A Modern-Day Blood Libel, Dressed Up in Trendy Academic Language

Oct. 10 2018

In her 2017 book The Right to Maim, published by Duke University Press, Jasbir Puar—a professor at Rutgers University—advances entirely unsubstantiated and outlandish claims about Israel’s malevolent treatment of Palestinians. David Berger, a historian of medieval anti-Semitism, notes the similarities between Puar’s writings and the centuries-old accusations that Jews murdered Christian children and used their blood to make matzah, stole and “tortured” communion wafers, and poisoned wells:

Israel has been accused of poisoning Palestinians [and] harvesting their organs; thousands of Jews are said to have refrained from coming to work at the World Trade Center on that fateful September 11, with Jews responsible in whole or in part for the attacks. . . . The historian Gavin Langmuir proposed a term to characterize the [medieval] blood libel, the host-desecration charge, and the well-poisoning accusation: these figments of the anti-Jewish imagination should, he said, be termed “chimerical anti-Semitism.” [Now] we encounter chimerical anti-Israelism. . . .

[Thus] Puar asserts that Israel’s policy of shooting dangerous demonstrators or attackers in a manner that avoids killing them should be seen as a strategy of maiming the Palestinian population in order to create a debilitated people more easily subject to exploitation. Written in the highly sophisticated language of theoretical discourse current in certain historical and social-scientific circles, [the accusation] has led a significant number of academics to shower the author with extravagant praise. . . .

Building on a hyperbolic statement by a Gazan water-utilities official that it would be better [for Palestinians] if Israel were to drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza, she asserts with evident agreement that he is essentially saying that “it is as if withholding death—will not let or make die—becomes an act of dehumanization: the Palestinians are not even human enough for death.”

It is by no means improper to classify this book as the rough equivalent of the blood libel. Moreover, its publication and reception point to a development that is no less troubling, namely, the corruption of the academy. . . . The Right to Maim was not only published by a respected university press. It bears an effusive blurb from the prominent academic Judith Butler, and when a talk that Puar delivered at Vassar College on this theme was attacked in a Wall Street Journal article, nearly 1,000 academics ranging from distinguished professors like Rashid Khalidi of Columbia to graduate students—most of whom have no expertise in relevant fields—wrote a letter to the president of the university containing a similarly effusive declaration of the quality of her work and her standing as a scholar. Thus, my instinct that a book like this, for all its footnotes and hyper-sophisticated jargon, should be ignored because of its manifest absurdity is, I am afraid, misguided. Academics who care about Jews and Israel, and even those who care only about the academy itself, face a daunting challenge.

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More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Blood libel, History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism

Hizballah Is in Venezuela to Stay

Feb. 21 2019

In a recent interview, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the presence of Hizballah cells in Venezuela as further evidence of the growing unrest in that country. The Iran-backed group has operated in Venezuela for years, engaging in narcotics trafficking and money laundering to fund its activities in the Middle East, and likely using the country as a base for planning terrorist attacks. If Juan Guaido, now Venezuela’s internationally recognized leader, is able to gain control of the government, he will probably seek to alter this situation. But, writes Colin Clarke, his options may be limited.

A government led by Guaido would almost certainly be more active in opposing Hizballah’s presence on Venezuelan soil, not just nominally but in more aggressively seeking to curtail the group’s criminal network and, by extension, the influence of Iran. As part of a quid pro quo for its support, Washington would likely seek to lean on Guaido to crack down on Iran-linked activities throughout the region.

But there is a major difference between will and capability. . . . Hizballah is backed by a regime in Tehran that provides it with upward of $700 million annually, according to some estimates. Venezuela serves as Iran’s entry point into Latin America, a foothold the Iranians are unlikely to cede without putting up a fight. Moreover, Russia retains a vested interest in propping up [the incumbent] Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro and keeping him in power, given the longstanding relationship between the two countries. . . . Further, after cooperating closely in Syria, Hizballah is now a known quantity to the Kremlin and an organization that President Vladimir Putin could view as an asset that, at the very least, will not interfere with Russia’s designs to extend its influence in the Western hemisphere.

If the Maduro regime is ultimately ousted from power, that will likely have a negative impact on Hizballah in Venezuela. . . . Yet, on balance, Hizballah has deep roots in Venezuela, and completely expelling the group—no matter how high a priority for the Trump administration—remains unlikely. The best-case scenario for Washington could be an ascendant Guaido administration that agrees to combat Hizballah’s influence—if the new government is willing to accept a U.S. presence in the country to begin training Venezuelan forces in the skills necessary to counter terrorism and transnational criminal networks with strong ties to Venezuelan society. But that scenario, of course, is dependent on the United States offering such assistance in the first place.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Mike Pompeo, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, Venezuela