A Palestinian student at Benedictine University last week called on professor Harold Kasimow, a child survivor of the Holocaust, to condemn the establishment of Israel and the “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians in Israel, walking out when he did not do so.
Kasimow is the George Drake Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Grinnell College in Iowa and a visiting scholar at Benedictine. He has been involved in Jewish-Buddhist dialogue since the 1960s.
Kasimow delivered two lectures at Benedictine University’s Lisle campus last week: “Advancing Abrahamic Friendship: Modern Popes in Dialogue with Jews and Muslims” on Oct. 23 and “Bearing Witness: Memories of a Child Holocaust Survivor” the following evening.
It was at the latter that Benedictine senior Ayah Ali drew a parallel between Kasimow’s experiences and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, according to media reports. An accompanying video of the incident has since gone viral. Ali, according to her Twitter feed, is affiliated with the Chicago-area school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
“It honestly means the world that you were willing to share your story with us, but I wanted to bring your attention towards a similar story,” Ali said during the Q&A. “I’m sure you know about what’s happening in ‘Palestine’ and my question to you is, do you support or do you condemn the establishment of the Zionist Israeli state, and whether it’s OK to exile and completely—the complete ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, the way that the Jewish people were exiled and ethnically cleansed?”
The professor responded that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “not an area of my experience,” adding that he believes the State of Israel should exist although he is “not happy with the government in Israel.”
“It’s such a complicated issue,” he said. “There are many Jews involved in interfaith centers who are working on this very issue, trying to help create peace, but it’s really both sides need to [be] open to each other and talk to each other.”
An iota of truth?
Kasimow’s opinion of the Israeli government, however, has nothing to do with Ali’s question. What compelled him to say it? Was he insinuating that under the Netanyahu government there may be an iota of truth in Ali’s heinous lie that Israel exiles Palestinians and practices ethnic cleansing?
Does the fact that people on both sides are working towards a resolution to the conflict have anything to do with a holocaust?
Indeed, the vicious enemies of Israel and the Jewish people on campuses across the United States and around the world have a new tactic. Rather than denying the Holocaust, they—including Ali—acknowledge it happened but then claim that a new Holocaust is being perpetrated against the Palestinians in Israel.
Even concerning the Holocaust, Ali’s facts were skewed. It wasn’t because of the Holocaust that the Jews were “exiled”—they were exiled from their homeland, the Land of Israel, by the Romans in the 1st century. During the Holocaust, they were transported from their homes in exile to the extermination camps.
Furthermore, the Arabs were not exiled when the State of Israel was established in 1948. Rather, as explained by expert Eli E. Hertz, “the overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees left what was then the newly established State of Israel on their own accord due to structural weaknesses within Palestinian society and their leadership …
“Palestinian refugees were neither hapless targets nor innocent bystanders. The first stage of the 1948 war was a fierce interethnic or anti-Zionist civil war in which Palestinians were the aggressors and the initiators.”
Where are the extermination camps?
Ali would be hard-pressed to prove her allegations, unless she relies on false documentation.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2019 the official number of Arab residents in Israel was 1,890,000 people, representing 21 percent of Israel’s population.
Where are the extermination camps? Are Arabs being removed from their places of employment, as happened to the Jews locked in Hitler’s Europe? Indeed, anyone visiting an Israeli hospital, for example, will find Arab patients being treated alongside Jews, as well as a great many Arab doctors and nurses.
As noted in The Jerusalem Post in 2016, 23 percent of Israeli doctors are Arabs; 46 percent of Israeli pharmacists are Arabs; 28 percent of high-tech students at the Technion are Arabs; and 16 percent of the students in all of Israeli higher education are Arabs.
“Regarding perceptions about Israel within the Arab community (based on 2015 polling performed by Prof. Sammy Smooha, University of Haifa),” the Post continues: “73% view ‘Israeli’ as part of their identity; 77% want to see their community fully integrated into Israeli society; 60% are ‘at peace’ with the reality that Israel has a Jewish majority, and 52% would actually vote in a national referendum in favor of a constitution which declares Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, with equal rights for all minorities.”
A most recent example concerns the brutal rape and murder of Israeli-Arab student Aiia Maasarwe in Melbourne, Australia. As reported in The Saturday Paper, her father returned to Australia for the launch of the Aiia Maasarwe Memorial Medical Fellowship program.
“This is very formal, so let me describe it [the program] in a simple way,” he said. “I call it Aiia’s Dream. From now on, every two years, a deserving Palestinian doctor will be given an opportunity to study under an Israeli doctor whose skills are among the best in the world, in an Israeli hospital, which are among the best in the world.”
The real ethnic cleansing
Another issue is the changing demographics in the Palestinian Authority-administered areas of Judea and Samaria, most notably in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, where Christians are fleeing due to profound discrimination and abuse.
“Arab Christians are fleeing in droves from Bethlehem, where, in 1990, they made up a majority of the city’s residents; today they make up only about 15%,” says Robert Nicholson in Providence magazine.
“It is no coincidence that Bethlehem was mostly Christian until the 1990s,” explains Nicholson. “Until then, Bethlehem was ruled directly by Israel through a military administration. Although they were not full citizens of Israel, Palestinian Christians (and Muslims) could travel freely inside the country, visit the beach, and shop in Jewish neighborhoods. That all changed in the mid-1990s, when Israel agreed to let the PLO rule parts of the West Bank and Gaza under a famous treaty called the Oslo Accords.”
One would think that Kasimow, a renowned scholar, would have immediately challenged Ali’s heinous lie that Israel exiles Palestinians and practices ethnic cleansing instead of handing her a PR win on a silver platter. The issue was not “complicated.”
The simple answer should have been: There is no ethnic cleansing or exile of Palestinians.