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Professors of Propaganda at the University of Washington

Edward Alexander, author of the forthcoming Jews Against Themselves, reports on a program at the University of Washington that, even by the relatively low standards of contemporary humanities scholarship, is a travesty of scholarship.

The Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington supports “cross disciplinary understanding, collaboration, and research.” In the service of that goal, it funds “cross disciplinary research clusters,” which “seed new collaborations between faculty and graduate students who share research interests.” Among the clusters presently funded is Palestine and the Public Sphere.

One notices right away that the project was chosen because of its cross disciplinary character, as it takes in a professor from the Department of English, another professor from the Department of English, and a third professor from the Department of English. So far, so good.

But there are further indications that the project will elevate our level of discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, only two of the three professors involved, Anis Bawarshi and Eva Cherniavsky, have signed on to the 2009 “Dear President Elect Obama” letter, which describes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians as “one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times” and opines that a one state solution—that is the erasure of Israel as a Jewish state—is “almost certainly” the only hope. They do not straightforwardly say, as University of Pennsylvania professor and one-stater Ian Lustick has, that such a solution is almost certainly bound to entail “ruthless oppression, mass mobilization, riots, brutality, terror [and] Jewish and Arab emigration” before Israel is brought to its knees. But we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Speaking of Lustick, his piece appeared in the New York Times. Yet the very description of the research program, if we can call it that, assumes that “as mergers have transferred control of most major news outlets to a handful of mega-corporations,” criticism of Israel has been stifled. Admittedly, I am not a trained reader of English texts, as the organizers are, but I would think that the frequent appearance of such criticism in major media outlets makes this assertion borderline delusional. Even Omar Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has graced the pages of the Times. The Guardian, BBC, Bloomberg, and CNN have published Barghouti’s work.

But speaking of Omar Barghouti, the Palestine in the Public Sphere group decided the first way they could advance the cause of scholarly research was to invite Barghouti to speak. Because the way to show that you are concerned about elevating the scholarly discourse is to invite, on the first day of Israeli apartheid week, a figure whose sole claim to fame is setting a campaign to demonize Israel into motion. I am not as schooled in discourse analysis as even one English professor, much less three, but it seems to me that this sends a message.

Here’s a tip for those who worry about the defunding of public higher education. Call out people who use state institutions to advance propaganda campaigns under the guise of scholarship.

 



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