Tel Aviv University has a long history of supporting politically-motivated scholars, a trend on which IAM has frequently reported.
One such an example is late Prof. Marcelo Dascal, a professor of Philosophy and a former Dean of Social Science at TAU who recently passed away. As reported in Haaretz, Dascal resided in those years in Jaffa where he was busy facilitating Jewish-Arab gatherings at his home, aimed at condemning violence on both sides.
Omar Barghouti, who co-founded the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), was one of Dascal's students. In 2001, Barghouti has joined the MA program in Philosophy which jump-started his activist career.
It didn't take long for Barghouti to enter the philosophical circles with the help of Prof. Anat Biletzki, Dascals' colleague from the Philosophy Department and a leading political activist in her own right. In 2003, Barghouti joined Dascal, Biletzki and other TAU Philosophers and traveled to Turkey to participate in the World Congress of Philosophy. Interestingly, Barghouti was listed as coming from Palestine although he was studying in Israel. While the main topic of the conference was philosophical, there were plenty of political undertones. One panel, "The Opposition between Universalism and Politics in the Sphere of Human Rights" was organized by Biletzki, and featured Barghouti, among others.
Barghouti, who studied at TAU for nearly a decade, until 2010, became quite active in academic circles. His first publication appeared in a book, The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid, edited by Roane Carey, in 2001. Barghouti who described himself in the book as a doctoral candidate in philosophy (ethics) at TAU, contributed the chapter "Palestine's Tell-Tale Heart.” He started off by discussing the short story by Edgar Allen Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart,” about a person who killed an old man because he couldn't bear his vulture looking eyes and dismembered his corpse, Barghouti compared Israel to the "tell-tale heart of the old Palestine after it was dismembered." Barghouti moved on to assume that Israel exaggerated the threats it faces, he then negated Israel's right to exist by stating that there are "problematic assumptions: that Jews are a nation, and that such a nation has a right to exist as such in Palestine.”
During his studies at TAU, he published 27 articles in Counterpunch, a radical leftist publication known for its extreme hostility to Israel.
From the very beginning, Barghouti's work was anti-Semitic. For example, his article "The spirit of Auschwitz" which was published in Al-Ahram in 2002 states that:
- "several Israeli policies evoke a strong analogy with the Nazis."
- "Some of the wicked practices of the Nazis in concentration camps were even imported, wholesale and unabashedly, by Israeli army officers."
- "The victims of one of history's worst crimes against humanity are increasingly resorting to some of the same tools of racist hatred and collective punishment to complete the job that the founders of Zionism had envisioned: a 'pure' Jewish state."
- "The victims of the Holocaust are victimizing the byproduct victims of the Holocaust yet another time."
Another article, "'The Pianist' of Palestine: Reflections on Israel’s ubiquitous abuse", published by the Electronic Intifada in 2004, discussed the Oscar-winning film "The Pianist," declaring:
- "I could not help but compare the Warsaw ghetto wall with Israel’s much more ominous wall caging 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in fragmented, sprawling prisons."
- "Many of the methods of collective and individual 'punishment' meted out to Palestinian civilians at the hands of young, racist, often sadistic and ever impervious Israeli soldiers at the hundreds of checkpoints littering the occupied Palestinian territories are reminiscent of common Nazi practices against the Jews."
- "Unsettlingly similar to the way persecuted Jews were marked during the Holocaust, young Palestinian have been tattooed by Israeli soldiers during the current intifada."
Soon after, Barghouti contributed a chapter to Dascal’s co-edited book in philosophy, Controversies and Subjectivity, published in 2005. Barghouti's chapter "Ethical implications of de-dichotomization of identities in conflict" was illustrating the 9/11 attack and brought examples of cases, reflecting on the "New York calamity". One of his listed cases was of a Holocaust survivor from the Warsaw Ghetto and Maidanek concentration camp. Barghouti described the Holocaust survivor as she reflected on the news which filtered back during the Second World War, that the Russians were "indiscriminately bombing German cities with a massive toll of civilian lives", to which the Holocaust survivor replied "I wanted the Germans to die… I knew I wouldn’t live, so I wanted them to die, too. We cheered the Russians. We wanted them to destroy anything and everything German. We wished [the Germans’] death every second of the day because we faced death every second of the day". Clearly, Barghouti intended to present the Holocaust survivor as evil.
It is clear why Barghouti used the legitimacy of TAU to publish material that was anti-Semitic, even before the widely adopted international definition of anti-Semitism. What is difficult to understand is why Tel Aviv University not only put up but evidently encouraged this student to engage in anti-Semitic calumnies under the guise of academic research.
Controversies and Subjectivity
| Italian Culture Institute in London, University of Pisa
| Tel Aviv University
[Controversies, 1] 2005. x, 411 pp.
This collective volume focuses on two closely connected issues whose common denominator is the embattled notion of the subject.
The first concerns the controversies on the nature of the subject and related notions, such as the concepts of ‘I’ and ‘self’. From both theoretical and historical viewpoints, several of the contributors show how different and incompatible perspectives on the subject can help us understand today’s world, its habits, style, power relations, and attitudes. For this purpose, use is made of insights in a broad range of disciplines, such as sociology, psychoanalysis, pragmatics, intellectual history, and anthropology. This interdisciplinary approach helps to clarify the multifaceted character of the subject and the role it plays nowadays as well as over the centuries.
The second issue concerns the subject in inter-personal as well as in intra-personal controversies. The enquiry here focuses on the ways in which different aspects of the subject and subjective differences affect the conduct, content, and rationality of controversies with others as well as within oneself on a variety of topics. Among such aspects, the contributors analyse the subject’s emotions, cognitive states, argumentative practices, and individual and collective identity. The interaction between the two issues, the controversies on the subject and the subject of controversies, sheds new light on the debate on modernity and its alleged crisis.
Publishing status: Available
© John Benjamins Publishing Company
Al-Ahram Weekly Online
2 - 8 May 2002
The spirit of Auschwitz
Holocaust Day, 9 April, is also the day on which Palestinians mark the memory of the Deir Yassin massacre. Omar Barghouti* contemplates a grotesque coincidence that will not be consigned to the past
"Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal of being an independent people with the Arabs in this small country. The only solution is a Palestine, at least Western Palestine [west of the Jordan River] without Arabs ... And there is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to the neighbouring countries, to transfer all of them; not one village, not one tribe, should be left. Only after this transfer will the country be able to absorb the millions of our own brethren. There is no other way out."
This is not one of the many infamous statements made by the now deceased Rehavam Ze'evi or by Meir Kahane. It is a 1940 declaration by Yosef Weitz, one of the Zionist officers responsible for Jewish colonisation and member of the Jewish Agency's first "Transfer Committee."
Fifty-four years later, an Israeli soldier, participating in the army's brutalities in Jenin refugee camp, told The Guardian: "The problem is that there is not enough room in this small country for two peoples. It is a trial of strength that we are winning. They would like to throw us into the sea. We may have to do the same to them." The irony is that virtually all the refugees in the Jenin camp were first "transferred" from the coastal region of Haifa in 1948, to make room for the influx of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. And now, they are facing death, destruction and possibly another forced displacement. The victims of the Holocaust are victimising the byproduct victims of the Holocaust yet another time.
On 9 April, Palestinians everywhere commemorated the 54th anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre, when Zionist terror groups murdered 254 innocent Palestinian Arabs in cold blood -- as documented by several historians, including some of the "new historians" in Israel. In an authoritative account of the massacre, the British interrogating officer at the time, Assistant Inspector-General Richard Catling, confirmed that: "Many young school girls were raped and later slaughtered. Many infants were also butchered and killed."
Deir Yassin was meant to set an example, a particularly shocking precedent, to terrorise the Palestinians off their lands and into exile. It was no accident, no aberration, no extreme vengeance. It was simply a calculated act of terror in a well-thought-out plan to depopulate Palestine, and create in the resulting space a Jewish homeland for the victims of the Nazi genocide. Those victims also commemorated their history on 9 April, which was "Holocaust Day."
This coincidence stirs up a bitter irony. The victims of one of history's worst crimes against humanity are increasingly resorting to some of the same tools of racist hatred and collective punishment to complete the job that the founders of Zionism had envisioned: a "pure" Jewish state.
Last month, during a visit by a delegation from the International Parliament of Writers, the famous Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago said he dreaded the "spirit of Auschwitz" in Ramallah and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories. Many Israeli intellectuals hypocritically condemned the remark, some implicitly accusing Saramago of anti-Semitism. Ironically, just this past January, Israel's Ha'aretz reported that "one of the Israeli officers in the [occupied] territories" found it justified to "internalise the lessons of earlier battles -- even, however shocking it may sound, how the German army fought in the Warsaw ghetto."
Indeed, several Israeli policies evoke a strong analogy with the Nazis, despite the unquestionable disparity in the magnitude of criminality between the two cases. Some of the wicked practices of the Nazis in concentration camps were even imported, wholesale and unabashedly, by Israeli army officers. During the last army incursion into Palestinian towns and refugee camps towards the end of February of this year, the Washington Post reported: "The [Israeli] army's mass round-ups of Palestinian refugees has been a public relations disaster for Israel, as images have been broadcast and printed around the world of blindfolded captives, including teenage boys and graying middle-aged-men, held at gun point. Some Israelis were also incensed that [Israeli] troops were writing [identification] numbers on some of the prisoners' arms and foreheads."
One of those who expressed "outrage" over this practice was the right-wing Israeli lawmaker Tommy Lapid, who declared in the Knesset: "As a refugee from the Holocaust I find such an act insufferable."
In the current Israeli offensive against the Palestinians under occupation, the Israeli army has, in an effort to implement Sharon's promise of "battering them into submission," systematically committed several serious violations of international humanitarian law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These violations amount to war crimes, as described by UN agencies, Israeli human rights organisations and by Israel's best friend in the region, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit.
Some of the better-documented examples have included the "shaving" of dwellings on top of their occupants in the Jenin refugee camp -- in other words, the indiscriminate shelling of that crowded camp's humble homes from tanks and helicopters, non-stop, for seven days, "using the elderly as human shields" in front of the tanks. The Israeli army persistently prevented ambulances from reaching the injured, and even shot at several ambulances which dared to try -- as has been documented by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Hundreds of innocent civilians, including scores of children, have been confirmed killed or injured as a result of the army's arbitrary clearing of the homes and the tiny alleys to allow its tanks to advance into the Jenin camp. The Times of London carried an eyewitness account from a survivor of the carnage there. He confirmed that "Children screamed for water and some were forced to drink sewage." He also said that "the most terrible thing was seeing Israeli soldiers take eight men and line them up and kill them." Those eight names were later revealed by a Palestinian source on Al-Jazeera television on 10 April 2002.
The commander of the Israeli forces in Jenin justified the tragic civilian losses and suffering by saying: "But people who raise children willing to commit suicide, who choose this path, they are expected to pay the price."
To top it all off, the latest newcomer to the already extremist Israeli government will be no other than Brigadier General (res.) Effi Eitam, currently the head of the National Religious Party, who thinks of the Arab citizens of Israel in the following terms: "The Israeli Arabs are in large measure the ticking bomb beneath the whole democratic Israeli order inside the [pre-June 1967] Green Line. Even today, in the Galilee and the Negev, a de facto autonomy of theirs is being created, which could in practice turn Israel into the bubble of Metropolitan Tel Aviv. Therefore, I say that the State of Israel today faces an existential threat that is characterised by being an elusive threat, and elusive threats by their nature resemble cancer. Cancer is a type of illness in which most of the people who die from it die because they were diagnosed too late. By the time you grasp the size of the threat, it is already too late to deal with it."
Commenting on this, the veteran Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar wrote in Ha'aretz that "the fact that the Nazis were especially fond of this [cancer] metaphor is probably not lost on the General."
This clear trend towards the extreme right in Israel hardly provokes any popular challenge, thanks mainly to the unprecedented complicity of the Israeli media. Although most of the media in Israel have never boasted a very bright record in being critical of government policies towards the Palestinians, they have sunk to new lows of collusion in covering, or rather covering up, the current Israeli "campaign of terror," as The Guardian has termed it.
"A journey through the [Israeli] TV and radio channels and the pages of the newspapers," writes Aviv Lavie in Ha'aretz, "exposes a huge and embarrassing gap between what is reported to [Israelis] and what is seen, heard, and read in the world, not only in the commentaries and analytical pieces, but also in the reporting of the dry facts."
"Israel looks like an isolated media island, with most of the reporters drafted into the cause of convincing themselves and the reader that the government and army are perfectly justified in whatever they do," he adds.
This fact, coupled with the enthusiastic approval, or dubious silence, of the absolute majority of Israeli Jews, makes the fear of creeping fascism in Israeli society, as expressed by several Israeli Knesset members, seem a bit optimistic. In fact, fascism is already there.
Several Israeli commentators and politicians have recently warned that unless the Palestinians accept the fact that they cannot gain anything through the use of force, they might witness an encore of the Nakba [the 1948 Palestinian catastrophe]. Given the prevailing attitudes and convictions among Israelis, and the alarming level of impunity, which Israel takes for granted, one cannot take this threat lightly.
* The writer is a doctoral student of philosophy at Tel Aviv University, currently residing in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.
“The Pianist” of Palestine: Reflections on Israel’s ubiquitous abuse
Omar Barghouti The Electronic Intifada 1 December 2004
Adrian Brody (center) as Wladyslaw Szpilman, together with other cast members in The Pianist, which received five Academy Award nominations in 2003, winning one. (Photo: Guy Ferandis/H&K)
When I watched the Oscar-winning film The Pianist I had three distinct, uneasy reactions. I was not particularly impressed by the film, from a purely artistic angle; I was horrified by the film’s depiction of the dehumanization of Polish Jews and the impunity of the German occupiers; and I could not help but compare the Warsaw ghetto wall with Israel’s much more ominous wall caging 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in fragmented, sprawling prisons.
In the film, when German soldiers forced Jewish musicians to play for them at a checkpoint, I thought to myself: “that’s one thing Israeli soldiers have not yet done to Palestinians.” I spoke too soon, it seems. Israel’s leading newspaper Ha’aretz reported last week that an Israeli human rights organization monitoring a daunting military roadblock near Nablus was able to videotape Israeli soldiers forcing a Palestinian violinist to play for them. The same organization confirmed that similar abuse had taken place months ago at another checkpoint near Jerusalem.
In this image from a video shot by Horit Herman-Peled, a volunteer for the Israeli rights group Machsom Watch, an unidentified Palestinian man plays his violin in order to pass through an Israeli army roadblock at Beit Iba, north of the West Bank city of Nablus, Nov. 9, 2004. An officer made the Palestinian man take out his violin and play for about two minutes as hundreds of other Palestinians waited behind him for their turn to pass, said Horit Herman-Peled, a volunteer for Machsom Watch, which monitors soldiers’ conduct at the roadblocks. The army said the soldiers made him open the case and play the instrument to show there were no explosives hidden inside. (Horit Herman-Peled, Machsom Watch)
In typical Israeli whitewashing, the incident was dismissed by an army spokesperson as little more than “insensitivity,” with no malicious intent to humiliate the Palestinian involved. And of course the usual mantra about soldiers having to “contend with a complex and dangerous reality” was again served as a ready, one-size-fits-all excuse. I wonder whether the same would be said or accepted in describing the original Nazi practice at the Warsaw ghetto gates in the 1940s.
Regrettably, the analogy between the two illegal occupations does not stop here. Many of the methods of collective and individual “punishment” meted out to Palestinian civilians at the hands of young, racist, often sadistic and ever impervious Israeli soldiers at the hundreds of checkpoints littering the occupied Palestinian territories are reminiscent of common Nazi practices against the Jews. Following a visit to the occupied Palestinian territories in 2003, Oona King, a Jewish member of the British parliament attested to this, writing: “The original founders of the Jewish state could surely not imagine the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature - though not its extent - to the Warsaw ghetto.”
Even Tommy Lapid, Israel’s justice minister and a Holocaust survivor himself, stirred a political storm last year when he told Israel radio that a picture of an elderly Palestinian woman searching in the debris for her medication had reminded him of his grandmother who died at Auschwitz. Furthermore, he commented on his army’s wanton and indiscriminate destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses and farms in Gaza at the time, saying: “[I]f we carry on like this, we will be expelled from the United Nations and those responsible will stand trial at The Hague.”
Some of the war crimes that concern people like Lapid have been lately revealed in eyewitness accounts given by former soldiers, who could no longer reconcile whatever moral values they held with their complicity in the daily humiliation, abuse and physical harm of innocent civilians. Such crimes have become normalized in their minds as acceptable, even necessary, acts of “disciplining” the untamed natives, as a measure to maintain “security.”
According to a recent report in the Israeli media, an army commander was accused of gratuitously beating up Palestinians at the notorious Hawwara checkpoint. Ironically, the most damning evidence presented against him was a videotape filmed by the army’s education branch. In that particular episode, the senior officer at that roadblock, knowing that an army film crew was located nearby, and without any provocation, beat a Palestinian “flanked by his wife and children,” punching him in the face, and “even kicked [him] in the lower part of his body,” the report said.
A recent exhibit titled Breaking the Silence, organized in Tel Aviv by a number of conscientious Israeli soldiers who served in occupied Hebron, exposed in photographs and objects more serious belligerence towards defenseless Palestinians. Inspired by Jewish settlers’ graffiti that included: “Arabs to the gas chambers”; “Arabs = an inferior race”; “Spill Arab blood”; and, of course, the ever so popular “Death to the Arabs,” soldiers used a myriad of methods to make the lives of average Palestinians intolerable. One photograph showed a bumper sticker on a passing car, perhaps explaining the ultimate goal of such abuse: “Religious penitence provides strength to expel the Arabs.”
The exhibit’s main curator described a particularly shocking policy of randomly spraying crowded Palestinian residential neighborhoods, like Abu Sneina, from heavy machine guns and grenade launchers for hours on end in response to any minor shooting of a few bullets from any house in the neighborhood on the Jewish colonies inside the city.
The Hebron horrors pale, however, in comparison to what Israeli army units have done in Gaza. In an unnerving interview with Ha’aretz in November last year, for instance, Liran Ron Furer, a staff sergeant (res.) in the Israeli army and graduate of an arts school, described the gradual transformation of every soldier to an “animal” when staffing a roadblock, irrespective of whatever values he may bring with him from home. From his perspective, those soldiers get infected with what he calls “checkpoint syndrome,” a glaring symptom of which is acting violently towards Palestinians in “the most primal and impulsive manner, without fear of punishment … .” “At the checkpoint,” he explains, “young people have the chance to be masters and using force and violence becomes legitimate … .”
Unsettlingly similar to the way persecuted Jews were marked during the Holocaust, young Palestinian have been tattooed by Israeli soldiers during the current intifada. (unknown)
Furer cites how his colleagues degraded and mercilessly beat a Palestinian dwarf just for fun; how they had a “souvenir picture” taken with bloodied, bound civilians whom they’d thrashed; how one soldier pissed on the head of a Palestinian man because the latter had “the nerve to smile” at a soldier; how another Palestinian was forced to stand on four legs and bark like a dog; and how yet another soldier asked Palestinians for cigarettes and when they refused “broke someone’s hand” and “slashed their tires.”
The most chilling of all the incidents was his own personal confession. “I ran toward [a group of Palestinians] and punched an Arab right in the face,” he admitted. “Blood was trickling from his lip onto his chin. I led him up behind the Jeep and threw him in, his knees banged against the trunk and he landed inside.” He then goes on to describe in gruesome details how he and his comrades stepped on the tightly handcuffed captive, dubbed “the Arab;” how they hit him until “he was bleeding and making a kind of puddle of blood and saliva;” how he “grabbed him by the hair and turned his head to the side,” until he cried aloud, and how the soldiers then “stepped harder and harder on his back,” to make him stop crying.
Furer then reveals that the company commander cheered them on: “Good work, tigers.” And after they took their prey to their camp, the abuse continued in different forms. “All the other soldiers were waiting there to see what [my emphasis] we’d caught. When we came in with the Jeep, they whistled and applauded wildly.” One of the soldiers, Furer said, “went up to him and kicked him in the stomach. The Arab doubled over and grunted, and we all laughed. It was funny … I kicked him really hard in the ass and he flew forward just as I’d expected. They shouted … and laughed … and I felt happy. Our Arab was just a 16-year-old mentally retarded boy.”
As savage as it is, checkpoint abuse is not unique in any sense. It fits perfectly well into the general picture of viewing the Palestinians as relative humans who are not entitled to the dignity and respect that full humans deserve. At the height of Israel’s massive reoccupation of Palestinian cities in 2002, for example, soldiers used their knives to engrave the Star of David on the arms of a number of detained Palestinian men and teenage boys. The haunting pictures of the victims were first shown on Arab satellite TV channels and eventually exposed on the Internet.
In the same year, at al-Amari refugee camp, during a mass roundup of Palestinian males, teenagers and elderly included, Israeli troops inscribed identification numbers “on the foreheads and forearms of Palestinian detainees awaiting interrogation.” The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat compared the act to well known Nazi practices at concentration camps. Tommy Lapid was incensed, saying: “As a refugee from the Holocaust I find such an act insufferable.” Nonetheless, Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, was worried only about Israel’s image being tarnished: “clearly it conflicts with the desire to convey a public relations message,” he told Israel Army Radio. Parroting that line, the mainstream media in Israel, too, were far too concerned about the “public relations disaster” to express any abhorrence or protestation at the immorality of the act and the irony of it all.
Yoram Peri, a professor of politics and media at Tel Aviv University, sees PR as “a fundamental issue in Israeli life.” “We do not think we do anything wrong,” he clarifies in an interview with the Guardian, “but we think we explain ourselves badly and that the international media is anti-Semitic.” Obsessed with how Israel is seen rather than with what it actually does, Israelis, according to Peri, are mostly worried that “we do not explain ourselves well. When we discuss the horrible things that happen in the West Bank, we don’t talk about the issue but about how it will be seen.”
Recognizing this prevailing cynicism, apathy and acquiescence among the majority of Israelis in the criminal oppression of the Palestinians, former Knesset member Shulamit Aloni pronounced in a recent interview with the Irish publication the Handstand that “gross insensitivity” was threatening a moral disintegration of Israeli society. Referring to the Germans during the Nazi rule, she added, “I am beginning to understand why a whole nation was able to say: ‘We did not know.’”
I wonder when the time will come when a glamorous, award-winning director braves predictable intellectual terror and intimidation tactics to expose the venomous Israeli cocktail of racism and impunity by making a Palestinian version of The Pianist.
Omar Barghouti is an independent political analyst based in Palestine.