VIEWPOINT Bigotry, Hate Speech from Scholars Must Be Exposed and Condemned By Aviel Roshwald
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs . affections, passions? . If you prick us, do we not bleed? . If you poison us, do we not die?” – The erchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 1.
With these words, William Shakespeare captures the essence of human prejudice and hints at the insight needed to overcome it. To hate an entire people with a deep, satisfying, self-righteous hatred, we need to think of its members as truly alien – inhuman and incapable of feeling pain in the same way you or I do. One need have no qualms in annihilating entire nations once one has been convinced that their essence bears no likeness to one’s own.
Scholars, writers and academics have often played a significant role both in propagating such hate-think and in resisting it. Such intellectual choices can have life-and-death significance. How great was my horror last week, when I came across the text of an article entitled “The Monster that Zionism Created: Self-Destruction,” published in the April 11 edition of the London-based, Arabic-language newspaper, Al-Hayat. Written by none other than Georgetown University’s Dr. Halim Barakat, Research Professor in the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the article contains a chilling demonization of Israel and of Jews. While conceding that “Zionism arose as a result of the persecution of the Jews in Europe,” Barakat goes on to suggest that Zionism and Israel are evil monstrosities created by world Jewry and power-hungry rabbis. He sets up his indictment by posing the question in these terms: “How did Judaism, and the Jews and all of the world powers, allow Zionism to turn into a destructive monster .?” He frames his answer in terms of a wicked and occult conspiracy. Drawing on the Jewish Frankenstein-like fable about a Prague rabbi who uses his mystical knowledge to create a man-like creature (the Golem) out of clay, only to destroy him after he runs amok, Barakat asserts in the following piece translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute that the Jewish state is a latter-day Golem:
“The rabbis of Judaism blew the breath of life into the clay statue, and Zionism arose, an arrogant power that destroyed . Palestinian society and the Palestinian people . Then, the Zionists breathed life into the clay statue and it turned into a military state . In time, it became a means of destruction acting outside the will of man . The rabbis breathed life into a clay statue; they huffed and they puffed until they created a giant round man named Ariel Sharon . Like the Golem, so are the leaders of Zionism in this time: . That which they worship is not God, but the god of vengeance. They do not raise the younger generations on [the model of] the human and weak Jew who respects the rights of others and is a partner in human civilization, but [that of] the strong Jew who avenges by destroying himself as he destroys others…”
This is a chilling piece for a number of interconnected reasons. It depicts Israel as a Golem, a Frankenstein – an inhuman monstrosity that can only be dealt with by being utterly destroyed. It portrays the entire Zionist enterprise, the Jewish national-liberation movement, as the sinister concoction of a rabbinical cabal. There are shadows here of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes about evil Jewish plots, about the opaque and illicit nature of Jewish power and the vengefulness and bloodthirstiness of the Jewish faith. And to top it all off, Barakat has the chutzpah to suggest that the only civilized Jew is a weak Jew! The implication is clear: Any form and any degree of violence is justified against Israelis and their supporters among the Jewish diaspora, because they are not really human.
Written during violent anti-Semitic attacks in France and Europe, the publication of such an incendiary message of collective hatred in a newspaper published and read in Europe represents the depths of moral failure. It also forms part of a larger pattern of incitement and glorification of the most wanton and bloodthirsty forms of violence against civilians, as seen in The Washington Post’s report of a poem in honor of suicide bombers written by the Saudi ambassador to Britain and also published in Al-Hayat.
The seductiveness of bigotry is never more powerful than during times of war, and its potential consequences never more lethally dangerous. It is therefore precisely in the midst of violent conflict that intellectual, communal and political leaders have a pressing moral and social responsibility to speak out against the dangers of hate speech. We were reminded of this after Sept. 11, when a number of violent outrages took place against innocent uslims and Arabs.
Now all eyes are on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a bitter clash between two peoples with whom many of us have close personal and emotional ties. To be dispassionate about such life-and-death issues would itself be inhuman. But in expressing our views, we must not cross the line into the minefield of bigotry, into the dehumanization of entire peoples. We must be vigilant in exposing and repudiating such tendencies. Hate speech by academics and others may be protected by the First Amendment, but colleagues and university authorities have both the First Amendment privilege and the moral obligation to condemn it strongly. To remain silent is to be complicit.
Aviel Roshwald is a professor in the History Department.