Thursday, October 28, 2010

Columbia Center for Palestine Studies: Israel Free/Zionism Challenged

All seems to be quiet on the Columbia Center for Palestine Studies front. A couple of astute observations by Columbia students exhibit some anxiety about the potential of the center to become an official academic bastion of anti-Israel propaganda. Otherwise very little has been written in the press about the center or its mission beyond what appeared just after its launch. 

It has felt to me that the center is the acme of the accumulating Israel delegitimization discourse. Beyond all the Middle East Studies departments throughout the US that are obliged to include some aspects of the Zionist narrative, this center will be the equivalent of Judenrein. Amanda Gutterman, a Columbia sophomore writes in the Columbia Spectator: "It does little to assuage my concern that the word Israel’ does not appear once in the Center’s 500-word mission statement, while ‘Occupied Territories' appears several times." 

A glimpse at its upcoming events reveals that the discourse of the center will be entirely devoted to the effects of Zionism upon the Palestinians. The nature of the proposed lectures evokes a Palestine that is not an it, but is entirely an other; without  agency, without internal characteristics. (Never mind what the mission statement says) There appears to be little interest in the world before Zionism. This calls into question the insistence of Palestine as an historic, national construct. 

Herewith, then, is a video of the lecture Prof. Rhashid Khalidi -- the co-director of the center -- delivered at The Jerusalem Fund just the day before the grand opening. In it he indirectly telegraphs the intentions of the center: to undermine the Zionist narrative to its ultimate end which is to remove US and Western 'protection' of Israel. A few snippets to show you what I mean:

"A number of factors played a part in cementing support for Zionism and later for the state of Israel of its two primary international sponsors: Great Britain and the United States.  As you know, each of them in its own era was the greatest power of its time.  In winning over the British and American political classes and their respective publics to the cause of Zionism and to the cause of Israel, a crucial role was played by scholarly and non-academic writings, and later by the cinema and other media. 

"I think it’s insufficiently recognized that establishing the hegemony of Zionism in the field of ideas in an Anglo-American academic and public discourse was a vital precondition for its successes in the political and diplomatic arenas. The discursive victories of Zionism preceded its triumphs in the chancelleries of the world and on the battlefields, and the latter would never have occurred, in my opinion, but for the former. In other words, in addition to being successful as an idea, as a national movement, and as a colonial settler phenomenon, political Zionism has always been a resounding public relations triumph.

"The brilliantly conceived discursive artifice, a citadel of lies, that has concealed this system of power and control for so long is actually beginning to crumble.

"I think it will be a long time before the political situation certainly will change such that we can expect an end to Israeli impunity.  Israel will continue to be protected in pretty much anything it chooses to do by our Congress and by our government. But I think the handwriting may be on the wall. I think that the system of domination and control through the calculated dosed use of violence and overwhelming power that has obtained in the Occupied Territories for over 43 years, a system based entirely on violence, and that has maintained the dispossession of the Palestinian people for 62 years, cannot be hidden forever.

"Americans bear a very, very, very heavy responsibility in this matter.  We are the 900 pound gorilla on the Middle Eastern stage.  The United States has upheld this entire discriminatory, unjust structure ever since 1948, ever since the partition resolution of 1947. Clearly, a beginning in new direction at least in the public sphere in this country has begun. I would strongly argue that true peace with justice in Palestine for both peoples that live there depends on the continuation of this process in this country. 

1 comment:

  1. For years I have advocated that American Jews both students and academic staff boycott American universities that insist on this. I have also wasted a great deal of breath telling American Jews to stop donating to said universities. They hate us, we hate them. Leave it at that. In my lifetime esteemed u's like Princeton had hard caps on the # of Jews they would even interview for admission. And they didn't change because they suddenly saw the light. The law made them. Well this is how they skirt the law.

    And in this case Columbia has a hand in glove relationship with the Jewish Theological Seminary. And you never hear a peep from them about this, about Ahmadinejad coming to speak and any number of overt threats to Jews often spilling over into hate speech.

    It should sicken us all.


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