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The latest target of anti-Israel academics? The Negev

The same leftist activists who demand that Israel expel “illegal” Jewish settlers simultaneously insist that Israel not expel Bedouin squatters.

View of a Bedouin campsite in the Judean Desert. Photo by Dario Sanchez/Flash90.
View of a Bedouin campsite in the Judean Desert. Photo by Dario Sanchez/Flash90.
Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips, an author, activist and commentator on Jewish affairs, served as a delegate to the most recent World Zionist Congress.

Critics of Israel on America’s campuses have a new battle cry: Israeli development of the Negev Desert is a war crime!

On Oct. 27, two prestigious institutions—the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center and New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies—will host a Zoom program called “The Negev Bedouin: Emptied Lands and Displaced People.”

If you knew nothing else about the program, the title alone makes it obvious that a verdict of “guilty” has been decided in advance by this academic kangaroo court. Without even presenting and weighing the evidence, the organizers and speakers have already declared Israel is guilty of cruelly “displacing” the local residents and “emptying” the region.

To make matters worse, the CUNY division that has organized the program is its Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The center has decided that Israel’s development of the Negev is a deed so foul that it deserves to be included under the rubric of “the Holocaust, genocide and crimes against humanity.”

The Negev is enormous—4,700 square miles. The Bedouin population of the region is tiny—200,000. In other words, there are, on average, about 42 Bedouins per square mile.

For centuries, the Negev lay undeveloped. In recent decades, that has changed. Israeli irrigation and development has been making the desert bloom. Cities were built: Beersheva, Eilat, Sderot, Dimona, Arad. As were roads, schools, hospitals—all the blessings of modern civilization.

Of course, not all populations are interested in being part of the modern world, and that includes the tribal and historically nomadic Bedouin. The Israelis built seven towns for them with standard homes, though half have still chosen to continue to roam, setting up makeshift encampments. Even though these shanty towns are illegal, they protest—with the help of allies in the media and academia—when the government tries to enforce laws against squatting on public land, which causes problems with electric power lines, waste water, animal grazing and more.

The same leftist activists who demand that Israel expel “illegal” Jewish settlers simultaneously insist that Israel not expel illegal Bedouin squatter. It’s the very definition of the term “double standard.”

But there’s no time for the activists to worry about women’s rights in Bedouin villages. “Progressives” are too busy working arm in arm with Arab oppressors of women in order to slander Israel.

The speakers at the upcoming CUNY-NYU event have made it clear in many statements to the media over the years that denouncing Israel is their goal. One of the featured speakers is an Israeli radical named Yeela Raanan. She is a leader of a group called the “Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages.” In other words, she won’t be offering an objective academic analysis at the Oct. 27 event; while enjoying the prestige of an academic platform, she will be approaching the problem as a strident advocate of a partisan cause.

In an interview with The Electronic Intifada, an extremist anti-Israel website, Raanan described the Negev as the Bedouins’ “ancestral land.” So the nomadic sheep herders who wander back and forth from Saudi Arabia to Jordan to the Negev are awarded the desert as their “ancestral” possession, while the Jews, whose ancestors lived there for centuries before being expelled by the Romans, are somehow interlopers?

In her interview, Raanan favorably cited the ravings of an Israeli-Arab Knesset member who called the removal of illegal squatters in the Negev “a crime.” Raanan accused Israel of issuing “a declaration of war by the state against its Bedouin citizens.”

So, an academic center that studies “crimes against humanity” has set aside its mission of studying actual crimes against humanity, and instead will be hosting a program featuring a speaker who falsely accuses Israel of waging “war” against the Bedouins.

Jewish donors contribute generously to the CUNY Graduate Center and the NYU Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies. Jewish parents pay enormous tuitions so their children can study at these two institutions.

Should the Jewish community’s donations and tuition dollars be used to sponsor vicious anti-Israel programs? Do the donors and parents realize what their money is being used for?

Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020. 

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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