Kenneth Waltzer
Kenneth Waltzer

Stanford University Agitprop Press

What state of intellectual life have we reached in the United States when a reputable American university press – Stanford University Press – sponsors a blog about Israel and Gaza and publishes only one-sided essays critical of Israel?    Where is the traditional orientation to provide a fair range of balanced coverage or to stimulate enriched exchange?

The Stanford University Press blog and essays can be found here:  New essays are being added.

The “contribution” of these Stanford Press-sponsored essays to our understanding is that alleged “racism” explains or is “the foundation” of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.  Professor Joel Beinin of Stanford University shares this “powerful” and completely uncorroborated insight.  In the process, the good professor makes false charges, overreaches about the sources of Israeli response, as if the response came from the Israeli right only, and fails to consider counterclaims.

None of the essays at the blog – not a single one — mention Hamas (the Islamic Resistance) or its fascist agenda.  None mention the firing of thousands of rockets by Hamas into Israel.  The diversion of scarce concrete and other resources under Hamas rule in Gaza since 2009 to the construction of terror tunnels is not deemed a subject worthy of attention.  The effort by Hamas to cripple the airport of a neighboring sovereign state and halt air traffic is also somehow missed in this collection.

Ceasefires – willingness to permit them to protect civilian life?  You will not find anything here. Nothing is said to readers that might give them insight about Hamas’ behavior or the dynamics of Hamas as an organization.   Little is said to help understand why Egypt is suddenly on Israel’s side in this conflict.

Instead, readers are treated to at times thoughtful, but always handwringing, explorations of Palestinian suffering.    This is necessary to help us comprehend the terrible plight of the Palestinians.  For example, considerable focus is devoted to the limits on Palestinian movement in Gaza, where people are indeed confined in a population the size of Detroit during its heyday to “a city-sized prison scape.” Attention is rightly paid to enforced immobility and to real privation; readers of multiple viewpoints can sympathize.

But the causes of such enforced immobility, the nature of Hamas rule in the portion of Palestine it has arrogated to its tight control, the opportunities for Palestinians to have a say in their own lives under Hamas rule, the opportunities for Palestinians to shape their future – none of this is approached.  Are these things not important?  Is it not relevant that in the West Bank at the same time there was considerable economic development? True, nothing will avail fully until a negotiated peace is reached.

The efforts by Hamas to keep the population in their homes as human barriers to the Israeli incursion, regardless of the consequences, go unaddressed in this blog.  So too do the firing of rockets and the building of tunnel entrances and exits from within densely populated Palestinian civilian spaces.  Neither is the punishment of death addressed that is meted out to Palestinians who protest Hamas’ behavior: these poor people are executed as alleged Israeli collaborators.

I have gotten used to the kinds of elisions and silences in these kinds of essays.  According to such writers, Palestinians are a people on whom Israelis act.  They never act themselves; their organizations bear no responsibilities for what happens.  Some of their activities, like firing rockets, are not deemed worthy of mention.  The creation of networks of terror tunnels is skipped over.  Everything is rationalized as a response to occupation.  Nothing is relational, a product of interaction between two sides in historical context.  Instead, Israel does this, Israel causes that.  All this is remarkable coming from academics who are ostensibly sworn to deal fairly with complexity.

What does Stanford University Press have to say about this “service” it is providing to readers?  I’d like to hear the Press’ rationalizations about its new-found political commitment.  Is it appropriate for a University Press to sponsor one-sided political opinion?  Don’t we have opinion journals for that?  What does it do for the name of the university?  We shall see.


A Summary of the Essays on the Blog

Sherene Seikely, in “Palestine as Archive” writes of the beginning of the Israeli ground incursion in Gaza without mention of Hamas sending hundreds of rockets into Israel.

Diana Allen in “Boom: Construction and Deconstruction in Shatila and Gaza” comments on the Israeli war against the Palestinian unity government and its consequences.  This is closest anyone gets to mentioning Hamas.

Lori Allen, in “A City Sized Prison Scape,” explores the routinization of occupation in Gaza and the impact on residents of being effectively shut in, unable to get out, inside a limited space with a population rivalling Detroit in its heyday.

Ilana Feldman in “Isolating Gaza” takes up also the subject of “enforced immobility,” of being shut up in an open air prison and highlights how these impositions against movement have increased in recent years.

Laleh Khalili, in “Seam Zones, Security Zones, Death Zones, and Walls,” explores the various “protective” zones the Israeli military has created to fragment the Palestinian territories and ensure panopticon-like surveillance and monitoring capability.  Such monitoring capability was obviously insufficient to spot miles and miles of tunnels being constructed.

Tamir Sorek, in “Does the Green Line Exist?” writes about how Israelis and Palestinians experience the Green Line differently and emphasizes the Israeli regime of regulation, special permits, and crossings.  A good article which addresses the broad inequality between Israelis and Palestinians.

Joel Beinin, “Racism is the Foundation of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge,” highlights genuine cases of racism among the Israeli leadership but fails totally to make the case that racism is what motivated the ground incursion.  Like Seikely, he too doesn’t mention the small matter of Hamas rockets.

Orit Baskjin, “The Other Israelis,” documents the “sense of terror and isolation that many Israeli radical leftists have felt in recent weeks.”  Yes, the space for cosmopolitan approaches to politics is sharply narrowed by Hamas activities and Israeli responses: again, only the Israeli responses are mentioned.

About the Author
Kenneth Waltzer is former director of Jewish Studies at Michigan State University and a progressive opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. He a historian of the Holocaust completing a book on the rescue of children and youths at Buchenwald. He directed the Academic Engagement Network 2015-2019.