UCLA Prof Assigns Pro-Israel Book in Order to Trash It

[Correction: We have learned from James Gelvin that the assignment to locate and write about the historical errors in Alan Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel, also included Jimmy Carter's book, The Blood of Abraham.]

It seemed too good to be true: the required reading in UCLA history professor James Gelvin’s fall 2014 class, History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1881 to Present, includes a pro-Israel book, Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel (2004).  Described by the New York Times Book Review as “[e]specially effective at pointing to the hypocrisy of many of Israel’s critics,” the Washington Post Book World called it a “lively, hotly argued broadside against Israel’s increasingly venomous critics.”

Why would a professor so openly critical of Israel assign such a work?  To balance his own unfavorable views on the topic, perhaps?  To spark classroom debate on complex issues?

Not quite.  A source at UCLA tells Campus Watch that students are reading Dershowitz in order to locate and write about the alleged errors, a requirement that does not extend to any of the other reading material.

Would that Gelvin’s students could apply such scrutiny to his own book, The Israel Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War (2014), which is also required reading.  Martin Sherman, formerly of the University of Southern California and the Hebrew Union College, reviewed the book for the Middle East Quarterly in 2010 and concluded that it provides:

... an account of the Israel-Palestine conflict which is appallingly shallow, shoddy, and slanted. ... [I]t will certainly underscore the mendacious manner in which this topic is dealt with in mainstream academe.

Nor does it apply to the third assigned book, Jimmy Carter’s The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East (1985), although Gelvin recommends in the course syllabus that students purchasing them from the UCLA bookstore do the following:

Be sure to borrow or buy used copies of the Dershowitz and Carter books. I'll be damned if either of those two poseurs get a dime in royalties from my course.

Such hostility may surprise, given Carter’s scathing anti-Israel polemic, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (2006), and his many public apologias for the terrorists of Hamas.  But his 1985 work describes his experience negotiating the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, an act long despised by anti-Israel activists for its required recognition of Israel’s legitimacy by the Arab world’s leading state.  Whatever the case, Gelvin’s course syllabus grandly informs students that both Carter and Dershowitz are “poseurs.”

Elsewhere in the syllabus, Gelvin employs the jargon of post-colonialism, referring repeatedly to the “Zionist Colonization of Palestine” and to “Zionism and colonialism.”  His online reading assignments include several anti-Israel so-called “new historians”: University of California, San Diego sociology professor Gershon Shafir; University of Arkansas anthropology professor Ted Swedenburg; University of Oxford emeritus professor Avi Shlaim; and the (now repentant) Ben Gurion University history professor Benny Morris.  However, he also incorporates reading material from early Zionist leaders Theodor Herzl and David Ben Gurion, and former Brandeis University president Jehuda Reinharz.    

Gelvin’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is summed up in the syllabus’s introduction, where he describes it as simply a “dispute between the two rival sets of nationalisms.”  By emphasizing nationalism and downplaying religion and culture, Gelvin, like many of his cohorts in Middle East studies, is able to portray both sides as morally comparable and equally at fault.

This is not the first time Gelvin’s tendentiousness has been obvious to his students, some of whom described him at Bruinwalk, a website that features reviews of UCLA professors, as follows:

  • “Professor Gelvin is not a historian but rather an advocate of [the] Palestinian cause.”
  • “I feel bad for people who enter his class hoping to get an unbiased and fair representation/analysis of the situation in the Middle East—all you will get is a one-sided OPINION.”
  • “My experience of the Arab-Israeli conflict, through Gelvin’s eyes, has left me feeling angry at Israel.”
  • “I hope anyone that takes his class can tell the difference between what’s fiction and reality. If you thought you learned history, you didn’t; you only learned what he wanted you to know. . . . My grade on the papers definitely went up after I started to write them [sic] pro-Arab.”

In response to the emergence of academic watchdogs, he claimed in 2003 that “[w]hat really irks those guys is that I don’t use my classroom for political purposes, and thus my lectures don’t advance their political agenda.”  In light of such evidence, however, Gelvin’s attempts to portray himself as an objective scholar are unconvincing.  By engaging in this blatant misuse of power, Gelvin is doing a disservice to his students and to the field of Middle East studies.  It’s all there in the syllabus.

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.  She can be reached at stillwell@meforum.org.

[Correction: We have learned from James Gelvin that the assignment to locate and write about the historical errors in Alan Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel, also included Jimmy Carter's book, The Blood of Abraham.]

It seemed too good to be true: the required reading in UCLA history professor James Gelvin’s fall 2014 class, History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1881 to Present, includes a pro-Israel book, Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel (2004).  Described by the New York Times Book Review as “[e]specially effective at pointing to the hypocrisy of many of Israel’s critics,” the Washington Post Book World called it a “lively, hotly argued broadside against Israel’s increasingly venomous critics.”

Why would a professor so openly critical of Israel assign such a work?  To balance his own unfavorable views on the topic, perhaps?  To spark classroom debate on complex issues?

Not quite.  A source at UCLA tells Campus Watch that students are reading Dershowitz in order to locate and write about the alleged errors, a requirement that does not extend to any of the other reading material.

Would that Gelvin’s students could apply such scrutiny to his own book, The Israel Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War (2014), which is also required reading.  Martin Sherman, formerly of the University of Southern California and the Hebrew Union College, reviewed the book for the Middle East Quarterly in 2010 and concluded that it provides:

... an account of the Israel-Palestine conflict which is appallingly shallow, shoddy, and slanted. ... [I]t will certainly underscore the mendacious manner in which this topic is dealt with in mainstream academe.

Nor does it apply to the third assigned book, Jimmy Carter’s The Blood of Abraham: Insights into the Middle East (1985), although Gelvin recommends in the course syllabus that students purchasing them from the UCLA bookstore do the following:

Be sure to borrow or buy used copies of the Dershowitz and Carter books. I'll be damned if either of those two poseurs get a dime in royalties from my course.

Such hostility may surprise, given Carter’s scathing anti-Israel polemic, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid (2006), and his many public apologias for the terrorists of Hamas.  But his 1985 work describes his experience negotiating the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, an act long despised by anti-Israel activists for its required recognition of Israel’s legitimacy by the Arab world’s leading state.  Whatever the case, Gelvin’s course syllabus grandly informs students that both Carter and Dershowitz are “poseurs.”

Elsewhere in the syllabus, Gelvin employs the jargon of post-colonialism, referring repeatedly to the “Zionist Colonization of Palestine” and to “Zionism and colonialism.”  His online reading assignments include several anti-Israel so-called “new historians”: University of California, San Diego sociology professor Gershon Shafir; University of Arkansas anthropology professor Ted Swedenburg; University of Oxford emeritus professor Avi Shlaim; and the (now repentant) Ben Gurion University history professor Benny Morris.  However, he also incorporates reading material from early Zionist leaders Theodor Herzl and David Ben Gurion, and former Brandeis University president Jehuda Reinharz.    

Gelvin’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is summed up in the syllabus’s introduction, where he describes it as simply a “dispute between the two rival sets of nationalisms.”  By emphasizing nationalism and downplaying religion and culture, Gelvin, like many of his cohorts in Middle East studies, is able to portray both sides as morally comparable and equally at fault.

This is not the first time Gelvin’s tendentiousness has been obvious to his students, some of whom described him at Bruinwalk, a website that features reviews of UCLA professors, as follows:

  • “Professor Gelvin is not a historian but rather an advocate of [the] Palestinian cause.”
  • “I feel bad for people who enter his class hoping to get an unbiased and fair representation/analysis of the situation in the Middle East—all you will get is a one-sided OPINION.”
  • “My experience of the Arab-Israeli conflict, through Gelvin’s eyes, has left me feeling angry at Israel.”
  • “I hope anyone that takes his class can tell the difference between what’s fiction and reality. If you thought you learned history, you didn’t; you only learned what he wanted you to know. . . . My grade on the papers definitely went up after I started to write them [sic] pro-Arab.”

In response to the emergence of academic watchdogs, he claimed in 2003 that “[w]hat really irks those guys is that I don’t use my classroom for political purposes, and thus my lectures don’t advance their political agenda.”  In light of such evidence, however, Gelvin’s attempts to portray himself as an objective scholar are unconvincing.  By engaging in this blatant misuse of power, Gelvin is doing a disservice to his students and to the field of Middle East studies.  It’s all there in the syllabus.

Cinnamon Stillwell is the West Coast Representative for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.  She can be reached at stillwell@meforum.org.