Institutional bias and antisemitism on my campus
When I enrolled in the “Emergence of the Modern Middle East” course this past summer at NYU, I did not anticipate that the course would feature transpicuous lies in its coverage of the Arab-Israel conflict and depiction of the State of Israel. Condemning Israel and mislabeling Zionism limits academic discourse and leaves students who have even the slightest varying perspective voiceless while allowing for an environment of rampant antisemitism.
The first lecture of the course featured the movie, “Reel Bad Arabs,” that attempted to link influential Jews in Hollywood as behind the “pro-Israel” media. It featured clips showing the IDF in Palestinian communities: Palestinian children crying with IDF soldiers nearby, IDF soldiers carrying a Palestinian prisoner away, and more. These images and clips were shown as Jack Sheehan, author of the film, narrated: “Washington’s policymakers have failed to support the millions of Palestinians who have been made refugees, who have led lives of poverty…Palestinians in refugee camps, innocent Palestinians, Palestinians who were victimized, who were killed, these images are denied to us… Why can’t we humanize Palestinians in the same manner that we humanize Israelis in Hollywood?” He then emphasized a quote spoken by Jack Valenti (former president and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America): “Washington and Hollywood sprung from the same DNA,” indicating the antisemitic trope of the Jewish takeover of Hollywood, of the government. The images and clips of the IDF interactions with Palestinians only showcase one side of the conflict to viewers, vilifying Israelis.
After the first lecture, I was stunned by my teacher’s (current Ph.D. student at NYU) admittance of the course bias when I spoke to her about the insensitivity shown towards the Jewish community in the film. This occurred after class when I decided to open up to her about my discomfort with the clip that compared the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany to the vilification and discrimination of Arabs in the current media. Her response was one of understanding, although then she admitted that I should put my feelings aside, as this course was a learning experience, one I should not take personally. She also brought up Israel and the fact that I may feel uncomfortable during our discussion of the conflict due to the course bias and sympathies towards the Palestinian side for “obvious reasons.” Not once did I mention Israel in our conversation, yet she brought it up.
I hoped our class discussion about the topic would allow for other viewpoints to be shared and acknowledged, but to my disappointment, this was not the case. The only other Israeli student in the class brought up the United Nations Partition Plan proposed in 1947, which was accepted by the Jewish leadership but rejected by the Palestinian Arab leadership. This important context can explain much of the conflict post-1948, a context that was nowhere to be found in our course texts. He was immediately interrupted by the teacher in front of the whole class as she went on to lecture us about how the plan was in fact, rejected by both the Jewish and Arab parties.
She told an overt lie: “…it’s not that the Jews did accept the Partition, they didn’t, neither party did, so it’s not fair to say that Palestinians were reluctant, what happened was there was a civil war. Palestinians heard of the partition plan, and so their response was an armed conflict, and there were the Jewish forces that responded as well. It’s not like one party was like yes, we are pleased with the partition plan, and the other was not, even if that were the case, one of the lessons that history can teach us is trying to practice empathy with people across places across times…”
Not only did my teacher omit the truth, but she explicitly lied. This kind of behavior is inexcusable from a teacher at an institution such as NYU, one that receives global recognition for its outstanding faculty and curricula. At a highly esteemed global research institution such as NYU, who “seeks to take academic and cultural advantage of its location and to embrace diversity among faculty, staff and students to ensure a wide range of perspectives, including international perspectives, in the educational experience,” it is hypocritical to allow a curriculum that suppresses critical analysis and diverse perspectives.
The first readings and lecture about the Israel/Palestinian conflict equated the waves of Jewish immigration with settler colonialism and portrayed the Palestinians as Indigenous people of the land of Israel, conveying a one-sided, black-and-white outlook on the extremely complicated conflict. The following is from a slide word for word:
“It was the age of late imperialism, leading Zionist Europeans to see themselves as participants in a civilizing mission. Hence, the claim by Theodore Herzl that the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine would ‘form a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism…’”
The following is from another first lecture slide:
“They embodied and expressed the spirit of Labor Zionism with two slogans: ‘conquest of land and conquest of labor.’ This new generation of Zionists felt they were remaking Palestine as they conquered, i.e., “tamed…”
Other materials for the course were no better, starting with “Citizens Strangers” by Shira Robinson. In Robinson’s book, she compares the State of Israel to the historically oppressive and racist regimes in Algeria and South Africa. The text explains: “Appreciating this history is critical if we are to grapple with Israel’s extension of citizenship to Palestinians under a regime that even many Jews viewed as a colonial administration, a system of rule whose laws and practices shared commonalities with French rule in Algeria and white rule in South Africa” (6). Comparing the state of Israel to these repressive states is offensive, especially to those victims who survived apartheid in places such as South Africa.
The false moral equivalencies made in the course texts and lectures claim colonialism as well as ethnic cleansing in the region as the motives behind Zionism, when in fact, Jews who came from Europe were not colonialists, did not represent a foreign power, and were in fact indigenous to the Land of Israel. Robinson paints this false picture in “Citizen Strangers”: “… few historians dispute the social, economic, and cultural ties between the early Zionist settlement project in Palestine and the more “classical” European settler-colonies in North America, South Africa, and Australia” (4).
I became frustrated when I realized that this one-sided point of view on the topic was the only one that NYU, an institution of supposed high academic standard, was presenting to my classmates. They will continue with their academic studies, unaware of the Israeli story that was purposely hidden from them in the false name of morality. They are unaware of the fact that they will be perpetuating antisemitism into the world through ignorant claims.
Of course, biases will always exist, but providing multiple perspectives to students so they can form their own conclusions and recognize these biases is crucial. By dismissing the significant truth of an overlooked minority, NYU encourages a narrow-minded student population. It is clear that only a specific biased perspective is being taught by requiring students to read not only one text that conveys this outlook but multiple texts that provide no alternative view. How can this kind of indoctrination continuously be allowed at the highest levels of education?