OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Antisemitism can’t be fought with an anti-Israel speaker

Professor Derek Penslar of Harvard University wrote a book psychoanalyzing the Jewish people and denigrating Zionist patriotism as just hotheaded, irrational emotionalism.

Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. Credit: Ohototram/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
Birkbeck College, part of the University of London. Credit: Ohototram/Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.  

A prominent institute for the study of antisemitism seems to think that the way to address the growing scourge is to give a platform to a Jewish professor who has accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.” 

The Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at the University of London has announced that on June 27, it will host professor Derek Penslar of Harvard University to discuss “The 1948 Palestine War.”

The title of the lecture gives you a clue as to Penslar’s tilt. The common and historically accurate way of referring to that conflict is “Israel’s War of Independence” or “the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.” Note how Penslar’s title creates a “Palestine” when no such independent nation existed in the 1940s. Mandatory Palestine was a geopolitical entity that existed between 1920 and 1948 in the region under the terms of the League of Nations; both Arabs and Jews lived there.

The official description of Penslar’s talk says that he will be discussing “attitudes towards the partition of Palestine and the ensuing Arab-Israeli war.”  The problem is that there wasn’t any partition. It was just a plan by the United Nations. And there wasn’t an “ensuing Arab-Israeli war.” There was an invasion by five regional Arab armies to annihilate the Jews and prevent any partition plan from being implemented.

Why doesn’t Penslar want to draw attention to the fact that the Arabs were the aggressors in 1948? Because his publicly declared view is that Israel is a vile, racist, murderous entity.

In an interview with the London-based Jewish Chronicle on March 14, 2013, Penslar asserted: “What happened to the Palestinians [in 1948] wasn’t genocide. It was ethnic cleansing.”

Writing in Fathom in April 2021, he accused Israel of “perpetuat[ing] oppression, resistance and hatred.” He also outrageously claimed that “Israel bears its share of responsibility” for all the Arab-Israeli wars that have taken place since 1948.

Last August, Penslar signed a petition that slandered Israel as a country of “apartheid” and “Jewish supremacism.”

Derek Penslar
Derek Penslar. Credit: Harvard University, Center for Jewish Studies.

Penslar and his fellow petition signers also libeled Israel’s government as “a regime of apartheid,” and called on the Biden administration to “restrict American military aid from being used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

His demand for restricting U.S. aid goes much further than the Biden administration’s withholding of some bombs from Israel over its actions in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. This Harvard professor wants to restrict all American military aid to Israel from being used anywhere in the territories that the Palestinian Arabs claim, not just the Gaza Strip.

If Penslar had his way, Israeli soldiers would not be able to use American-made rifles while guarding synagogues and kindergartens in numerous neighborhoods of Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter in the Old City.

Penslar’s latest book, Zionism: An Emotional State, sheds further light on his extremist anti-Israel bias. It’s essentially an attempt to psychoanalyze the entire Jewish people and to denigrate Zionist patriotism as just hotheaded, irrational emotionalism.

In a recent interview with the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Penslar explained his warped perspective. Since 1948, he declared, American Jews have supported Israel out of “an almost erotic love.” According to the professor, “It was the love of a new Jewish body, tanned, virile, Paul Newman-like men, women in short shorts. … More and more people [were] using the language of falling in love with Israel, which you hadn’t heard before. … It was about love. About eros. The Israeli soldiers are an essential component of it.”

Earlier this year, Penslar stated in interviews with The Boston Globe and Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the claims about antisemitism on the Harvard campus were “exaggerated.” That’s right. In the middle of an unprecedented hurricane of antisemitism at Harvard, he dismissed it as an “exaggeration.”

Is this the way for the Birkbeck Institute to study antisemitism? By promoting a speaker who spreads anti-Israel slurs about “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing,” who portrays Zionism as some kind of psychotic condition, and who tries to minimize the evidence of antisemitism?

Maybe it’s time for the institute to study the role of extremist Jewish critics of Israel in encouraging antisemitism, by providing cover for haters who love to say, “See? Even this Jewish professor says Israel is evil! So that proves it!”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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