The Lobby that Never Sleeps

May 5, 2009

This is a pretty shocking story. William Robinson, a well respected sociology professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, is being investigated by his university and faces disciplinary prosecution for using material critical of the state of Israel in his academic classes.

Prof William I Robinson

Prof William I Robinson

Doug Henwood has interviewed Prof Robinson here, over at Counterpunch, where he discusses and refutes the charges which have been cooked up with the assistance of the Anti-Defamation League.

Robinson is accused of sending an e-mail that equated Israeli attacks on Gaza with Nazi atrocities. Yet the professor made the entirely valid comparison between the Nazi’s strangulation of the Warsaw ghetto with the ongoing blockade of the Gaza Strip, intended to choke Palestinian resistance.

From what we can tell, his comments certainly do not qualify as “anti-semitic” by any stretch of the imagination, yet this is precisely what the ADL is seeking to pin on Robinson.

See also the Committee to Defend Academic Freedom at USB

The attack on Robinson is almost identical to one launched on Professor Richard Falk – UN investigator in Palestine – last year. At the time, Falk told the BBC that “he drew the comparison between the treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi record of collective atrocity, because of what he described as the massive Israeli punishment directed at the entire population of Gaza.”

Falk rightly said that, although “he understood that it was a provocative thing to say…at the time…he had wanted to shake the American public from its torpor.”

It also parallels the response to British MPs Oona King and Jenny Tonge, who travelled to Gaza in 2003. On returning, King wrote that “the original founders of the Jewish state could surely not imagine the irony facing Israel today: in escaping the ashes of the Holocaust, they have incarcerated another people in a hell similar in its nature – though not its extent – to the Warsaw ghetto.”

There is without doubt an element of historical sensitivity at issue here. No-one belonging to a people which lost 6 million members at the hands of the Nazis would relish being compared to them. Hence Falk’s recognition that his comments would shock.

But King’s irony is sound. The comparison is apt. Gaza and Warsaw are similar events – both atrocities, and both inflected by a deep racial hatred. Persecuting those who make such comparisons is a politically powerful means of deflecting criticism of the Gaza siege, and making the Israeli strategy seem natural – even acceptable – while as collective punishment it clearly is not.

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