OpinionSchools & Higher Education

CUNY invites ‘ethnic-cleansing’ accuser to speak about Zionism

Derek Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard, recently signed a petition that slandered Israel as a country of “apartheid” and “Jewish supremacism.”

The City University of New York School of Law. Credit: Screenshot of Google Street View.
The City University of New York School of Law. Credit: Screenshot of Google Street View.
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.  

Guess which “expert” has been invited to lecture on Zionism at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center?

The answer, incredibly, is a professor who accuses Israel of “ethnic cleansing”; advocates restricting U.S. aid to Israel; and has accused American Jews of having a sexual infatuation with the Jewish state.

Derek Penslar, a Canadian-American professor of Jewish history at Harvard University (where else?), will speak on “Zionism as Hated Object and Hating Subject” as part of a Nov. 16 webinar sponsored by the CUNY Graduate Center.

Penslar has a long record of taking extremist positions on Israel.

In an interview with the London Jewish Chronicle on March 14, 2013, he said: “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 claimed that “Israel bears its share of responsibility” for all the Arab-Israeli wars that have taken place since 1948.

As recently as Aug. 4, he signed a petition that slandered Israel as a country of “apartheid” and “Jewish supremacism.” In it, Penslar and his colleagues also denounced 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.”

For the record, that would mean (among other things) that Israeli soldiers would be prohibited from using American-made rifles to guard synagogues, kindergartens and the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, or in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of French Hill, Gilo and much of Ramot.

The petition Penslar signed was also laced with conspiracy-mongering. It claimed that Israeli legislative reforms concerning the balance of powers between the judiciary and the Knesset are actually part of a secret plot to “deprive Palestinians of equal rights.” In reality, many of those reforms have already been adopted, yet not a single Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel has been deprived of any rights.

His strangest anti-Israel accusation appears in his new book, Zionism: An Emotional State. Many radical academics believe that they can psychoanalyze the entire Jewish people; they see Zionist patriotism as a series of hot-headed “emotional” reactions and overreactions.

In truth, Zionism has always been a clear and rational way to address the reality that faces Jews in a hostile world. Embracing Zionism in response to inquisitions, massacres, pogroms or the Nazis’ genocide is not “emotional”; it’s a very logical answer to Jewish suffering.

In a recent interview with the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Penslar elaborated on his bizarre psychoanalysis of the Jewish people. Since 1948, he asserted, American Jews have supported Israel out of “an almost erotic love.”

According to Penslar, “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.”

(He was referring to Newman acting as the lead Jewish character Capt. Ari Ben Canaan in the 1960 historical drama “Exodus.”)

This isn’t merely ignorant; it’s highly insulting. American Jews do not love Israel because the hot weather of the Middle East tans bodies or encourages people to wear shorts. “Falling in love” with Israel has nothing to do with sex. American Jews love Israel because it’s a wonderful country, because of all it has accomplished, and because of pride in the restoration of statehood after 2,000 years of national homelessness and persecution.

If this is the kind of “expert” on Zionism employed by Harvard and who the CUNY Graduate Center features as a speaker, is it any wonder that Zionism is so badly misunderstood on college campuses today?

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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