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A Pro-Hamas Left Emerges


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a-pro-hamas-left-emergesThe American Interest:

In the pursuit of political goals and an anti-Israel message, Historians Against the War has abandoned the standards of its profession and adopted a stance that objectively supports Hamas’s war aims.

Jeffrey Herf

August 26, 2014


On July 31, 2014, a group of left-leaning historians called “Historians Against the War” posted an open letter to President Obama denouncing Israel’s actions in the Gaza War and calling for a cut-off of American military assistance to Israel. On August 13, the letter was posted on the website of the History News Network. On August 31, the signers reported that “in less than twenty-four hours over two hundred US, based [sic] historians had signed the letter.” This remarkable turnout depended on the mobilization of an already existing network of an academic Left that emerged in opposition to the war in Iraq and that stays in touch via a website called “The Hawblog.” On August 14, the blog announced that more than a thousand historians had signed the statement, including a large number from Mexico and Brazil.


With a brief and unconvincing effort to sound balanced, the statement deplored “the ongoing attacks against civilians in Gaza and in Israel” but then turned its fire on Israel for what it called “the disproportionate harm that the Israeli military, which the United States has armed and supported for decades, is inflicting on the population of Gaza.” The signers were “profoundly disturbed that Israeli forces are killing and wounding so many Palestinian children.” They found “unacceptable the failure of United States elected officials to hold Israel accountable for such an act” and demanded “a cease-fire, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and a permanent end to the blockade so that its people can resume some semblance of normal life.” Further, they urged the President to suspend U.S. military aid to Israel until there is assurance that it will no longer be used for the commission of “war crimes.” “As historians,” they concluded, “we recognize this as a moment of acute moral crisis in which it is vitally important that United States policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict change direction.”


It is old news that an academic tenured Left has a foothold in departments of history in the United States, as well as in Latin America. Also familiar is the deception involved in presenting oneself as “against war,” as if those who disagree are “for” war, and as if the issue were one of war or peace rather than anything that has to do with the substance of the conflict. Nor is it surprising that left-of-center academics are largely hostile to Israel. Hostility to Israel became a defining element of what it means to be left-wing since the early 1950s in the Communist states, and since the late 1960s for the Left in Western Europe, the United States, and the Third World as well.



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From The Comments





I wrote the following letter to signatories of the letter with whom I am acquainted;


I hope that all is well.

I am writing to express my distress at finding your signatures on the “Historians’
Letter” regarding the Hamas-Israel war.


I attach an article that I wrote for an anti-BDS event at the CUNY Graduate
Center before the current hostilities that provides my perspective on the
larger issues, and I hope that you will take the time to read it. You can also find it at http://spme.org/spme-research/....


With respect to the historians’ letter, I remind you of the following: (The
problem is that whatever I will write is already known to you and has not
affected your decision. Nonetheless, this will not be the first quixotic effort in which I have engaged.) Israel is faced with thousands of rockets that are being launched at its civilian population from densely populated civilian areas. Those locations were chosen precisely in order to create a situation in which attacking them would inevitably result in civilian casualties. (I refrain from addressing the ludicrous assertion that we hear all too often that because of the dense population of Gaza there are no other available locations.) The same is true of the massive, sophisticated tunnels intended for the mass kidnapping and murder of Israeli civilians.


For this reason, Israel’s attacks have indeed caused civilian casualties. It has pursued measures unprecedented in the history of warfare to minimize such casualties. That these measures have succeeded to a significant degree is evident from the greatly disproportionate percentage of military age males killed even according to the figures supplied by Hamas entities and funneled through the UN and the media without the ability to evaluate them at this stage. The assertion that the harm inflicted on Palestinian civilians is disproportionate is, by any definition of disproportionate, misguided. If disproportionate refers to greater force than needed to neutralize the threat, then the assertion is not true. If it
means that Israel should simply live with the attacks and the tunnels—something
that no country in the world would do-- then the assertion is immoral. And if it means that Israelis should die in larger numbers in order to make the sacrifices more balanced, then it is all the more immoral.


All of this means that the assertion that Israel is committing war
crimes is also immoral. As you know, one of my areas of scholarly study is medieval Jewish-Christians relations. I ask myself about the comparative moral
culpability of medievals who accused Jews of ritual murder and contemporaries who accuse Israel of war crimes. The vast majority of those medieval Christians had no real evidence that Jews do not murder children and consume their blood.
They knew that Jews had been executed by duly constituted authorities
for doing precisely that. Even the few who knew that papal and imperial investigations had found the accusation baseless could have assumed in light of the accumulating evidence that the investigators had been misled. In our case,
the evidence of Israel’s efforts to identify terrorist targets and avoid
civilian deaths to the degree that this is possible is manifest to every
observer who takes the trouble to learn the facts. I leave it to you to draw conclusions about comparative moral culpability.


Despite the pro forma deploring of attacks on Israel that appears in the first sentence, the historians’ letter is devoted exclusively to urging steps that facilitate the re-arming of Hamas so that it can perfect its capacity to murder Israeli civilians on the largest possible scale with impunity. I leave it to you
to draw conclusions about the ethical standing of this document.





Not that they will pay the slightest bit of attention to this.


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