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Middle East Issues





Columbia Panel Solves the Mideast Conflict—Eliminate Israel


Given the growing controversy swirling around charges of anti-Israel bias and intimidation of Jewish students by some Arab professors at Columbia University, one would think Columbia would be wise enough to police itself rigorously on this score.

Instead, on Jan. 31, a university panel advocating a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict served as a forum for vicious propaganda and hate speech against Israel.

A packed room of hundreds of students and community members spilled over to an adjacent chamber. Overwhelmingly, it was an anti-Israel crowd. Smirks and laughter erupted from the audience whenever Israel was ridiculed.

Moreover, the panel, dubbed "One State or Two? Alternative Proposals for the Middle East," attracted multiple sponsors on campus. The university chaplain, the Student Senate, a Columbia Law School Arab student group, the School of International and Public Affairs and the Middle East Institute, a university affiliate, were all signed on.

The title of the panel was suspect in the first place—what one-state solution seekers really want is the destruction of the only Jewish state and in its place, the creation of yet another Arab Muslim state to add to the 22 others that already exist.

Though the event’s official invitation called on participants to "come hear four eminent scholars discuss and debate both sides of the issue," the panel was overwhelmingly stacked against Israel, ensuring the absence of debate on "both sides of the issue." Among the speakers was Joseph Massad, a Columbia professor of Middle East studies accused of intimidating Jewish students. (See page 5).

A second panelist, Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Literature and director of Columbia’s Middle East Institute, is considered by the Palestine Liberation Organization to be a reliable ally. (See page 7.)

A third panelist, Haifa University lecturer Ilan Pappé gave the keynote speech at "Israeli Apartheid Week" at the University of Toronto. (See page 18).

Pappé claimed that the attempt at a two-state solution in 1947 "generated a war which ended with the Palestinian catastrophe and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population." However, it was not the two-state solution which generated a war, but the invading Arab armies that did so.

As to "ethnic cleansing," if it were Israel’s goal, a fifth of Israel’s population would not be Arab. In fact, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have the highest rate of natural increase in the world. According to Professor Arnon Soffer, Israel’s leading demographer, the natural rate of increase of the Arab population in Israel and the West Bank is 3.5 percent. Among the Bedouins (in the south of Israel) and in the Gaza Strip the figure is as high as 4.5 percent, which means that the population doubles in 15 to 17 years ("Israel, Demography 2000-2002," University of Haifa). For comparative purposes, Egypt’s natural rate of increase is 1.89 percent, and Saudi Arabia’s is 3.41.

Marc Cohen, a Princeton historian of medieval Israel, was the only panelist who was not known for his extremist views about Israel. However, Cohen himself concluded that his talk regarding the Middle Ages was irrelevant to the panel’s topic. That left no one to defend Israel from heinous charges, let alone advocate for a two-state solution.

Massad and Pappé hurled the usual distorted epithets against the Jewish state: Israeli "racism," "colonialism" and "apartheid." Khalidi called a two-state solution "a prescription first for civil war … and then for unending conflict." He said only a one-state solution would lead to democracy and equal rights for all. Pappé agreed, even going so far as to suggest that a one-state solution would enhance women’s and children’s rights.

The so-called "debate," in which all the participants agreed with each other, did not consider the historical record that would presage the likely fate of Jews in a one-state solution. While Arabs live as a healthy minority in Israel, Jews have largely been driven out of Arab nations where they lived as subject people. Even Jordan, among the most moderate of Arab countries, does not allow any Jew to become a citizen. Why would Jews be treated justly and allowed to live at peace in a new Arab state in which groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad would likely be key players?

No panelist acknowledged Palestinian terrorism or the Jewish people’s historic right to the land of Israel and to self-determination.

Massad, perhaps the most extreme speaker, drew the biggest applause from the audience, launching into a 15 minute tirade and labeling Israel "racist" almost 30 times. Massad accused Israel of treating its Arab inhabitants as "third-class citizens." The Columbia professor held Israel to impossibly high standards that no other western or democratic country is held to, let alone the Arab countries of the Middle East. In actuality, Arab Israelis, who constitute nearly 20 percent of Israel’s population, are citizens of Israel who enjoy full voting rights and hold seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Israelis Arabs have freedom of movement all over Israel and can legally live in any city within Israel. They attend Israel’s top universities and are among the most educated people in the Middle East.

By contrast, in the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other states in the region where the official religion is Islam, non-Muslims are in varying degrees relegated to inferior status. Arab states, including Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, prohibit land sales to non-Arabs. In fact, the PA decrees a death penalty for the "crime" of selling land to a Jew.

Massad and the other panelists expended enormous energy attacking Israel’s "Law of Return" as racist.

Yet, Israel’s 1950 Law of Return extending citizenship to any Jew who desires it is entirely consistent with international law and practice. According to Article 1(3) of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), nations are permitted to favor certain groups for citizenship provided there is no discrimination against any particular group. In addition, Article 1(4) allows for "affirmative action," entitling states to exercise preferences in granting citizenship to remedy the effects of past discrimination. In the case of Israel, such prior incidents of past discrimination include Britain’s 1939 decision to ban Jewish immigration to Palestine, thereby sealing the fate of thousands, if not millions, of European Jews.

Israel is no different from numerous other democratic countries which provide certain people easier access to citizenship, including Mexico, Venezuela, Greece, Poland, Germany, Italy and Denmark. As noted by Amnon Rubinstein in a Jan. 4, 2000 Ha’aretz article:

the Law of Return has parallels in other countries. Most notable among them is the law of return included in Section 116 of the Federal Republic of Germany’s constitution. This section confers automatic citizenship on hundreds of people of "ethnic German origin" who were expelled from their homes in the former Soviet Union. ..Nearly all of the Balkan and Baltic countries have laws of return known as repatriation laws…

As Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz points out in his book The Case For Israel, Jordan, the most liberal and Western of Arab countries, has a law of return that “explicitly denies citizenship to all Jews, even those who lived there for generations. Its law provides that citizenship is open ‘to any person who was not Jewish’ and who meets certain other criteria.”

At the same time, Massad denounced Israel’s refusal to implement the so-called Palestinian "right of return." Those who endorse such a policy claim that Palestinians who fled in 1948, and their descendants, have a legal and moral "right" to move to Israel. Most legal authorities, however, contend that international law, in particular United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, does not codify a Palestinian "right of return." Moreover, many analysts have pointed out that because an Arab and Palestinian-initiated war against Israel created a similar number of Jewish and Palestinian refugees, and because Israel settled the Jewish refugees, the Arab side should settle the Palestinian refugees.

Massad also falsely accused Israel of "stealing Palestinian water" from the Palestinian territories. The geographic reality, however, is a matter of gravity: Israel’s coastal plain is at sea level, and underground water from the higher elevations of the West Bank naturally flows downhill to Israel. Most of the water in the aquifer in question–the so-called Mountain Aquifer–is most readily accessible in Israel, where it is close to the surface, rather than in the West Bank.

Israel has rights to the water just as Egypt does to the Nile. The waters of the Nile don’t originate in Egypt, but flow through other countries into Egypt.

Far from "stealing" water, Israel has greatly augmented water for the Palestinians, connecting hundreds of villages to the Israeli water system, digging or authorizing the digging of wells and directly pumping millions of cubic meters of water from Israel into the West Bank and Gaza.

Since Israel gained control of the West Bank, Palestinian use of water from aquifers shared with Israel has increased, while the percentage of water used by Israel has decreased.

Holding a panel dubbed as "One State or Two? Alternative Proposals for the Middle East" inflamed an already heated campus atmosphere. Tellingly, the next day Columbia’s student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, apparently accepted the panel’s allegations at face value. A photo picture caption read: "MEALAC professor Joseph Massad, above, met at the Law School yesterday to discuss racism and sovereignty in the Middle East"—as if racism were a legitimate charge and as if Israel’s sovereignty really was up for debate.

Indeed, among certain influential circles at Columbia, there is a consensus regarding Israel’s sovereingty–that it should be relinquished.


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