Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How to be an Anti-Israel Activist

Case for Israel Assignment

You are to play the role of one the types of people that Prof. Alan Dershowitz attacks in his book, either a Palestinian activist or a member of the hard left. You are encouraged to make up a name and character for yourself. In this guise you are to respond to one of the arguments that Dershowitz makes in the book. You are free to be as over the top as you wish and to misquote and distort the views of Prof. Dershowitz. If we are going to play the role of anti-Israel activists it is important that we do so accurately.

This response should be 2-3 pages in length and should not require outside research. Pay close attention to the quotations that Dershowitz offers at the beginning of each chapter.

Have fun with this assignment. Keep in mind the Poe law, though; it is impossible to satirize extremists because there will always be someone out there who actually fits the satire.


OTD said...

It sounds like the students are being asked to present a ridiculous caricature of the Palestinian viewpoint. Why not ask them to bring the very best arguments out there, as opposed to pathetic straw men?

Izgad said...

First, obviously I do acknowledge the existence of sophisticated opponents out there. Liberal Jewish “peace” activists are certainly a very tricky issue. Then there is going up against a leftist view that sees bigotry as something that, by definition, only applies to whites. Once Israel gets tagged as white it becomes, by definition, guilty of the Original Sin or racism and can therefore do no right.

I would certainly encourage them to create a smart sophisticated opponent. One of the things I have already done in my class is to start role playing the anti-Israel activist. I think I do a pretty good job at it. My anti-Israel advocate does not foam at the mouth. I hold Hanan Ashrawi as my model; kind, sweet and could almost be your grandmother. I have been telling my students to go watch clips of Ashrawi on Youtube. They are going to have to confront the more sophisticated opposition in their reading assignments. For this particular assignment, I am allowing them to let their hair down and go crazy a little bit. I think there is value to this in that much of the opposition they are going to see on their campuses is shear insanity (like in the video at the bottom).
They are going to have to learn to not expect rules of fairness to apply and to respond not by sinking to the level of the opposition, but with a sense of humor.

In my life humor has been my chief defense against being driven to insanity by the frustrations of life. ( This is the mind set of this blog, dignified, but with a wink, nod and twinkle of the eye.

Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Hanan Ashrawi is an excellent example. She could make the blood libel sound real and the need to slaughter every Jew in Israel so reasonable no one could disagree.
B"H Arafat was more scared of her than the Israelis and demoted her to almost nothing.

At any rate, being an anti-Israel activist is like writing a fantasy fiction novel. you have to keep a coherent plot but you get to make up the facts and history as you go along!

Anonymous said...

Hate to break this to you, but anti-Israel sentiment is not the exclusive domain of the extreme left. There is plenty of anti-Jewish/anti-Israel hate fomenting from the extreme right, you just choose to ignore it. might be a good start.

I am very liberal on most issues, and don't believe that bigotry only applies to white people. In addition, I am a strong supporter of Israel as are almost all of the liberal Jews I know. Stereotypes regarding people on the left may serve to make you feel good, but they have almost no bearing on reality.

Izgad said...

I fully agree that anti-Israel sentiment (by this I mean not the mere criticism of specific Israeli policies, but the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel) can come from both the left and the right. This was not meant as an attack on the left here. I was talking about a sophisticated attack on Israel. The sort of sophisticated attack that my students are likely to run into, particularly on a college campus is going from the left from actual leftists and Arab activists, who have managed to frame their goals within a liberal framework.

My reference to racism only applying to whites was a specific and extreme example of a common liberal view of rights as coming from history as opposed to fixed universal claims. For example Alan Dershowitz, certainly one of greatest Israel advocates out there, is, ironically enough, one of the main legal theorists, in his professional life, for the notion that rights come from a recognition of historical wrongs. This view of rights requires the assumption that rights belong to groups and not to individuals. This can all be fairly innocent on its own. In the “right” hands, this view allows one to demolish the entire case for Israel and set up essentially a bullet proof shield for even Hamas. I would not tell my students to reject this view of rights. It certainly is a very legitimate point of view, quite common in modern legal theory. I do though point to it as a foundation for a hard leftist attack on Israel. Obviously not everyone who holds this view of rights is anti-Israel. Dershowitz is a good example of this.

OTD said...

Izgad: my point is just that there are legitimate criticism's of Dershowitz's book ("Beyond Chutzpah" is a good example) and I wonder if you encourage the students to read serious books such as those in order to deal with serious opposition, again, instead of straw men. I wouldn't mind if they're being asked to present the case for Israel. It's just that they're being asked to present the *opposition* to Israel in what will probably be an unfair, one-sided endeavor, and I think that's a shame. Also, you don't think it's as simple as "Israel good, Palestine bad", right?

I don't see what's so bad about the video. You consider Jews who gave their lives for their beliefs heroes. Yet these students who put their future on the line for the sake of their beliefs are "insane". How does that figure?

Izgad said...

One can certainly criticize Dershowitz. What I teach is not right wing ideology or why Israel is perfect or why it should control all the West Bank and Gaza. When I take about supporting Israel all that I mean is that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish State just as France has the right to exist as a “French” State.

The actions of these students are the rejection even of dialogue let alone peace. They are the charge that representatives of the State of Israel are satanic. This is not an enemy that you can ever hope to talk to. Furthermore there is the implicit issue of intimidation. Those students are not only refusing to engage in the dialogue of a free society, they are holding the rest of society hostage. This makes them a threat not just to Israel, but to liberal society at large.

OTD said...

>Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state just as France has the right to exist as a "French state"

Terrible analogy. One is a nationality, one is a religion. A better example would be "America is a Christian state. Thereofre, all non-Christians are second-class citizens." Not so PC, eh?

I think your analysis of the students is extremely unfair. But calling them a threat to liberal society at large and butchering their argument by claiming they think Israel is "satanic" is a bit rich. You don't agree with them, but can't you show some respec? As some people like to say, "can't we all just get along?" From their perspective they're doing the right thing (as you are from yours) and don't they get to be judges by their own criteria, rather than their opponent's?

Anyway, if you refuse to be objective about this, how can you not expect to be written off as an extremist in regards to this political issue? You're on your side, they're on theirs. If you refuse to engage with their arguments objectively, how can you expect to be taken seriously by those with no "dog in this fight?"

OTD said...

>holding the rest of society hostage

By speaking up for a few seconds in middle of a lecture? and being expelled from university for doing so?


There isn't much I'd sacrifice my education for, and you have to respect their conviction.

Izgad said...

I just posted a response as a new blog post.

Garnel Ironheart said...

The main difference between anti-Israel beliefs on the right and left is that no one hesitates to call an anti-Israel rightists a Jew hater or Nazi. Leftists anti-Israel activitists, however, seem to escape such blunt assessments.