by Ben White
Zalman Aran library on the campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheba
Speakers with a track record of Islamophobic rhetoric and Israel advocacy are among the presenters next week at the Association for Israel Studies‘ (AIS) annual conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The AIS was founded in 1985 “by scholars fed up with bias against Israel in the Middle East Studies Association”. Hosted by the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, conference organisers are keen to invoke “the spirit of David Ben-Gurion”, Israel’s first prime minister who oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in the Nakba.
Among the speakers at next week’s gathering is Boston University’s Richard Landes, who in 2007 warned the Herzliya IDC conference that “European democratic civilization can fall before the Islamic challenge”. In 2011, Landes urged Israel to stand firm and “let the Arabs and Muslims vent their impotent rage”.
Landes is joined on the ‘Soft Power, Delegitimization, and Political Warfare’ panel by Gerald Steinberg, head of NGO Monitor, an organisation dedicated to smearing human rights defenders. Steinberg, who will also chair a panel on Israel and the international community,recently suggested that the deaths of Palestinian teenagers on 15 May was a staged hoax.
The AIS conference will also include two panels on “honor-shame”. The first, ‘Honor-Shame as a Category of Analysis’, features a presentation by McGill University’s Philip Salzman. Salzman has served on the board of hasbara outfit Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, and in an article titled ‘The Middle East’s Tribal DNA‘, claimed that “Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbors”.
The panel is chaired by Harold Rhode of the hard-right Gatestone Institute, who believes that for a troubled Muslim world, “Islamic culture is [the problem]“. Rhode also appears on the second, similarly-themed panel, ‘Arab-Israeli Conflict and the Dynamics of Honor-Shame’. This panel will include Mordechai Kedar, who believes that “the holiness of Jerusalem to Islam” is purely “politically motivated“, as well as Reuven Berko, who has described Europe as “captivated by the specious charms of the Arabs and Islam.”
As well as such troubling presenters, the AIS conference features half a dozen academics from Ariel University, an institution located in an illegal colony deep in the West Bank. Ben-Gurion University itself is deeply complicit with the Israeli occupation, while one of the conference sponsors is the Jewish National Fund, busy helping efforts to ‘Judaize’ the Negevnot far from where delegates will sit for their sessions.
The AIS, as in previous years, is arranging panels on the academic boycott and BDS campaign in general. One such ’roundtable’ includes Ilan Troen of Brandeis University, a key figure in the world of Israel studies, which he sees as an important part of fighting back against divestment initiatives and ‘Israeli apartheid’ discourse. Another panellist is Ben-Gurion University’s own David Newman, a long-time anti-BDS campaigner.
On their website, the Ben-Gurion Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism describes Israel as a “blend of contradictions” and “mosaic of paradoxes”, a “modern and progressive ‘start-up nation'”, and “democratic nation-state” home “to a widely diverse population”. No wonder ‘Israel studies’ has a hard job denying that it is just another hasbara offensive. Next week’s AIS conference is no different.
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