Monday, September 11, 2006

Response to the Forum: "Promoting the end of...Israel"

A letter to the editor was published in the Northwest Arkansas Times yesterday in response to the forum I participated in on August 30. It deploys the typical and almost predictable arguments that ardent Zionists sling against any Israel critic in the US: anti-Semitism (calling for the destruction of Israel) and lack of "balance." The latter argument reeks of David Horowitz, who has made this his mantra now for several years. There was more to say but the space in letters is too short. Two more points I would have liked to make (1) Hillel frequently sponsors lectures and the like at the UA campus. Ghadbian, Gordon and I have never been invited to appear at any of their events for the sake of "balance" and "objectivity." (2) A map that shows Israel in the Middle East of course makes it appear that the Jewish state is under threat of being swamped by its far larger neighbors. The purpose of such a map is to disguise Israel's true power: it has the fifth most powerful military force in the world, possesses nuclear weapons, enjoys the full backing of the US, has never lost a conventional war against its much "larger" neighbors, and so on.

Here's the letter, followed by my response.

"Objective analysis of Israel lacking" -- Northwest Arkansas Times, September 10, 2006
Not long ago I attended a forum at the University of Arkansas on the recent Israel-Hezbollah war, which claimed to feature analysis from UA professors Joel Gordon (History), Najib Ghadbian (Political Science) and Ted Swedenburg (Anthropology). Although I had been warned that this group of professors would present an avidly anti-Israel stance, I was dismayed at how completely one-sided the presentation was. The organizers had refused to allow the participation of anyone with a pro-Israeli view. They focused all of the negativity on Israel, while claiming an “ objective ” analysis. Is this what our university has become — no consideration of different points of view ? No opportunity for students to think through the reasons for different perspectives ? The program left me with the clear impression that these professors were, in fact, promoting the end of the democratic nation of Israel, as opposed to seeking peace and understanding for all in the region. I suggest that these professors attempt to balance their presentations, first by providing a large map of the Middle East so that all can see the size of Israel compared to its neighbors. Secondly, the audience should be informed of which of Israel’s neighbors are dedicated to its destruction, and which are dedicated to peaceful coexistence. Third, invite co-panelists from a different perspective to engage in peaceful dialogue, thus demonstrating to students that reasonable people can have differing opinions and can share a forum peacefully.

Darla Newman / Fayetteville

My response, which I just sent off to the editor. We'll see if it's published.
Darla Newman's letter (September 10) concerning the recent forum I participated in along with Professors Ghadbian and Gordon deploys the standard smear tactics that partisans of Israel use against anyone who dares criticize the Jewish state. Newman describes our presentations in generalities ("anti-Israel," "one-sided," and "negativity") and offers no specifics, and concludes that we were "promoting the end of the democratic nation of Israel." I challenge her to cite a single example of such a call. I did deplore Israel's recent prosecution of its war against Lebanon, citing, for instance, statements by Human Rights Watch that Israel was guilty of "indiscriminate attacks against civilians" in Lebanon, and I concluded by arguing that Israel's assault on Lebanon's civilians and infrastructure was not in its best interests. But apparently for Newman, such criticism of Israeli government actions is "anti" Israel and equivalent to arguing for its obliteration.

Newman also is dismayed by the forum's lack of "balance" and our "refusal" to invite someone with a "pro-Israeli" stance to participate. Professor Gordon in fact spoke informatively at the forum about conditions inside Israel, which he visited this summer as the guest of two Israeli universities, and where he has relatives and friends But perhaps for Newman "pro-Israeli" means defending Israel's Lebanon war, and it is true that no one at our forum took this position. Instead, we argued that the US, Israel's chief ally, should engage in diplomacy with Hizbollah, Hamas, Syria and Iran. That is, we advocated a peace policy and argued against Israel's aggressive war policy in Lebanon and Palestine and against US support for it.

In sum, although Newman argues for "balance" and "peaceful dialogue," she has in fact misrepresented both the intent of our forum and the nature of the discussion that took place.

Ted Swedenburg

Update: My letter was eventually printed in the Northwest Arkansas Times. Newman's letter subsequently also appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and my response (a somewhat shortened version of what appears above) was also printed.

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Abdurahman said...

It seems it's more difficult criticizing Israel nowadays in the US more than it's in Israel. Thanks for publishing both letters.

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