by Daniel Greenfield
“To say that Jews were subject to restrictions that would not allow them to prosper and live in the Middle East is just nonsense.”
Last year, Lior Sternfeld and Michelle Campos signed the so-called
Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism which argued that calling for the
destruction of Israel was not antisemitic.
The signatures of Sternfeld and Campos alongside numerous other
anti-Israel academics was unsurprising. Sternfeld had previously signed a
petition in support of BDS activists which concluded with the assertion
that the signers might refuse to “enter the State of Israel”. He and
Campos had also signed another petition accusing the Jewish State of
More recently, Campos, Sternfeld, and Orit Bashkin had signed on to
the Statement on Israel and Palestine in Jewish Studies accusing Israel
of engaging in “state violence” against Hamas. In language echoing
Soviet propaganda, it denounced Zionism as “ethnonationalist” and
“settler colonial” systems of “Jewish supremacy” that led to the
“segregation” of “Palestinians”.
Israel, all of it, it asserts, exists on occupied territory, not only from the 1967, but the 1948 War of Independence.
From an academic standpoint, the various professors and graduate
students declare that they will support their colleagues who boycott
Israel and as scholars to “amplify, and support our Palestinian and
other colleagues” and emphasize the “place of Palestine in Jewish
With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The NEH is one of the more toxic components of the federal
government. While the Trump administration tried to defund it, the Biden
administration is using it to push critical race theory into classrooms. But not to leave anyone out, it’s also funding a 1619 Project for Israel.
Sternfeld, Campos, and Bashkin were showered with a nearly $250,000
grant to “reimagine” Jewish life in the Middle East before Zionism. The
NEH grant, one of the two largest in Pennsylvania, funds a “large-scale
collaborative project to rewrite the histories, narratives, and memories
of and by Jews in the Middle East in the 19th-21st centuries.”
“Most history books just want to show that Zionism was the only
alternative for Jews living in the Middle East. To say that Jews were
subject to restrictions that would not allow them to prosper and live in
the Middle East is just nonsense,” Sternfeld contended in a story about the project.
The only nonsense here is Sternfeld, who can’t even enter Iran, insisting that a million Jewish refugees and a thousand years of discrimination are a figment of the imagination.
The NEH would never fund revisionist history that denied that black
people were discriminated against during segregation. Why is it funding
the same sort of revisionism against Israel?
The three beneficiaries of the NEH’s reappropriation of taxpayer
money on their behalf have made little secret of their hostility to the
Lior Sternfeld has described Hamas a “bogeyman”, suggested that Israeli attempts to cut off Hamas “merited digging tunnels” and argued, “Can someone really compare the risk of living anywhere in Israel, to the risk of living anywhere in Gaza?”
Sternfeld slandered Israel as an
“apartheid regime” and insisted that through “manipulation” Israelis
"came to believe that the entire Middle East genuinely wants to
eradicate Israel and the Jews" and for some reason, Israelis "do not
believe the Arab leaders when they talk about peace (be it the Arab
League peace initiative, or the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders".
Orit Bashkin writes in one review of "discriminatory practices" as
being the "building blocks of the meaning of Israeli citizenship" and
rants about Israeli efforts to defend against Hamas.
Campos has accused Israelis of racism and repeated antisemitic
tropes that the White House and Congress were “easily manipulated” by
Israel and sent diplomats who lacked the “will to stand up to Israel”.
She falsely claimed that Israel had killed "hundreds of
Palestinians–among them militants, yes, but mostly civilians and those
just defending their homes and villages".
Academic work does not have to be defined by personal politics, but
“Reimagining Jewish Life in the Modern Middle East, 1800 – Present:
Culture, Society, and History” from Sternfeld, Campos, and Bashkin, is
unlikely to be anything but a grander distillation of anti-zionist
revisionist history that falsely insists that Jews lived peacefully
under Arab Muslim occupation.
A workshop proposal from
Sternfeld co-signed by Campos and Bashkin cheers "groundbreaking
studies that view Jewish communities as part of their respective
societies" and proposes an attempt to counter the narratives "that
lament the end of Jewish existence in the Middle East and the Muslim
Sternfeld writes revisionist history about Iran’s Jews without ever
having been there. An academic who authored “Iranophobia: The Logic of
an Israeli Obsession" even hailed his "revisionist history of Jews in
Iran". Campos similarly tackles Jewish life under the Ottoman Empire.
Her work has even been translated into Turkish. And Bashkin writes about
The common theme of anti-zionist revisionist history is that the
Jews enjoyed a good life under Muslim rule. They only moved to Israel
because the left failed to build its utopian tyranny.
The implicit underlying idea is that had the Arab world undergone a
true leftist revolution, Israel would never have existed or even been
needed. Instead, Jews, Turks, and Arabs would have all lived happily in a
socialist utopia. No matter how thoroughly the reality of the Soviet
Union discredited this sort of antisemitism wrapped in utopian garb,
leftists can never abandon it.
Rather than some sort of insightful perspective, this just copies
and pastes the old Communist arguments against Zionism into an
Arab-Muslim context. Not only isn’t this sort of revisionist history
new, but its Jewish proponents are just building on the old propaganda
of Arab Socialist academics demanding that Jews accept their place in
their own nationalist schemes.
All it takes is believing that the Jews were never a people, and never had a nation or a history.
Revisionist history of this sort is padded out with interviews with
elderly Jewish refugees from Muslim countries with a fondness for
Arabic. The resulting exercises are as hollow as interviews with German
Jewish refugees who retain a fondness for Goethe and Berlin cafes.
But what’s old hat in the middle east looks like an exciting new idea in American academia.
Jews, like all minorities, were always oppressed under Muslim rule.
While there were periods of greater and lighter persecution, the myth
that Sephardi Jews living under Sharia law had it easier was largely a
product of Ashkenazi Jewish mythmaking and local appeasement.
While Sternfeld and Bashkin appropriate the history and suffering of
Sephardi Jews, both of them carry typical European Ashkenazi last
names. Sternfeld even celebrated his NEH cash with “I am beyond
verklempt to share the news” in the typical minstrel show comic
Yiddishism embraced by anti-Israel activists trying and failing to
Sephardi Jews "vote for right-wing parties", Bashkin agonized, "I often
asked myself if I had been born to Iraqi Jewish Israeli parents, what my
own political inclinations might have been".
The agenda behind appropriating the Sephardi experience is to
justify antisemitic violence against some Jews. Or as Campos writes in a
piece on the Hebron massacre of Jewish men, women and children of "the
degree to which indigenous Jews lived intimitately within the broader
Palestinian community". Jews who had remained behind under Muslim rule
were “indigenous” while those who had been expelled and returned to
their homeland were not.
Michelle Campos dismisses the brutal murder and mutilation of Jewish
men, women, and children of Hebron as "sixty-seven Jews" killed in
"countrywide clashes". Behind the slick academic discourse is a
dismissal and dehumanization of the Jewish victims of Islamic
oppression. Campos, like most revisionist historians, seeks to replace
the brutal reality of over a thousand years of oppression with selective
fond memories and unfulfilled leftist aspirations.
Lior Sternfeld hailed Jewish participation in Iran’s Islamic
revolution in the form of Edna Sabet, born a Jewish woman, who "in the
wake of her Muslim husband... joined the Mujahedin".
“Despite her tragic end, her story illustrates another aspect in the
complex weave of identities and loyalties that characterized many of
those from her generation,” Sternfeld argued.
There are hundreds of thousands of Persian Jews living in Israel,
but revisionist historians insist on displacing them for the one Jewish
woman who “joined the Mujahedin".
Revisionist history begins by erasing the past even as it insists
that it is really reclaiming it. Like the 1619 Project, it seeks a
particular vantage point for reframing the ongoing reality while erasing
the larger history that doesn’t suit its ideological agenda.
Anti-Israel and anti-Zionist historians erase Jewish history to justify the erasure of Israel.
And like the 1619 Project, the revisionist history here is meant to be injected into schools.
“The book is not just for scholars. We want it to be accessible to
high school students, to professors,” Lior Sternfeld contends.
Propaganda is rarely meant for scholars. And this particular brand
of propaganda produced by radical anti-Israel leftists is meant to
influence the American educational system.
Leftists demand that the United States stop providing military aid
to Israel, but they’re happy to accept USAID money for their anti-Israel
group and NEH funding for their anti-Israel histories.
Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz
Freedom Center specializing in investigative reporting on the Left and
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