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Institutionalising Zionism in American academia

January 30, 2014 at 2:37 am

It is widely known that Israel and its allies spend millions of dollars to promote Zionism on college and university campuses across the US. Zionist organisations fund student groups like Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organisation in the world, as well as sponsor American Jewish students to travel or study abroad in Israel through programmes like Bithright Israel and MASA Israel Journey.

Israel and its allies also spend vast resources organising pro-Zionist speaking tours, both on and off college and university campuses. The Jewish National Fund works with an extensive list of Zionist scholars and professionals to, as it proudly states, “Bring the Israel experience to your next meeting, community event or conference.” Furthermore, while a doctoral student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in Central New York, I was told that the Israeli embassy regularly contacted the administration, as well as the directors of selected programmes, to pressure them to schedule an event featuring the Israeli Ambassador to the US.

However, perhaps less is known about how Israeli universities are actively involved in institutionalising Zionism in the American academy, mainly in the form of collaborative research programmes that legitimise the right of powerful states to illegally invade and occupy Muslim and Arab lands by equating the resulting struggle for liberation with terrorism.

My own university is complicit in this project to normalise invasion and occupation through collaborative programmes with Israeli universities. In Fall 2007, our graduate magazine featured an article entitled “Trying to Change the Rules” that focused on several collaborative projects related to a partnership between the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT) at Syracuse University’s respected College of Law and the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) located at the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel.

The IDC is one of Israel’s most influential security institutes and is thought to have extremely close connections to the Israeli government and military. Indeed the chairman of the ICT Board of Directors, Shabtai Shavit, is the former head of the Mossad.

The collaboration between the IDC and Syracuse University started in 2005 and expanded after Israel’s 2006 War against Lebanon. The heads of INSCT and the ITC, along with the former dean of the Maxwell School, who had previously worked for the US Department of Defence, all agreed that the existing rules of war no longer applied to the dominant forms of warfare in the 21st century, which they described as “asymmetric” because most conflicts today are conducted between state and nonstate actors that have vastly different military capabilities. The three decided that “someone should attempt to update” the rules of war and that INSCT, in partnership with the Israelis, was “well-positioned to take that on”. This resulted in a five-year collaborative research project called “New Battlefields/Old Laws” that included a two-way student exchange programme.

While most wars today are indeed “asymmetric”, it is because many of them are also illegal and should never have been allowed to happen in the first place. According to international human rights law, the case can be made that the recent wars waged by the US and Israel are all illegal, not only for being disproportionate responses to real or perceived threats, especially those that were manufactured, but also for intentionally blurring the distinction between combatants and civilians.

Israel’s 2006 war against Lebanon was waged after Hizbullah launched an ambush against Israeli soldiers, capturing two of them in the hopes of negotiating a prisoner exchange, and killing three. During the subsequent aggression, Agence France Presse reports that 1,287 Lebanese died, nearly all civilians, and 4,054 were wounded. Israeli forces intentionally inflicted severe damage to civilian infrastructure including: the Rafik Hariri International Airport; various ports; a lighthouse in Ras Beirut; bridges, roads and factories throughout the country; ambulances and relief trucks; schools, orphanages and hospitals; mosques and community centres; mobile telephone and television stations; as well as fuel containers and service stations. During the final three days of fighting, and despite the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 calling for an immediate cessation of the hostilities, Israel dropped up to four million cluster bomblets in southern Lebanon, and over one million remained unexploded, prompting charges from the UN’s humanitarian chief that Israel employed a “completely immoral” use of cluster bombs during the conflict. According to Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Adnan Mansour, more than 400 Lebanese have been victims of these unexploded cluster munitions since the cease-fire, 115 of them under the age of 18.

On the other side, 116 Israeli soldiers were killed as well as 43 civilians, and Israel suffered severe damage to civilian infrastructure including a post office and two hospitals.

The disproportionality here is nothing less than shocking, and all the more so since it was intentional. During the war, the Israeli military employed what it called “the Dahiyah Doctrine”, named after the residential areas in southern Beirut that Israeli forces indiscriminately destroyed on the basis that “they were also used as Hizbullah command-and-control centres, and were built over Hizbullah bunkers.” In October 2008, Israeli Major General Gadi Eizenkot threatened that: “What happened in the Dahiyah quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”

One Israeli journalist writing for Yedioth Ahronoth summed up this strategy as follows: “In practical terms, the Palestinians in Gaza are all Khaled Mashaal [the exiled leader of Hamas]; the Lebanese are all Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah [the secretary general of Hizbullah]; and the Iranians are all Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [the former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran].”

This strategy, which resulted in mass death and destruction, clearly violates the principles of war in regards to proportionality and distinction, and thus is illegal.

Nevertheless, Israeli occupation forces used the same strategy during Israel’s 2008-2009 assault against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the deaths of 1,389 Palestinians, more than half of whom were civilians and 318 of whom were minors under the age of 18. In addition, more than 5,300 Palestinians were wounded. According to the Israeli rights group B’tselem, “Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was already on the verge of collapse prior to the operation” due to the Israeli siege. The aggression targeted 18 schools, including eight kindergartens, with at least 262 others damaged. Israel also destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings, leaving more than 20,000 Palestinians homeless.

Inside Israel, Hamas rockets killed three Israeli civilians during the offensive and one member of the security forces. According to the UN, 518 Israelis were injured. Newspapers reported that 28 Israelis were made homeless, and over 1,000 claims were filed relating to damaged property.

Again, the disproportionate results of the aggression clearly indicate that Israel violated the principles of war in regards to proportionality and distinction. And when wars are illegal, they constitute crimes.

Nevertheless, Syracuse University still decided that Israel, an occupying power, was legally and ethically qualified to help devise new rules of war. Of course, this should not be surprising in the context of US empire. When accepting his Nobel Peace Prize, President Barack Obama described the 2002 invasion of Afghanistan as a just war, even though none of the hijackers on 11 September 2001 were of Afghan origin. Thus despite not being responsible for perpetrating the 11/9 attacks, around 15,000 Afghanis have died as a result. That is some twisted conception of justice.

All of this is actually connected. According to the IDC web site, Syracuse University has developed “a joint study and research programme in counterterrorism policy, homeland security and American domestic and foreign policy,” drawing parallels between the experiences of confronting Palestinian resistance to occupation and Al-Qaeda acts of terrorism.

It is not incidental that professors from Syracuse University also regularly participate in the annual counterterrorism conference at Herzliya. According to the New York writer Ira Glunts, “One of the conference days always falls on 11 September. This, of course, is timed perfectly to make the case that Israel’s battle against terrorism became America’s battle as a result of the World Trade Centre attack.”

However it is important to note that Syracuse University is not alone in partnering with Israeli universities to normalise the occupation. Earlier this month, the Electronic Intifada reported that Palestine solidarity activists in the US “are campaigning against plans by Texas A&M University to take over a college in Nazareth, the city in present-day Israel with the highest number of Palestinian citizens.” According to journalist Patrick Strickland, “Texas A&M, the sixth largest university in the US, intends to raise $70 million to assume control of the Nazareth Academic Institute.”

In October, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and is likely to campaign again, announced the new programme alongside the chancellor of Texas A&M while the two were meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. As Strickland points out, “John Hagee, a right-wing Christian Zionist pastor leading the lobby group Christians United for Israel, is also involved in the project.”

Haaretz notes that while the college in Nazareth was established in 2010 specifically to serve the Arab population, it has suffered from a lack of state funds, thus college officials “welcomed the prestigious American university’s entry into the picture.” After all, although Arabs comprise 20 per cent of the Israeli population, they are only 11 per cent of its student body. However the Jerusalem Post indicates that, “The new institution, to be called the Peace Campus, will promote coexistence for the sake of education with a student population combining Arab, Jewish and foreign students.”

Indeed, as the Daily Beast reports, Manuel Trajtenberg, the chair of Israel’s Planning and Budgeting Committee for the Council for Higher Education, explained that he anticipates significant student interest: “Of course, we would appeal to potential students in the area, but also Jewish Israelis of all sorts.” If the goal here is not yet clear, Emily L. Hauser also draws attention to the involvement of Hagee, who once described Adolf Hitler as a hunter sent by God to “chase the Jewish people back to the land”. Additionally, Hagee has raised tens of millions of dollars “for projects in Israel and for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” Peace Campus suddenly looks a lot like Oslo.

As Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, remarked, this is “another colonial project by Israel-to further colonize our space, whatever space is left of the Palestinian space within the state of Israel.”

Of course it is not always necessary to send American students, professors and investment to Israel in order to benefit Zionism. In September, the Electronic Intifada reported that the New York City Council has “approved a lease for Cornell University to build a major applied science engineering campus in partnership with the Haifa-based Israel Institute of Technology (better known as Technion). The 2.1 million square foot, taxpayer-funded project is to be located on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island, a strip of largely residential land between Manhattan and Queens.”

As scholar Terri Ginsberg points out: “A closer look at the corporations affiliated with Technion, some of which have expressed interest in this entrepreneurial venture, indicates that the project’s aims may be more sinister. These corporations have developed weapons and surveillance technology used by Israel to deny Palestinians their fundamental human rights.” She adds that Technion “has a history of cooperating with Israel’s arms industry and of helping to develop a bulldozer designed specifically for use in demolishing Palestinian homes.”

It is important to note that UK universities are not immune to this trend either. For example, the Electronic Intifada reported in September that the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London “was established as a partnership between the IDC in Herzliya” and other Israeli universities. Unsurprisingly, the majority of ICSR’s projects focus on the various expressions of “Islamic radicalism” without any mention of Zionist extremism. Even its project on North America and Europe only focuses on radicalism in Muslim communities.

All of these examples illustrate how the Zionist occupation uses the Western academy in a variety of ways to reproduce itself not only in Palestine, but also beyond.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.