Middle East Distortions In Academia Exacerbate Conflict – OpEd


Many scholars, Conservatives and non-conservatives alike, have charged that academia has failed to provide enough diverse viewpoints in its teachings and publications. Such politization undermines the principles of honest inquire and academic rigor.

One such example is a recent piece, “Israel’s One-State Reality”, published in the May/June 2023 edition of Foreign Affairs.  Michael Barnett, Nathan Brown, and Marc Lynch from George Washington University Department of International Relations and Shibley Telhami from the University of Maryland published a lengthy article claiming that Israel and Palestine are a de facto “one-state.”

Not only is it a one state reality, but the article also argues that Israel  is a single state that has established Jewish supremacy, a system of oppressors and oppressed. This reality is irreversible, the authors continue and, therefore, Israel must incorporate the Palestinian territories into one sovereign state and provide equal rights to its new citizens. 

According to the authors, who are associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Israel is not a democratic state incidentally occupying Palestinian territory. It is de facto a non-democratic state dominating a population with no rights, something like the former South African Apartheid. The writers parrot the cliche that there is a contradiction between the Jewish and liberal character of Israel, and that Israel has chosen the former. Jewish nationalism, according to the authors, finds expression through the oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories and within the pre-197 border. 

They claim Israel is not a liberal democracy, even for its Arab-Israeli citizens. This argument is unfounded, especially given the recent mass demonstrations that forced the government to postpone an unpopular decision to curtail the Supreme Court. Moreover, the Israeli judiciary often protected Palestinian property and other rights. For example, the authors point to the case of Sheikh Jarrah as an example of Israel’s abuse. The case involved a 40-year-old real estate dispute between Jewish owners of a small land parcel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and its Palestinian residents. The possibility of the latter’s eviction generated violence that led to the Hamas-Israel war in the Spring of 2021.  Yet, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in favor of the families that faced eviction and allowed them to remain in their homes. The authors unfairly indict the entire state of Israel and its democratic institutions. 

Whereas there is indeed some tension between the Jewish state and the democratic state, it does not mean that they cannot find a modus vivendi. In Western countries, there is similar tension between equality before the law and social equality. Often social inequality affects ethnic minorities more than others, yet it does not mean that these countries are not democratic or that social mobility in those countries is fiction. Democracy is always a work in progress. In every democracy, some social movements or issues emerge demanding change, improvement, or expansion of rights. 

Israel is no exception. In the first 18 years of Israel’s independence, Arab citizens living in border areas were subject to martial law due to the enmity and violence displayed by Palestinian Arabs during the 1948 Arab Israeli War. Still, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol abolished martial law in those Arab communities. 

There is no question that there are disparities between the Jewish and Arab populations in terms of employment, education, and income. Jews still have higher salaries, and Arabs are overrepresented in low-paying jobs. Yet, as a report by the independent Israel Democracy Institute indicates, the situation of the Arab minority has improved, and gaps have been reduced in some important sectors of the economy and society. Indeed, there is more room for improvement; however, it is far from an oppressive situation. 

Likewise, some vigorous debate has taken place around the Nation-State Law that provides Israel with legal status as the national home of the Jewish people. Yet, the Israeli Supreme Court declared the law constitutional only so long as it considers Israel’s basic laws on human dignity and liberty, which protect freedoms and equality before the law for every citizen and guarantee the rights of minorities. 

Concerning the West Bank, these scholars are appalled by the escalation of violence, dispossession, and human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel. They don’t give specific details about these wrongdoings, but they ignore the multiple terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Palestinian side, which included the murders of civilians and entire families. What is disheartening is that, in the authors’ view, the Palestinian side bears no responsibility. Such an approach reflects intellectual dishonesty and bias, unbecoming of serious scholarship. 

These scholars attribute the outbreak of the Second Intifada to the “disappointment of Camp David.” For the authors, the Palestinian side is the disappointed one. However, for reasons unclear, they chose to omit that the Palestinian leadership rejected generous Israeli and American proposals for peace—at Camp David and other opportunities. 

Likewise, the authors failed to mention that the violence of the Second Intifada was planned and organized not just by Hamas and other dissident groups, but also by militias associated with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

Of course, they also overlooked Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. The Gaza pullout reflected the once-hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recognition that the occupation was demographically dangerous and no longer sustainable. Unfortunately, such a step also made southern Israeli towns vulnerable to Hamas attacks.    

The occupation continues because any withdrawal from Palestinian territory implies more exposure to attacks, especially since the PA could easily collapse into a Hamas insurrection, as occurred in Gaza in 2007.

The scholars also attacked the Abraham Accords and Arab normalization with Israel, accusing both sides of ignoring the Palestinian plea. The article suggests that Arab leaders have abandoned the Palestinians, but the Arab peoples have not. Yet, demonstrations during the Arab Spring often demanded less oppression and more investment in the people. In some cases, protestors in the Middle East demanded less focus on external conflicts, including Israel, and more attention to domestic problems. The tragedy of millions of Syrian men, women, and children has shown the Arab people that the Palestinians are not the only brothers whose rights and dignity matter.   

The key is that these international affairs experts believe in a one-state solution. Thus, they argue that U.S. policy should advocate for extending citizenship to residents of the West Bank, and perhaps even Gaza. The United States, they continue, should use its leverage to force Israel in that direction. 

Such a solution is impossible. The animosity built by the Palestinian propaganda machine and its resulting violence, and the distrust of Palestinians among Israelis makes such a state a fertile scenario for civil war. In my book, The Middle East Riddle, I argue that what is needed is to reconsider the Jordanian option, namely a Jordanian-Palestinian confederacy that would restore order and governance to a chaotic and anarchical Palestinian polity and a normal everyday life for the Palestinian people.   

Some reviewers have challenged me with the argument that the Jordanians would never accept the idea of a joint confederacy with the Palestinians since the Hashemite monarchy carries the memory of Black September and remains fearful of a Palestinian takeover. If the Jordanians fear such a union with fellow Sunni Arabs, how could anyone expect success in a Palestinian-Israeli marriage with so much blood in their history? 

In addition, Israel is not just another liberal democracy. Israel was created for stateless people who suffered persecution before the Holocaust. Jews also suffered persecution after the Holocaust, particularly in the Soviet Union and in Arab lands. The authors are proposing to deny the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. As legal scholars Amnon Rubinstein and Alexander Yakobson have pointed out, such an idea is an assault on the principle of equality. In addition, the authors do not respect the will of the local populations— Israelis and Palestinians—who reject such a solution. 

Consider the people of South Sudan, who voted to secede from Sudan and create a separate state. Would these scholars urge the United States or any other external power to force a unified Sudan on them? 

I agree with the four scholars that it is crucial to solve the Palestinian issue. Jewish settlement building in Area C or any area in the West Bank is a bad idea. The road to peace and chances for creating an independent Palestinian entity should remain open. However, the one-state solution is neither democratic nor realistic. In addition, making only one side of the conflict responsible for what happens in a very complex conflict is not likely to lead to any solution. Like the disgraceful role played by anti-Israel resolutions passed by the United Nations (advocated by the authors), such an approach exacerbates conflict and hostility. It does not encourage dialogue and peace.    

Luis Fleischman, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Palm Beach State College, co-presdient of the Palm Beach Center for Democracy and Policy Research and the author of the book “The Middle East Riddle: The Peace Process and Israeli-Arab Relations in a Changing Times.” 

Luis Fleischman

Luis Fleischman, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Palm Beach State College, co-presdient of the Palm Beach Center for Democracy and Policy Research and the author of the book "The Middle East Riddle: The Peace Process and Israeli-Arab Relations in a Changing Times."

3 thoughts on “Middle East Distortions In Academia Exacerbate Conflict – OpEd

  • April 27, 2023 at 1:20 pm

    Luis Fleischman overlooks the fact that Hamas legitimately won the general elections in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in 2006 and that the U.S. together with Israel were planning a coup against Hamas. See the article “The Gaza Bombshell” by David Rose in the periodical Vanity, April 2008 issue, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/04/gaza200804.
    I assume that Mr Fleischman would claim that Mr Rose also is “associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement”.

    • May 3, 2023 at 1:45 am

      Dr. Cudsi engages in slander and distortions to discredit our argument. The four of us do not belong to BDS. In addition to making up claims from thin air, he deliberately misrepresents our argument. He also spends time on whataboutisms that have very little to do with our core claim. I can only encourage readers to bypass the false claims and read the article and judge for themselves. The reader will find four scholars working through conceptual analysis, data and evidence to arrive at some very uncomfortable conclusions.

  • May 4, 2023 at 10:18 pm

    Dear Dr. Barnett,

    I assume you intended to reply to me rather than to Cudsi since he wrote a minor and irrelevant comment.
    I did not spend time in “whataboutism” unless you think that arguments such as Palestinian chaos and its leaders’ rejection of Israeli and American peace offers should not be part of the history of the peace process. Indeed, there is a complicated reality now, but a one-state is not a solution. It is a formula for civil war. You also believe that the U.S. Administration should push in that direction. It is indeed true that some Israelis believe in the greater Israel and the expansion of settlements (which I made clear, I disagree). But even if those “greater Israel” Israelis didn’t exist, Israel is trapped now in a threatening security situation that does not allow it to withdraw, even if it wanted to do so.
    You claim you are not BDS, but a one-state solution necessarily contradicts the right of Jewish self-determination. Isn’t what BDS is about?
    If this is different from your argument, please clarify.

    Luis Fleischman


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