So-called Friends of Israel are anything but

Scott Laderman

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend a campus forum featuring Na’eem Jeenah, a South African lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand and a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement. Jeenah was invited to the University to discuss similarities between the situations in South Africa under successive white governments and the plight of the Palestinian people living under decades of Israeli military occupation. He was knowledgeable, articulate and, in my view, eminently reasonable in developing his case.

But comparative apartheid is not going to be the subject of this column. Instead, I will respond to an astounding packet of documents I received outside the event from representatives of the student organization that ironically refers to itself as Friends of Israel. But first, bear with me for a moment while I quickly digress.

One of the many wonderful things about the United States is the freedom it affords to those who wish to express unpopular or dissenting views. This is indeed a cherished freedom.

I am reminded of this because I could not have been more grateful last week when these so-called Friends of Israel exercised their right to free speech in challenging Jeenah’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do not mean to imply that they made any useful contribution to the debates about the various human rights struggles in the Middle East; they did not. Rather, the packet they distributed was a tremendous service to the University community in that it could not have more clearly and unequivocally highlighted the group’s intellectual and moral bankruptcy. Take, for example, a document entitled “Dennis Miller Executive Summary on the Mid-East Conflict” that was printed on Friends of Israel letterhead and handed to me by Koby Nahmias, perhaps the organization’s most prominent representative.

I should initially note – before actually getting into the content of the document, which must certainly rank among the vilest, racist drivel I have read in some time – that as a basic factual matter, Miller did not write it. Apparently unbeknownst to those individuals distributing the statement, it was excerpted from an essay by Larry Miller that appeared in the Daily Standard in April. As pointed out by snopes.com, the Web site devoted to evaluating urban legends, the excerpt quickly made its way around the world via e-mail as a piece erroneously credited to the HBO celebrity. On its face, this misattribution may seem like a trivial matter, but I do not believe it is. It is a telling reminder of the student group’s inattention to even elementary standards of factual accuracy and, more broadly, their seeming unwillingness to carefully scrutinize the credibility of their source material. But what is most stunning, in my opinion, is that these individuals have willingly opted to publicly align themselves with the disgusting filth they circulated at Jeenah’s presentation. This should be recalled the next time you read a letter or commentary in the Daily under their signature.

The following are among the comments appearing in the document. According to Miller – Larry, not Dennis – “(t)here are no Palestinians.” He writes: “So for the sake of honesty, let’s not use the word ‘Palestinian’ any more to describe these delightful folks, who dance for joy at our deaths until someone points out they’re being taped. Instead, let’s call them what they are: ‘Other Arabs from the same general area who are in deep denial about never being able to accomplish anything in life and would rather wrap themselves in the seductive melodrama of eternal struggle and death.’ “

I know that’s a bit unwieldy to expect to see on CNN. How about this, then: “Adjacent Jew-Haters.'” Arabs as a whole, the author insists, are the “blue-ribbon most illiterate, poorest and tribally backward on God’s Earth, and if you’ve ever been around God’s Earth, you know that’s really saying something.”

These are just a few of the insights that the “friends” of Israel have chosen to endorse. But these sentiments are hardly the most frightening in the “executive summary.” Its conclusion – although not the conclusion of the essay from which it originally derives – is particularly noteworthy. It states: “After Sept. 11 our president told us and the world he was going to root out all terrorists and the countries that supported them. Beautiful. Then the Israelis, after months and months of having the equivalent of an Oklahoma City every week (and then every day) start to do the same thing we did, and we tell them to show restraint. If America were being attacked with an Oklahoma City every day, we would all very shortly be screaming for the administration to just be done with it and kill everything south of the Mediterranean and east of the Jordan (River). (Hey, wait a minute, that’s actually not such a bad id├ľuh, that is, what a horrible thought, yeah, horrible.)”

One’s immediate reaction to this genocidal vision would, I hope, be complete and utter revulsion.

Yet it should also invite considerable reflection about the document’s originators. The students’ decision to circulate this rubbish is instructive. I can attest that the horrifying disregard for human life in the statement they passed out last week is equally matched by their shameful abuse of the historical record. For an appalling example of the latter, one must merely consult the “History in a Nutshell” offered to visitors of their Web site (www.umn.edu/~foi). Readers who click on this link will learn, for instance, the following about “The Refugees Issue:” approximately 720,000 Arabs, encouraged by their leaders to leave, fled from what is now Israel before and during the 1948 war.

This is the sort of mythical hogwash that makes scholars bristle. Those possessing even a cursory understanding of Middle Eastern history will know that this pernicious fantasy – that is, the indigenous Palestinian Arabs were “encouraged by their leaders to leave” – has been debunked so many times that it is frankly shocking that these “friends” of Israel would continue to peddle it. Are they even familiar with the scholarship on precisely this issue by Erskine Childers, Walid Khalidi and Israeli “new historians” such as Benny Morris? Do they not recognize that in positing this notion of voluntary departure they are concomitantly denying the Zionist reign of terror that induced the Arab exodus?

One has to marvel at the collective stupidity of the members of this campus group. Is the racist garbage contained in their “executive summary” what they consider an educated response to critics of the Israeli occupation? Is peddling factually-flawed pseudo history how they expect to demonstrate the legitimacy of their views? Tragically, by propagating such nonsense they render a grave injustice to hopes for peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the Middle East.

And then they have the chutzpa to designate themselves “friends” of Israel. Scott Laderman’s column appears once a fortnight on Tuesdays. He welcomes comments at [email protected]. To submit a letter to the editor: [email protected]