David M. Litman examines Brown University and its Center for Middle East Studies (CMES).
After the Holocaust, many bought into the idea that the best way to prevent the reoccurrence of similar horrors was through education. If the world knows what happened, the thinking went, it’ll never allow such atrocities to repeat. But after the 10/7 Massacre in Israel, we’re seeing a much darker reality about education’s role in shaping society’s attitudes toward atrocities.
Hamas gleefully livestreamed to the world its orgy of violence and cruelty against some 1,400 Israelis – including women, children, the elderly, the disabled, and even Holocaust survivors. Nearly 79 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we’re once again seeing innocent Jews burned alive by believers of a genocidal ideology. And whereas many Germans at least had the sense to feign ignorance of the death camps next door, academics are now openly declaring atrocities against Jews as ‘exhilarating.’
How did we get to this point?
To illustrate, consider Brown University and its Center for Middle East Studies (CMES), which houses an endowed professorship in ‘Palestinian Studies.’
Far from a rigorous, scholarly study of Palestinian history or the region, what one finds at Brown’s CMES is an attempt to indoctrinate students in an all-encompassing ideology in which colonialism is the ultimate evil and the Jewish people and their history are synonymous with ‘colonialism.’ Violence, including terrorism, is justified as a legitimate measure against that evil.
It’s thus no surprise that university students, including those at Brown, responded to the 10/7 massacre by justifying and even glorifying Hamas’s barbarity. Given that much of the horrendous rhetoric in CMES programming comes from guest speakers and lecturers from other universities, one can be confident that what is found at Brown University can be found at other universities.
So how exactly are these extremists radicalising students?
It begins with pseudointellectual activists twisting Jewish history and identity into a conspiracy theory, not unlike how neo-Nazi ideology operates.
At Brown, it begins with students being taught that Jews aren’t a distinct people; they are either ‘Europeans’ or ‘Arabs.’ According to one Brown University professor, Ariella Azoulay, they can even be ‘Muslim Jews’ whose Muslim identity has been repressed by colonialism. Whatever Jews are, they are not really Jews, the messaging goes. It’s only a slightly more sophisticated version of the Khazar Jews conspiracy. The intended point is that Jews aren’t a legitimate people, let alone a nation, and therefore cannot have a right to self-determination. Jewish history is thus also erased. As one invited faculty speaker told students, Jewish history in the Land of Israel is nothing more than a ‘mythology.’
The logic proceeds, then, that if Jews are not actually a people, then their belief otherwise is based on a lie, a conspiracy. Sure enough, that is another message being delivered at Brown. Zionism isn’t a genuine belief; it is instead a cover for European colonialism.
In one syllabus, Professor Beshara Doumani, who holds the endowed professorship in Palestinian Studies at Brown, told students that Israel’s creation is just ‘another tragic example of a global phenomenon of European capitalist expansion and imperial conquest that has devasted indigenous populations.’ In the words of another Brown University professor, Tony Bogues, rather than a movement for self-determination, Zionism is ‘a business of theft.’ The logic echoes that in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which proclaimed that Zionists were trying to ‘slyly dupe the dumb Goyim’ to build a ‘central organization for their international world swindle…’ The Jews have duped the world into believing they’re a people so they could steal some land, goes Bogues’s logic.
The antisemitic conspiracy theorising goes even further. A consistent theme in Middle East Studies events and course syllabi is that the fight against antisemitism is a conspiracy by Jewish ‘colonisers.’ Students are taught that the problem isn’t antisemitism, but rather ‘anti-anti-semitism,’ as they call it. The ‘war against antisemitism,’ explained one lecturer, is a ‘significant tool of neocolonialism and coloniality.’ In October 2022, the Brown Center for Middle East Studies Director Nadje Al-Ali spoke at a panel on antisemitism about how she’s concerned that the ‘conversation about antisemitism excludes Palestinians’ and ‘the way that the discussion around antisemitism has often been instrumentalised.’
Consider that the professor who taught a course this year on ‘Anti-Semitism, Racism, Anti-Zionism: Debates, Contexts, Stakes’ and was recorded in 2021 telling students that ‘Jewish mob[s],’ which he also refers to as ‘Kristallnacht mobs,’ were ‘thirsty for Palestinian blood.’ Combining a blood libel with Holocaust inversion is quite a feat of moral depravity. Somehow, that made him the perfect moral authority at Brown University to talk to students about antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
But it doesn’t end with crude antisemitism and conspiracy theories of sinister, thieving Jews. In Middle East and Palestinian Studies courses and events, students are taught that violence and terrorism are justified against ‘settler-colonialism’ and Israeli civilians.
Consider how the Middle East Studies center responded to the last Israel-Hamas war in 2021: with a ‘teach-in’ entitled ‘A Third Intifada? Palestinians and the Struggle for Jerusalem.’ As Hamas rockets were still raining down on Israeli civilians, Brown professor Adi Ophir glorified the terrorist organisation, proclaiming that ‘Hamas is fighting for the residents of Jerusalem and those who pray in al-Aqsa [mosque]…’ The quote might as well have come from Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar.
Rana Barakat, a Palestinian professor invited to lecture Brown students, glorified the May 2021 violence by comparing it to a series of massacres, which she called ‘uprisings,’ carried out in 1929 by Arab mobs that left over 130 Jews dead (19 years before the State of Israel even existed).
At the same event, Professor Doumani approvingly spoke of the ‘amazingly wide range of forms of resistance’ over ‘the past two weeks.’ Another invited Palestinian speaker, Birzeit University professor Weeam Hammoudeh, rhetorically asked: ‘Is the bad form of resistance the unacceptable form, this violent form of resistance?’ Not a word of condemnation was issued for Hamas’s targeting of Israeli civilians. It should go without saying that if you’re not sure whether the intentional targeting of innocent civilians is bad or not, you don’t belong anywhere near civilised society, let alone in a position of influence over impressionable young minds.
Yet these are academics influencing young minds, and that is what they were telling students the last time Hamas tried to murder Jews en masse.
And it didn’t stop after 10/7.
At an October 20, 2023 ‘teach-in,’ co-organised by the Brown Center for Middle East Studies, nearly a dozen speakers addressed the ongoing events. Only one of them had anything negative to say about the 10/7 massacre, which she still managed to blame on Israel. One speaker, Noura Erakat, even proclaimed that it is a ‘dehumanising, crude, very racist talking point’ to say ‘that this is about Hamas.’ It’s another common theme one finds in Brown events and syllabi: there is no Palestinian responsibility for the lack of peace or their lack of statehood. Another speaker, University of Chicago professor Lisa Wedeen, similarly claimed, ‘Israel is a machine for the conversion of grief into power; it transmutes grief into violence,’ and ‘we see that grief machine hard at work in the coverage of major newspapers…’
Jews aren’t even allowed to grieve, let alone defend themselves.
Of course, no such event could pass without glorifying the brutal massacre. Barakat – a regular guest at Brown University events – proclaimed that ‘2023 will be recorded historically as the year that Palestinians stood boldly in the face of colonial fascism.’
The hideous irony of claiming that burning innocent Jews alive was an act of standing against fascism apparently never dawned on any of the other speakers.
Is it thus any surprise that Brown University students held a march chanting to ‘free Palestine from the river to the sea,’ a call for the destruction of the Jewish state? They’ve been indoctrinated in a worldview in which the Hamas terrorist is the victim, and the Jewish children he raped and executed are the oppressors. That ‘resistance,’ they are being taught, ‘is justified.’
Brown University’s administration is only fueling this extremism. Three days after the Hamas massacre, Brown University President Christina Paxson responded by telling the community, in part:
‘The issues that underpin the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are complex, and scholars from multiple academic units at Brown bring significant expertise. We expect ample opportunity in the coming days and weeks for community members to learn about and discuss these issues…I hope we do so in a way that reflects Brown’s values and our academic mission — with empathy, compassion, and a commitment to advancing knowledge and understanding.’
If only those scholars at Brown expressed ‘empathy’ and ‘compassion’ for the victims instead of the butchers.
The urgency of combatting this is enormous. A Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll found that while the overwhelming majority of Americans side with Israel, a disturbing 48 per cent of 18-24-year-olds side more with Hamas. That is, nearly half of 18-24-year-olds sided with the organisation that just murdered, raped, mutilated, tortured, and kidnapped over 1,600 Israeli men, women, and children.
How Western society reacts to this disturbing reality will be an important test of whether this country learned anything from the horrors wrought by Nazi ideology. Will society stand up to the modern day ‘big lie’ being promulgated in our own universities?