According to Voltaire, history “is nothing but a pack of tricks we play upon the dead.” I’m more concerned about tricks that historians play upon the living.
In some ways, the past year was fertile ground for mischievous historical trickeration (a favorite Louis Farrakhanism) at Israel’s expense.
Some months ago, recovering leftist historian Ronald Radosh called the anti-Israel petition signed by hundreds of historians in the U.S., with an added list of “international” fellow travelers, “Historians for Hamas.”
I recognized only about ten names, but I’m no longer as plugged into the organized profession as I once was. I don’t doubt that the signers were representative of a broader swathe of opinion. My alma mater, UCLA, was a petition hotbed more than Berkeley.
I would guestimate that of the signers, 10 percent were African American, 30 percent were Arab or Muslim, and 40 percent were Jews who hate Israel.
I agree with Radosh’s characterization of the petition as a modern instance of what Julien Benda in the 1930s called the “trahison des clercs”—the intellectual betrayal of freedom by totalitarian-leaning intellectuals. In this case, the signers’ criticisms of Israel were mostly indistinguishable from apologetics for Hamas’ barbarities, although the petition signatories lacked the honesty to admit it.
The publicizing of this petition followed the unanimous decision by the 20-Member National Council of The American Studies Association (ASA) to join the academic boycott of Israel. Throwing in everything including the kitchen sink, the ASA’s blunderbuss resolution cited: “US military and other support for Israel”; “Israel’s violation of international law and UN resolutions”—perish the thought they mention Iran’s violations of UN uranium enrichment bans for which it is now being rewarded; “the documented impact on Palestinian scholars and students”—no mention of 75 years of Arab and Muslim boycotts of Jewish institutions; Israeli universities’ complicity in “state policies that violate human rights”—no specifics provided; and “the support of such a resolution by many members of the 5,000-member ASA”—how “many” was not indicated.
Fortunately, the ASA’s academic big brother—the American Historical Association (AHA)—has now implicitly rebuked anti-Israel know nothingism about the Middle East of the American Studiers’ leadership.
Meeting about a year after the ASA’s late 2013 resolution, the AHA has refused to suspend normal procedures to put current or future resolutions condemning Israel to a membership vote. The vote was 144 to 54. One defeated motion claimed that Israel commits “violence and intimidation” against Palestinian academics and archives, damaging “Palestinians’ sense of historical identity as well as the historical record itself.” Of course, it failed to mention Palestinian defacement of West Bank Jewish historical sites and threats to topple the Western Wall or the Palestinian Authority’s claim that neither King David nor the Second Jewish Temple ever existed.
Twenty years ago, the AHA also struck a blow against bigotry-posing-as-history by issuing a statement debunking the anonymously-authored The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, the product of the anonymous “Historical Research Department” of Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. Volume 1 of The Secret Relationship argued that a handful of Jewish merchants “dominated” the Atlantic slave trade. Volume 2’s subtitle is: “How Jews Gained Control of the Black American Economy.”
Combine the AHA’s record with the tepid reception for John Judis’ revisionist Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict—all the major claims of which have been refuted by Ronald and Allis Radosh’s A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel—and 2014 has not been such a bad year after all for mainstream historians in relation to Mideast history.
Historian Brackman, a Simon Wiesenthal Center consultant, is coauthor with Ephraim Isaac of From Abraham to Obama: A History of Jews, Africans, and African Americans (Africa World Press, forthcoming).