Hatem Bazian and the erasure of Jewish history

In his recent book-launching lecture for Palestine... It Is Something Colonial, anti-Israel academic Hatem Bazian stood in the “sanctuary” of Berkeley’s Zaytuna College before an audience of around fifty students and faculty and, in an amazing feat of historical prestidigitation, eliminated thousands of years of Jewish history in the Middle East.

Bazian, director of the Islamophobia Research & Documentation Project at the University of California, Berkeley and co-founder of Zaytuna, a self-described Muslim liberal arts college, maintained that “Zionism involved erasing existing Palestinian history and forging a new history as to claim the land and expel the population.”  Such efforts at Jewish historical elimination are consistent with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which recently denied the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Meanwhile, Bazian bemoaned “the constant attempt for [sic] erasure of everything related to Palestine.”

Even worse, Bazian justified contemporary Arab-Muslim terrorism against Israel by relieving the perpetrators of personal responsibility: “Palestinian violence is a byproduct that was set and situated upon them.”

Accordingly, Bazian placed the sole burden for the Arab-Israeli conflict on European and Jewish “settler-colonialism.”  “You created your colonial box, and you need to clean it yourself,” he declared.

Stigmatizing Israel as a European implant in the Middle East, Bazian admonished the Jewish people and their Western allies that “one cannot have a liberation movement that is in partnership with colonial powers and then seek to dispossess and supplant the population that historically had no role in any type of antagonism or anti-Semitic discourses relative to the Jewish population [emphasis added].”

Bazian’s assertion that Arab-Muslims assumed “no role” in anti-Jewish repression in the Middle East beggars the historical imagination.  One need only look at the Hebron Massacre of 1929 or Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini’s rabidly anti-Jewish rhetoric and the violence he encouraged with the 1936-39 “Arab revolt.”

Bazian’s analysis exemplifies what author Manfred Gerstenfeld dubbed “humanitarian racism,” a form of prejudice whereby privileged academic elites and others infantilize non-Europeans by refusing to hold them responsible for the foreseeable consequences of their own behavior.

With considerable audacity, Bazian described Zionism, the movement for Jewish self-determination, as a form of anti-Semitism because it allegedly involved a plot to pawn off European Jews onto the Ottoman Turks.  It was a means, he claimed, of hitting “two birds with one stone”: while ridding Europe of its Jews, it advanced British imperial designs against the Ottomans.

In an act of historical supersessionism, or political replacement theology, Bazian argued that if in the past we had the “Jewish Question,” then “today we have the Muslim Question in France, the Muslim Question in England, and with our new election, we have the Muslim Question in the U.S.”  

Perhaps if Bazian researched the history of Jews and Christians under the boot of Arab and Muslim imperial rule from the seventh century until the fall of the Ottoman Empire, he would develop a more accurate view of who is occupying whom in the Land of Israel, if not the greater Middle East.

It all too common among contemporary scholars of the Middle East that in seeking to recover the purportedly lost history of “Palestine,” they deny the ancient Hebrew connection to the land.  Until the field of Middle East studies relinquishes ideological anti-Zionism, the politics of outrage will continue to undermine its objectivity and erode its reputation.  It’s time for a new generation of scholars to replace the anti-Israel propaganda of their mentors with rigorous, reasoned scholarship. 

Michael Lumish is an analyst on the Arab-Israeli conflict and the proprietor of Israel Thrives.  He holds a Ph.D. in American history from the Pennsylvania State University and has taught at Penn State, San Francisco State University, and City College of San Francisco.  This article was sponsored by Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

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