OP-ED: Are Middle Eastern Studies Biased?

Israel is a thorny topic in academia. / Public Domain Photos

Disclaimer: This is an opinions submission. It does not necessarily represent the views of the Vanguard or its staff.

  Education was a field I chose to study because I wanted to teach history and other people’s narratives in an empathetic way. However, this has not been presently happening in many of America’s universities. Professors in many departments are teaching about Israel in their classrooms at campuses across America. Though, it is the first time that many students are hearing about Israel and the current conflict, the narrative being presented is at many times heavily biased against Israel, placing Israel as the sole reason for the start and continuation of the conflict and leaving out the role of the Palestinians and the neighboring Arab countries.

   It is the professor’s responsibility to make sure that they are educating their students in a fair way. Unfortunately, this is not what is being seen in the academic world. As an educator, I ask: How is it that we have professors who care more about teaching their political agenda than the truth?

   An example of this took place at Duke University where there was a conference held titled, “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” This conference, which labeled itself as “open minded” quickly devolved into hate speech, as Duke CAMERA fellow Ben Stone reported. The conference featured a Palestinian rapper who encouraged the crowd to sing along to lyrics which states, “I cannot be anti-Semitic alone […] let’s try it together.” It’s shocking that many professors and faculty took part in such a conference with blatantly anti-Semitic propaganda.

   At Rutgers University in New Jersey, Jasbir Puar, a professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies who wrote a book that Duke University published titled The Right to Maim, makes outrageous claims that the Jewish state is maiming Palestinians in order to control them. She also made the false claim that Israel’s pro-LGBT legislative record exists only for the sake of propaganda. Despite Puar’s modern day blood libels, she still has direct access to students, enabling her to disseminate her dangerous conspiracy theories.

   At the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Professor Sut Jhally has admitted that he views college classrooms as a good place to promote his anti-Israel propaganda because they provide a “captive audience” of students who can be forcibly exposed to his films and then tested on them afterwards.”

   As a fellow educator, I am appealing to the Middle Eastern studies programs at Duke and the University of North Carolina and others across the country to revise their curriculum by teaching the facts about Israel and the region and refraining from teaching propaganda and political rhetoric, especially as it relates to the Israel and Palestinian narrative, giving their students a chance to create their own theories and questions on the complicated history of the Middle East.

   The “Guidelines for Policymakers: Addressing Anti-Semitism through Education” written by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights is one example that universities can provide to their faculty to help educate and train the professors to better understand and become more sensitive to anti-Semitic rhetoric. This co-publication seeks to educate and address contemporary anti-Semitism as it is becoming more prevalent. The World Jewish Congress, partnered with UNESCO and IDIHR, organized a series of international capacity-building workshops for policymakers. More of these capacity-building workshops should be held across the world and in our country to retrain educators on anti-Semitism to help people understand the threat of anti-Semitism and prepare educators to be able to vet Middle Eastern Studies curriculums and classes. 

   At Brooklyn College, I am grateful to have professors who value discussion and diverse opinions. Unfortunately, not all students are able to voice their thoughts and challenge their professors without being penalized. When biased “activist professors” teach their biased perspectives on Israel and the administration ignores the complaints from students, they are giving a green light that “academic” antisemitism is tolerated and this must change on campuses throughout the country. A factual, and well-balanced curriculum that teaches unbiased truth would stop propaganda from being taught. 

   Aliyah Jacobson is a CAMERA 2019-2020 fellow at Brooklyn College where she is studying early childhood education and music. She is a rising sophomore and the secretary for Bulldogs for Israel.

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