Friday, May 01, 2009

A university professor in Santa Barbara sent out an email message to his students equating Israel with Nazi Germany and Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto.

The way it is being reported, it sounds like perhaps the professor was simply sending out some source material for his course:
Two students at the University of California-Santa Barbara say they were shocked when a professor compared Israeli actions to those of German Nazis.

University of California-Santa Barbara senior Rebecca Joseph said sociology Professor William I. Robinson acted inappropriately when he sent students a message comparing Israel's Gaza offensive to the Holocaust, the Los Angeles Times said Thursday.

And Robinson characterizes it the same way:

“My right in accordance with the Code ‘to present controversial material relevant to a course of instruction’ is being flagrantly violated and I am under harassment,” Robinson said in a makeshift press release. “The essence of the students’ complaint, as they themselves state it, is that my introduction of material into my course critical of Israeli state policy constitutes anti-Semitism, and this is the only argument made by the complainants to substantiate their charge of anti-Semitism.”

But when you look at the details, it is much, much worse:
The contents of that e-mail, which Robinson reportedly sent to students on Martin Luther King Day and ran under the heading “Parallel images of Nazis and Israelis,“ included 42 side-by-side photos (like the one at left) that have made Robinson the focus of an academic investigation.

Here’s a portion of what he wrote:

I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians. Perhaps the most frightening are not those providing a graphic depiction of the carnage but that which shows Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children.

Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw - a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs. We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group”), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.

Do professors normally send out 42 pictures of something to prove a point? Robinson didn't find these pictures himself; he was clearly copying things from anti-Israel websites on the Internet - probably from here.

If extreme and sickening opinions are acceptable under the name of "academic freedom," how about lies?

Robinson refers to this picture as "Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children."

What the picture actually depicts is Israeli children, who had been stuck in underground shelters for weeks because of bombardment from Hezbollah, writing a message to Hassan Nasrallah (you can see it spelled it as "Nazrala") and his army. It had nothing to do with "Palestine" nor "Palestinian children."

It is the type of mistake or willful lie that one would expect from a blogger - but when it comes from a professor, whose standards for truth should be at least that of a newspaper reporter, this indicates a much bigger problem.

I would argue that the opinions that Robinson expressed indeed are anti-semitic. Objectively, the comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany is absurd (and the photos show that he wasn't only comparing Gaza to Warsaw, odious enough as that is.) The only reason it resonates with Israel bashers is because of the perceived irony that Jews could act like their tormenters. I could take photos from Robinson's family album and juxtapose them with pictures of smiling and laughing Nazis at home with their kids; it would be about as accurate a comparison.

A university doesn't necessarily have to be concerned merely if a professor has controversial opinions. The problem here are much deeper:

1) Robinson is writing lies as facts and not distinguishing them from opinion. He's not saying "I believe Gaza is like Warsaw" - he is asserting it is.

2) Robinson is copying and pasting from websites without even knowing the details about the pictures. There are other picture comparisons there that are even more disgusting, especially when you know the context of the "Palestinian" picture.

3) The opinions themselves are, effectively, anti-semitic for the reasons I gave above.

4) Robinson is also directly lying when he refers to Israel as "a state founded on the negation of a people" - a neat projection of what the mythical Palestinian state is. This is besides the lie I mentioned above about "a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children."

5) The entire email is intellectually lazy and betrays more that Robinson was looking for an excuse to promulgate his views among his captive student audience rather than inform them about anything relevant to the course. It is beyond a controversial opinion: it is advocacy, which is a questionable pursuit in academia.

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