by Jonathan Schanzer and Madeleine Morgenstern
December 17, 2009
The Palestinian American Research Center (PARC), a U.S. taxpayer-funded organization noted for the virulent anti-Israeli attitudes of its academic members, held a conference in October at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Most of the conference was apolitical, but two lectures in particular raise (again) the question of whether PARC should be the recipient of taxpayer monies. Indeed, this is not the first time the public has been warned about PARC’s questionable scholar-activism.
Titled, “Palestine: What We Know,” and billed as “a multi-disciplinary survey of the state of scholarship on Palestine,” much of the October event was scholarly in tone. Presentations by faculty members from universities across North America covered a range of issues, including Palestinian economic development, attitudes about Palestinian issues in political science, and anthropological studies of the Palestinian people.
For example, Nathan Brown, an Arab government specialist at George Washington University, and Charles Butterworth, a professor specializing in Islamic political philosophy at the University of Maryland, College Park who serves on PARC’s board, hosted a panel titled, “Palestinian Politics and Economics: What Can Scholars Know?” Other relatively innocuous lectures included “Ottoman Palestine into the 21st Century” (Michelle Campos, University of Florida) and “Palestine’s Arab Community under British Rule: Prospects for Future Research” (Awad Halabi, Wright State University). During her presentation, “Political Science and Palestine, Between Politics and Science,” Northwestern University’s Wendy Pearlman even described research on Palestine as “politically biased” for its neglect of Palestinian internal politics.
Surprisingly, these lecturers and the majority of the other presenters avoided the “I-word” (Israel). Indeed, many of the speakers treated Israel as “the elephant in the room,” as Middle East Report editor Mouin Rabbani called it. Similarly, little attention was given to Washington’s alliance with the Jewish state — a favorite hobbyhorse among the politicized professorate in the field of Middle East Studies.
The benign tone of the PARC meeting changed somewhat with a lecture titled, “Creative Activism: Popular Resistance in Palestine,” by Julie Norman of Canada’s Concordia University. Norman seemed to agree with the Palestinian conceit that equating nonviolence with peacemaking is tantamount to accommodation. She said that most Palestinian demonstrations were organized at the village level. Norman conspicuously avoided mention of suicide bombings and other forms of terrorism, but noted that one of the Palestinians she interviewed boasted, “We do not work for peace. We work to end the occupation.”
Yet it was keynote speaker Rashid Khalidi, Columbia University’s Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies, who turned the conference’s tone on its head. Khalidi, who served as a spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) when he lived in Lebanon in the late 1970s and early 1980s, produces work that Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes described as “propaganda parading as scholarship.”
Khalidi lived up to his reputation by blasting Israel and its supporters in vitriolic and paranoid terms. He accused a mysterious “movement” of attempting to de-legitimize scholarly work on “Palestine.”
It’s a good bet that Khalidi was taking a shot at Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum that reviews and critiques Middle East studies in North America with an aim to improving them. As one of the more prominent academics known for mixing politics with scholarship, Khalidi has been a regular target of Campus Watch’s critiques.
He decried the “movement,” and claimed that its source of funding is almost entirely off-campus. He wrongly stated that the “movement” is trying to pressure students, faculty, and scholars to abandon their Palestinian studies.
In reality, Campus Watch and other organizations have been trying to persuade the professorate to look at the Palestinian movement with a critical eye, rather than a politicized perspective.
Khalidi further alleged that there was a “systematic campaign to falsify the past” on the part of “the Israeli state.” He accused Israel of working to define the ancient past of Palestine in “exclusive, Zionist terms.”
Khalidi allowed that, notwithstanding the grim picture he presented, there were several “positive factors.” Books by former President Jimmy Carter “were savagely attacked by the usual suspects,” he said, but nevertheless “made tons of money.”
Given Khalidi’s leanings, it comes as no surprise that he would be a proponent of Jimmy Carter’s screeds.
While Khalidi undoubtedly has the right to express his opinion, the American public has as a right to know that they paid for it. PARC receives controversial Title VI funding from the U.S. State Department and the Department of Education for “Palestinian studies.” By inviting Khalidi, PARC spent fungible taxpayer money to bring a notorious former spokesman for a terrorist organization to Washington to rail against Israel and complain about a group that critiques him.
In light of this recent conference, as well as past misallocations of monies (PARC has been known to give out grants of $3,000 to $8,000 for activism in the name of academia), the U.S. Department of Education should conduct a comprehensive review of PARC to ensure that its activities conform to the Title VI mission: promoting the academic study of foreign languages, history, and culture in the hopes that one day, American students may contribute, among other things, to the national defense.
Jonathan Schanzer is an adjunct scholar at Campus-Watch.org and the Deputy Director of the Jewish Policy Center. Madeleine Morgenstern is a junior at George Washington University. They co-wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.