By Gabriel Kaufman
On Aug. 12, the United States was shaken to its core. It had been several years since racist groups played a dominant role in American life, so for many Americans the idea of the KKK and neo-Nazis seemed obsolete. Unfortunately, America woke up to a new harsh reality: The bigots living in this country are no longer living in the shadows. Although the display of hatred in Charlottesville was reprehensible, it was incredible to see a country that is generally divided come together and denounce hatred wherever it resides.
But we as a country remain blind to the hatred being spewed on college campuses from academia.
I am a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. This year I was required to take a seminar in composition class as part of my major. Although I wasn’t necessarily thrilled at the prospect of writing essays, I assumed that the English class would at the very least be somewhat beneficial. I have only been in this composition class for a handful of weeks, but I already am certain that my original presumption was absolutely wrong. In our first four classes we spent zero time honing in on important aspects of the English language, but 100 percent of the time was spent demonizing Israel, the world’s only Jewish state.
During our second class, my teacher discussed what assignments we were going to do during the first few weeks. The first few all attempted to display Israel as a terroristic state. Our first assignment was to read the first two chapters of a book called An Israeli Living in Palestine. This book is about a Jew from a small town who moves to Israel. In it, Jeff Halper claims that Zionism has become “quite destructive and racist.” He displays Zionists as land-hungry maniacs willing to ignore international law to fill their insatiable appetite for oppression.
Not only are these claims offensive, they are a clear misrepresentation of the truth. Halper claims that Israel demolishes the houses of Palestinians living in the West Bank for no reason, but he fails to mention that Israel also demolishes the houses of Jewish citizens as well. The reason that Israel demolishes houses is either because the houses don’t have the correct permits or the person whose house is being demolished is guilty of a major criminal offense.
In the past 10 years, terrorism committed by Palestinians has decreased in large numbers due to Israel’s policy of demolishing the houses of terrorists. The Palestinian Authority, meanwhile, pays its citizens to commit abominable acts against Israeli civilians.
I am not arguing that the Israeli-Arab conflict is not complex. The conflict is one in which the sides are not very clear cut and the reason for the dispute is often unclear. My anger does not arise from the teacher’s desire to criticize the Jewish state; my criticism stems from the fact that my teacher criticized Israel unfairly.
Immediately following the second class of the semester, I approached the teacher and told her that the composition she had given us made me extremely uncomfortable. I asked her why she would assign such a controversial reading in a class that is supposed to be apolitical. She responded by saying that a lot of people have a distaste for Palestinians without knowing enough about the Israeli-Arab conflict. “If you are willing to admit that the majority of students who take this class don’t know much about the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” I responded, “why would you want to attempt to skew their opinion so much?” My teacher said that I raised a good point and that she would look into balancing the debate in the classroom.
I went home that day believing that I had won the war against propaganda. Again, I was wrong. My teacher sent an email to the class saying that a disgruntled student had approached her, and that in addition to the assignments we already had, we should find an article refuting the findings in Halper’s book. Although this email originally seemed conciliatory, this English professor had ulterior motives. Within the email she told students it might be worthwhile to Google “settlements” as a way to find pro-Israel sources. Anyone who knows anything about this conflict knows that “settlements” is a word used by anti-Israel activists who want to delegitimize Israeli sovereignty.
For the third class of the semester, we finally discussed Halper’s book. Although my teacher claimed to be level headed, she did not appear so in the context of her argument.
Instead of refuting Halper’s claims, she not only reaffirmed them but called the creation of Israel a nakba, the Arabic word for tragedy. The only nakba is the fact that a teacher at an accredited university could get away with such blatant propaganda.
The propaganda didn’t end with Halper’s book. We’ve read A Memory for Forgetfulness and watched the movie Waltz with Bashir. A Memory for Forgetfulness is a composition written by one of the most famous Arab poets of the 20th century, Mahmoud Darwish. In it, Darwish writes about his time during the Lebanese Civil War, his imminent death and the “unlawful occupation of Palestine.”
For the majority of people, the idea of Zionist colonialism makes sense. Many envision Israeli Jews to be the descendants of rich European Jews. This notion is false. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land of Israel for more than 3,000 years. It’s conceivable that no Palestinians would have been refugees if Israel wasn’t attacked by Arab nations immediately after declaring statehood.
While my professor mentioned that the Israeli-Arab conflict is complex, she never mentioned why it was complex. She never spoke about the Arab Jews who were kicked out of their homes in 1948, and she never spoke about the fact that Israel has been under constant attack since its creation. She glossed over the truth and in doing so indoctrinated many of my classmates. Had I taken a political theory class, I would have understood that many people have differing opinions about such a controversial conflict. But I took a required composition class; instead of learning about composition, I had to listen to my people being misrepresented and slandered.
I do not think my professor is a bad person. In fact, I think she may be a very good person who knows little about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the times I have spoken to my teacher, she admitted to me that I had a better grasp of the conflict than she did. If this is the case, what right did my teacher have to slander a country that has had such a positive impact on the world?
It’s time we stand up to propaganda that masquerades as academia.
Gabriel Kaufman, from Jerusalem and Jenkintown, is the student president of the University of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Heritage Programs.