View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

When Professors Go Bad 

I was brought up to understand that professors were meant to profess a certain point of view. Not only do I have no problem with that, I actually think that, given sufficient intellectual diversity, it serves an obvious purpose of getting the students to think. But this also calls for the professor to play fair. Last night, the professor didn't play fair.

The class professor is a Shiite Muslim from Iran, but not exactly the kind of guy who'd be caught drinking tea with the Mullahs. He came to the US from Shiraz, that Muslim city being the originator of that type of wine. Eventually, he stayed, married a Christian woman who did not convert, and is raising his son as a Christian. I should also add that on all discretionary portions of my grade thus far, I have done extremely well, and there is no, zero, none, nada evidence that my being Jewish has in any way affected my grade one way or the other.

At the end of the class, as one student team finished presenting its country report on Israel, the counterattack came. Now, the students were doing a report on Israel. Not mentioning terrorism would have been like not mentioning the elephant in the sealed room. They were scrupulous about keeping their discussion to the effects on daily life and the effects on business. They assigned no blame, provided no "solutions to the problem," and mentioned politics only to note that bringing it up could be bad for business.

Suddenly, "apres moi, le deluge," or, "after we're done, it's time for the editorial." The professor let loose with about four minutes of uninterrupted polemicizing, among the points he made were:

  • People have the image of the terrorists as being Arabs, but Jews used to be terrorists, too
  • Menachem Begin, who blew up the King David Hotel, became Prime Minister
  • People only resort to suicide bombings if they're desperate in some way
  • The man who assassinated Rabin was also a terrorist
  • What Sharon is doing is just as extreme
  • Now, a Rabbi Hertzberg (sic) has come out in favor of a two-state solution
  • Need to find some other way of talking and fixing the problem

Now, the main point here isn't that he wrong. He's obviously wrong. There neither is nor ever was any Jewish equivalent of Hamas. The Irgun blew up British Military Headquarters, after telephoning repeatedly to warn people to get out of the building. Two years ago, some chimpanzee who had been trained to pass an employment exam disguised himself as a waiter and blew up 50 people sitting down to a seder. Yigal Amir is in prison and isn't getting out in some prisoner exchange for all those Labour MPs who are out of jobs because they were willing to give away half of Jerusalem. The fence hasn't killed anyone.

I have no idea who Rabbi Hertzberg is. If he's Israeli, it's not news that Israeli rabbis can be as pragmatic about this stuff as anyone. If he's American, he's not relevant, since American Jews no more make foreign policy for Israel than this professor decides how deep the bunkers have to be for the Iranian nuclear program. In any case, there's never been any shortage of Jews willing to settle for a two-state solution.

No, none of this is the point, although it all needs to be answered, again and again, as many times as it gets raised. No the point is that this was a business class, not a political science or international relations class. It was being held in the Daniels College of Business, not over in Ben Cherington hall as part of ISIME. It was pure polemic, distilled editorializing, placed at the end of class to prevent the second half a discussion that was out of place, anyway.

Israelis get presented as victims of terrorism, affecting the business climate and their lifestyles, because they are the victims, and businesses do care about the security situation in countries they might enter. Until the Palestinians figure out a way to make calculus as anti-Semitic as subtracting dead Jews from live ones, nobody's going to put money into a research park in Ramallah because the students will stop learning math about the time they learn how to strap on a bomb belt. But if you're Intel, and you're putting a plant in Kiryat Gat, it matters to you what the attrition rate is on the morning commute. And if you're an employee being rotated over on assignment, you'd like to know how best to ensure your repatriation comes in one piece and on schedule.

What makes this doubly alarming is how acculturated the guy is. He's what we all want our immigrants to be, and isn't even particularly religious. His co-author, with whom he's written two books, is Jewish. But when push came to shove, in a situation that offered only an oblique opening, he went charging through like a bulldozer over St. Rachel. To me, this once again raises the ugly specter of a democratized Arab world, wtih religion and national identity still potent influence, still hostile to Israel. Still, my suspicion is that once the Mullahs are gone, most Iranians would be perfectly happy accepting a foreign policy that accepts Israel. But it's by no means guaranteed.

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