By Gilbert Achcar – 11 Nov 2011
This past October, I gave talks about my book, The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, at five California universities – Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC San Diego and UCLA. These weren’t my first talks at North American universities on the same book: I had already made presentations at Columbia, NYU, Rutgers, Harvard, U of Chicago, U of Michigan, U of Wisconsin-Madison, U of Toronto and Rice.
U.S. Likudniks, who had remained relatively restrained on this issue until now, could not stand it any longer. They launched a massive attack against me in the form of a smear article – their trademark type – written by two Campus Watch vigilantes and first published on FrontPageMag, the online magazine of the notorious ultra-right-winger David Horowitz. From there, the article was reproduced by countless websites and blogs belonging to the same ideological swarm, and distributed by them to their extensive email lists.
What drove my detractors especially mad was the fact that my talks were often hosted by scholars of Jewish background, if not by Jewish Studies Centers, like the one at UC Davis that was the first target of this latest smear campaign. I have also been invited by Jewish Studies Centers at the Universities of Chicago and Toronto to talk about my book, a book that was reviewed – rather positively – in the Jewish Review of Books and the Journal of Jewish Studies. My detractors lament: “The rot is so pervasive that it’s infected Middle East studies, Israel studies, Jewish studies, and Holocaust studies alike. At this rate, there will be no bastions of true scholarship left.” By these sorts of malicious attacks, of which I am only the most recent target among many others, they are trying to deter and intimidate the whole of U.S. academia, especially Jewish scholars, from any independent thinking. They are AIPAC’s academic vigilantes.
I will not waste my time – nor that of the readers – discussing in detail what amounts to an accumulation of slanders and distortions combined with rightwing Likudnik-type comments that any intelligent and progressive person can easily recognize for what they are worth. As I usually do in such cases, I will only take one example illustrating the method of my detractors. The two Campus Watch vigilantes’ article starts with this sentence that they attribute to me: “Don’t expect me to take a pro-Israel view. I’m an Arab.” They then go on commenting: “Those in the audience hoping for scholarly objectivity were thus informed that Achcar’s ethnicity trumped intellectual independence…” And to add racist insult to injury, they then find it necessary to emphasize my “heavy accent.”
“Let me say from the start that I don’t claim to be neutral, because I don’t think that anyone can be neutral with regard to such issues. What I claim and purport to be is honest. It is a matter of intellectual honesty and this is what I try to display in the book. But I think it would be dishonest to say ‘This is purely scholarly, there’s no politics here, I’m above politics.’ It’s in itself a political statement usually when people say such things, especially on such topics. So, it’s clear that this is a book written by – okay – a scholar, but a scholar who, like any scholar, has a sociology, an origin. I’m myself from the Middle East, I’m from Lebanon, so I’m Arab ethnically speaking, and dealing with the Arabs and the Holocaust, one won’t expect me to take a pro-Israeli view in this regard. Again, my main claim here is one of intellectual honesty. It’s up to the readers to judge, but I didn’t try to hide any embarrassing facts whatsoever, and the book is informed by a perspective which may be described as basically antiracist, against any type of racism be it anti-Semitism, or anti-Arab racism for that matter, or whatever form of prejudice.”
More IOA coverage of Gilbert Achcar