Mel Alexenberg
Author of "Through a Bible Lens"

NYU to Study the New Anti-Semitism as Anti-Zionism

I am proud to be an alumnus of NYU, a university that stands out above all others. Its new President Linda G. Mills stands heads taller than the leaders of many US universities who choose to see moral equivalence between a terrorist organization proudly promoting death and destruction and a sovereign state seeking peace and light.

Prof. Mills took action by creating a Center for the Study of Antisemitism at NYU for the interdisciplinary research of classical anti-Jewish discrimination and the ‘new antisemitism’ and its links to anti-Zionism. NYU’s new research center will study how antisemitism manifests and ways to counter discrimination against Jews. The institute will convene scholars from a range of disciplines, including the social sciences, Judaic studies, history, social work, public policy, psychology and law.

This new center is a result of the creative spirit of Prof. Mills that she expressed in her inaugural address. “One of the wonderful things about NYU is that, even after dedicating 24 years of my life to this extraordinary university, there is always more to discover.  I intend to step into this new role with fresh eyes, excited to see the University and all its possibilities through their unique perspectives.”

I experienced the roots of NYU’s innovative energies during the1960’s when I was given creative opportunities to earn an interdisciplinary doctorate during my metamorphosis from scientist to artist, to create the first computer generated painting in America, and to develop a mathematical model of aesthetic experience in art and science as my doctoral dissertation.

I was encouraged by the fresh spirt of my doctoral committee: Prabha Sahasrabudhe, professor of art education who built the first Children’s Museum in India his homeland, Morris Shamos, head of the physics department and president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Janice Gorn, professor of cognitive psychology. That Prabha was Hindu, Morris was Jewish, and Janice was Christian enriched my research. I was awarded my doctorate in 1969 when I left for Israel with my wife and our children to join the faculty of Tel Aviv University.

After four years in Israel, I accepted a professorship at Columbia University where I worked with my graduate students in expanding my creative work exploring the interface between art and science that I began at NYU. I was, therefore, distraught to read how Columbia’s president joined with other American university presidents who choose to be blind to the utter barbarity of the Hamas invasion of southern Israel.

How do they choose to equate Israel’s military response with the Hamas orgy of hate of October 7th when Hamas terrorists viciously murdered 1,200 men, woman, young and old, children and babies living in tranquil villages? When the massacre began, they shot everybody in sight, broke into homes, burning to death entire families, couples embracing and children tied together, raping women, and beheading babies.

Former Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summer strongly criticized Harvard University of which he had been president from 2001-2006. On 9 October Summers wrote: “In nearly 50 years of affiliation with Harvard, I have never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today. I very much hope appropriate statements from the University condemning those who launched the terrorist attacks and standing in solidarity with victims will soon be forthcoming.”

President Summers asked, “Why can’t we find anything approaching the moral clarity of Harvard statements after George Floyd’s death or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine when terrorists kill, rape and take hostages of hundreds of Israelis attending a music festival?”

Member of the Columbia University board of directors Henry Swieca resigned after reading a letter signed by more than 100 professors in defense of students defending Hamas.

One glance at the emblems of Israel and Hamas tells the whole story!

The Hamas emblem shows rifles and hand grenades honoring their genocidal aims to wipe Israel off the map and slaughter all its Jews. Its background shows a map of Israel replaced by an Islamic state. The Hamas emblem illustrates the Hamas Charter’s murderous and genocidal intent.

The Hamas Charter spells out the depth of Hamas’s hate. “Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims. Muslims will fight the Jews until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him. I indeed wish to go to war for the sake of Allah! I will assault and kill, assault and kill, assault and kill.”

When Hamas like ISIS is defeated, it will not only bring peace to Israelis, but also bring freedom to the Gazan Arabs enslaved and abused by the Hamas Terrorist Organization, an Iranian franchise that brutally took over ruling Gaza in 2007.

In contrast, Israel’s emblem of a menorah candelabrum flanked by olive branches symbolize light and peace. It illustrates its Declaration of Independence: “The State of Israel will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture. We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land.”

Let’s return to NYU where Professor Mills served as NYU’s Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost for Global Programs and University Life for more than a decade. At her inauguration as president of New York University on July 1, 2023, she said: “This is a tremendous honor, one of the wonderful things about NYU is that, even after dedicating 24 years of my life to this extraordinary university, there is always more to discover,” Mills said. “I am eager to meet so many more of NYU’s remarkable people; I intend to step into this new role with fresh eyes, excited to see the University and all its possibilities through their unique perspectives.”

Her creative energies shine through her ability to excel in her administrative responsibilities while also being the director of NYU’s Production Lab, which fosters student filmmaking, and she has directed and produced several documentaries herself, including “Of Many,” a collaboration with Chelsea Clinton documenting the friendship between NYU’s chaplains, Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna. Additionally, “Auf Wiedersehen” explored her mother’s forced exile from Europe during the Holocaust as a source of intergenerational trauma. That film’s cast includes husband Peter Goodrich, professor at Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University, and their son Ronnie, a 2019 NYU graduate.

Janice Mills is the author of “Do you remember? A letter to my son” about how the events on September 11, 2001 changed her family’s life. She writes that she wanted her son to have a contemporaneous log so that what he could not remember, given his young mind and fragile heart, she could remember for him.  Janice, her husband Peter, and their son Ronnie lived a few block away from the World Trade Center. Witnessing the attack and running to get their son from his a nearby elementary changed their world forever. The press today is comparing the uncanny relationships between the 9/11 attack on the United States to the October 7 attack on Israel, both attacks on Western cultural values by Islamist terrorists.

It is a difficult time living in Israel today where my wife Miriam and I run into the bomb shelter hoping to hear the Iron Dome take down deadly rockets launched from Gaza. Our daughter Iyrit lives in Ashdod, a city close to Gaza bombarded daily by Hamas rockets. Her husband Dr. Yehiel Lasry is the mayor of Ashdod and former surgeon-general of Israel’s navy, and her son Yishai is a combat medic with his army unit in Gaza.

I look forward to a time of peace when Israel, the indigenous homeland of the Jewish people for more than 3,000 years, is accepted by the entire Arab world as an integral part of the Middle East. I created an aesthetic peace plan for the Middle East that flowed from my creative out-of-the-box thinking that I created at NYU in developing a mathematical model of creative process derived from analysis of my interviews of America’s prominent artists and scientists. It became my doctoral dissertation and a book in which I included the transcripts of the interviews titled Aesthetic Experience in Creative Process (Bar-Ilan University Press in Israel).

I presented my plan for peace  in my 2004 exhibition Cyberangels: Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East  at the contemporary art gallery of the Jewish Museum in Prague proposed that peace in the Middle East can emerge from a fresh metaphor in which the Muslim world sees Israel’s existence as Allah’s will. This metaphor, derived from Islamic art and thought, invites a shift in perception in which peace between the Arab world and Israel is based upon anomalous patterns in Islamic art.

The ambassadors to the Czech Republic of the United States and Israel participated in the exhibition opening. My aesthetic peace plan anticipated the 2020 “Abraham Accords” in which United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco joined Israel in creating the beginning of a peaceful Middle East and North Africa. The colorful explanatory catalog of the exhibition was coupled by the artist’s statement in Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology (MIT Press).

The lack of peace in the Middle East can be seen as an aesthetic problem that requires an artistic solution. It calls for a shift in perception that can be derived from Islamic art and thought in dialogue with Western values. In my exhibition, human creativity at its best in both Islamic and European cultures encounter each other. The beautiful patterns of Islamic art meet Rembrandt’s angels in an aesthetic peace plan. The exhibition juxtaposed my digital and systems artworks with authentic carpets from Islamic lands.

The exhibition invites a perceptual shift through which Muslims see the State of Israel as a blessing expressing Allah’s will and Christians see it as the Divine fulfillment of the biblical promise of the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. Digitized Rembrandt angels emerging from Islamic geometries are digital age messengers drawing out the beauty in European and Islamic cultures rather than the ugly anti-Semitism that plagues them.

Historian of Islamic art, Elisabeth Siddiqui, writes in the Arabic journal Al-Madrashah Al-Ula that art is the mirror of a culture and its worldview. She emphasizes that there is no case to which this statement more directly applies than to the art of the Islamic world. “Not only does its art reflect its cultural values, but even more importantly, the way in which its adherents, the Muslims, view the spiritual realm, the universe, life, and the relationships of the parts to the whole.”

The repetitive geometric patterns in Islamic art teach Arabs to see their world as a continuous uninterrupted pattern that extends across North Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately, they see Israel as a blemish that disrupts the pattern. From this perspective, Israel is viewed as an alien presence that they have continually tried to annihilate through war, terrorism, and political action. Palestinian television labels Israel as a “cancer in the body of the Arab nation.” Its emblems, publications, schoolbooks, and web sites show the map of Israel labeled Palestine. Israel does not exist. Iranian leaders express their longing for a day when an Islamic nuclear weapon could remove the “extraneous matter” called Israel from the midst of the Islamic world.

The major obstacle to peace between Jews and Arabs is the Islamic world’s rejection of Israel as a Jewish state in its midst. The 75-year-old State of Israel still does not exist on maps produced in Islamic countries. All road maps to peace in the Middle East will come to a dead end until the sovereign State of Israel is included in maps of Islamic countries as they do today in the maps of UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan.

Fortunately, the perceptual shift needed to lead to genuine peace can be found in Islamic art and thought. In Islamic art, a uniform geometric pattern is purposely disrupted by the introduction of a counter-pattern that demonstrates human creation as less than perfect. Based upon the belief that only Allah creates perfection, rug weavers from Islamic lands intentionally weave a small patch of dissimilar pattern to break the symmetry of their rugs. Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, Imam of the Italian Muslim community who holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Sciences by decree of the Saudi Grand Mufti, proposes that the idea of underlying the Divine infinitude and the human fallacy by including some voluntary counter-pattern in works of art is common in Islamic art, and extends to tapestry, painting, music, architecture, etc. The Islamic artisan does not want to be perceived as competing with the perfection of Allah.

In “Islamic Textile Art: Anomalies in Kilims,” Muhammad Thompson and Nasima Begum write that the weavers of Moroccan kilim rugs, “devout Muslim women, would not be so arrogant as to even attempt a ‘perfect kilim’ since such perfection belonged only to Allah. Consequently, they would deliberately break the kilim’s patterning as a mark of their humility.”

Peace can be achieved when the Islamic world recognizes that they need Israel to realize their own religious values. Israel provides the break in the contiguous Islamic world extending from Morocco to Pakistan. Accepting the Jewish State as the necessary counter-pattern demonstrates humility and abrogates arrogance before Allah and honors the diversity evident in all of God’s creations. The ingathering of the Jewish people into its historic homeland in the midst of the Islamic world is the fulfillment of Mohammed’s prophecy in the Koran, Sura 17:104: “And we said to the Children of Israel, ‘scatter and live all over the world…and when the end of the world is near we will gather you again into the Promised Land.”

The State of Israel needs to be drawn on Islamic maps as a small break in the continuous pattern running from the Atlantic Ocean to the borders of India. If the contiguous Islamic world were the size of a football field, Israel would be smaller than a football placed in the middle of the field.

Sheikh Palazzi quotes from the Koran, Sura 5:20-21, to support the Arab world’s need to switch their viewpoint to recognize the sovereign right of the Jews over the Land of Israel as the will of Allah: “Remember when Moses said to his people: ‘O my people, call in remembrance the favor of God unto you, when he produced prophets among you, made you kings, and gave to you what He had not given to any other among the people. O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has assigned unto you, and then turn not back ignominiously, for then will ye be overthrown, to your own ruin.’”

According to the Imam, Islam’s holiest book confirms what every Jew and Christian who honors the Bible knows: The Land of Israel was divinely deeded to the Children of Israel. The Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel who have continuously lived there for more three millennia despite the conquests of numerous imperialist empires. Jews are from Judea. Arabs are from Arabia. The Arabs are blessed with 22 other countries.

A paradigm shift can transform the perception of Israel as a blemish to seeing it as a tiny golden seed from which a lush green Islamic tree has germinated and spread its roots and branches across North Africa and the Middle East.

Professor Khaleed Mohammed, expert in Islamic law, explains: “As a Muslim, when I read 5:21 and 17:104 in the Quran, I can only say that I support that there must be an Israel. The Quran adumbrates the fight against tyranny and oppression, using the Children of Israel as an example, indeed as the prime example.” Tashibih Sayyed, Editor-in-Chief of Muslim World Today writes: “I consider the creation of the Jewish State as a blessing for the Muslims. Israel has provided us an opportunity to show the world the Jewish state of mind in action, a mind that yearns to be free…. The Jewish traditions and culture of pluralism, debate, acceptance of dissension and difference of opinion have manifest themselves in the shape of the State of Israel to present the oppressed Muslim world with a paradigm to emulate.”

Peace will come from a fresh metaphor in which the Arabs see Israel’s existence as Allah’s will. A shift in viewpoint where Israel is perceived as a blessing, as the necessary counter-pattern in the overall pattern of the Islamic world, will usher in an era of peace. Peace will come when the Islamic world recognizes Israel as the realization of its own values.

Shalom aleikhem is the traditional Hebrew greeting when people meet. It is akin to the Arabic greeting salam aleikum. Indeed, the word Islam itself is derived from the same root as salam (peace)May the Hebrew Malakh Shalom and the Arabic Malak Salam be recognized as one and the same Angel of Peace.

About the Author
Mel Alexenberg is an artist, educator, writer, and blogger working at the interface between art, technology, Jewish thought, and living the Zionist miracle in Israel. He is the author of "Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media," "The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness," and "Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Judaism and Contemporary Art" in Hebrew. He was professor at Columbia, Bar-Ilan and Ariel universities and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies. His artworks are in the collections of more than forty museums worldwide. He lives in Ra’anana, Israel, with his wife artist Miriam Benjamin.