Panelists probe Gaza conflict at Mandel Hall forum

In a panel discussion entitled “Crisis in Gaza: The U.S., Israel, and Palestine,” professor John Mearsheimer, former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein, and writer Ali Abunimah spoke on the conflict in the Middle East and issued stark criticisms of Israel.

Photo: Chris Salata/The Chicago Maroon
Professor John Mearsheimer, former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein and writer Ali Abunimah discussed the conflict in Gaza in a panel Thursday night in Mandel Hall. Their criticisms of Israel’s actions were denounced by students in Chicago Friends of Israel.

In a panel discussion entitled “Crisis in Gaza: The U.S., Israel, and Palestine,” professor John Mearsheimer, former DePaul professor Norman Finkelstein, and writer Ali Abunimah spoke on the conflict in the Middle East and issued stark criticisms of Israel.

The event, hosted by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, UChicago Muslim Student Association, the Arab American Action Network, and other student groups, was intended to “provide a context” and “explore the wider issues” behind the conflict, according to student organizer and first-year Ali Al-Arian.

The three speakers were often united in their criticisms, including that of the Israeli policy of banning journalists from entering Gaza to President-elect Barack Obama’s silence on the issue.

“It is craven of him,” Mearsheimer said.

Abunimah saw Israel as responsible for the violence that began on December 27 after a ceasefire broke down between Israel and Hamas.

“It was not Hamas that breached the ceasefire,” he said, citing that Israeli forces have launched “over 100 tons of bombs” in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.

Mearsheimer agreed. “The first major violation of the ceasefire was when Israel launched an attack on a tunnel inside of Gaza,” he said. “Hamas retaliated the next day, and the war started on December 27. But remember, when the war started, zero Israelis had died.”

In an interview, two student leaders from Chicago Friends of Israel (CFI) expressed concern over what they called a “one-sided” and “anti-Semitic” discussion fraught with “faulty scholarship.”

“It was pretty inflammatory,” said CFI vice president and third-year Beruria Steinmetz-Silver.

“Our issue is that even though we have the Kalven Report, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies has taken a stance that’s very anti-Semitic and one-sided,” CFI president and third-year Hila Mehr said, referencing the University policy not to take sides in a political debate.

Each of the talk’s panelists was given 20 minutes of speaking time followed by questions from the audience. Mearsheimer began his speech by acknowledging the firestorm his work has created. He attracted controversy last year for his book, co-written with a Harvard scholar, The Israel Lobby, which contended that U.S. policy in the region was unevenly tipped in favor of Israel.

“Although what I’m saying is considered controversial in the United States, it is not, in fact, very controversial if you look at the Israeli media. What is so stunning is that what’s said in the Israeli media is so different from what’s said in American press,” he said. “Most of the talk in our media says Israel is interested in ending the rocket and mortar fire from Gaza…but basically, the overriding goal is to beat the Palestinians into submission.”

Finkelstein is also well-known for his criticism of Israel. He was involved in a highly public controversy regarding his failed bid for tenure at DePaul after accusations of anti-Semitism by Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard professor.

The panelists concluded by considering potential solutions.

Mearsheimer and Finkelstein agreed that Israel was the roadblock to peace. “The bottom line is, what’s going on has little to do with rockets and mortars…. Everyone knows what the solution is,” Mearsheimer said. “As [Israeli prime minister] Ehud Olmert said, if Israel continues on the present trajectory, it will end up as an apartheid state. That is not good. For Israel’s sake, you should want to settle this conflict.”

Abunimah, however, disagreed with the feasibility of a two-state solution, saying that it was merely an “illusion” created by “what I call peace-process industry.” For Abunimah, the ineffectiveness of international organizations was just one frustration among many over the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

Finkelstein’s final lament was the usual caliber of debate on the issue.

“I’ve been involved with this for a long time, and it’s rare that I listen with such attentiveness to the other speakers on the panel,” Finkelstein said. “Unfortunately most of what panelists say is rhetorical and devoid of intellectual or scholarly substance.”

  • Jared J. H. Catapano

    Students at Columbia University are dealing with strong conflict amongst themselves. Two highly opinionated groups have taken their thoughts to the campus proper. It’s quite a scene…

    -Jared J. H. Catapano

  • Mohammed

    The religion of compassion and peace showing its true colors.

    Jordan: Muslim beats daughter to death for wearing makeup
    Yet another honor killing in modern, moderate Jordan, where Islamic clerics resist attempts to stiffen the existing light penalties for honor killings, on the grounds that to do so will lead to immorality.

    “Jordanian beats daughter to death for wearing makeup in ‘honour’ killing,” from the Canadian Press, March 21:

    AMMAN, Jordan — Jordan’s prosecutor has charged a man and his two sons for the premeditated murder of his 19-year-old daughter Saturday, in the latest “honour killing” to take place in this conservative desert kingdom.
    As if “conservatives” beat their daughters to death for wearing makeup.

    The man and his two sons were charged with beating to death the daughter for leaving the house in makeup and talking to a stranger, according to prosecutor Salah al-Taleb’s indictment sheet….
    The man comes from the eastern Jordanian town of Zarqa, home of slain Iraqi al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and known for its conservatism.

    As if “conservatives” beat their daughters to death for wearing makeup.

    In Jordan, an average of 20 women are killed by male relatives each year. Men have the final say in all family matters in this largely conservative society, where many consider sex out of wedlock an indelible stain on a family’s reputation….
    As if “conservatives” beat their daughters to death for wearing makeup.

    The government urged judges to consider honour killings equal to other homicides, punishable with up to life in prison.
    But attempts to introduce harsher sentences have been blocked in Jordan’s parliament, where the predominantly conservative Bedouin legislators argue that tougher penalties would lead to adultery.

    As if “conservatives” beat their daughters to death for wearing makeup.

  • Mohammed

    Coming to America next.

    Female Genital Mutilation on British Turf
    By Jamie Glazov
    Friday, March 20, 2009

    Latest reports indicate that approximately 500 girls a year have their genitals mutilated in Britain.

    It may come as no surprise to the knowledgeable political and cultural observer that the poor victims of these crimes are not from Christian or Jewish families, nor from Hindu or Buddhist ones. They are to be found predominantly in Muslim households. And being Muslim is a status that gives the victims, and all future victims, the unfortunate distinction of being part of a group that society can’t help, because the lib-Left has made sure that the Muslim culture can never be criticized and, therefore, that its sufferers can never be protected or saved.

    Fact: female circumcision is illegal in Britain. But this doesn’t mean that British law enforcement is doing anything about this crime that Muslim communities are perpetrating against their little girls.

    The reality: five hundred girls’ genitals are mutilated every year in Britain. Not one arrest. Not one incarceration.

    You think protecting little girls’ genitals is more important nowadays than protecting oneself from the charge of being Islamophobic? Think again.

    Islamic women haters, therefore, are reigning free in Britain. Enraged at even the thought of female sexuality, the self-appointed guardians of Islamic purity make sure to obliterate the clitorises of little girls before the girls begin to get the concept of their own human agency and the magic of love. In a fascistic effort to deny women even the possibility of personal happiness, individuality and sexual satisfaction, these mutilators start cutting girls at the age of seven or eight—before their menstrual periods begin—so that their sexuality will be amputated forever.

    Despite its gruesome terror, this crime is widely practised throughout world, for it is a crucial ingredient of Islamic gender apartheid and is known as female genital mutilation (FGM). Its ideological premise has been carefully constructed: a girl’s genital area is dirty and unacceptable. How much is amputated varies among cultures. In Egypt only the clitoris is amputated; in countries like Sudan the woman-haters are not so kind. In a savagery called infibulation, the girl’s external genital organs are completely removed: the clitoris, the two major outer lips (labia majora) and the two minor inner lips (labia minora). In Sudan, the term used for this is tahur—which means “cleansing” or “purification.”

    More than 130 million women living today have been subjected to this horrifying practice, and more than two million girls are assaulted by it each year. That is more than five thousand girls every day. Many girls lose their lives during FGM, which is often done with broken glass. Most victims suffer from chronic infection and pain for the rest of their lives. The mutilation robs women of their ability to enjoy the fullness of their sexuality and, therefore, the fullness of their lives. Approximately 75 percent of women cannot achieve orgasm without clitoral stimulation; thus, the possibility of sexual satisfaction has been obliterated for millions of women in the Muslim world.

    The Muslim communities who practise FGM will not easily abandon their barbarity. The Egyptian government, for example, banned FGM in 1996, but an Egyptian court overturned the ban in July 1997. The problem is that the clitoris mutilators point to traditional teachings that sanction FGM. Islamic tradition, for instance, records the Prophet Muhammad emphasizing that circumcising girls is “a preservation of honor for women.” A legal manual of the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence, ‘Umdat al-Salik, which is endorsed by Al-Azhar University of Cairo — the oldest and most prestigious university in the Islamic world — states that circumcision is obligatory for both boys and girls.

    Underlying this brutality is the obvious belief that the sexual mutilation of women will help keep the structure of Islamic gender apartheid in place. Keeping FGM legitimized and institutionalized is one of the most effective means to keep women subjugated and caged. The assumption is that amputating the clitoris will kill the woman’s sexual desire and thereby reduce the chances that she will ever toy with the notion of self-determination.

    Thanks to the Left’s policy of multiculturalism, where no value can be said to be worse or better than any other (except, of course, if American society and culture is the subject of discussion), FGM is now being widely practised on Western territory. A study estimates that 66,000 women living in England and Wales have suffered FGM, most of them before emigrating from their home country. More than 7,000 girls in Britain alone, meanwhile, are at a high risk of being victims of the crime. At present, we know that more than 500 girls in Britain are being mutilated every year.

    This horror show demands a certain question: Where are the leftist feminists in the West crying out in opposition to this crime against their sisters being carried out on their own shores? In what pages, in what demonstrations, are they denouncing the theology that serves as an inspiration to this crime and calling it to account? Where are the Women’s Studies Departments on Western campuses demanding that Islam be confronted on these grotesque elements of misogyny? Where are the columnists of the Nation Magazine, the supposed leader of the humanitarian Left, repudiating this practise and the texts on which is based?

    The Left’s cries of indignation are not to be heard because admitting the inferiority of an adversarial culture might very well legitimize Western civilization, a recognition that no leftist can allow if he hopes to retain his identity and social belonging. That’s why the leftist forces in our society do their best to excuse FGM with the tired old mantra: it’s not only Muslims that do it – as if inaction to save human beings from evil is somehow justified because a sin might exist somewhere else.

    Hypothetical question: if we could have saved the Jewish inmates from Auschwitz before they were gassed, would it have been right to abort the rescue operation upon discovering that someone, somewhere, in some other place, said or did something anti-Semitic?

    Yes, there are non-Islamic parts of Africa whose cultural traditions also dehumanize women and practice FGM. But Muslims are the principal religious group that practices this sexual violence against women. In Egypt, 97 percent of girls are circumcised. And there is no greater revolting image than the smug leftist turning his back on these victims because a non-Muslim somewhere sliced the genitals off of a little girl. How does this self-satisfied inhumanity save the Muslim girls who will be mutilated in the future?

    We know that it doesn’t. But alas, this is only another chapter of a long dark story – the story of the Left, with its hands drenched with complicity in human blood, sacrificing human beings on the altar of utopian ideals.

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