”Students For Justice In Palestine” Question Israeli Studies

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On a visit to Israel in 2007, then Chancellor
Richard Herman expressed his opposition
to a boycott of Israeli academics supported
by Great Britain’s University and
College Union.
Herman stated that “Scholarship and
research must remain fluid and borderless,
unconstrained by geopolitical boundaries and ideological
disagreements. We value our deep and meaningful connections
with all nations, including Israel. Our Israel Studies
Project brings Israeli academics to campus, along with
journalists and writers. The program promotes and supports
the academic study of Jewish culture and society in
the spirit of free and open inquiry.”
Referring to the British boycott, Herman concluded:
“The irony is hardly lost on me.”
Indeed there is much irony not to be lost in considering
the Israel Studies Project on our campus, sponsored by the
Program for Jewish Culture and Society, in the light of free
inquiry and the values of scholarship.
The ISP is funded by Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Chicago, and integral part of the Israel Lobby. Given these
financial strings, its spirit of inquiry has in practice been
severely limited. It has invited only Israeli Jews, excluding
Palestinian citizens of Israel. Invitees never seriously dissent
from Israeli government policies, as do many uninvited
but distinguished Israeli Jewish critics of their own government.
The function of Israel Studies on our campus can
be briefly summarized: The promotion of Israeli policies
(as well as American support for those policies) and the
sanitization of Israeli culture.
Fittingly in regard to both of these functions, Israeli
writer and political talk show host Irit Linur spoke on
November 17th at Levis Faculty Center on “Making TV
Drama in Israel.”
Linur has a well-known political reputation in Israel. In
2002, Linur used her radio program to call for a boycott of
Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper “until it fires (dissident) journalists
Amira Hass and Gideon Levy.” Hass and Levy are
the most courageous and incisive Jewish Israeli journalistic
critics of Israel’s policies, and it is therefore inconceivable
that either would receive an invitation from the Israel
Studies Project, as did the boycott-proposing Ms. Linur.
Earlier this year, after the organization “Breaking the
Silence” published soldier testimonies about IDF conduct
in Gaza, Linur said on her show, “They’re garbage. It’s not
worth wasting punches on weaklings and cowards like
“Breaking the Silence.”
The Israeli Director of the New Israel Fund responded:
“Irit Linur is a dangerous person. She behaves on her program
like a quick-thinking intellectual to give the impression
of intellectual integrity. She gives violence an aesthetic wrapping.”
In 2006, during the Lebanon war, Keshev, the Center
for the Protection of Democracy in Israel, accused her of
“racist messages and comments, which often turn into an allout
incitement, urging the killing of innocent civilians.”
Linur’s talk on November 17th was an impromptu series
of anecdotes regarding the production of TV drama. She is
charming, and with members of the local Israeli community
present, there was plenty of inside humor. Yet for most of
the audience, it was a tedious event with nothing remotely
resembling an academic or scholarly point. I can’t imagine a
presentation less worthy of this school’s alleged reputation.
Prior to the presentation, the leader of Students for Justice
in Palestine, Shadia Salem, distributed a flier based on
Keshev’s extensive documentation of Linur’s incitements to
violence. A Daily Illini reporter, to her credit, emphasized
these complaints in her (11/18) story; she was likely at a loss
to relate a coherent or meaningful account of the talk itself.
The Director and Assistant Director of the ISP expressed to
the reporter their obliviousness to Linur’s political background,
as well as to the existence of the SJP on campus.
Nevertheless, it’s important that the political subtext of the
ISP was emphasized in media coverage; kudos to SJP.
In sharp contrast, one week earlier the distinguished
Israeli historian Ilan Pappé spoke to a packed hall of 250-
300 at I.S.U. in Normal on “Palestine: The Historical
Lessons for Our Time.”
In 45 minutes, Pappé summarized what has been his
life’s work, research into the Zionist movement’s and
Israel’s colonization of Palestine, resulting in the expulsion
of the Palestinian people, ongoing. Pappé’s “The Ethnic
Cleansing of Palestine” is a seminal work. But as a dissident,
he lives and works in the United Kingdom rather
than Israel, where severe pressure is placed on academics
who challenge Israel’s policies. The ironies mount.
It’s not by accident that Pappé appeared in Normal
rather than Urbana; there are structural realities regarding
the treatment of the Palestinian issue both on the U of I
campus and in the broader community. These were visible,
for example, in the vehement protest by some members of
the Jewish community in response to the Station Theater
production of “My Name is Rachel Corrie.”
Nevertheless, the Linur event indicates that even for the
ISP, pro-Israel rhetoric/propaganda is perhaps no longer
acceptable in official venues. It is to be hoped that before
long, serious consideration of the truth will be.

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