Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We're funding politcal extremists

In Canada, almost no one supports those who hold extreme political views – they comprise perhaps 0.1 per cent of the population. But despite this near total lack of popular support, extremists continue to thrive.

Why? Because universities and granting agencies give them money.

The latest example of this comes from Queen’s and Simon Fraser universities, where professors Dorit Naaman and Dana Olwan have received a $223,000 grant to set up a multimedia installation in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Qatamon (also spelled Katamon).

Before the establishment of Israel, Qatamon was a well-off Christian Arab neighbourhood. However, in 1947, the UN mandated the creation of two Palestinian states – one Jewish, the other Arab. The Jewish community accepted this deal, but the Arabs rejected it. Instead, Arab militias and armies from the surrounding Arab countries attacked the new state of Israel, intending to kill it at birth.

During the war that followed, Israeli forces captured Qatamon, and most of the neighbourhood’s residents fled – mainly to Beirut, Damascus and Alexandria, cities where they used to vacation. Those who remained became Israeli citizens, as happened throughout the territories Israel controlled.

However, the Jordanian army captured the old city of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter, and the rest of the West Bank. The Jordanians expelled all Jews from their territory. A thousand or more of these refugees moved into Qatamon, and it has been a predominantly (though not exclusively) Jewish neighbourhood ever since.

That’s the history. Here’s what Dana Olwan said about her $223,000 multimedia project in the Queen’s University Journal:

“It’s important to understand that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t ended yet.... Palestinians are being dispossessed from Jerusalem right now through the building of apartheid walls.... Understanding and challenging the contemporary nature of the occupation is a key aim of this project.”

Notice how extreme Olwan’s language. The "apartheid wall" is a security barrier Israel built to keep out suicide bombers. It's actually mostly a fence, but is a wall where needed to prevent Palestinian snipers from firing at Israelis as they walk down the street.

Notice also that Olwan’s language is entirely political. There’s nothing academic about her project – no spirit of inquiry or even pretence at open-mindedness. It’s purely a propaganda exercise.

The project’s aim, she said, is to challenge “the occupation,” which to Olwan’s mind includes Qatamon, even though this neighbourhood has been part of Israel since its founding.

Professors Olwan and Naaman have long been involved in anti-Israel politics. They both support Israel Apartheid Week, an annual campus event intended to exclude Israelis from humanity, and have both been speakers at Apartheid Week at Queen’s.

For her part, Professor Naaman has trouble grasping that terrorism is a bad thing. She signed a petition supporting Tali Fahima, an Israeli convicted of aiding Zakariya Zubeidi, who was a chief of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades during the height of the terror war against Israel.

In more recent years, Zubeidi has put away his bombs in return for amnesty from Israel and has even applied to enter Israel for medical care. Because he’s abandoned violence, Tali Fahima now calls Zubeida a “whore” and has transferred her allegiance to Raed Salah, an unreconstructed Jew-hater and a leader of the extremist Islamic Movement.

In an apparent bid for the useful idiot of the year award, Professor Naaman describes Fahima as merely “seeking dialogue with Palestinians.”

Professor Naaman also wrote a learned paper titled In the Name of the Nation: Images of Palestinian and Israeli Women Fighters.

In this paper, Naaman puzzles over why Israeli women soldiers are “considered a sign of progress, equality and modernity” while Palestinian women suicide bombers are considered “monsters.”

To Naaman, this reflects bias, a “serious cultural discrepancy.” She’s unable to grasp the difference between a soldier who protects the innocent and a suicide bomber who deliberately murders men, women and children.

As for Professor Olwan, she believes that Israel’s creation “was legitimized through racist Zionist narratives” and is dedicated to reversing that original sin.

In 2008, Olwan was a speaker at the Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood conference at York University. Although dressed up as an academic conference, its purpose was political, aimed at promoting a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conference – a solution that replaces Israel with a majority Palestinian state.

Like Olwan’s and Naaman’s proposed propaganda exercise in Jerusalem, the conference at York was also funded by me and you through our taxes. And that is what I really object to.

Why is the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council giving Olwan and Naaman $223,000 of our money to create what looks to be pure propaganda?

All I ask is for universities and granting agencies to distinguish between academic projects and propaganda exercises. If they did, the extremists would disappear for lack of funding and there would be more money for scholars genuinely interested in expanding human knowledge. It would be a win-win all around.

This article was originally published in the January 31, 2012, issue of the Jewish Tribune.

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