The Story of An Article
By Halim Barakat
Recently, I experienced first hand what it is to be on the receiving end of the ongoing campaign of intimidation against those who dare to publicly criticize the actions of the Israeli government. Now, as in the past, the primary weapon used to silence open discussion on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the charge of anti-semitism, as if Zionism as a political movement is synonymous with Judaism as a religion. This campaign of intimidation escalated considerably after September 11 and has reached shrill proportions now that the leaders of Israel are facing world-wide condemnation for their attacks on Palestinian cities, villages and refugee camps in the Occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
At the height of the Israeli military campaign, one dimension of which was the shocking and morally repugnant destruction of the Jenin refugee camp, I wrote an article published on April 11 in the London-based Arabic daily newspaper, Al-Hayat. In this article, I raised and tried to answer two questions derived from my long time interest as a sociologist in the concept of alienation. One of the most interesting manifestations of this concept is the sense of loss of control over human creations and inventions.
The first question I raised concerned the mutation of the state in the Arab world from a representative body into an instrument of repression. Instead of the state acting as a servant of the people, the people have become the servants of the state. Political alienation in this sense is represented in the loss of control by Arab societies over a system they created to serve their needs and aspirations; hence, the crisis of civil society which I discussed in several of my writings.
The second question I addressed is this: how did it come to pass that Zionism, which began in the 19th century as a political movement reacting against growing anti-semitism in Europe, gave rise to a state that is destroying and prosecuting another society, that of the Palestinian people. In developing this theme, I relied on an article by Alisa Solomon published in the arts section of the New York Times on April 7, 2002 , titled "A Jewish Avenger, A Timely Legend." This article tells us how David Fishelson, in his search for plays that his company, The Manhattan Ensemble Theater, might stage this year, came upon H. Leivick's Yiddish classic, " The Golem." We are told in this article that the Golem "was found to be painfully apt because of its central concern with the self-destructive consequence of Jews resorting to violence to defend themselves."
"The Golem" is the story of a rabbi who breathes life into a clay figure to create a rescuer for a beleaguered Jewish community. This mighty and invincible creation is at first proclaimed a hero for avenging Jews against their enemies. But then he gets carried away: He goes on a rampage, spilling the blood even of those he was meant to protect. The rabbi realizes he created a monster.
As the New York Times article suggests, this legend is timely and may serve as an allegory for our time. Golem, it suggests, can be compared to several human creations such as the nuclear arms race and the militaristic garrison state ( Israel) built by the Zionist movement on the ruins of Palestinian society.
This New York times article concludes that "...the Palestinians have expressed genuine grievances. Taking the logic further, one confronts the most troubling question that some Israelis and American Jews are beginning to raise: Has the militarily mighty Jewish state become a golem for the 21st century, promising protection but leading to peril?" My article followed the same line of logic to conclude that the Zionist movement created a monster state, and that the Israeli citizens elected a Golem named Sharon.
A Few days after the publication of my article, the Middle East Media Research Institute, a propaganda organization dedicated to representing Arabs and Muslims as anti-semites, placed on its website a special dispatch titled: "Georgetown University Professor Halim Barakat says that the Jews have lost their humanity, and they do not raise their children to be weak." This is followed by a series of excerpts taken out of context and translated in such a way as to intentionally misrepresent my views, such as attributing to me personally the above quotes from the new York Times article. Another example is replacing the words "Zionists" with "Jews" and the "Zionist Leadership" with "[Israeli Jews]." This has the effect of erasing a distinction between Judaism as a religion and Zionism as a political movement , hence the impossibility of criticizing Israel without being exposed to the risk of being branded as an anti-Semite.
No wonder then, that the MEMRI dispatch was immediately followed by a flood of hate mail, all accusing me of anti-Semitism that was sent not only to me, but also to faculty members and administrators at Georgetown University. David J. Russin M.D., for instance, wrote to me saying "You as a professor should not write such trash. You have lumped every Jew into the same bucket." Elisabeth Attar Goren wrote, "I do not believe you should be teaching at a United States higher learning institution ... In fact I think you are a hypocrite for living in our country, the US, earning our money, and using our technology." Joseph Weber sent an e-mail to the Director of The Center For Contemporary Arab Studies in which he said: "Barakat's piece is a mixture of anti-Jewish hypotheses and anti-techno-claptrap . ... The core is that Jews are less human than Palestinians, and their religion is subject to derision... a replay of numerous previous such religious invocations... sharing the same language as Hamas ... My question to you is likewise simple . Does publishing a religious attack on another group, as Barakat has done, generate an impact upon the person's status as one of your faculty."
On April 26, 2002 Georgetown's student newspaper The Hoya published an inflammatory article by Aviel Roshwald, a professor in the History Department at Georgetown University entitled "Bigotry, Hate speech From Scholars Must be Exposed and Condemned." In it, Prof. Roshwald wrote that my article "contains a chilling demonization of Israel and of Jews" and "...suggest[s] that Zionism and Israel are evil monstrosities created by world Jewery and power-hungry rabbis... There are shadows here of classic anti-semitic stereotypes about evil Jewish plots... And to top it all off , Barakat has the chutzpah to suggest that the only civilized Jew is a weak Jew... Hate speech by academics and others may be protected by the First Amendment , but colleagues and university authorities have both the First Amendment privilege and the moral obligation to condemn it strongly. To remain silent is to be complicit."
In connection with this last article , I wish to make three points: First, I am surprised that a professor of history took at face value excerpts translated by an organization infamous for character assassination. Second, and before leveling serious accusations against a colleague, he could have contacted me or at least checked the original piece in its totality as well as consulted the cited article from the New York Times. Third, it is disturbing that Prof. Roshwald made further distortions of his own. No wonder some of his colleagues at the history department wrote to him saying they were upset by his piece in which he leveled very serious accusations and offensive remarks " based on very faulty ad biased information ... without more thorough investigation of the matter. "
I should also point out that not all the messages I received were hate messages . A Jewish friend who read my article wrote to me saying , " Keep up the good work . .. I thought it was an amazing piece " . I only hope that this friend does not become the object of an intimidation campaign accused of being "a self-hating Jew."