Last winter, Foothill College in Los Altos, Calif., became the latest caustic battleground in the war for public opinion about the Middle East when the student paper, the Sentinel, ran an interview with Foothill political science adjunct professor Leighton Armitage. The Jan. 28, 2004 piece was innocuously entitled “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors,” but the rest was anything but benign.
Armitage and interviewer Collin Plehiers, Sentinel opinion editor, opened with a discussion of the alleged similarities between the current security fence, built by the Israelis to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers, and the World War II Warsaw ghetto wall, designed to confine the entire Jewish population in preparation for slaughter. Expounding on the comparison, he averred:
If you say what they’re doing is something akin to the Holocaust, what will they say? “You’re an anti-Semite”…it’s so convenient. It allows them to do exactly what was done to them…It’s exactly what Hitler did to the Jews. . . . I’d say that if anything, they’ve learned from their tormentors.
Armitage, who specializes in Europe and Japan, falsely accused Israel of using the security fence to steal Palestinian water. Israel’s water is from three main sources–the Sea of Galilee in the north, the Coastal Aquifer, and the Western and Northern Aquifers, which together make up the Mountain Aquifer. Though the Western Aquifer straddles the West Bank and Israel, most of its water is stored under pre-1967 Israel, therefore making it most readily accessible to Israel. In fact, as early as the 1950s, Israel has used 95 percent of the aquifer’s water, so the placement of the security barrier has no impact on the country’s access to "Palestinian" water. Moreover, Palestinians actually use Israeli water when, each year, 40 million cubic meters of water from Israeli water sources is piped over the Green Line for Palestinians to use in the West Bank.
In another unsubstantiated allegation, Armitage claimed that Israel is in possession of a stolen cargo load of “yellowcake” or unprocessed uranium oxide. He is apparently referring to a mysterious incident that dates back to November, 1968, when the Liberian ship, the Scheersberg A., set sail from Antwerp with 200 metric tons of uranium oxide. The ship never reached Genoa, Italy, its intended destination, but was located two weeks later in Iskederun, Turkey, stripped of its flag, its original crew, and of course, its cargo. To this day, the mystery remains unsolved and the crew and the uranium oxide have never been located. Various sources have made unsupported claims that the cargo was part of a scheduled transfer to an Israeli freighter at sea, or that the ship was held up and the cargo stolen in the Mediterranean. Still others believe that the plan all along was to deliver the cargo to a Middle Eastern port, and that the Scheersberg A. was owned secre tly by the Mossad or purchased with Mossad funds and owned by a secret Israeli agent. National Geographic published an article about the mysterious disappearance in its April 1976 edition, to which Armitage referred, and then Time Magazine ran the story on May 30, 1977. However, there is still no substantial evidence that Israel played any part in the missing uranium oxide.
Throughout the interview, both Armitage and Plehiers used the terms “Jews” and “Israelis” interchangeably and in a derogatory manner, assigning all the wrongdoing and blame Armitage associates with the state of Israel to the world-wide Jewish community. The part-time professor has this to say about Jews: “…they’re good business people, you got to respect them for that, if for nothing else.”
Armitage also insinuates that AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), a successful pro-Israel lobby group, is a secret organization buying American elections. Israel is thus cast as infiltrating the American political system.
Keeping pace with his anti-Israel guest, student interviewer Collin Plehiers interjected that maybe the United States should consider testing nuclear weapons on Israel: “You know how Bush wanted to start retesting nuclear weapons, should we maybe just test one on Israel, and resolve this problem?” In response to public outcry, Plehiers issued an apology in the Feb. 24 issue of the Sentinel claiming that his statement about dropping a nuclear bomb on Israel was a joke. He also said that he taped the interview and sent professor Armitage a transcript which he approved and edited before the article was sent to print. As for Armitage, according to the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, he refused to apologize for his statements.
Members of the school community worked with the local Jewish Community Relations Council, Hillel Silicon Valley, and the Anti-Defamation League, writing letters to the school administration and the editorial board of the Sentinel, requesting meetings and perhaps a student interview with a pro-Israeli professor to be published, but as of print time, no such article has been published.
Bernadine Chuck Fong, Foothill president, issued a letter of apology on Feb. 3, 2004 regarding the article. She stated:
It is regrettable that this article appeared in our student newspaper, and I am asking our administration to conduct a review of the process that led to its publication.
Fong agreed to meet with the ADL two weeks after the article was published. In a March 3, 2004 follow-up memo, Fong stated: "Any acts or perceptions of denigration are troubling and gravely impede our educational role to foster balanced debate and inquiry," yet she never explicitly identified the remarks of professor Armitage or Plehiers as denigrating. Fong added:
I am committed to ensuring that Foothill be distinguished as a model for fostering mutual respect and that includes a swift response to the denigration of any group on campus.
The response, however, proved to be neither swift nor substantial. Likewise, the president notes that she was “…formulating an action plan aimed at heightening awareness of mutual respect for all members of our college community.” Several months later, it is unclear exactly what became of that “action plan.”
Fong’s promises were only a superficial improvement from her response to a similar incident at Foothill in the fall of 2002. According to the ADL, a student dropped a class after the teacher opened the semester with remarks about Israel engaging in ethnic cleansing and Nazi-like actions. At the time, Fong reportedly would not meet with ADL representatives, merely saying that Foothill College “had policies in place to protect everyone’s, not just students’, First Amendment Rights.”
Kurt Hueg, the media relations representative of Foothill College, stated that Armitage continues to teach, and that Plehiers still writes for the Sentinel.
Armitage’s on-line profile acknowledges: “Finally, as is the case with most part-timers, I am presently looking for a local Political Science Department t o call home…” He might be more employable were he to stick to the facts and avoid propaganda and conspiracy theories.