her did so out of academic interest. Still, Shin Bet used his meetings with Hezbollah to tag him as a security risk and deny him entry.
As the Ha’aretz newspaper put it in a strong editorial on May 17: “True, the right to enter Israel is not guaranteed to noncitizens, but the right of Israeli citizens to hear unusual views is one that should be fought for. It is not for the government to decide which views should be heard here and which ones should not.” It continued: “… the decision is all the more surprising when one recalls the ease with which right-wing activists from the Meir Kahane camp — the kind whose activities pose a security threat that no longer requires further proof — are able to enter the country.” In other words, Finkelstein was being punished for his views and surely the repercussion will be felt back in the US. What is Ironic is that by punishing academics for wanting to learn more about its enemies, Israel is shooting itself in the foot and denying itself intelligence of the kind that its overrated intelligence agencies will never be able to gather.
In Canada, immediately after Liberal Party leader Stéphane Dion had announced the appointment, in federal by-elections in 2007, of Jocelyn Coulon, a former columnist for the La Presse and Le Devoir newspapers in Montreal, to represent the party in the Outremont riding, B’Nai Brith, a Jewish lobby group, attacked Coulon (former director of the Lester B. Pearson Peacekeeping Center in Montreal, where I took a course in 2001 and got to know him very well), for his alleged “anti-Israel” and “anti-US” views as well as calls for an end to the isolation of Hamas. Although the riding is only 10 percent Jewish, the Liberal Party has a long history of reliance on this powerful bloc, and B’Nai Brith’s calls that his nomination be revoked — added to the bad publicity that this generated — cannot but have had an impact on the election results, in which Mr. Coulon was defeated by the New Democrat candidate.
My own experience, as a Canadian who worked in security intelligence and now as a writer/academic, has been similar. At the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), where I worked as an analyst from 2003-2005, my views on Israel and Canada’s unquestioning support for its policies often went against the organizational paradigm, and on more than one occasion I was told, in no uncertain terms, that my career as an intelligence officer would suffer if I continued to criticize that support. The callousness of some Israeli agents I met in the course of my work, or the manner in which they completely overestimated the Palestinian or Hezbollah threat, was nothing less than shocking. As such, the official and tacit Israeli lobby is also very much alive in Canada, a subject I touch on in my book Smokescreen.
Since I moved to Taiwan, I have published some articles on Israel, which for some reason many like to see as facing a threat similar to Taiwan’s — a false analogy that I have sought to dispel on a number of occasions. There, too, far away from Western circles, the attacks came, more often than not in the form of character assassination rather than arguments worthy of the name.
It took great courage, I am sure, for Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer to write their article, and then turn it into a book. But it is a worthy polemic which, if heeded not only in the US but elsewhere, would ironically help ensure that Israel faces the prospects of a better, safer future, which its people certainly deserve — only not at the expense of Palestinians, Lebanese and academic freedom.