Stanford Professor Palumbo-Liu Makes the Case Against BDS

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On the occasion of the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) 2016 convention that was held in early January in Austin, David Palumbo-Liu posted several tweets promoting events and material advocating for an academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions. Professor Palumbo-Liu is known as a vocal supporter of the BDS movement that singles out Israel as a target for boycott, divestment and sanctions. Over the past few years, he has written numerous articles on BDS that have been published in a wide variety of outlets, and wherever Palumbo-Liu publishes to promote BDS and related activist causes, he usually identifies himself as the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University. The fact that he “blogs for Truthout, The Nation, Salon, The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, openDemocracy,The Boston Review, and other venues” is also noted on his official page at Stanford University’s Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.

Under the title “Why Does Professor David Palumbo-Liu have it In for the Jewish State?” [pdf] Rabbi Wesley Gardenswartz of Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA, noted in a December 2013 address to his congregation that, given Palumbo-Liu’s academic expertise on East Asia, one might have expected that he would “shine his light helpfully on China, an autocratic regime that crushes dissent and imprisons dissidents.” But as the rabbi rightly observed, Palumbo-Liu’s activism is obsessively focused on Israel and the promotion of BDS – a movement Gardenswartz denounced as ultimately pursuing a “final solution to the problem of Israel” in the form of “a one state solution, meaning no Israel. If that is not anti-Semitism, what is?”

This rejection of BDS as inherently anti-Semitic in its goals echoes the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism that includes “[d]enying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and denying Israel the right to exist” as an example for contemporary anti-Semitism. It is thus hardly surprising that Palumbo-Liu firmly opposes efforts to adopt the State Department definition of anti-Semitism at American universities; at the same time, he has asserted that “Anti-Semitism must be challenged swiftly and decisively by each and every one of us.” Unfortunately, Palumbo-Liu doesn’t live up to this imperative in his own activism – quite the contrary: using the prestige of his academic position, he has arguably done much to mainstream anti-Semitism by aligning himself with sites that oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish state in any borders and legitimize terror groups like Hamas that tirelessly advocate Jew-hatred and the killing of Jews.

Recent examples of Palumbo-Liu’s activism include an article with the cumbersome title “What’s Behind the Explosions of Violence in Palestine? — The Destruction of Religious Sites and ‘Extrajudicial Executions’ of Palestinian Teenagers.” As indicated by the title, Palumbo-Liu sets out to justify the recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks as a perfectly understandable response to alleged Israeli brutality. According to Palumbo-Liu, Israel commits endless evils without any reason, inflicting terrible suffering on innocent Palestinians.

As I have already argued elsewhere, it is instructive to see on what sources Palumbo-Liu relies for some of his accusations against Israel. The first few links provided in the opening paragraphs direct Palumbo-Liu’s readers to some of the major sites advocating the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, including the “hate site” Mondoweiss, Ali Abunnimah’s notorious Electronic Intifada, and the Islamist  Middle East Monitor (MEMO) that often serves as a Hamas-mouthpiece. Palumbo-Liu also linked to a site called Intifada with which I was not familiar, but I noticed right away that the site’s logo includes a Palestinian flag in a shape that corresponds to a map of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza combined – thus signaling the desire for the elimination of Israel and its replacement by a Palestinian state. It took just a few minutes of additional research to realize that the Intifada openly promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and features writers popular among neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers.

Intifada’s offerings include an article that provides an excellent example of one of the newest anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which claim that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is a creation of “Washington and Tel Aviv.” Refreshingly, the author, himself a known promoter of Holocaust denial and antisemitic conspiracy theories, openly credits “an article on David Duke’s website” for some of his insights. Even a cursory check of some of the other Intifada contributors reveals that there’s more of the same; examples include Stuart Littlewood, whose writings can also be found at Veterans Today, which the Anti-Defamation League describes as “a U.S.-based website that presents anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as news.”

Getting one’s “news” about Israel from such sites arguably risks having a similar effect as getting one’s “news” about Jews from Der Stürmer: just as the notorious Nazi publication promoted the notion that  “the Jews are our misfortune,” sites catering to anti-Israel activists tend to promote the notion that “the Jewish state is our misfortune.”

Unfortunately, Palumbo-Liu’s Twitter feed reveals that he relies fairly regularly on such sites as news sources; he also frequently retweets activists with well-documented bigoted views and sympathies for Hamas, like e.g. Ali Abunimah, Ben White and Rania Khalek. But going far beyond promoting these activists and sites on his Twitter feed and linking to them in his own articles, Palumbo-Liu has even contributed to some of the outlets dedicated to demonizing Israel as evil incarnate: Mondoweiss lists several articles authored by him, and he also contributed one post to Electronic Intifada.

I have to admit that it didn’t occur to me to check if Palumbo-Liu also contributed to the Intifada site that displays anti-Semitic content so openly. But then I noticed that he had retweeted another user’s tweet that read: “What is at the root of current Palestinian unrest? Important & robust analysis by Stanford Professor @palumboliu: …

This obviously means that Palumbo-Liu was fully aware that the article he had originally published at the Huffington Post had been cross-posted at the Intifada. Indeed, he had no reason to object, since his article after all linked to the site as if it was a legitimate source of news about Israel. The cross-post at the Intifada fully credited Palumbo-Liu as “Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor at Stanford University, and Professor of Comparative Literature and, by courtesy, English. He serves as the Director of the Undergraduate Program in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.” In addition, it was noted that he writes for the “Huffington Post, … Truthout, Boston Review, and Al Jazeera America. Professor Palumbo-Liu also a Contributing Editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books.”  Hopefully, Professor Palumbo-Liu is the first and only academic with such prestigious positions and affiliations to lend legitimacy to an outlet where his fellow-contributors include writers who cite David Duke’s website and regularly promote anti-Semitic content.

A screenshot I took at the time illustrates that readers who were drawn to the site to learn all about how the “Zionist-controlled West fakes threats” – like the terror group ISIS – “and engineers crises in order to steer their populations into the neocon ideological fold” could continue their education by clicking the link to Palumbo-Liu’s article in the sidebar to learn more about Israeli evil. One article credits writings on David Duke’s website as a source, while Palumbo-Liu credits sites like the Intifada, the Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss and Hamas-mouthpiece MEMO.  What all these sites have in common is an abiding hatred for the world’s only Jewish state, which is presented on all these sites as the Jew among the nations that must be eliminated to make the world a better place. Palumbo-Liu legitimates and mainstreams these sites by contributing to them, linking to them in his articles, and promoting their content on Twitter.

One of the more recent articles published on the Intifada provides a stunning illustration that there is absolutely no lower limit to the anti-Semitic content offered on the site. The piece is entitled  “Zionism in Supernatural Darkness” and is archived here for readers who prefer to avoid the site.

As a teaser of sorts, here is just one paragraph with the original links that lead to Veterans Today:

“Bibi Netanyahu, the operational head of the Kardisian Mafia (KM), deployed the Mossad and Dual Citizens of America and Israel to set up and institute the attack on America [i.e. 9/11], which was to be blamed on Muslims. When Bibi Netanyahu mentions god’s will, the god he refers to is Baal (also known as the Great Owl or Moloch), the god these Jewish Khazarians Mafia believe on [sic] requires them to worship him by constant bloodletting and painful human sacrifice and mass-murder and that if they ‘sell their souls’ to Baal (aka Lucifer or Satan) do this [sic] they will be rewarded with incredible riches, fame and great power. When they ‘sell their souls’ what actually happens is that their souls are snatched away and they become inhuman or soulless and take on the characteristics of Baal, that is they become increasingly psychopathic and evil. ‘The Hidden History of the Incredibly Evil Khazarian Mafia’ (Updated) By Preston James, Ph.D on March 8, 2015.”

The piece concludes with what is apparently meant as a prayer for Palestine: “Set the Palestinian people free from the Zionist apartheid system and the horror these bring in Jerusalem, Judea [and] even unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”

Palumbo-Liu’s article remains on the same site (but is also archived here), even though I wrote a short post on my private blog when I first discovered the cross-posting and tagged him repeatedly on Twitter when I publicized the post. It is of course entirely possible that Palumbo-Liu ignored his Twitter notifications and that he would claim to be unaware of the anti-Semitic content at the site.

However, it doesn’t really matter if Palumbo-Liu claims to be ignorant of the deeply disturbing material on this particular site. As noted above, several of the sites and activists he regularly links to in his own writings and promotes on Twitter are also tainted, because most sites and activists that cater exclusively to an audience that wants to see the world’s only Jewish state eliminated don’t really manage to pursue this goal without at least occasionally featuring anti-Semitic views and conspiracy theories as well as support for Hamas and terrorism.

To give just one additional example: on November 8, Palumbo-Liu recommended to his Twitter followers exemplary responses to arguments against an academic boycott of Israel, linking to an article by regular MEMO-contributor Ben White. Early on in his career as a passionate anti-Israel activist, White authored an article tackling the question “Is It Possible to Understand the Rise in Anti-Semitism?” His answer was a resounding yes: “I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are.” Asserting that there were “a number of reasons,” White proceeded to list these “reasons” – in the sense of quasi-justifications – and unsurprisingly, most had to do with Israel. White’s “reasoning” could easily be applied to justify many forms of bigotry, particularly bigotry against Muslims.

To my knowledge, White has never renounced the views he expounded in this piece; indeed, he has since given many indications that he was wrong not to consider himself an anti-Semite.

But it is not only White’s questionable record that should have discredited him in Palumbo-Liu’s eyes as an advocate for BDS. To make the case for BDS, Palumbo-Liu once again didn’t hesitate to link to a site that is notorious for its sometimes openly displayed anti-Semitism and its even more openly displayed sympathies for, and affiliations with, supporters of Islamism and terrorism. MEMO even glorifies terrorists like the Sbarro massacre mastermind Ahlam Tamimi – and it is an all too fitting coincidence that a recent article by Palumbo-Liu featured Ariel Gold, an ardent supporter and admirer of the Tamimi clan of Nabi Saleh, whose members continue to hold their murderous relative in the highest regard and openly cheer the ongoing wave of terror attacks against Israelis.

While there are many other examples of similarly sordid connections, those cited here should suffice to illustrate that Palumbo-Liu’s conduct as a BDS proponent makes an excellent case against BDS. His persistent willingness to rely on and promote sites and individuals with an easily discoverable record of publishing anti-Semitic material and implicit or explicit support for terrorism is a good indication of how central such sites and individuals are for BDS supporters.

Palumbo-Liu recently tweeted a link to his lengthy review of “The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel,” edited by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm. Supposedly, “he dissects the weak logic and alarmist claims of Nelson, Brahm and the other contributors to the collection of essays.” But Nelson and Brahm arguably couldn’t wish for a better critic than Palumbo-Liu, who really makes their case for them by demonstrating over and over again that along with anti-Zionism, BDS promotes all too often anti-Semitism and even support for violence and terrorism.

Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli freelance writer and researcher with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. Her blog, The Warped Mirror, has been published by The Jerusalem Post since late 2006, and her writings have appeared at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, World Politics Review, The Commentator and other sites.

Stanford Professor Palumbo-Liu Makes the Case Against BDS

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