Newsweek Sugarcoats Anti-Israel Course at Berkeley

Last week Newsweek profiled the facilitator of a student-led, anti-Israel course at University of California, Berkeley (“Why a Controversial Palestinian History Class at Berkeley Was Canceled, Then Reinstated”). Newsweek works hard to portray Paul Hadweh, the facilitator of “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis,” as an ordinary student who became a casualty of attempted censorship by “the pro-Israel Lobby.” This portrayal distorts the reality of what is happening now on the UC Berkeley campus.

Newsweek Downplays the Biased Course Content

In his attempt to portray Hadweh as a hapless victim, author Alexander Nazaryan downplays the reasons that so many people and organizations objected to Hadweh’s course. The AMCHA Initiative has called the course “blatantly politically motivated” and a “classic example of antisemitic anti-Zionism.” AMCHA has alleged that the course is in violation of the University of California Regents’ policies.

Moreover, Nazaryan, ignores the major problems in the course’s content. The course description , from the syllabus available currently online, states:

This 1-unit lecture and discussion-based course will examine key historical developments that have taken place in Palestine, from the 1880s to the present, through the lens of settler colonialism. First, by utilizing a comparative approach and engaging with existing scholarship, we will gain a broad understanding of settler colonialism. Second, we will explore the connection between Zionism and settler colonialism, and the ways in which it has manifested, and continues to manifest, in Palestine. Lastly, drawing upon literature on decolonization, we will explore the possibilities of a decolonized Palestine, one in which justice is realized for all its peoples and equality is not only espoused, but practiced.

The basic framework of the course deems Zionism a colonial enterprise rather than an indigenous people’s rights movement. By taking the 1880’s as its historical starting point, the course erases the millenia-long connection between Jews and the land of Israel, which dates back to centuries before the Common Era.

The material listed on the syllabus shows that academic integrity is not a priority. It includes selections from the UN Goldstone Report, a report that has been disavowed as biased by its own author, and selections from Breaking the Silence, a group that has been shown by an Israeli television news investigation to promote false and/or exaggerated statements (Nazaryan refers to BtS as “dissenting” IDF soldiers). The syllabus also includes selections from academics such as Ilan Pappe , who was recently caught on tape acknowledging that truth is less important than scoring political points for the anti-Israel movement, and Saree Makdisi , known for his hostility to Israel. While the syllabus claims that its Week 3 (September 13) readings “contextualize” Zionism, including by discussing anti-Semitism, it lists no readings and no speaker for that section.

The advertisement for the course, pictured alongside Nazaryan’s article, prominently features the unfortunately common series of maps that falsely depicts Israel as appropriating Palestinian land. Although Hadweh is quoted saying that his goal is “exploring history,” there is absolutely nothing historical about these maps. As has been explained in The Tower magazine, the maps conflate private property with government control, ignore British control over the area before 1948, and create the false impression that there was a Palestinian state in the area prior to the modern state of Israel. MSNBC has called them “completely wrong” and apologized for showing them on air.

This map, again, is in the ad for the course, posted around the campus – so students who don’t even take Hadweh’s course are being exposed to falsehoods disguised as scholarship.

In other words, the course became the subject of controversy, not because tyrannical ideologues censor academic freedom, but because the course itself is lacking in academic integrity. It gives falsehoods a ring of academic authenticity at the expense of truth. Newsweek’s readers, however, would not know this.

Newsweek‘s Article Contains Misinformation of its Own

Even worse, Nazaryan himself accepts these maps as truth, writing further down in his article:

As the fall semester began, he started to hang posters advertising the class around campus: four maps in a row, each showing the contours of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The first map, from 1918, is nearly all teal (Palestinian land), with just a few flecks of black (Zionist settlements) near the Mediterranean coast. Israel was founded in 1947; the map from 1960, accordingly, is overwhelmingly black. In the map’s final iteration, there are only two disjointed swaths of teal: the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Nazaryan’s readers, therefore, are being doubly misinformed – they are misinformed about the nature of the controversy over the course, and they are being misinformed about the history of the region. They are even being misinformed about the year of Israel’s founding.

The background provided in the article is likewise compromised by inaccuracies. Nazaryan describes the second intifada as “a bloody dance from which neither side wanted to disengage.” “Bloody” is certainly an apt description. The claim that Israel didn’t want to disengage, however, could not be further from the truth. Israel managed to bring an end to the second intifada through security measures, including the security fence that Hadweh decries in the very next paragraph. But Nazaryan ignores this connection between the second intifada and the security barrier, only noting fu
rther down in a parenthetical that “many Israelis say [the security barrier] is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks.” Clearly Israel was anxious to “disengage,” as it went to great economic expense to implement these security measures. Further, a “dance” implies that both parties are willing and equal participants, but there should never be any equation between willful and murderous acts of terror and the actions taken to stop them.
Nazaryan goes on, “at the conclusion of the second intifada, Israel remained vulnerable to rocket attacks from Gaza (and, more recently, a spate of knife attacks), while the Palestinians remained the stateless people they’d been for decades.” The claim that the Palestinians have been stateless for “decades,” again, falsely implies that there was an independent Palestinian state prior to Israel.

Nazaryan whitewashes Hadweh and Bazian’s views of the future, writing that Hadweh is:

vague about how he’d resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but both he and Bazian appear to seek a single state in which Palestinians and Jews are equals, and expelled Palestinians are allowed to return. Many believe this would effectively be the end of Israel, since demographic trends overwhelmingly favor the Palestinians.

Reading closely, Nazaryan describes Hadweh as “vague about how he’d resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” (emphasis added) and then goes on to speculate that Hadweh wants Jews and Palestinians to live as equals. That’s a fairly big leap. Even if he’s right, though, this idealized vision ignores the fact that throughout history, Jews who lived as minorities in Muslim lands were subjected to second class status  as “dhimmis,” ignores the fact that Palestinian leaders have insisted that no Jews may live in the West Bank, and ignores the fact that even today mistreatment of the few remaining Jews in Muslim-majority countries continues.

Nazaryan does include comments from Berkeley political scientist Ron Hassner, who called the class “bigoted,” and compared it to the “flat Earth” theory, as well as a short quote from Alan Dershowitz. Without sufficient explanation of the problems with the content of the course, however, these statements are difficult for the reader to understand.

Newsweek Includes a One-Sided Video Featuring Hadweh’s Attorney

Newsweek’s accompanying video featuring Hadweh’s lawyer from Palestine Legal is also problematic. The lawyer frames the issue as one of academic freedom and “open inquiry.” Putting falsehoods in a course catalogue, however, does not convert them into academic theories. While she calls the course a “vigorous critical look at Israeli state policies,” it clearly goes far beyond that. Her justification of anti-Zionism as an “ideology of people who are seeking justice and equality for Palestinians” whitewashes the anti-Semitism inherent the “anti-Zionist” movement. Her claim that those who “conflate anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism” are responsible for the increase in anti-Semitism is classic victim-blaming.

Hadweh claims that he designed the course because “there was no course that, in his view, fairly addressed the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories.” With Hatem Bazian, a co-founder of the rabidly anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine and the sponsor of Hadweh’s course on the Berkeley faculty, that claim is difficult to believe. (In fact, according to congressional testimony, SJP even has links to terrorist groups.) If it is true, however, perhaps that is because Hadweh’s vision of what is “fair” is anything but that.

This slanted article does a poor job of relating the controversy over the class, choosing instead to portray the class’s facilitator as a hero.

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