It’s official: I’m a Self-Hating Jew! Or, maybe just a Self-Hating American?

So apparently I’m a self hating Jew. Maybe I can be the poster child for this. I was called that yesterday by a colleague in the political science department at AUB. I was also called an anti-Semite, which I suppose is the same as self-hating since I am a Semite.

This all began when I sent out a flyer to AUB faculty announcing that the Lebanese Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid (LCEIA) would be screening two films, Supersize Me andBlack Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. While these films do not necessarily have anything to do with Zionism, one of my bright students had an idea that since Lebanese are not willing to boycott, maybe we could give them other reasons to think twice about the American products they consume. So we’re showing a film about McDonald’s and a film about the coffee industry (and Starbucks) and are following up with a discussion about the various harmful qualities of these companies, including their investments in or aid to Israel. The event is an intellectual discussion and film screening. But what I got in reply to this email from a colleague in the political science department was this:

Oh, great, scholar-activist guru, I am thirsty and crave a carbonated
beverage. Will drinking a Coke help or hurt the evil, all-powerful, ever-scheming Zionist enemy?

And don’t tell me to choose Pepsi instead. Our beloved Iranian and Gulf Arab brothers/paymasters have made it clear that Pepsi stands for “Pay Every Penny to Save Israel” Please help! I am parched and want to advance the glorious cause!

I was so horrified by this email because of its sarcasm and mean-spirited nature that I forwarded it to my colleagues in LCEIA because I do not like responding to people when I’m angry. One of them, another AUB professor, chose to respond to him on her own:

As a member of the L-CEIA campaign, Marcy forwarded your comments to me and others in the campaign. I offered to respond on her behalf.

Myself and many academics and activists in the Arab world and internationally have great respect for Marcy’s work. Obviously you have some sort of problem. Its not entirely clear from your frustrated message what you are trying to say, however, I find your manner of expression inappropriate, unprofessional, and chalked with all sorts of non-constructive opaque messages.

If you’d like to express your views, please come to the film screening and we can discuss the issues constructively after the film. I hope you take up this invitation. However if it does not appeal to you, I would like to suggest that you refrain from sending such messages to Marcy or anyone else in the campaign.

Hoping that you find a more constructive ways to express your views.

And here’s where the venom really starts to come out in his response to her, which was copied to me as well:

It is too bad that she doesn’t have the courage of her convictions to reply to me herself. How sad.

I found her film screening announcement (emailed to *all* AUB faculty members) not only offensive and anti-Semitic in its intent but also idiotic: I have seen the two documentaries in question, and neither makes any reference whatsoever
to any supposed Zionist conspiracies. If Marcy wants to deal with her self-hatred issues by wallowing in paranoia, that is her business–although she might be advised to consider making her own documentary on the undeniable ties between her buddies in Hezbollah and drug trafficking in Latin America and blood diamonds in Africa. To force her obsessions onto her colleagues, however, is inappropriate. You/she will receive a critical reply from me every time such messages are sent to me. Hate mongering is simply unacceptable.

It is even further beyond the pale for her to shove her politics down her students’ throats. In lieu of a final exam, she is having her students organize a protest in front of McDonald’s. Whatever happened to teaching students to think for themselves? Maybe for balance we should hire someone who believes that Islam is the root of all terrorism and wants to organize demonstrations in front of mosques. After all, if we are all supposed to be activists and it is impossible to be objective about anything, who says that we have to activate in the same direction?

Hoping that you stop obsessing over imaginary conspiracies and start dealing with this region’s real problems,

So in the span of twenty-four hours I’ve gone from “scholar-activist guru” who works against the “ever-scheming Zionist enemy” to “self hating” and anti-Semitic. Rather than responding to him and engaging with his hate mongering, after consulting with colleagues I chose to speak with his department chair and here is what I wrote:

I am writing to you to complain about a faculty member in your department. Yesterday I received a hostile email in response to an email I sent out to the AUB faculty list. The email was about a film series that [faculty members in] Lebanese Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid (LCEIA) [organized]. The film series features two documentaries, Supersize Me and Black Gold: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee. Supersize Me is a documentary about the harmful health consequences of consuming a McDonald’s—or any American fast food—diet. The second film, Black Gold, is an analysis of harmful labor practices in the coffee industry, especially with respect to multinational corporations such as Starbucks. We have chosen to feature these two films because AUB students working with us on this campaign thought it would be interesting to screen films that illustrate other reasons—aside from corporate donations to Zionist organizations that support Israel or direct aid to Israel—to refrain from consuming these products.

[] emailed me, privately, in response to this film screening flyer (please see attached). His first email I found as rather sarcastic and hostile, which he sent to me on Wednesday evening, April 18th. In it he insinuates that I participate in an “evil, all-powerful, ever-scheming Zionist enemy” conspiracy theory without asking me questions about the scholarly research done to support my claims. Nor does he offer up his own claims in a professional, scholarly manner. I forwarded it to [] and [] because at the time I was not sure how I wanted to respond; [] took it upon herself to reply to his email in a civil manner, inviting him to attend our discussion at which he could engage in rational, critical debate about the themes in the films and its relation to the boycott campaign. That would be an appropriate space to engage with facts and counterfacts or arguments and counterarguments.

It is his most recent response, however, which I received today, Thursday morning, April 19th that is most disturbing to me. Rather than respond to [] email directly he resorts to uncollegial name calling by labeling me an “anti-Semite” and “self-hating” Jew, as well as “idiotic” for my work against Zionism. While I am perfectly fine with other people—be they students or colleagues—disagreeing with my theories about how Zionism operates, something that three years of my own scholarly research supports, [] is not merely disagreeing with me. But instead of offering any grounded objections about the quality of the data that I have, he resorts to belittlement, harassment, and intimidation to prevent such events from occurring in the first place. While [] is accusing me of working against a Zionist conspiracy of some sort, his charge that I or my work is anti-Semitic is ironic not only because I am Jewish, but also because the charge of anti-Semitism is itself a loose conspiracy charge.

[] assertion that his objection to my work—whether it be my political, pedagogical, or scholarly work—seems to be based on what he sees as ineffective action directed at the wrong enemy (what he terms “political problems”), or unfounded connections, bad teaching, or poor scholarship (an academic problem) turns into hate-mongering (a political-moral problem). Indeed, [] moves from name calling to critiquing my teaching, though to my knowledge he has never read my syllabi nor has he visited my classroom (though it is open to him or anyone else who might like to witness my pedagogical style). If he had come he would see that my classroom is a heterogeneous space in which students express a diversity of viewpoints. This is true in my American Zionism class and it is true in my Sexual Identity in the U.S. and Middle East class. Some of the strongest students in the class are those who do not agree with the boycott campaign and are doing scholarly projects critiquing it. While perhaps [] and I have students in common who may have stated that their final project will be one in which they stand in front of McDonald’s and hold a demonstration, such a project is one that is based on thorough research from their midterm project and it is one of a few options in combination with continued research, including submitting a traditional research paper; my students have the option of selecting which option is best for them. My students are not obliged to agree with me and I make that very clear in various ways. But if [] has a problem with my pedagogy or my scholarship or my supposed influence over students it seems to me that such a complaint would best be directed to [my department chair] or [the] Dean.

Finally, it is up to my scholarship—as well as my colleagues in the field—to prove whether or not Zionism is a “real” or “imaginary” force, not intimidation by a colleague. [] comment at the end of his second email, that he will continue his underhanded methods of emailing me any time I might advertise an intellectual event on campus is intimidating, threatening, and constitutes harassment. I am filing this complaint to see that his uncollegial behavior is reprimanded.

His response to his department chair follows. Apparently the new phrase around town is “self-hating American” so he didn’t really mean that I’m a self-hating Jew and now I’m all the more paranoid for thinking so.

Since Marcy Newman still does not have the courage or decency to deal with me directly and has resorted to writing you her melodramatic letter, I feel it necessary to waste more time on this issue and let you know what it involves.

Earlier this week, I (along with all other AUB faculty members) received a flyer from Marcy for a film series being held by a fringe group on campus. Most of my colleagues laughed at it and just chalked it up to local craziness. The anti-Semitic implications of the piece really upset me, however, and it came on the heels of complaints to me from students in Marcy’s class about the proselytizing that passes for teaching in her “Zionism” course. I sent her the two emails below. They were also sent at the same time to [] as part of my complaint about how inappropriate such antics are and the bad light that they cast on CASAR as a whole. As a member of the CASAR steering committee, I want to make sure that we hire scholars instead of misguided militants and demagogues for the program in future.

Since I refuse to attend events sponsored by extremist organizations, it is unlikely that I will ever get a chance to hear Marcy present her “scholarship.” Interestingly enough, in fact, when I accused Marcy of self-hatred, I was referring specifically to the fact that she is an American who consorts with and has given speeches sponsored by Hezbollah, a group that has killed hundreds of Americans and that has as its motto “Death to America.” When Marcy jumps to the conclusion that it was her Jewish background that was at issue, me thinks the lady doth protest too much.

Promising to call foul whenever hate speech is distributed through official AUB channels is not intimidation. It is called bearing witness and pointing out threats to the university’s express desire “to foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue.” You can bet the farm that I will continue to do so.

I posted these communications on a blackboard program for my class, in part because he began making claims about a class he has clearly never seen the syllabi or assignments for, and in part to have a discussion with my students about the learning out comes for the class. As a result one of my students wrote to him:

I am a student in Dr. Newman’s American Zionism class and a member of the L-CEIA
campaign. I learned of your email to Dr. Newman and thought at first, that it would be best to ignore it as I am sure that the pro-Israeli views to which you allude have no bearing in an institution like the American University of Beirut. But upon reading the reductionist labels that you have slapped on Dr. Newman, I feel a sharp sense of indignation and a sense of obligation, as a student of Dr. Newman’s, to rebuke the accusations you have made about her as a Professor.

This is the second semester that I have taken a class with Dr. Newman. While her politics are, indeed, manifested in her syllabus, her desired learning outcomes are clear: to make students profficient in the dissection and analysis of discourse.

Dr. Newman is adamant about instructing her students to not throw their”critical lenses out the door” even when she exposes them to material that is clearly very dear to her. I often engage in debate with Dr. Newman, particularly about the boycott. When consulting with her about my midterm project she advised me to write a paper about my misgivings about the Boycott Israel Campaign. With regards to our projects, by the way, it is not true that she is forcing us to attend protests and engage in the boycott. She gives us a number of options for subjects to revolve our projects around and the boycott is just one of them.

As a student of Dr. Newman’s, I can say wholeheartedly that the strongest effect that her pedagogy has had on me has been in removing, or rather, expanding the framework of my mind. That Dr. Newman “shoves her politics down her students’ throats” is completely unfounded. I wish you would learn more about her pedagogy and look a little below the surface to see that not only is her approach completely conducive to the expression of opposing views but that it is through her teaching that I, and many other students who have gone about their education in a mainly Middle Eastern mindset, have been exposed to the views of the “other side” and gained a sense of objectivity.

This is my sixth semester at AUB and I am proud to say that there has been no professor that has had a greater impact on me than Dr. Newman. She has given me a kind of mental clarity and drive that I have gotten from no other teacher in my academic life. The way she has refined and stimulated my critical mind has proven so formative to me that for anyone to infer that she indoctrinates her students is really beyond me. If I ever make anything out of myself in the future, Dr. Newman will be the first of my influences who I will credit.

Finally, I want to apologize for making this email so lengthy; I hope you can understand my concern.

The political scientist’s reply to my student:

You probably mean well, but your email–including the process by which you came to believe that it was your place to interfere in this way–is inappropriate and demonstrates the damage that can be caused when teaching is replaced with indoctrination. That you would cast my comments in opposition to Dr. Newman’s hate speech as “pro-Israeli views” shows just how serious the problem is. But say, for the sake of argument, that I did espouse and express pro-Israeli views. They “would have no bearing in an institution like the American University of Beirut”? Really??? AUB’s mission statement notes specifically that it “seeks to foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue.” The fact that you could not conceive of being exposed to a view counter to your own speaks volumes to your desire only to have your own beliefs and prejudices confirmed.

Apparently, you have not paid much attention in Prof. Newman’s class. A post-modernist analyzer of discourse will necessarily reject any notion of objectivity or scientific inquiry (i.e, testing hypotheses with empirical data). The whole point is activism–and dissecting and tearing down the “dominant paradigm” that allegedly perpetuates exploitation–not discovering any objective truth. You don’t even realize that you’ve been sold a bill of goods. It is quite an understatement to say that “her politics are, indeed, manifested in her syllabus,” isn’t it? How many pro-Zionist articles have you read this semester? And allowing participation in a protest to substitute for a scholarly project amounts to instructional malpractice, pure and simple.

Of course, the main point here is one that neither you nor Prof. Newman seem able or willing to grasp: *it is offensive to send to every faculty member through university email a flyer that describes documentaries exposing corporate evils and then link them to some supposed Zionist conspiracy.* This nasty little trick fits into a
hideous, millenia-old calumny about conspiracies of hook-nosed Jewish bankers and lawyers running the world–slanders that led directly to the ovens at Auschwitz. If you cannot see why the picture next to the blurb about “Super-Size Me” of McDonald’s golden arches with “McZionism” written over them constitutes anti-Semitism and hate
speech, then you have not really learned very much at all.

So now I am one who uses hate speech? Interesting. Isn’t it the political science professor doing the name calling? What is expecially interesting is the way this professor is so easily conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Hence his objection to the image on our flyer which I posted here. Criticizing Israel is the same as sending Jews into the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Interesting. But wait, there’s more. My student’s reply to him:

Perhaps you have forgotten that we live in a country that remains to be in a state of war with Israel. It is illegal to even engage in dialogue with an Israeli, let alone voice support for the state. I will gladly listen to and debate a Zionist but given the legal system, the propagation of such views is not welcome here. Nevertheless,
I think it is ironic that you tell me off for my supposed inability accept opposition when you yourself have addressed this matter in so simplistic and hateful a manner as to reduce this to the faulty equation of antizionism = antisemitism and to brush Dr. Newman off as “self-hating”.

With respect to the class, what exactly is the problem with indulging in post-modernism as a school of thought? Was it not Nietzsche who said that we must revalue truths in order to progress? I feel I should remind you that the American Studies department is essentially a “humanities” [class] meaning that we do not deal with cold statistics and facts but philosophical mechanisms. To answer your question about the syllabus, yes, a significant bulk of the material that we deal with is in fact Zionist. If you would like me to send you a copy of the syllabus to verify this, I will gladly do so.

“And allowing participation in a protest to substitute for a scholarly project amounts to instructional malpractice, pure and simple.” I don’t know where you’re getting your information from but at no point does Dr. Newman ever tell us to engage in activism to “substitute” thoroughly researched academic work. Accusing a professor of “instructional malpractice” without acquainting yourself with her work is unfair
and might even be considered slanderous.

And, finally, his reply to my student:

Why do you assume that a pro-Israeli statement refers to the state and not to the people of Israel? Presumably, even in a country as far from democracy as Lebanon it would be acceptable to voice support for other human beings. Besides, I was in Lebanon this summer during the war, and half of the Lebanese I talked to expressed a pro-Israeli (state) position. Various of your leaders (Jumblatt, the Falangists, etc.) have actively allied themselves with the Israel state when it has suited them. Your group wants to boycott Starbucks because its CEO has donated money as a private citizen to Zionist causes. And yet you study at a university that gets its blackboard chalk from Israel. Check the boxes that it comes in. It is provided by an Australian
company, but it is made in Israel. Now, there is an example of an institution–not a private citizen–supporting your enemies, and yet I don’t see you boycotting AUB? Why the hypocrisy?

Reading the most extremist Zionist tracts in existence, ones that can be easily shown as such, does not constitute giving equal treatment to the other side.

Again, if you cannot see that the flyer that Prof. Newman distributed (unasked) to every faculty member is anti-Semitic hate speech, then you have not learned anything at all at this university. AUB has failed you.

There is nothing wrong with exploring post-modernism as a school of thought. To think that it represents an attempt to determine the objective truth of anything is to misunderstand completely what post-modernism is all about. Again, AUB has failed you. Nor have you apparently read the CASAR mission statement.

Prof. Newman is allowing students to participate in a protest in lieu of completing an academic project. She says this in her melodramatic letter to my department chair, which she cc’ed to me. And while such a strategy is good for the professor–she gets her all-important cause supported and has no grading to do–it represents a perversion of the instructional process. Shame on her.

This is the last exchange that I will have with you. I admire your passion and involvement. It is just regrettable that you have fallen for such a line.


One thought on “It’s official: I’m a Self-Hating Jew! Or, maybe just a Self-Hating American?

  1. As a quondam computer science professor, whose students worked on industrial projects as unpaid interns in order to be employable, I support organizing demonstrations as a class project.

    Let me repeat that, since it may be unexpected: I support political activism in sociology and political science classes.

    The real story is the backstory. Quite apart from any “left wing tendency”, the tendency of the university as a whole is to serve corporations, owing to the ever-increasing absence of any support, whether for individual students or the university, elsewhere than from corporations, which are legally obliged to see to it that this support rewards their bottom line…in my former field, by providing free computer code.

    I support you for the same reason I supported adjunct philosophy professor Douglas Giles, who was fired by Roosevelt University in Chicago (my alma mater) for teaching, on student request, about Zionism…in a World Religion class, where Zionism is appropriate.

    I support you for the same reason I support Prof. Loretta Capeheart of Northeastern Illinois University, whose election by a super-majority of her Justice Studies department to chair was overturned by the NEIU administration because of her political activism.

    I’ve left the software field, after publishing the advanced book “Build Your Own .Net Language and Compiler” (Apress 2004), because I was sick at heart at the practices of the corporate driven software industry, which helped to cause the current Depression by creating, with little understood computer code and in forced march schedules, software that encodes today’s collateralised debt obligations and other securities…in such a way, apparently, that we need to pay millions of dollars in bonuses to the executives and “rocket scientists” who made the mess.

    I am now happy to report that I teach full time.

    All the best, Marcy.

    Edward G. Nilges

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