Sunday, September 28, 2014

American Academics Bemoan a “Rigged” Fight in the Battle Against BDS. By Debra Nussbaum Cohen.

U.S. academics bemoan “rigged” fight in battle against BDS. By Debra Nussbaum Cohen. Haaretz, September 27, 2014.


Liberal professors say they are becoming increasingly marginalized and threatened by the boycott movement. “Academics have surrendered themselves to slogans on the Israeli-Palestinian issue” warns one.

NEW YORK – The BDS movement is hitting home for David Rosen, a long-time professor of anthropology at Farleigh Dickinson University. Rosen’s professional group, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), is debating BDS measures at its annual conference in early December. And already, Rosen says, he can see that the process is “rigged” against those who oppose BDS.

The AAA is one of several considering BDS resolutions that are sweeping university campuses, from student governments (where the motion to boycott and divest are mostly symbolic) to teacher unions and academic associations, where they have concrete impact. The language around the issue is frequently vituperative, with some BDS supporters making thinly veiled references to “Zionist money” and power, and both sides trading accusations that the other is stifling academic freedom.

The academic boycott movement is gaining force, even as those who view it as dangerous ramp up opposing efforts. And it is leaving many Jewish professors – who by and large identify as liberals – feeling isolated.

“The academic boycott movement is growing like untended weeds, being watered by the American Jewish establishment’s refusal to engage around Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians,” says Eric Alterman, distinguished professor of English and journalism at City University of New York’s Brooklyn College and Graduate School of Journalism. In February, Alterman cofounded the academic advisory council of the Third Narrative, a group of 100 anti-BDS, anti-occupation academics.

Rosen is an anthropologist of Africa and the Middle East who will present his study of Israel’s social protest movements at the AAA conference. He has been an AAA member for 47 years, but during some of the sleepless nights he has spent thinking about the upcoming AAA debate, he has thought of resigning.

The AAA, which has assembled a task force devoted to the organization’s engagement on Israel-Palestine, has some 10,000 members, said Executive Director Edward Liebow. Twenty-five of them have Israeli mailing addresses.

At the annual conference – running December 3-7 in Washington, D.C. – panel discussions devoted to the topic will be led almost entirely by BDS advocates, including Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel; and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace. Her group played a key role in persuading the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to vote, in June, to withdraw $21 million in investments from three major manufacturing companies that sell construction equipment to Israel. While JVP does not currently work to create academic boycotts of Israel, it supports them, and is developing its own academic council, Vilkomerson tells Haaretz.

Other participants in the upcoming AAA panels have publicly endorsed academic BDS. All of them are stocked with speakers from leading American universities and the Palestinian territories, Rosen said in a letter to the AAA. Not one speaker is from a major Israeli university, and only on one panel have BDS opponents been invited to speak.

If a resolution ends the AAA’s relationship with Israeli universities for, say, accepting government funding (which most universities both in Israel and the United States do), it will marginalize Israeli – and even American-Jewish – anthropologists, Rosen says.

“They say this would not mean that individuals could not come to meetings, but they couldn’t use travel money” allocated to professors by their universities for conferences, Rosen adds. “Will Israeli scholars be able to publish articles in [AAA] journals? Will they have to show that their work wasn’t supported by the government? It could be incredibly stifling of all forms of academic speech. And who is going to want to prove that they were ‘good Jews,’ that they didn’t accept money from the Israeli government?”

Liebow responded by email: “It is highly speculative to contemplate the implications of such a resolution. None have been proposed to date. Any implications would depend on the resolution’s wording, and the conditions set forth, both for any call for action and the conditions that must be met for such a resolution to be lifted.”

The AAA requires motions to be presented within a month of the meeting, which means that none are allowed until early November, Rosen notes.

The planned BDS panels “are already like the boycott, because no Israeli anthropologist is included,” says Rosen. “Even long-term Israeli members of the AAA have been completely marginalized in this discussion. From my point of view, it’s totally rigged.”

Harvey Goldberg chairs the Israeli Anthropological Association. “Almost all Israeli anthropologists are employed in institutions that are funded by the state,” he wrote in a letter to the AAA. “A boycott would stigmatize and cause concrete harm to these individuals, whatever their political opinions.

“Israeli anthropologists – like others around the world – are not accountable for their governments’ decisions. The academic boycott movement claims that Israeli academics ‘are furnishing the ideological justification and technical means for the occupation to continue.’

“That is,” Goldberg added, “a serious misreading” which “reveals a true disconnect from knowledge of the situation on the ground.”

Academic groups like the AAA and the American Studies Association – a 5,000-member group which adopted a resolution supporting BDS last December – are key associations for those who teach at university level. The groups publish journals, post jobs and hold large conferences at which faculty members share research and forge critical relationships. Last year, the Asian American Studies Association and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association also voted to boycott Israeli institutions.

“Each boycott somehow gives permission to others. It would be a big feather in the cap of BDS if they could get this one to go,” Rosen said.

Anger over the Steven Salaita affair has amplified issues surrounding academic boycotts. The professor of Indian-American studies was a tenured professor at another university when he accepted a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The decidedly anti-Israel professor, who is of Palestinian origin, has written six books, the most recent titled Israel’s Dead Soul. During this summer’s Gaza war he tweeted, “when a majority of a state’s prime ministers were born in another country, that state is a settler colony” and “#Israel’s message to #Obama and #Kerry: we’ll kill as many Palestinians as we want, when we want. p.s.: fuck you, pay me. #Gaza.”

After those tweets, the chancellor withdrew the university’s offer of employment, a decision confirmed by the board of trustees on September 11. It sparked a wave of protest from those who say that donors pressured the university to revoke its job offer, and that the decision stifles academic freedom. Salaita has said he is considering legal action. A petition demanding “corrective action on the scandalous firing” of Salaita has garnered nearly 19,000 signatures. Salaita, who has become a cause célèbre, is shortly planning a speaking tour of the Illinois campuses.

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is on leave from her job as a Hebrew lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She is cofounder of the AMCHA Initiative, which tracks anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campus activity. Her group reviewed activities of UCLA’s Center for Near Eastern Studies, which over three years received $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education through the Higher Education Act. More than 90 percent of its Israel-related programming in that period was anti-Israel, she said.

When she spoke with Haaretz, Rossman-Benjamin was just leaving UC Berkeley, where Students for Justice in Palestine heeded a call by American Muslims for Palestine for a day of action on September 23. That call included opposing programs to study abroad in Israel, which Rossman-Benjamin says is the newest target of anti-Israel groups. About 75 SJP supporters held a “die in” on the main campus quad, while about 50 Israel supporters held an opposing rally. “There is a movement growing from being anti-Israel to being anti-supporters of Israel – a campaign on the part of many of the pro-Palestinian groups to keep a pro-Israel narrative off campus,” she adds.

The UC student workers’ union – which has 13,000 members who work as teaching assistants in the system’s 10 colleges – has endorsed BDS in a statement that calls Israel “an apartheid system” and says “the current situation in Palestine is one of settler-colonialism.” Other teaching assistant organizations are taking up similar efforts.

The Doctoral Students’ Council at City University of New York, which has 4,700 members, presented a proposal to boycott Israeli universities at its meeting on September 12, a Friday night. At that meeting, CUNY’s Alterman spoke against the measure and objected to the discussion’s timing. The group agreed to temporarily table it.

“BDS has taken over the left and is taking over the universities,” Alterman says. “I would support a nonacademic boycott dedicated to getting Israel out of the territories. But this BDS is pining for the destruction of Israel.”

And while BDS advocates say they are anti-Zionist and disavow anti-Semitism, those who have opposed their efforts say that, in practice, there is no such distinction.

“It’s reawakened liberals like myself to the enduring reality of anti-Semitism. There is anti-Semitism in BDS – quite a lot of it of a nasty variety,” notes Alterman. “I am shocked by its vituperative character and the movement’s unwillingness to even admit it.”

He has never been so personally attacked as he has been for writing about BDS, he adds, and it saps his energy for the fight. “I am writing less about BDS and Israel in The Nation, because I just don’t need the tsuris. My students come up to me and say ‘I hear you’re a racist white supremacist.’ I’ve been in fights my whole life and have never experienced the level of personal abuse that I have from the BDS crowd.”

And it is making its way into classroom discussions. “It’s a politicization of the classroom,” says Rossman-Benjamin. “We’re seeing much more of it.”

“Academics have surrendered themselves to slogans on the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” concludes Rosen. “They have just simply surrendered themselves. It’s only the beginning now. We’re going to see a lot more attempts. It’s horrible, just horrible.”

Wanted: Grown Ups. By Erick Erickson.

Wanted: Grown Ups. By Erick Erickson. RedState, September 25, 2014.


I was alone among my friends when it came to the ad below. It is called “The Woman Who Made Up Her Mind.” The ad was produced by “Better Together,” the campaign that argued against Scottish independence. The ad features a mother sitting at the kitchen table talking about her worries, her family, and her children’s future.

The ad was spoofed, pilloried, and derided around the world. The “Yes” campaign ads were hip, funny, energetic, positive, celebrity filled, and this ad was dour, outmoded, and looked aged. Paul Kelbie of the Associated Press wrote, “While the “Better Together” campaign has been derided for old-fashioned, even patronizing ads, the breakaway side has engaged voters with a slick and humorous campaign that presents a dynamic picture of Scotland.” In fact, some even attacked the ad as sexist.

But the ad was not targeted at the hip urban youths trying to blaze their own trail through independence. It was targeted at moms, pensioners, and others who were worried. It was not slick because they are not slick. It was personal. Most importantly, the ad connected to a lot of worries. Those worries won out in Scotland and the “No” campaign won.

I have been thinking about that ad a lot lately.

New polling in our own country shows that moms are worried about their children’s futures. They want some adults around who can tell the President that no he cannot go back to the golf course, he has homework to do. They want someone to tell Washington to leave their families alone. They want someone to kill the bad guys. They want someone to secure the border. They just want to know the grownups are in charge.

The past six years have seen the undoing of almost seventy years of gains abroad. Foreign policy is the one area the President does not have to rely on Congress. The inter-party fighting should not matter. But China is rattling its sabers, Russia has crossed into Ukraine, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Europe, ISIS is cutting off American heads, commercial airliners are missing in Libya, and the list goes on.

Here at home, the left tells us we are all going to die because the oceans are going to rise. When Barack Obama and the Democrats had complete control of the government they could have done something. Instead, all they did was make it more expensive for us to go to the doctor.

A fatalism has set in. Neither side in Washington seems to offer more than platitudes about our best days being ahead of us. Neither side acts like they really mean it. Instead, they’re both picking at the carcass.

There is a really worry in Middle America that children will, for the first time, be worse off than their parents. People just want hope. They want someone to tell them, and act like they mean it, when they say tomorrow will be better. Really, what Americans want are grown ups again.

Republicans have an advantage on this. They never win on domestic policy. They win on keeping us safe and keeping the world at bay. They always have. But they also win when they recognize that government is the problem for so many and not the solution.

I think the GOP, without a message, can have one simple message — we’re the grown ups who will keep you safe and get out of your way. Many middle class mothers remember their grandfathers fondly. They were men who stormed beaches to kill monsters. They don’t see men like that around here now. They don’t see anyone honoring their grandfathers’ legacies. The world has come undone. America needs grownups, not technocrats, to fix it.

Is There Really and Aramean Nation? By Mordechai Kedar.

Is There Really and Aramean Nation? By Mordechai Kedar. Arutz Sheva 7, September 27, 2014.

Time to Put an End to the Fantasy of a Palestinian People. By Mordechai Kedar. NJBR, March 9, 2014. 

Small Homogenous States Only Solution for Middle East. By Mordechai Kedar. IMRA, April 1, 2011.


Are the Israeli Christians part of the ancient Aramean people rather than Arabs?

One of the last things Israel’s Interior Minister Gideon Saar did before resigning from the Knesset was to recognize the Israeli Christians as members of the Aramean nation. The decision caused a media uproar, especially in the Arab sector, with most critics saying that there is no Aramaic nation and that the real reason for this step was an attempt to cause a split in the Arab population of Israel so as to “divide and conquer” and gain control of the Arab sector.

This calls for an investigation and an investigation into the veracity of an Aramean nation’s existence must be conducted on two planes: the historic-lingual-religious one and the civilian one.

The Historic-Lingual-Religious Sphere:

Middle Eastern history talks about an Aramean nation from the second half of the second millennium B.C.E., a Semitic people living in the Fertile Crescent of the western and northern Levant in an area that today includes the Land of Israel, northwest Jordan, Lebanon, north and west Syria, northern Iraq and lands along the Euphrates River. In the Bible and later Jewish sources there is mention of Aramean kingdoms, with geographic references: Aram Naharayim, Padan Aram, Aram Tzova, Aram Damascus and more.

The Aramaic language became the lingua franca in these areas, also spoken by other nations such as the Hebrews – even some of the books of the Tanach are written in that language.

During the first century B.C. E., the Assyrian people came onto the world stage, but their physical conquest of the area did not affect a change in language, and Aramaic continued to be the language prevalent in the Fertile Crescent for hundreds of years. For example, the Babylonian Talmud that was formulated over the first five hundred years C.E., is replete with Aramaic, as is Jewish writing of the Gaonic period beginning in the ninth century. Jews, a defined religious and ethnic group, continued to use Aramaic as a language for study and prayer and still do.

Under Assyrian rule, there were clearly defined Aramean groups that preserved their lingual and religious heritage and tradition, a central fact in explaining the connection between Aramean people and Assyrians up to the present. 

Greeks and Romans, who ruled the area from the fourth century B.C. E. until the fourth century C.E., did not bring about the disappearance of those Aramaic-speaking communities that embraced Christianity as a result of the Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox) takeover as the fourth century C.E. came to a close.

It is important to mention that Arabic originated in the Arabic peninsula, the southern part of the Middle East, whereas the historic languages of the Fertile Crescent are Aramaic, Assyrian, Persian and Hebrew.

The Muslim Arab tribes conquered the area in the seventh century, causing most of the population to convert to Islam and melt into Arab-Islamic culture. The Muslim religion and Arabic language became the norm in the region, replacing the original identity of those groups that Islamised into the Arab-Muslim groups, and thereby lost their unique characteristics.

In contrast, groups that remained loyal to their Christian religious tradition continued to be loyal to the Aramaic language that remained the liturgical language in their churches and was preserved in the written alphabet of their religious writings.

The Syriac-Aramean people are Eastern Orthodox Christians, but over the years they split into several denominations: the Marronite-Syriac, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Assyrian Catholic and the Assyrian Orthodox of Antioch.

The different denominations are the result of geographic distances and alliances with one of the three patriarchates that developed with time – Rome, Constantinople and Antioch. This variety is an indication of the long term presence of the Aramean peoples in the Fertile Crescent.

A unique language and religion preserved these groups – each one on its own – from being absorbed into the Muslim majority, mainly due to the prohibition of marrying out of their religion, similar to that of Druze, Allawites and Jews. That is how Aramaic communities, defined by ethnic, lingual and religious practice were preserved in the Fertile Crescent, as guarding over their culture led to their survival.

That is also why there is no reason not to recognize the existence of these Aramean groups, which have unique linguistic and religious definition as well as their own folklore.

In 1942 Dr. Edmond Mayer wrote a paper on the Lebanese and Assyrian Marronites in which he clearly stated that they were descendants of Syriac-Aramean peoples who lived in the area during the seventh century Muslim conquest. In 2005 Al Azhar University published a research project by Dr. Ahmad Makhmad Ali al Jamal in which he speaks of the Syriac-Aramean people as an existing fact in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Neighboring countries have Christian communities where the spoken language, and not only the liturgic one, is Aramaic. In Syria, there are Maalula, Bakhia, Hassake, Qamishli. In Turkey, Tur-Abdin, Mardin. In northern Iraq, Qaraqoush, Alqosh, Irbil (the Kurdish capital), Ankawa. There is evidence that until the late 10th century, the towns of Basri, Zarta, and their environs in the high Lebanese mountain area spoke Aramaic.

In an article broadcast on the Russia Today channel in 2008 about the Aramaic community of Maalula, a school for studying Aramaic was seen, and the writing on the blackboard was Assyrian square script, identical to the script introduced to the Jews by Ezra the Scribe in the early days of the Second Temple that replaced the ancient Canaanite script they had used until then.

Spoken Arabic in the Christian communities of the Levant differs from that of the Muslim, Druze and Alawite communities and emphasizes the cultural segregation of the Christian communities wishing to preserve their cultural autonomy as they managed to do throughout the period of Arab-Islamic rule in the region. These cultural attributes have given rise to the name "Syriac-Aramaic" or Syriac for short. The most famous of the Syriac groups are the Maronites, most of whom live in Lebanon. Some of their prayer texts are in Aramaic.

The Civil Sphere in the Fertile Crescent

Syriac-Aramaic communities are to be found today in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel. What they have in common is the combination of the Christian religion and the Aramaic language, the latter used mostly for prayer, and the recognition as an official, definitive group.

The modern states of Iraq and Syria, founded about 70 years ago, tried valiantly to create a sense of united nationhood, Arab-Iraqi in Iraq, Arab-Syrian in Syria. This national consciousness was expected to erase tribal loyalties, ethnic, religious and sectorial loyalties and planting in their stead a modern sense of brotherhood that would result in civic tranquility and regime stability.  For this reason, modern ideologies such as nationalism, patriotism, Arab and Baath socialism were copied from European ideologies that filled the intellectual vacuum of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Syrian attempt to erase particularistic identities and turn all the country’s citizens into Arab Syrians who believe in the Baath with all their heart, is described clearly in my doctoral thesis on Syrian media, titled “The Public Poitical Language of the Assad Regime in Syria,” 1998.

For the past three and a half years, from the beginning of the “Arab Tempest” (what was once naively called the “Arab Spring”), the ability to rule as an established modern state in Iraq and Syria declined, and it became obvious to all that the imported European ideologies were not really absorbed by the masses who stayed by and large loyal to their traditional frameworks, the tribe, the ethnic group, the religion and the sector.

Most Muslims define themselves in words that are more and more religious and ethnic, and as a result the Christian minorities have turned into strangers and heretics rather than fellow citizens. Persecution and damage to churches, property and lives have made many of them immigrate to other countries, mainly Europe.

In an attempt to stem the Christian exodus from Iraq, in 2014 the Iraqi Parliament passed a law that gives the Syriac-Aramaic language official status, parallel to that of Arabic, Kurdish, Turkmanic and Armenian. This is important for our thesis as the Iraqi government does not need to find reasons that will distance the various groups in the country from one another, it would rather stress unifying factors in an attempt to create a unified Iraqi national consciousness. With this in mind, the decision to recognize the Syriac-Aramaic language bears witness to the existence of a viable Aramean group.

The terrible conditions under which they live and the persecutions they endure have caused many of the Christian communities of the Middle East to emigrate to the West, where they continue to preserve their culture and language. Aramaic is their language for prayer and spirituality wherever they are on the globe: Sweden, Cyprus, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Romania, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, America, Canada, Australia, Western Europe, South Africa and any place with a Syriac-Aramaic community and church, whether Maronite, Orthodox or Catholic,  that hails from the Middle East and especially from Syria and Lebanon.

The Situation in Israel

In Israel, there is no unified definitive community of Arabic-speaking Christians and the state sees them as Arabs for the most part, part of the Arab sector. However, as the years passed, the state recognized two groups: the Cherkassians and the Druze. The Cherkassians, who are Muslim, were defined because of their language, ethnic origin and cultural heritage which originated in the Caucasian mountains. The Druze are recognized because of their religion, social norms and marriage customs that serve to isolate them from the Muslims that live in their neighborhoods. A similar situation exists within the Aramean community, where the tendency is to marry only Aramean people,

The Aramean people do not have a unique religion, but are Christians like all other Christians. They are not a specific Christian subgroup or sect either because some are Catholic and others Orthodox. All that is left is their self-defining ethno-lingual characteristic as the communal basis for their collective existence, based on their history and not on the civilian reality in the Fertile Crescent.

They share many similarities with the Jews:

● They are a minority with deep roots in the history and geography of the region
● They are different from the demographic majority of the region in which they live
● They have their own language for liturgical purposes
● They are persecuted for being “different”
● They have the ambition to be recognized as a definitive group

That is why it would be the right thing to do if Israel would recognize the Syriac-Aramean groups as an ethnic group like the Druze and Cherkassians and allow those Christians who belong to Eastern denominations to be recorded in the population registry as Arameans of the Christian religion, if they so wish and if they have the defining characteristics of the Aramean sector:

● Membership in one of the Eastern churches: the Syriac-Maronite (Aramaic), the Greek Orthodox, the Greek-Catholic, the Syriac-Catholic of Antioch, as opposed to the Coptic. Armenian, Ethiopian and Provoslavic churches.

● Identification as “Aramean,” as opposed to other nationalist identities in the area, such as Arab, Palestinian, Cherkassian, Armenian and Druze.