Seeming to give credence to Orwell’s observation that “some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual could believe them,” in early April, Boston University will be hosting a Students for Justice in Palestine-run “Right of Return Conference,” yet another example of how purported scholarship about the Middle East is frequently biased and diluted by ideology.
Most sentient observers of the Palestinian issue know that the “right of return” issue is a core tactic in rendering real peace, any viable Arab/Israeli solution, effectively impossible, that the prospect of some 5-7 million Palestinian refugees flooding into what is now Israel would, as University of Haifa professor Steven Plaut put it, “derail Israel demographically and turn it into the Rwanda of the Levant.” That is exactly why every one of the participants of the BU conference are part of a retinue of the hate-Israel crowd, a traveling road-show of politicized scholars, propagandists, and pseudo- and non-academic activists with only a thinly-veiled animus towards Israel, Zionism, and Jews in general. What this conference clearly is not is a true academic or scholarly exercise designed to reveal some rational and reasonable solutions in the Middle East; instead, it is yet another opportunity for ideologues with an anti-Israel, anti-Western agenda to trumpet their perverse views under a cloak of academic respectability, and here even with Boston University’s imprimatur.
The demand for a right of return, a notion referred to by Palestinians and their supporters as “sacred” and an “enshrined” universal human right granted by UN resolutions and international law, in fact, has no legal or diplomatic standing at all, and is part of the propaganda campaign that is based on the thinking that if Israel cannot be eradicated by the Arabs through a military war, it can be effectively destroyed by forcing it to accept demographic subversion.
In the first place, it uses the fraud as its core notion that the Palestinians were “victimized” by the creation of Israel, and that they were expelled from a land of “Palestine” where they were the indigenous people “from time immemorial,” as historian Joan Peters put it in her book of the same name.
More importantly, far from being either a “sacred” or, for that matter, legal right, the right of return is a one-sided concoction that deliberately misreads United Nations resolutions for political advantage, and conveniently embraces only those portions that fit the intent of Arabs to make good on their intent to “drive Israel into the sea.” In continually repeating the lie that they are victims of the “Zionist regime” and that they were expelled from a country of their own and condemned to unending refugee status, the Palestinians ‒ and their Arab enablers ‒ have prolonged the myth of victimhood.
There is some irony in the fact that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated both the spirit and intent of 194, that particular UN resolution containing a reference to the concept of ‘return’ to one’s country, although two key points are characteristically ignored by those pointing to this source as justification for their legal claim. First, Resolution 194 was the product of the UN General Assembly and “is an expression of sentiment and carries no binding force whatsoever,” meaning that it is meant to make recommendations but not enforceable law.
Moreover, that permission is subject to two conditions ‒ that “the refugee wishes to return, and that he wishes to live at peace with his neighbors,” something the Arab world, even now, has clearly never seen fit to do. Legal scholars also point out that international law grants the right to leave or return to one’s country only to individuals, not as a collective right as the Palestinians claim. More importantly, no population of refugees has ever presumed that the right of return ‒ if such a right even exists ‒ could be claimed, not only by the original refugees, but also by all of their descendants.
So it should come as no surprise that the list of guest speakers for the repugnant Right of Return Conference includes a galaxy of notorious anti-Israel Jew-haters whose contribution to the event’s awareness-raising will not likely be an animated discussion of approaches to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, but a one-sided, biased, inflammatory series of exhortations calling for continued assault against the very existence of Israel and the eventual extirpation of the Jewish state.
One of the conference’s keynote speakers, for example, is Columbia University’s Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics who regularly espouses his loathing of Israel in fringe, anti-Semitic publications like Counterpunch and The Electronic Intifada, or in the Arab press, and never misses an opportunity to denigrate the Jewish state as a racist, colonial enterprise, a moral stain on the world without any semblance of legitimacy. He assigns blame for all of the turmoil in the Palestinian territories to the brutal Israeli regime, claims that the “Jewish state is a racist state that does not have the right to exist,” and ignores completely any role the Arabs states may have had in inciting violence and murdering Jews in the name of what he, and his like-minded apologists for jihadist terror, categorizes as legitimate “resistance” to occupation.
In fact, in his perfervid imagination, Israelis have become the new Nazis and the Palestinians the Jews. “As Palestinians are murdered and injured in the thousands,” he wrote after Operation Cast Lead in January of 2009 when Israel was defending itself against some 6,000 rocket attacks from Gaza, “world powers are cheering on…, and it even happened during World War II as the Nazi genocide was proceeding.” Perversely likening the barbaric aggression of Hamas from within Gaza to the efforts of Warsaw Jews to repel imminent extermination by the Nazis, Massad obscenely suggested that “The Gaza Ghetto Uprising will mark both the latest chapter in Palestinian resistance to colonialism and the latest Israeli colonial brutality in a region whose peoples will never accept the legitimacy of a racist European colonial settlement in their midst.”
Professor Massad is also quite willing to invoke stereotypes and overlook history and fact when describing the malevolence of Israel and the victimization of Palestinians. In a 2009 article in The Electronic Intifada, ironically entitled “Israel’s Right to Defend Itself,” Massad concluded that Israel, due to its fundamental racist nature and oppression of the Palestinians, has no moral, or legal, right to self-defense, suggesting that “What the Palestinians ultimately insist on is that Israel must be taught that it does not have the right to defend its racial supremacy, and that the Palestinians have the right to defend their universal humanity against Israel’s racist oppression.”
A second planned keynote speaker is Salman Abu Sitta, co-founder of Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, a grassroots organization that uses as its core tagline, “Palestine will be free, from the River to the Sea,” meaning a new Palestinian state replacing, not co-existing with, Israel. He has referred to the “Nakba,” the Palestinian’s name for the tragedy they suffered upon the creation of Israel, as the “largest, longest operation of planned ethnic cleansing in history.” In grotesque thinking similar to Massad’s, Abu Sitta also tried to make analogous Israel’s interaction with Palestinians with the Nazi’s treatment of Jews by referring to Gaza as “the new Auschwitz.”
Representing yet another virulently anti-Israel position is human rights activist and lawyer Noura Erakat, a fellow at Temple University’s law school and the U.S.-based Legal Advocacy Consultant for the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights. In 2006, when recruiting legal volunteers on behalf of The Middle East Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild to work as activists for the Palestinian cause, Erakat invited prospects to do “human rights work” in what she termed “Occupied Palestine,” “all lands occupied in 1967 and 1948” ‒ meaning that she believes that all of present-day Israel is occupied Arab land.
The Conference’s opening panel is entitled “Discourses of Return and Resistance Among Palestinian Refugees,” which might be taken as a planning session for terror, given that the term “resistance” is pro-Palestinian activist’s oft-used euphemism for suicide attacks. In fact, one of that panel’s participants, Charlotte Kates, former Rutgers law student and leader of the New Jersey Solidarity Movement, long a champion of the Palestinian right of “resistance,” has often supported “Palestinians’ right to resist occupation and oppression… Why is there something particularly horrible about ‘suicide bombing,’ except for the extreme dedication conveyed in the resistance fighter’s willingness to use his or her own body to fight?” In addition to calling on her own university, Rutgers, to divest from companies doing business with Israel, her ultimate ambitions were even more odious: “Israel is an apartheid, colonial settler state,” she said. “I do not believe apartheid, colonial settler states have a right to exist.” And if this on-campus hostility towards Israel and Jews intimidated Jewish students, so be it, Kates said at Rutgers. “We have no desire to create an environment where racists may feel comfortable and secure in their racism; we very much want…. to create an environment where it is, indeed, uncomfortable to declare oneself an unequivocal supporter of an oppressive, racist state. It should be uncomfortable…. May the tension continue to escalate.”
The motivation for this BU conference is very clear: prolong the myth of Palestinian victimization and grant them, as part of that mythology, exclusive international recognition and supposed legal rights. Why? “Unlike all those many millions of other people considered refugees in the late 1940s,” answers professor Plaut, “the ‘Palestinians’ were the only ones for whom the ‘right of return’ to their previous homes was considered an entitlement. The reason was not a selective affection for Palestinians, but a selective hostility towards Israel and Jews.”
Having a conference with the primary intention to demonize and delegitimize Israel, while promoting a legally- and morally-defective approach to achieving Palestinian self-affirmation, is not an academic exercise of any merit; it is propaganda parading as scholarship, and violates not only one of the basic precepts of scholarship but also the spirit of any university, which were conceived as places where faculty and students could debate – with academic integrity, reason, and an absence of bias – the important issues of the marketplace of ideas.