Academic Propaganda Against Israel Masquerading As Legit Scholarship
The biggest danger is that once this kind of irresponsible drivel is published, it is common for other academic papers to cite them as academic source materials. Israel bashing in scholastic publications, then, based on distortions of the truth grows more and more legitimate. Can anyone think that an article like this is anything other than academic propaganda for the purposes of the boycott-Israel machine?
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I just discovered a new article published in International Relations and Diplomacy, an apparently semi-academic journal that may hope to qualify as an academic one, however it has not yet been rated against other journals.
Established in 2013, it appears to have a degree of legitimacy given that some of those listed as reviewers have positions in well recognized and respected universities. Reviewers are experts who are asked to read and evaluate the appropriateness of manuscripts submitted for potential publication. Reviewers can accept manuscripts as is or request specific changes in order to bring them to an acceptable standard, or can reject them outright. Closest to home is reviewer Prof Eyal Zisser, who serves as Vice Rector of Tel Aviv University and Chair of the Department of Contemporary History of the Middle East.
Prof Zisser likely did not review the paper I am critiquing here because his field of expertise does not include the topic covered in this article. Were he to have been asked to review it, I am sure that, as an Israeli, he would have identified some of the glaring distortions presented even if he agrees with the political stance of the author (and I have no idea about his political views). I hope that he would have insisted on correcting the errors as that is what would be expected of an honest academician. As a matter of fact, I hope he would have rejected the paper entirely, although that may be considered by some to be a bit extreme.
The paper under examination here is called: Victimization, Empathy, and Breaking the Cycles of Violence in Israel and Palestine. It appeared in the February 2017 issue and is open access so you can download it for free if you are interested in reading the entire piece.The author is Prof Franke Wilmer of Montana State University Political Science Department; she studies a number of interesting topics, including international human rights law and indigenous politics. A member of the Democratic Party, she has served in the Montana House of Representatives 2006-2013. She certainly sounds like a respectable academician.
The first half of the article considers the background to the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict and the second half reports on four of 26 interviews conducted in summer 2016 with Jewish and Arab leaders of organizations promoting co-existence. The interviews seek to examine
. . . both victimization experiences and narratives through the eyes of peace activists and leaders who work in a binational capacity with Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. [page 61]
I am not going to relate here to these interviews. In separate articles on this website I have previously discussed my impressions of one of Wilmer’s interviewees (Roni Keidar) and one of the projects supported by an organization highlighted in her article (The Parents’ Circle: Two Sides). Instead, I will focus on only a few of the many glaring distortions in her description of the conflict.
Who Are the Palestinians?
Throughout the paper, Wilmer refers to Arabs as Palestinians, whether they are Israeli citizens or residents of the Palestinian Authority (PA), even though one of the few truly academic sources she used reported that only about 30% of Israeli Arabs regard themselves today as Palestinians (Radai, et al., 2015). Furthermore, she refers to the PA as “Palestine” as if the state already exists, or existed in the recent or ancient past, which of course it does not and never did. I do not understand why academics do not use the official name, Palestinian Authority.
Are These Legitimate Source Materials?
As an academic paper, Wilmer remarkably manages to avoid reliance on academic source materials. Aside from the reference noted above (Radai) and a PhD thesis, as well as the probably less reliable reports from Pew Surveys and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, she cites the following sources, most of which are newspapers, some of which are blatantly anti-Israeli (BAI):
- +972 (3 articles) – BAI
- Haaretz (3 articles) – BAI
- four B’Tselem reports – BAI
- Al-Jazeera (2 articles) – BAI
- Mondoweiss (1 article) – BAI
- Middle East Monitor (1 article) – BAI
- IRINnews (1 article)
- Reuters (1 article)
- Huffington Post (4 articles)
- Times of Israel (2 articles)
- Jerusalem Post (3 articles)
- presentation at a co-existence event
Had the purpose of Wilmer’s paper been to analyze news media reporting on her topic of interest, then it would be quite legitimate, of course, to use the media as source materials. One would expect, in such a case, that she would name the political leanings of her sources and openly balance those on the left with those on the right, those against Israel with those supporting Israel. She does not do this. Worse, she cites the media as if news sites can substantiate her arguments, something that has absolutely no place in an academic or semi-academic paper. That alone would be reason for rejecting this paper as inappropriate for an academic journal.
The Nature of the Anticipated Two States
After raising questions concerning issues of identity within the context of a “conflict narrative” (her term and her quotation marks) and the “occupation” (she did not put this word in quotation marks, I do), Wilmer asks:
Can a mostly Jewish Israeli state and a mostly Palestinian, Palestinian state become pluralistic democracies while maintaining their distinct character as the states of two peoples with two identities? [page 62]
There are two problems here: first of all, Israel does not have to become a pluralistic democracy because it already is one. It is an imperfect one, for sure, and many Arabs experience discrimination and hate, even if discrimination and hate are not state-sanctioned; in fact there are laws against that.
Secondly, the proposed Palestinian state will be judenrein (Jew-free); PA leaders have repeatedly stated that Jews will have to vacate the area. Therefore, there is no anticipation at all of a Palestinian state being pluralistic. Whether or not it would become a democracy is questionable as well, given that President Abbas is currently serving his 12th year of a 4-year term, for example.
Oh! How Israel bashers love to raise the issue of checkpoints! Here she quotes one construction worker describing his trip from his home in Ramallah to work:
The checkpoints have made so many problems and delays. I am late to my work, my business. It’s a pain. First I cross Qalandia, then the one through Wadi Joz, and now this checkpoint [in Suwwana], so that’s three I cross. Today, Qalandia checkpoint alone was an hour. Wadi Joz was a quarter of an hour to 20 minutes; this one was the same. I need about two hours to get to work just because of the checkpoints. [page 63]
I asked Habib, a resident of Hebron, to comment on this statement. He replied:
I agree that sometimes they cause delay. Usually I see soldiers are cooperative to facilitate passing of Palestinians through checkpoints. Sometimes the Palestinians refuse to stand arranged in order to pass easily and they make many troubles which cause delay. Also, the checkpoints was made because of the Oslo Agreement and because of fighting Arabic/Islamic/Palestinian terrorism. How can any Palestinian guarantee the security of the Jewish/Israeli people without checkpoint? Israel has the right to defend itself, and checkpoints are one tool to protect Israel. Also, checkpoints are there because PA and Palestinian community don’t fight terrorism in serious ways.
In order to be fair, Wilmer could have quoted the Israel Defense Forces website and she would have learned that a more thorough filtering of cars passing through checkpoints occurs when intelligence warns of an active security threat, after the resolution of which things quickly return to a more relaxed and quicker passage of vehicles. When the situation is quiet and no imminent terrorist threat on the radar, some of the checkpoints can look like this one:
Pedestrian checkpoints are exactly like those that are at the entrance to each and every train station within Israel – people put their bags on a belt that takes them through an x-ray machine and they pass through a metal detector. Lines can form in train stations just as well as at checkpoints. Nobody seems to care about the inconvenience and delays caused by these security barriers.
I think that any legitimate academic article that seeks to inform, and even more so, an article that states it is examining the narratives of both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs would present the issue of checkpoints within its historical context – when they began appearing and why — and would not use the word “checkpoint” as a rallying cry against those horrid Israelis who supposedly use security as an excuse for making life difficult for the Arabs in the PA.
The Security Wall
This is what Israel bashers love to call the “Apartheid Wall”. Here is one false statement she makes concerning the wall: a claim that, when completely built,
. . . Beit Sahour, a mostly Christian Palestinian village five miles southeast of Jerusalem, will be completely encircled. [page 63]
Even according to the map provided by B’Tselem, a strongly anti-Israel NGO, Beit Sahour is not and will not be surrounded by the security wall; rather, the wall passes along one side of the town. The presence in this article of such easily refuted lies as this one about Beit Sahour makes it hard to believe anything the article says.
Land Stealing By the Jews
In one footnote, Wilmer makes a highly inflammatory comment:
State land refers to land confiscated by the government of Israel. [page 64]
While it is true that Israel appropriates private land (just as other countries do) for the construction of infrastructure and other nationally authorized projects (from Jews as well as Arabs), this is not the only way state land has been acquired. In fact, when the British took over from the Ottomans and established the Mandate of Palestine, the Mandatory authorities surveyed the land and distinguished between privately owned land and that that was not privately owned and, therefore, public or state land. They passed these survey results on to the Israeli government as soon as it was formed in 1948.
The Water Libel — Again!
Wilmer repeats lies published by B’tselem and Amnesty International, two anti-Israel organizations that persist in promoting the myth that Israel is keeping Palestinian Arabs thirsty. These myths have been exposed as lies here and here and here. Furthermore, I summarized an article published by Gazan engineers who show how mismanagement (to put it mildly) on the part of Hamas leaders is causing the water shortage in Gaza and that Israel cannot be blamed for it.
In an academic article that discusses co-existence and seeks to help promote peace, it would be expected that the author would have done some research on the water issue to make sure she is not presenting the one-sided fictitious tale that she does.
Wilmer Must Have Misunderstood THIS about Shfaram
I am only going to raise one issue specific to the interviews — a comment Elias Jabbour of Shfaram was claimed to have made. Jabbour (about 80 years old today) grew up during the late British Mandate era. He is quoted as having said:
We didn’t know the Israelis, we knew nothing of the Jews, and we never met them. [page 72]
. . . until he went to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to study in 1957, that is. Not wanting to call a distinguished man such a Jabbour a liar, I interpret this statement as constituting a misunderstanding on Wilmer’s part. Shfaram is in a section of the country that is close by a number of Jewish communities that were established before Jabbour was born or at about the same time, such as Kiryat Motzkin, Kiryat Bialik, Elroi, and Kibbutzim Ramat Yohanan, Usha and Kfar Macabbi. Haifa, the nearest city had a mixed Jewish and Arab population. There is an ancient synagogue in Shfaram and up to ten Jews lived there between 1931 and 1945.
To claim that Jabbour never met a Jew until he left Shfaram to study in Jerusalem is bewildering. If Wilmer can misunderstand that, it raises doubts regarding our ability to rely on other aspects of her interview materials.
Sorry, i could not help myself and just had to examine one further point….a blatant lie. And I wrote it up separately here.
Propaganda Masquerading as Academic Writing
There is no other way to see this paper than as academic propaganda meant to fuel the anti-Israel BDS movement. Recognition that the entertainment/news media are propagating “fake news” makes it hard to know what news reports to believe. If the article under examination here is any indication, then it appears that academia is birthing a “fake scholarly writing” trend that will make it hard for students and anyone other than the expert to distinguish between truth and fiction in academic journals. That is what the reviewers of this manuscript were supposed to have filtered out before it was accepted for publication. They failed badly.
I would hope that you would be able to contact reviewers and editors of this Journal to have the opportunity to reply and point out the very serious falsehoods, biases and poor academic standard of this paper.
I will do that for sure.