Reopen Palestinian Universities

In my capacity as President of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), I am forwarding to you the following resolution adopted during our recent annual meeting. For your information, MESA is a professional association of Middle East scholars, now numbering nearly 2,000 members. MESA does not take political positions. Because of the scholarly interests of its members, however, it has an obvious concern with issues of academic freedom.

In November, the Israeli government made the decision to continue the closure of the universities in the West Bank and Gaza. This means that the 17,000 students and 2,500 faculty and researchers in the territories face the loss of a second academic year. The concerns of MESA members are reflected in the following “sense of the meeting” resolution:

1) Members of the Middle East Studies Association view with concern the continued closure of institutions of higher education in the West Bank and Gaza.
2) MESA members strongly believe in the need for academic freedom throughout the Middle East region.
3) Closure of universities, whenever and wherever it occurs, precludes all possibility for academic freedom to flourish.
4) MESA members therefore strongly urge that the universities in the West Bank and Gaza be reopened as soon as possible under conditions that will allow students and professors to return to their legitimate scholarly pursuits.

William B. Quandt
MESA President, 1987-1988
Washington, DC

Best Guide, But…

I found the “Palestine for Beginners” primer in your latest issue (MER 154) to be the best brief guide to the issues I have seen anywhere. However, I was puzzled by the statement that "the Zionists base their claims to Palestine on the Biblical promise to Abraham and his descenders (Genesis 17:8)." This may be true of religious Zionists, a distinct minority within the movement, but not of “the Zionists.” Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion, Sharett, Meir, Eshkol, Rabin, Begin, Shamir, Peres or Sharon have never used this biblical reference to justify their Zionism. What should be mentioned is that Zionism, starting as early as 1881 with M. L. Lilienblum, speaks of Jewish “historical rights” to Palestine, based on ancient Jewish sovereignty and the inheritance principle, according to which contemporary Jews are the rightful heirs to the ancient sovereignty. We may consider this claim absurd, but it is totally secular, and it has been the mainstay of Zionist ideology for 100 years.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

The Undeniability of Anti-Semitism

I write this letter in response to several points made by Ellen Cantarow in “Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Jewish Identity in the Women’s Movement” (MER 154). While Cantarow is generally on the mark about Zionism, racism, and feminism, some sections obscure her valid points and may contribute to a further misunderstanding between Jewish and other feminists rather than a reconciliation.

Cantarow reduces the confrontation between Jewish and Palestinian women at the Copenhagen conference as Esther Broner’s word against Gail Lerner’s vis-à-vis whether the Zionists or the anti-Zionists were more intimidating. She fails, however, to transcend the parameters of that meeting in her own critique of it. The Decade of Women was supposed to deal with the empowerment of women as articulated and realized by women. While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict includes women (although not in any great decision-making capacities on either side), there was no attempt by anyone in Copenhagen to derail an issue that has little to do with the majority of women living in the world. There was a Palestinio- and Judeo- centrism which permeated the conference, and that issue has never been addressed.

More importantly, Cantarow dismisses anti-Semitism in America with several rationales by again allowing others to define the parameters of the debate. Cantarow confuses lack of institutionalized anti-Semitism with ideological realities" because of the amount of landlords, store owners and influential politicians in New York who are Jewish. How would Cantarow explain accusations make by blacks in the Chicago city government last August that Jews were responsible for the AIDS virus? Was the desecration of a synagogue, including the destruction of several Torah scrolls, in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood on September 17 also the mark of “class realities”? Anti-Semitism exists in other strata as well as illustrated by the allegations and resignations in the George Bush campaign in the first weeks of September, which were essentially dismissed by the Jewish establishment because Fred Malek had good pro-Zionist credentials.

Finally, the “Jewish American Princess” stereotype dismissed by Cantarow: This has deep anti-Semitic implications. Women associated with the term “JAP” are acquisitive, pushy, aggressive and materialistic, the exact same terms used to describe all Jews in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “JAP”-ness has also permeated pop culture with a cacophony of greeting cards, bumper stickers, clothing, jewelry and other items. This stereotype is not an example of anti-Semitism obscuring more than it explains. And it’s sexist too.

Edward Said has called the Palestinians the “victims of the victims,” but the point is that Jews were — and still are — victims. It is possible to live an authentic Jewish life (including adhering to dietary laws and going to synagogue on the sabbath), have a principled position on the West Bank and Gaza, and still call anti-Semitism when it really exists. August Bebel called anti-Semitism the "socialism of fools." I suggest that Cantarow cogitate on that when she dismisses the realities of being on the Jewish left in America today.

Madeleine Tress
New York

Cantarow Responds: For some reason Madeleine Tress wants to invent in me someone who doesn’t exist. I am sorry to have to use the word, and equally sorry that it is quite appropriate here: She is simply telling lies about what I wrote.

What I actually say in my article, as opposed to what she credits me with having said (for the sake of her own axe grinding), is that, far from dismissing acts of anti-Semitism, I deplore them: page 41 column 1, three lines from the bottom, through column 2, last paragraph, first three lines.

She would like us to believe, for example, that many of the problems between Jews and blacks, and Jews and Hispanics in New York City are nothing more than “class realities.” I explicitly say that “attitudes of anti-Semitic cast often come out as stereotyping” and add that feminists “object to terms like ‘Jewish American Princess’ on similar grounds.” That is an acknowledgement, not, as she mistakenly read it, a dismissal. I have no idea where she read what she says about Jews and African-Americans: She has simply invented what she’d like someone with my politics to have said. Go back and read my Zabar’s example as I wrote it. It says nothing about “problems between Jews and blacks,” it doesn’t even mention African-Americans: It mentions only Hispanics. And it says nothing to attribute ethnic conflicts in New York to mere “class” conflicts between landlords et al on the one side and poor folks on the other — again, her construct.

No one could agree more heartily than I that the Chicago business was indeed anti-Semitism in a virulent form. No one could deplore it more than I do: I am in my forties and remember the impact of such declarations in my childhood. But I do view the disappearance of US “institutional anti-Semitism” as a major gain for Jews worldwide, and while I hardly dismiss “ideological anti-Semitism” I daresay its public manifestations are lesser now than when I was a child.

However, what is most telling about her letter is not any such individual point but her opening distinction between “Jewish and other feminists.” I’ll stress what I said in my essay: I believe the distinction between “Jewish and other feminists” is invidious. I am Jewish by birth, but I certainly don’t consider myself a “Jewish feminist.” I am an internationalist. This is why I side with the Guatemalan and El Salvadoran peasantry, as well as with black South Africa, against the interests of my own country. It is why I side with the Palestinians against Britain in the Mandate period, and with that people against Israel and the US from 1948 to the present. (This isn’t the place to review the work of Benny Morris on the subject, but Israeli revisionist historians are making clear that the colonization of the West Bank and Gaza from 1967 through the present, and the dispossession and brutalization of the indigenous population there, merely recapitulates identical Israeli policies sanctioned by Ben Gurion and other major policymakers in Ramie, Lydda, Jaffa and elsewhere from 1948 through the 1950s).

As to what she says about Copenhagen: It is mistaken in the extreme to equate the situation of a people in an extreme state of dispossession and oppression, however ideologically displeasingly that situation may sometimes be articulated, with the situation of an ethnic group that is at present quite comfortably placed in the US (“a Palestinio- and Judeo-centrism…permeated the conference”). Since the Six-Day War a Jewish chauvinism has grown in America, with effects that have been and continue to be harmful in the extreme. This chauvinism is distinctly different from the legitimate and rich ethnic self-appreciation that obtained in the older Jewish literary and political movements of the late nineteenth century through the 1950s. It is high time, and I suggest Middle East Report is the place for it, to begin a roundtable discussion of Jewish chauvinism as a peculiar and pernicious historical phenomenon, one that blinds many people to what others actually say and write, and to major issues of social justice in the world.

Ellen Cantarow
Cambridge, MA

No Gaza Elections

Your uprising issue (MER 152) is excellent. I have just one tiny remark: In the primer, p. 36, there is reference to municipal elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and p. 37, in the Occupied Territories. In fact, they were held only in the West Bank. The last municipal elections in the Gaza Strip took place in 1946. In the religion issue (MER 153) the first photograph accompanying my article is not Claudia’s [Flores] (unfortunately!).

Alexander Flores
Erlangen, West Germany

How to cite this article:

"Letters (November/December 1988)," Middle East Report 156 (January/February 1989).

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