Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin joined colleague Steven Zipperstein, a professor of Jewish culture and history, for an event on June 2, 2010 titled “Israel and Palestine: How To Talk About It and What To Talk About.” It was co-sponsored by the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies and the Taube Center for Jewish Studies—the first such joint sponsorship in the history of the two programs. Beinin lived up to his reputation for holding views whose outlandishness is matched only by the ferocity with which he clings to them.
Beinin began his opening remarks by lamenting the “unhealthy” state of the Arab-Israeli conflict debate—something he chalked up to the allegedly disproportionate influence of pro-Israel groups. Invoking the typical “Israel Lobby” paranoia, he claimed that organizations such as the American Jewish Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) discreetly control the debate with publications such as Commentary Magazine and think tanks such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. According to Beinin, these organizations routinely “attempt to ban [anti-Israel academics] from speaking [on college campuses] and attack them politically when they come up for tenure.” Using alarmist rhetoric, he claimed this behavior is tantamount to “a McCarthyite campaign of exclusion.”
As an example, he labeled “ridiculous” the characterization of Columbia University Edward Said professor of Arab studies Rashid Khalidi as anti-Semitic, adding that, “advocating for the rights of the Palestinian people is not anti-Semitism.” Anti-Semitism aside, Khalidi—a former spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and a well-known anti-Israel ideologue—is hardly a dispassionate “advocate.” Moreover, neither Khalidi’s academic career, nor that of his likeminded colleagues, has suffered as a result of politicized scholarship; that is, unless one considers mere criticism permanently damaging.
Beinin went on to describe the rhetoric used to discuss the conflict as “demagoguery” in which “Jews whose opinions are similar to the bi-nationalist positions historically held by Albert Einstein [and others]…are effectively excommunicated and labeled self-haters.” Invoking the first of what would be several references to Jewish scripture and morals, he then asked, “Does all of this [name-calling]…help us be a light unto the nations?”
Beinin explained that he had been a member of an Israeli “anti-occupation group” in the 1970s and that “for decades, [he] supported a two-state solution to the conflict…because it seemed achievable and had international support.” Recently, however, he decided that “the failure of the Obama administration to halt the settlement project…[has] made the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel highly unlikely.” He made no mention of the Palestinian failure to govern since the Oslo Accords, nor Hamas’s destruction of Gaza. He continued: “The de facto one-state status quo will continue until the balance of forces changes,” and until that time, American Jews must, as he put it, “[resist] the occupation as best we can.” Resistance to this “oppression” is required of Jews as a biblical duty, he claimed, reading Leviticus 19:16 in Hebrew and then in English: “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s blood is being spilled.” This recitation of a biblical commandment felt forced, as if he were trying to placate critics who find his views threatening to Israel or to Judaism.
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