Middle East Forum - Criticism - Response


Various writers associated with the Middle East Forum have in turn criticized Cole and Beinin. Martin Kramer critiques Joel Beinin and his appointment to MESA as:

the avatar of the "new left" insurgency that swept through Middle Eastern studies in the 1980s. As a member of a Zionist-socialist youth movement, he had gone to live on a kibbutz in Israel. Hell hath no fury like a socialist scorned: the experience turned him into a fervent anti-Zionist and critic of Israel. When he is not lecturing, writing, and demonstrating on behalf of Palestine, he is railing against the "perils of a neoliberal, repressive ‘pax Americana'." "I'd encourage students to get involved in all political issues," he told The Stanford Daily during the 1998 U.S.-Iraq confrontation, "because the political system in the United States is corrupt."

Beinin is entitled to his radical views. What is telling is that the membership of MESA, that supposed reservoir of collective wisdom about the Middle East, should have chosen him as president. MESA presidents don't do a great deal—the job only lasts one year—but the choice says a lot about the state of academic consensus. And what Beinin's elevation says is quite simply this: never has the Middle Eastern studies guild been more opposed to American values, U.S. policy, and U.S. influence in the Middle East. It's worth remembering this in the fall of 2002, when MESA next convenes in Washington, and its boosters again assert that academic Middle Eastern studies are in "the nation's interest." This questionable claim, invoked to justify continuing federal subsidies under Title VI, deserves closer scrutiny than ever before. This is the task of Congress.

while Alexander H. Joffe criticizes the works of Juan Cole, in particular his assertion Israel benefitted from 9/11:

Cole: our press and politicians do us an enormous disservice by not putting the Israeli announcement about the Jerusalem barrier on the front page. This sort of action is a big part of what is driving the terrorists (and, of course, Sharon himself is a sort of state-backed terrorist, anyway). The newspapers and television news departments should be telling us when we are about to be in the cross-fire between the aggressive, expansionist, proto-fascist Likud coalition and the paranoid, murderous, violent Al-Qaeda and its offshoots.—July 11, 2005

MEQ: The separation fence has reduced terrorism 75 percent. Saudi Arabia, India, Morocco, Turkey and even the United Nations in Cyprus built similar barriers before Israel, in each case reducing terrorism or, in the latter case, communal violence.

Cole: According to the September 11 Commission report, Al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the U.S. for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.—July 8, 2005

MEQ: Martin Kramer points out that the 9-11 Commission determined the hijacking plan was conceived by early 1999, that Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount took place in September 2000 when he was head of the opposition, and that the Jenin operation took place in April 2002, seven months after 9/11. After these factual problems were pointed out, Cole surreptitiously changed his original posting.

Cole: It is obvious to me that what September 11 really represented was a dragooning of the United States into internal Middle East political conflicts. Israel's aggressive policies in the West Bank and Gaza have poisoned the political atmosphere in the Middle East (and increasingly in the Muslim world) for the United States. It is ridiculous to suggest that radical Islamists don't care about the Palestine issue.—September 9, 2004

MEQ: Cole ignores events such as the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998, and on the USS Cole in 2000, all of which took place during periods of seeming progress in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

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