The Iran Lobby Buys a Friendly Face for Despotism
March 10, 2013
The funding of a significant pro-Iran lobby that funnels money to American universities was disclosed to the wider public for the first time during the U.S. Senate’s recent confirmation battle over Chuck Hagel’s successful nomination as secretary of defense. By far the largest grantor is the Alavi Foundation, now under federal investigation, which has given Harvard University $345,000 over nine years ending in 2011. Other institutions in the U.S. and Canada have also benefited from Iranian largesse.
Hagel, who represented Nebraska as a Republican U.S. Senator from 1997 to 2009, has long advocated a soft line toward the brutal theocratic regime, as exemplified by his call in 2007 for “direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.”
He has participated in at least one Middle East Studies event organized by Tehran’s tenured apologists and subsidized by the Iranian regime. As described by Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, Hagel addressed a March 2007 conference at Rutgers University co-sponsored by the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) and the shadowy group that, as pointed out by the WSJ’s Stephens and others, helped pay for the Rutgers AIC event: the Alavi Foundation.
Alavi is an arm of the Tehran government that has granted substantial sums to American and Canadian universities. Its 2010 Form 990, filed in compliance with its nonprofit status with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, listed assets of $39,082,555. Alavi’s “Direct Charitable Activities” were limited to four, all school-related: “Farsi Schools in Various Universities and Schools,” “Information Education Centers,” “Publication and Book Distribution,” and “Interest Free Loans to Education Centers.” Its total grant outlay for that year was $2,148,630. The 2007 Form 990 from Alavi included a line for Rutgers, indicating that Alavi’s investment in the Rutgers CMES and, presumably, the event with AIC and Hagel, was $72,500.
Alavi’s support for the 2007 Rutgers event at which Hagel spoke offers a profile of its academic outreach. Hooshang Amirahmadi, currently a professor of development and international relations at Rutgers, was director of the CMES in 2007. He is also founder and president of the American Iranian Council. Amirahmadi was succeeded as head of the Rutgers CMES by Peter B. Golden, an emeritus professor with a background in Central Asian studies, whose views are cautious and measured.
But the recipient of choice for Alavi’s financing of American Middle East Studies is Harvard, with its $345,000 in publicly reported gifts from the ruthless oppressors of Iran over nine years, with the tax form covering the remainder of 2011 unavailable at this time. As disclosed in other Alavi publicity, the foundation gave $40,000 to Harvard for its Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) in January 2011. This was followed by $10,000 later that year for a Harvard tutoring program by Mahdavi Damghani, a graduate in Shiite theology from Tehran University who has taught there from 1966 to 1985 and who now teaches at CMES, which received $24,000 from Alavi in 2012.
In its Form 990 documentation from 2004 to 2010, Alavi gifts to Harvard were:
$41,000 (2004 and first quarter 2005;
$36,000 (2005 to the end of March 2006;
$36,000 in 2006 and early 2007;
$41,000 in 2007 through the first quarter of 2008;
$41,000 for the remainder of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009;
$41,000 in 2009 and early 2010;
$75,000 in 2010 and the first three months of 2011.
In 2011, Alavi cosponsored, with three Shia Muslim theological bodies, a conference at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut on “The State of the Study of Shi’ite Islam.” The top featured speaker was Ingrid Mattson, the former president of the Muslim fundamentalist Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), who at that time taught at Hartford and now holds an Islamist-funded chair at Huron University College in Ontario. Mahmoud Ayoub, a native of South Lebanon and Hartford faculty member, also participated. Alavi provided Hartford with $47,000 to pay for the event, according to an announcement by the foundation. In 2012, according to a press release, Alavi gave Hartford $35,000 more to support Ayoub’s teaching on Shiism.
Alavi’s generosity north of the border includes $90,000 in 2011 and $30,000 in 2012 to McGill University’s Institute of Islamic Studies, in Montreal, Quebec. A statement (in awkward English) accompanying the 2012 gift proclaimed:
In the past twenty-five years, Alavi Foundation has distributed over several millions of dollars in the form of grants to over thirty colleges and universities in North America. Support for Colleges and Universities is one of the Foundation’s nine core programs.
Alavi is currently under investigation by the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2009, its former president, Farshid Jahedi, pleaded guilty to two counts of felony obstruction of justice for destroying documents subpoenaed by the Treasury in 2008. American authorities were concerned that the Alavi Foundation disguised its relationship with Bank Melli Iran, an official Tehran financial institution. In the Alavi case, which remains unresolved, the U.S. government also sought to take over Iranian-controlled properties, including mosques and schools, in New York, Maryland, Virginia, Texas, and California.
A third co-sponsor of the 2007 Rutgers meeting was the American Iranian Council (AIC), which keeps a low profile. Its honorary board includes America’s most candid academic enthusiast for radical Islam, John Esposito, founder-director of Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). Hagel has taught as Esposito’s colleague at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, though Hagel’s profile page is, curiously, blank. A Georgetown press bulletin celebrating his Defense nomination states he is a “Distinguished Professor in the Practice of National Governance.”
The controversy stirred up by Secretary Hagel’s history as an apologist for the Iranian clerical rulers offers an opportunity — and obligation — to explore in greater depth Iran’s infiltration of America’s Middle East studies establishment from Harvard to Hartford and beyond. The U.S. must contend not only with Arabist and general Islamist activities on its campuses, but with Iranian propaganda sponsored by an apocalyptic despotism that seeks hegemony over its neighbors, the destruction of Israel, and intimidation of the West. It’s past time to stem the flow of these tainted funds.
Stephen Schwartz is executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
Harvard’s Middle East Outreach Center: Propaganda for Teachers
by Stephen Schwartz
February 5, 2012
In 2005, Saudi prince Alwaleed Bin Talal donated $20 million dollars each to Harvard and Georgetown Universities. In the years since, Georgetown has earned considerably more press for its use of the prince’s largesse, through which it renamed an extant center founded in 1993 as the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). This is due in no small part to the efforts of the center’s director, John Louis Esposito, America’s foremost apologist for ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam. The result of the Saudi-Esposito lash-up has been the emergence of ACMCU as an academic institution that promotes vigorously the “Palestinian narrative” and hostility to Israel.
Harvard’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program has developed at a much slower pace, and as a result, it has received considerably less media attention. Its director, Ali Asani, is an Indian Muslim from Kenya. As described on its website, the Harvard product of Alwaleed’s philanthropy “funds four new professorships promoting scholarship and teaching about contemporary Islamic life and thought and Islam beyond the Middle East.” Yet only one chair had been filled as of the end of 2011, with Malika Zeghal, who was trained in France, serving as Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal professor in contemporary Islamic thought/life since 2009.
Zeghal is formally affiliated with Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies. She was, to say the least, unprepared for the rise of Islamist politics in the Arab states over the past year. In a Harvard event in February 2011, she downplayed the role of radical movements like the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab upheavals, stating, in the words of the Harvard Crimson:
That the unrest should be seen as a nationalist revolution, rather than as a religious one like the 1979 Iranian Revolution. … “If the Islamists come back — and they have started to come back — they will have to participate in a democratic transition as any other movement,” Zeghal said.
Unfortunately, she was wrong: Islamists have used the Arab uprisings of 2010-11 for a power-grab, disregarding a “democratic transition.”
Harvard also runs a Center for Middle East Studies (CMES), which includes an Outreach Center directed by one Paul Beran. The Outreach Center has been “awarded National Resource Center status by the US Department of Education’s Title VI program and serves educators, students and the general public on topics related to the Middle East region.”
Beran, who received his doctorate in international studies at Northeastern University in Boston, teaches “‘Introduction to the Conflict in Israel and the Occupied Territories’ (GOVT E 1960/W) and ‘Introduction to Middle East Politics’ (GOVT E 1970/W) at the Harvard University Extension School, and directs the Egypt Forum, a program of training for K-12 educators on Middle East region studies and Egypt.” He is also a member of the “Global Education Advisory Council for the Elementary and Secondary Education Department of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” through which he influences the treatment of Middle East issues in the state’s public schools.
A Presbyterian, Beran has been prominent in agitation for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel within that Christian denomination. In a December 11, 2005 speech to a “Teach-In And Organizing Conference” at Harvard on “Israel/Palestine: Where Do We Go From Here?,” Beran declared:
Until now, those who acted as if ‘Israel is always right’ enjoyed a near monopoly over U.S. attitudes. Calls for divestment, however, have the potential to become the Achilles heel for pro-Israel perceptions in the U.S. … [A]n angle with which to view such campaigns is that they carry the potential to be effective tools for waging a non-violent guerilla struggle [against Israel]. … The first step for divestment campaigns is to have a broad base of cross-community support on which to fall back when the Zionist backlash against the campaigns commences. … [C]ampaigns for divestment must be ready to fight.
On the same occasion, Beran referred contemptuously to the Anti-Defamation League, a leading American Jewish civil rights organization, as “that modicum of high browed Zionism.”
Through the CMES Outreach Program Beran has mimicked ACMCU, the Harvard Islamic Studies Program, and other academic facilities in the West by embracing uncritically the claims of democratization in the Arab turmoil beginning in 2010, while continuing to focus negatively on Israel and its policies. Its roster of “Teaching Resources” proclaims breathlessly that teachers may “[e]xplore the Arab Transformation through Outreach Center presentations, lesson plans and teaching resources, articles, videos, artifacts and more!”
But the CMES Outreach Program inventory of broader “resources” includes material that is both objectionable and absurdly trivializing in its approach to Middle East issues.
For example, it offers as an item in its “Library Highlights Catalogue” the 2001 Iranian-made film Kandahar, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, in which David Belfield, alias Dawud Salahuddin, Hassan Tantai (in his film credit), and Hassan Abdulrahman, is a star. Problem: Belfield, an African-American Muslim, confessed in an interview with ABC News 20/20 broadcast in 1996, and reaffirmed in a 2005 New Yorker profile and a New York Times interview in 2009, that he had assassinated Ali Akbar Tabatabai. A former employee of the Iranian Embassy in Washington under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Tabatabai was slain on his doorstep in Bethesda, Md., in 1980. Belfield committed the act as a paid mercenary of the new Iranian regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and he remains a fugitive from American justice.
CMES also commemorates the 2007 “Boston Palestine Film Festival” at the Harvard Law School, which screened “USA v. Al-Arian,” a documentary supporting Sami Al-Arian, who pled guilty to conspiracy to provide services to the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and “Occupation 101,” by Sufyan and Abdallah Omeish. The latter, we are told, “details life under Israeli military rule, the US role in the conflict, and the major obstacles to a viable peace.” Other films at the event attacked Israel’s security wall and alleged Israeli abuse of water resources.
The CMES Program’s “Teaching Resources” are clearly aimed at young people, with such items as “Teaching About the Middle East Through Comics and Graphic Novels,” “Teaching About the Middle East Through Hip-Hop” — i.e., “rap music” — and “Graffiti, Street Art, and Political Protest.”
Under the rubric of “Curriculum Guides, Publications, and Fact Sheets,” the program offers a list of “Young-Adult Literature on Israel Palestine,” all “available from the Outreach Center.” Of the six books included therein, four explicitly justify Palestinian violence against Israel, beginning with the unambiguously-titled A Stone in My Hand, by Cathryn Clinton (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2002; grades 5-10). This book is described as follows:
Set in Gaza City during the first intifada in 1988, this is the story of 11-year old Malaak and her family. Malaak shows resilience through immeasurable losses. Written by an American author, this historical fiction attempts to portray the realities of the Israeli occupation in Gaza from a Palestinian perspective.
Other titles in the “Young Adult” list include Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood, by Ibtisam Barakat (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007; grades 4-10), and If You Could Be My Friend: Letters of Mervet Akram Sha’Ban and Galit Fink, by Litsa Boudalika (New York: Orchard Books, 1998; grades 6-10). The latter consists of a “collection of letters written from 1988 to 1991 during the time of the first intifada … correspondence between a Palestinian girl living in a refugee camp in the West Bank and an Israeli girl living in Jerusalem.” The list also recommends Samir and Yonatan, by Daniella Carmi (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2000; grades 4-8), in which “[a] Palestinian boy comes to terms with the death of his younger brother, killed by an Israeli soldier.”
Materials for public school use additionally feature “Teaching Sense Making Around Israel/Palestine: Power Point Introduction,” a propaganda presentation signed by Beran himself. This “teaching aid” identifies “Five Problems” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Refugees[,] Borders[,] Resources[,] Jerusalem[,] Settlements.” “Palestinians as terrorists” is identified as an “unsophisticated” view, while “Israel is hegemon” figures as a “sophisticated” approach.
The same catalogue entices teachers with a Gaza Fact Sheet that endorses the Israeli pro-Arab group B’tselem but neglects mention of the terrorist Hamas movement, which controls the territory. The Outreach Center’s search engine turns up lectures and readings by or drawn from the Israel-bashing discourse of Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, and Edward Said.
It is clear that Harvard CMES and its director, Paul Beran, are committed to the adoption of a one-sided, anti-Israel, and pro-Arab introduction to Middle East issues for American schoolchildren. In its “subtler” way, the Harvard approach is as bad as or worse than that pursued by John Esposito at Georgetown.
COMMITTEE FOR ACCURACY IN MIDDLE EAST REPORTING IN AMERICA
Harvard’s Middle East Outreach Center Promotes Anti-Israel Message in Schools
Harvard University’s Middle Eastern Studies’ Outreach Center says its mission is to promote “a critical understanding of the diversity of the Middle East region.” But the activities and record of its director and its programming reveal a pattern of adhering to the Palestinian narrative of the conflict rather than presenting diverse viewpoints.
Director Paul Beran is a longtime activist in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and Center speakers on the Arab‑Israeli conflict have been accused of focusing singularly on a Palestinian perspective while dismissing or ignoring the Israeli position.
The Center’s recommended readings heavily favor anti‑Zionist writings, including works by the late Edward Said, a Palestinian advocate, and former Israeli professor Ilan Pappé, the driving force behind academic boycotts of Israel. The Center also recommends the propaganda film Occupation 101, which features notorious defamers of Israel like Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk.
A slide presentation on the Center’s Web site steers teachers to writings by the extremist Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a group characterized by the ADL as one of the nation’s leading anti‑Israel organizations.
Another presentation, entitled “Teaching Sense Making Around Israel/Palestine” rejects discussion of Palestinian terrorism and the conflict’s religious dimension as an “unsophisticated” approach. The same presentation calls Israel a regional “hegemon,” ignoring the fact that Muslim and Arab populations outnumber the Jewish state by 400 million to 8 million and possess land area a thousand times greater.
The Outreach Center actively promotes its program in the Boston area and provides unscholarly curricular materials to public and private schools. Critics express concern that the result will be a generation of students with a radically misguided understanding of the Middle East.
Harvard’s Middle East Outreach Center Headed By BDS Supporter
According to The Tab, a Boston-area newspaper, Newton resident Tony Pagliuso was shocked when he examined a reading selection on the treatment of women in the Middle East his daughter brought home from her history class at Newton South High School. The article, from a controversial textbook called The Arab World Studies Notebook falsely charged that Israeli soldiers “imprisoned, tortured and killed” hundreds of Arab women in the Palestinian “resistance”. Pagliuso was incensed to discover such defamatory material disseminated in his daughter’s school and raised the issue with school officials.
The incident prompts two critical questions that school systems need to address as they introduce the study of the modern Middle East to students: How do they identify reputable sources on such a contentious topic and what procedures do school systems need to put in place to evaluate curricular material supplied to them? Regrettably, some of the most prominent academic institutions educators turn to for training and curricula offer dubious scholarship tainted by partisan ideological agendas.
Boston-area educators seeking guidance have logically turned to Harvard, one of the world’s great universities. Teachers from Newton, Brookline, Canton, Harvard, Sudbury and Hingham public schools and Brimmer May and Beaver Country Day private schools have attended workshops by the Outreach Center of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. In fact, the Outreach Center’s director presented a seminar on Israel/Palestine to Newton South High School in April, 2011. The Center defines its mission as promoting “a critical understanding of the diversity of the Middle East region for educators and the general public.”
What unsuspecting teachers, parents and students do not realize is that, in reality, the Center espouses the Palestinian cause, providing a narrow partisan perspective, instead of objective, balanced information.
A History of Bias
The Outreach Center serves as the link between Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and surrounding middle and secondary schools. A decade ago, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies received state funding to set up a teacher training seminar on Islamic history. Then too, it displayed a pronounced pro-Islamic, pro-Arab tilt; Massachusetts education officials were shocked by the program the Center presented and denounced it as an attempt to foist a “manipulative” and “distorted” political agenda on unsuspecting teachers.
The Center promoted the controversial text book, The Arab World Studies Notebook, which state officials described as “propaganda” and “practically proselytizing.” The Notebook included such bizarre assertions as the claim Muslims discovered America before Columbus and Iroquois Indian chiefs had Muslim names. Later editions of The Notebook removed some of the absurd claims, but its fundamental flaws remain.
However, the criticism from wary Massachusetts education officials did not deter the Center for Middle Eastern Studies from continuing to pursue its partisan agenda. Although its programs deal with many aspects of the Middle East and the Center has recently focused on the unrest in Egypt, its handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stands out as an example of political bias tainting educational training.
Anti-Israel Activities of Its Director
Each year the Center runs several multi-day workshops drawing in teachers and students from regional school systems. Its director, Paul Beran, also conducts seminars at both secondary and middle schools. The workshops and seminars provide attendees with recommended reading lists, films and curricular materials. Its association with Harvard University gives the Center the imprimatur of reputable scholarship. In reality, the Center staff and its associates are not distinguished as scholars but some have burnished their credentials as anti-Israel scribes and activists.
For instance, Director Beran promotes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. At a Teach-In and Organizing Conference on Dec. 11, 2005 at Harvard, Beran discussed the success of BDS within the Presbyterian Church — PC (USA) — and offered his vision of the BDS movement. Beran advocated “constructing long-term networks of broad based support for action.” He boasted of successfully forming a coalition with the radical anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace. In this way, Beran stated, “it helped the PC (USA) to deal more forcefully with the criticism it has and continues to receive from Zionist groups and their ilk.”
After the BDS movement failed to gain passage of a divestment resolution in the Boston suburb of Somerville, Beran published a letter in Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper and on a blog called Presbyterians for Justice on Feb. 6, 2006 accusing Israel’s supporters of using threats and influence peddling. Charging that “the town mayor, the pension-fund manager and even elected state representatives were all recruited by pro-Israel groups to urge the council to vote ‘no,'” Beran opined, “until now, those who acted as if Israel is always right enjoyed a near monopoly over U.S. attitudes.” He concluded by asserting, “The first step for divestment campaigns is to have a broad base of cross-community support on which to fall back when the Zionist backlash against the campaigns commences.”
In a letter, still available on the internet, to then acting Harvard President Derek Bok protesting the enrollment of former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz into a Harvard Business School course in 2007, Beran leveled defamatory accusations. He wrote, “Mr. Halutz is a noted war criminal, responsible for the deaths of over 1000 Lebanese civilians during the Lebanon-Israel War of the Summer of 2006.” In fact, Halutz has not been tried or found guilty of any war crimes. This is the rhetoric of an extreme detractor, not the measured words of an objective educator.
Also indicative of Beran’s extreme views was a speech to parishioners at the Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Somerville. He compared “the military occupation of Israel over the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem… to the Roman occupation of Jews nearly 2000 years ago,” and asked “How would Joseph and Mary get to Bethlehem with the now 25 foot high Separation Wall in their way?”
Beran has also appeared with his wife Hilary Rantisi, who serves as director of the Middle East Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Rantisi has been active with Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a radical Palestinian Christian group that uses religious imagery to demonize Jews and sponsors gatherings of anti-Israel figures, some of whom compare Israelis to Nazis. At an event sponsored by Friends of Sabeel at the First Church in Salem on May 7, 2005, Beran described the suffering of Palestinian Arab refugees. When queried about Jewish refugees from Arab lands, he incorrectly explained, “Yes, there were Jewish refugees, but they weren’t on the same scale.” Yet the number of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim states exceeded the number of Palestinian refugees.
Promotion of Anti-Israel Sources for Recommended Reading and Film Viewing
A review of the resources favored by the Center’s workshops and courses reveals pervasive bias. The syllabus for Introduction to Middle East politics includes a reading list prominently featuring anti-Israel material.
There is Joe Sacco’s Palestine, which contains graphic and inflammatory anti-Israel cartoons.
Deceased professor Edward Said’s, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays is also featured.
In light of Said’s unremitting hostility to and biased commentary on the Jewish state, one might expect equal prominence would be given to a work by a leading Zionist thinker to provide balance. But instead, ignoring numerous distinguished Israeli historians, the Center commends the work of expatriate Israeli professor Ilan Pappé who has been discredited for his shoddy scholarship, including inventing a quote he attributed to Israeli leader David Ben-Gurion calling for the removal of Arabs from the land.
Other Israelis whose works are recommended, such as Avi Schlaim and filmmakers Yoav Shamir and Yuli Gerstel are similarly notorious for denigrating Israel. To gauge how distorted the perspective provided by the Center is in relying on Jewish defamers of Israel, it is important to note that recent polls of the American Jewish community confirm that over 90 percent of Jews strongly support Israel and reject anti-Zionist positions. Yet the recommended reading list heavily favors anti-Zionist Jewish authors. Supporters of Israel and Zionism are nearly invisible.
A Power Point presentation for an Outreach workshop in August, 2011 steered teachers from several local schools to writings by Alice Rothchild a local activist with the fringe anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and to the writings of another JVP member named Sara Glidden. JVP is so radical that even J Street, known for accommodating Palestinian demands, publicly distanced itself from the group. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) characterized JVP as one of the nation’s leading anti-Israel organizations. The ADL said of the group, “While JVP’s activists try to portray themselves as Jewish critics of Israel, their ideology is nothing but a complete rejection of Israel.”
The anti-Israel propaganda film Occupation 101 is among a list of recommended films casting Israel in an unfavorable light. It features a who’s-who of Israel’s most extreme detractors and delegitimizers, like Richard Falk and Noam Chomsky. The film promotes the odious comparison of Israel to Apartheid South Africa and is saturated with anti-Jewish imagery.
Unscholarly and Counterfactual Approach
A Power Point presentation labeled “Teaching Sense Making Around Israel/Palestine” for the Center’s Contemporary Middle East Workshop — available on its Web site under “teaching resources” encapsulates the Center’s counter-factual approach and tone. A slide titled “Sophisticating” dismisses as “unsophisticated” a traditional scholarship-based understanding of the conflict, instead substituting a politicized point of view.
The religious dimension of the conflict is designated as “unsophisticated,” discounting a century of documented Palestinian religiously-driven rejectionism. The dominant Palestinian Arab figure in the first half of the twentieth century was Haj Amin al-Husseini, who held the religious title of Mufti. For him, the religious element was central. His ideology continues today in the guise of the Islamist Hamas movement which justifies its claim to all of Palestine as an irrevocable “Islamic trust.” Even the supposedly secular Fatah-dominated West Bank government has repeatedly rejected any consideration of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as recently as 2010 and 2011 in statements by its Party congress and President Mahmoud Abbas. Apparently this is all “unsophisticated.” In the Center’s “sophisticated” view the conflict is reduced to a battle over land boundaries.
Also deemed “unsophisticated” is the notion of “Palestinians as terrorists.” No one views all Palestinians as terrorists, but to ignore the role Palestinian terrorism has played in the conflict is to engage in willful blindness.
The slide labeled “Cores of the Conflict” illustrates a recurring theme of Beran’s. He consistently ignores Israel’s interests. The slide lists only items relevant to Palestinian demands. Missing are key Israeli demands, such as recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and an end to terrorism and incitement to hate. There are subtle deceptions too. Note how color is used to portray the chronological diminishment of land not controlled by Israel leaving the visual impression that the land was taken from the Palestinians by Israel.
Another slide labels Israel as a “hegemon,” denying that it could be viewed as “weak” (a.k.a. the underdog). Yet the most cursory examination of maps and population data in any World Atlas reveals that Israel faces an environment dominated by Arab and Muslim states whose populations outnumber it by 400 million to 8 million and who possess land area a thousand times greater.
A slide purporting to explain U.S. policy reveals another theme running through Beran’s teachings — American foreign policy as an instrument of Israeli power. One item on the slide claims that U.S. policy aspires to “Maintain Israel as a hegemon.”
The United States provides Israel with $3 billion in annual aid and supports Israel at the UN where the Jewish state is isolated. Apparently this support is construed as evidence of Israel dominating the region. The political and economic exclusion of Israel in the region reveals the absurdity of such an interpretation.
Even when facts are provided, misrepresentation is implicit in how they are presented. A slide comparing the number of Israelis and Palestinians victims between Sept. 2000 and Dec. 2008 shows more Palestinian minors killed than Israeli minors. These figures shown without context suggest disproportionate Israeli violence compared to Palestinian. But this equation ignores a crucial distinction; Palestinian terrorists target Israeli civilians with indiscriminate rockets and suicide bombers, while Palestinian civilians are the unintended victims of Israeli military strikes targeting terrorists who insinuate themselves within civilian areas. All loss of life is tragic, but this crucial distinction pertains not only to Israel but to American and European operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as well, where collateral civilian casualties frequently occur.
The anti-Israel advocacy of the Harvard Outreach Center does not take place in isolation from its parent Harvard University’s Center for Middle East Studies. The University was the beneficiary of a $20 million gift by Saudi businessman Alwaleed Bin Talal in 2005. The Middle East Studies Center staff boasts an in-house anti-Israel activist named Sara Roy, of whom Middle East scholar Martin Kramer said in 2009, “Her current project is the whitewashing of Hamas.” Another extremist detractor of Israel, Marc Ellis, was also associated with the Center and was recently invited back to give a lecture. A review of the Center’s invited lecturers and authors reveals a persistent pattern of favoritism towards Israel’s detractors.
What is clear is that the Outreach Center is not a reliable purveyor of objective information on the Middle East and in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At a time when schools are forced to streamline their budgets, sending teachers to ideologically-tainted workshops or introducing curricula of questionable content does not reflect a responsible use of funds. School systems that choose to utilize the resources of the Outreach Center and its parent Center for Middle East Studies need to be made aware that their teachers are receiving incomplete and unscholarly information.
Parents of schoolchildren should ask their school administrators and school board members what policies and procedures have been put in place to prevent the abuse of taxpayer-supported professional development or the purchase of propaganda disguised as curriculum material. Parents need to feel confident that their children are being taught Middle East and Islamic culture and history from credible scholarly sources not demogogues.
Harvard, itself, needs to question why it is an accomplice to disseminating propaganda instead of scholarship in its educational outreach activities. Where are Harvard administration, faculty and alumni who care enough about objective scholarship and about the school’s integrity and reputation to halt the abuses of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies?