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Indybay Feature

McCarthyism in Action at Yale

by Eliana Johnson
Mazin Qumsiyeh is a professor of genetics at the Yale Medical School and a hater of Israel, which he refers to as an apartheid state. Professor Qumsiyeh has recently indulged his hatred of Israel and its Jewish supporters in a manner remarkable for a university professor.
In the past Professor Qumsiyeh has railed against the an alleged "cabal" of Jews manipulating Bush administration foreign policy: "It is now clearly evident from their own documents that those who put Israel and personal wealth ahead of U.S. public interests were first to plan this war [in Iraq] over15 years ago." In a recent e-mail message sent over the Yale e-mail system to the members of the Yale Coalition for Peace, Professor Qumsiyeh disclosed his purported discovery that this cabal extends far beyond the Bush administration. In his e-mail message he warned that a similar cabal exists at Yale. Qumsiyeh wrote:

"For your information, I include here the list of members of Yale Students ‘for Democracy,’ the pro-war cabal that subscribes to the same Straussian theology that the neo-cons around Bush have been pushing (Wolfowitz, Perle, Wurmser, Kristol, Feith). I think you will find the list informative. Note that there is significant overlap of this list with the ‘Yale Friends of Israel’ listserve."

The names and e-mail addresses of 64 Jewish students followed his message. Professor Qumsiyeh’s research was not quite as brilliant as he believed it to be; he had mistakenly copied the Yale Friends of Israel member list for comparison purposes rather than the member list of the Yale College Students for Democracy. He was therefore comparing two identical lists of members of the Yale Friends of Israel; not surprisingly, he found "significant overlap" between the two lists. And not surprisingly, Professor Qumsiyeh mistakenly named many students who were staunch opponents of the war in Iraq, and who were horrified at being identified as members of a pro-war cabal by dint of their affiliation with the Yale Friends of Israel.

But the mistaken premise of Professor Qumsiyeh’s message is beside the point. The message bears an ugly subtext consistent with Professor Qumsiyeh’s fevered "Jews on the brain" mania. In an article he authored for Jerusalemites.org, he labels the same men to whom he likens Yale’s pro-war Jews—Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, in particular—"Israeli apologists" and "racists…whose main interest has always been a strong and domineering ‘Jewish State’…"

University professors and administrators frequently throw the term "McCarthyism" around as a term of abuse under inappropriate circumstances, but when the phenomenon actually appears, as in Professor Qumsiyeh’s message, they are tongue-tied. Professor Qumsiyeh’s message contains all the hallmarks of the phenomenon usually described as McCarthyism. It makes unfounded accusations from a person in a position of authority against students who possess no recourse against him. The accusations are intended to damage the reputations of the students he listed by smearing them as members of a sinister "pro-war cabal," as "Straussians," "neo-cons," "Israeli apologists" and "racists."

Even worse, Professor Qumsiyeh implicitly exhorts a student group -- the Yale Coalition for Peace -- to join his smear campaign and defame a group consisting of its presumed political opponents. The message blatantly seeks to stigmatize students for their political affiliations.

But Professor Qumsiyeh’s inflammatory accusations go beyond McCarthyism to anti-Semitism. He dubs the students "Straussians" and "neo-cons," not-so-secret code words for "Jews." All the named government officials are Jewish, and it is the Jewish students he seeks to identify as such. His subsequent intimation that the Jewish Yale students who support the war in Iraq do so in the interests of Israel, rather than the United States, is blatantly bigoted and unfounded. In one fell swoop, Professor Qumsiyeh seeks to brand every Jewish student even loosely affiliated with a pro-war group as guilty of dual national loyalties. His accusation that they act as agents of a larger Jewish cabal is equally offensive and equally false.

Unfortunately, students have been left on their own to defend themselves from the McCarthyism of Yale’s anti-Semitic Left. The Yale administration has refused to condemn Professor Qumsiyeh’s use of a Yale e-mail account and Yale e-mail lists to defame a Yale student group and its Jewish members on the basis of their religion. Allison MacFarlan, the Academic Computing Systems officer who looked into the situation responded simply, "We have investigated the circumstances of Prof. Qumsiyeh's posting to the Yalepeace-list, and can find no violation of existing…policy."

Few would dispute that anti-Jewish conspiracy theories like Professor Qumsiyeh’s come without destructive consequences attached. One would hope and expect the forceful condemnation Professor Qumsiyeh’s actions from the Yale administration. If that is not to be, let us hope that Yale’s anti-war students know enough to reject Professor Qumsiyeh’s claims, his methods, and his example.

Eliana Johnson is a freshman at Yale University. She can be reached at eliana.johnson [at] yale.edu.


Without addressing the details of the student’s complaint against the Yale professor (which complaints I think are narcissistically trivial, compared to the real brutalities that have been heaped on the Palestinian people), I submit that there's hardly any doubt that the behavior of most Israeli political leaders over the decades has resulted in the moral and physical equivalent of apartheid, with many Zionists feeling a sense of diving entitlement to take land from other people, to base privileged political and economic rights on religious and ethnic status, to destroy farmland, orchards, olive groves, and homes with impunity, to assassinate opponents without due legal process, to wage massive high-tech warfare against innocent people armed with stones, or huddling terrified in their homes, to inflict collective punishment for individual misdeeds, to flout innumerable international resolutions, and to enforce brutal and indiscriminate ethnic segregation and sustained immiseration against Palestinian people for decades. Since my tax dollars are used to support this unconscionable behavior, I feel more than a passing outrage against this abuse of Israeli statehood and Judaism by Zionist hardliners.

Is it bad taste for others to notice and criticize this brutish record, that is supposedly carried out in the name of the God of Moses and Abraham? Just how far do Zionists in Israel, and their supporters around the world, think they can go in oppressing the Palestinians, without incurring some kind of moral penalty?

This pattern of sustained brutality against Palestinians should itself be considered anti-Semitic, as Jews are not the only Semites in the neighborhood, despite the self-serving pretensions of divine election. Tragically, the state of Israel, under the banner of Zionist self-promotion, has increasingly behaved over decades in ways which in fact deserve the opprobrium that once would have been called anti-Semitic. In short, the Zionist brutality against the Palestinian people has now objectively earned for Jews the very opprobrium and anti-Semitism that in earlier centuries was merely an expression of stupidity and racist bigotry against Jews. Now, it’s no longer merely an irrational projection of people who dislike Jews without any reason. Jews who support this insane brutality against Palestinians indeed deserve moral censure – certainly not because they’re Jews per se, but because as Jews they’re wreaking havoc, and asserting entitlement to wreak this havoc as a divinely sanctioned Zionist activity. Zionist Jews who support illegal and immoral state policies in Israel merit criticism, just as the earlier Christian church deserved censure for its barbaric, divinely sanctioned inquisitions and crusades, and its persecutions of Jews and Moslems. Just being Jewish doesn’t somehow give you eternal immunity from criticism.

Jews worldwide cannot on the one hand unite and organize to lend moral, political and financial support as Jews for reckless Zionist violence and depradations against Palestinians, and then turn around and expect to occupy some kind of moral high ground as Jews vis-à-vis other nations or critics, or somehow feel that they’re innocent victims of anti-Semitism or McCarthyism when people rebuke the obvious criminality of flagrantly apartheid Zionism. If Jews unite and act precisely as Jews, they cannot blithely claim that they are somehow being singled out gratuitously for adverse treatment as Jews when they back policies as Jews that shamelessly violate international agreements of human rights and dignity. When Jewishness so thoroughly pervades the entire chain of action (fundraising, elections, foreign policy, arms sales, etc.) that results in bulldozing Palestinian homes in Jenin, or firing American-made rockets into unarmed homes, crushing people to death and blowing up people in their own homes, then you can’t act dismissively as though people are angry at you just because you’re Jewish, and they're hateful anti-Semites. It’s what you DO with your Jewishness that defines your integrity as a Jew. If millions of Jews continue to unite to fund and legitimize a destructive Zionist nation that brutalizes Palestinians, then Jews will of course inherit the sick reputation that comes along with such behavior, just as the United States has justifiably inherited a shameful reputation for backing dictators, because we in fact did back a long line of dictators, rather than promote democracy.
Israel's attempt to justify its historical criminality against Palestinians only multiplies the gradual self-betrayal and debasement of Judaism that started when Zionists started herding Palestinians into ghettos, somehow seemingly unaware that they were re-enacting the very behaviors of invasion, domination, displacement, land theft, dehumanization and oppression that had been so tragically visited against Jews in Europe by the Nazis. The appalling parallel is not total, of course, since Israel has not created extermination camps for Palestinians; but this is a slim moral reed for Israel to stand on, to offset the rest of the parallel.

It is shameful and saddening that Jews worldwide have so far allowed their profound moral and spiritual heritage be hijacked by thuggish Zionist extremists who expect to have carte-blanche to rob, kill, and terrorize millions of innocent Palestinians, and then conveniently allege that any critics of their criminality are guilty of "anti-Semitism." This strategy is a vulgar cop-out, that manipulates historical guilt and legitimate compassion for Holocaust victims to gain thoughtless entitlement for Jews to infinite moral immunity for whatever insanity Israel wants to inflict on Palestinians. Instead of facing the moral and spiritual debasement of the Jewish heritage by its Zionist fundamentalists, too many Jews are quick to play the anti-Semitic wild-card to evade any conceivable criticism or culpability for support of Zionist criminality.

I would add that the same critique can be leveled against Christians who have historically used their religious arguments to claim moral immunity in the historical slaughter of indigenous peoples, theft of their land and resources through “settlements,” creation of ethnic concentration camps called reservations, the horrors of slavery, and the denial of political and civil rights to ethnic minorities for centuries. It doesn’t make me “anti-Christian” to judge these historical crimes committed most by Christians, who used self-serving religiosity to blind themselves to their own sins. Jews worldwide need to wake up and stop waving this red-herring of anti-Semitism as their first knee-jerk response to any criticism, as if anti-Semitism is always the core problem facing Jews. It’s not. We’ve now seen for decades that Jews themselves, in architecting a fear- and violence-based Zionist state, have virtually exhausted the vast moral and spiritual capital that they brought with them into the founding of Israel. Ironically, Zionists are proving much more adept in destroying more of the heart of Judaism themselves in a mere 50 years than did all the centuries of anti-Semitism that preceded the establishment of Israel.

Tragically, most of those moral and spiritual values of historical Judaism have been so brutally violated, that Israel now comes across not as a sympathizable and upright beacon for democracy and spiritual harmony for the Middle East, but more as a racist rogue state intent on ethnic cleansing, like Serbia trying to eliminate Croats, or Hutus and Tutsis slaughtering each other in the streets while the rest of the world looks on in stupid, horrified passivity.

The dignity, majesty and beauty of true Judaism needs to be reasserted as a historical force to rescue Israel from the proven criminality and intransigence of its Zionist parody. Those Jews who righteously give themselves to this task will never again find themselves worrying overmuch about anti-Semitism, because your cause will be that universal one of healing humanity, its children, and its future. In this cause, there is no Jew, no Gentile, no Moslem; for the true children of Abraham all sit at the same table of compassion and generosity that has been given to us as children of God, and together we are the cabal – the conspirators of spirit -- that schemes for the ultimate good of all.


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