Six Palestinian terrorists who recently escaped briefly from an Israeli prison “carved for the rest of us a portal, a portal of joy, of time and of possibility,” gushed University of California, Santa Barbara history professor Sherene Seikaly during a Sept. 17 webinar. Along with others, the Israel-bashing Seikaly revealed again her predilection for fantasy during the “U.S. Policy on Palestine” panel of the Arab Center, Washington, D.C.’s “U.S. Policy and Global Competition in the Middle East” conference.
Speaking alongside like-minded individuals such as Israeli-Arab columnist Marwan Bishara and University of Richmond assistant professor Dana El Kurd, Seikaly celebrated the Sept. 6 jailbreak from the northern Israeli Gilboa Prison. In positively romantic terms worthy of a Jean-Jacques Rousseau, she charged that Israel built the high-security facility “to further escalate its incarceration of Palestinians in the wake of the Second Intifada.” Yet she described the escape tunnel, dug over nine months, as a “careful, grinding work of engineering freedom.”
Perhaps evoking “The Great Escape,” the 1963 all-star film about the heroic 1944 Allied pilots’ fleeing from a German prisoner of war camp, Seikaly swooned that the “great escape” from Gilboa “united the imaginations of Palestinians.” Substituting academic jargon for soaring rhetoric, she gushed that Israel’s most wanted “teach us about transgressing borders we have come to imagine as impenetrable. Their condition of fugitivity reminds us of the many borders we have yet to overcome.”
This brief Palestinian “Shawshank Redemption” reference was a salve to Seikaly’s wounds after former President Donald Trump’s administration took numerous steps to promote Israeli victory over enemies who have long sought Israel’s destruction. “We are, after all, still licking our wounds from the Trump administration’s bulldozing of basic standards of international law,” she said. Several Arab states normalized relations with Israel under the 2020 Abraham Accords, so that “from Morocco to the Arabian Peninsula, these regimes have attempted to normalize Israel’s settler-colonial enterprise.” Even the term “Israeli Arab” offended her anti-Zionism as an “injurious and colonial label,” although most Arabs in Israel have no desire to abandon their Israeli citizenship for a Palestinian state.
As has become vogue in recent years, Seikaly presented Palestinians as members of a global intersectional struggle. Palestinians “inspire other people” across the world in “escaping the structures of oppression,” she said.
Yousef Munayyer, a nonresident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C., and a longtime anti-Israel activist, concurred that “Palestine has long been at the center of many revolutionary causes historically.” The Palestinians are waging a “longstanding, unresolved liberation struggle that continues to touch people in the heart around the world,” he said.
International Crisis Group senior analyst Tareq Baconi, a Hamas apologist, also blathered clichés about how Hamas terrorists engage in “armed resistance” against Israeli “collective punishment.”
The panelists’ support of confrontation with Israel rendered unsympathetic Munayyer’s complaint that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration had taken an “embrace of non-solutionism” towards Israeli-Palestinian peace. Preceding the panel, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood had emphasized building upon the Abraham Accords’ accomplishments during his address on “U.S. Policy Objectives in the Middle East: Official American Perspective.” In response, Munayyer spoke of needing an “opportunity for my blood pressure to settle after hearing other remarks from our speaker earlier today from the State Department.”
Yet again, Seikaly, Munayyer and their fellow panelists in academia and beyond demonstrated how peace efforts with such recalcitrant supporters of the Palestinian cause are futile. Anyone who celebrates the escape of terrorists as part of some imagined struggle for global justice is not interested in peace with Israel, but in its destruction. If any American intellectuals still embrace these views, solace comes from the Middle East’s forward-thinking leaders who know to ignore them.