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Myers & Ibish Co-Teach Israel/Palestine History

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By Ralph Seliger

When David N. Myers, a professor of Jewish history at UCLA, was named recently to head New York’s Center for Jewish History, he was subject to vilification by partisans on the Zionist right as a supporter of Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS campaign against all things Israeli.  On Sept. 6, the Alliance for Academic Freedom, an affiliate of TTN, stated its support for the appointment of Prof. Myers.

JVP’s director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, issued a written denial that Myers was ever a board member affiliated with her organization.  However, even if he were a supporter of BDS and the JVP, this would not necessarily disqualify this widely recognized scholar for this position — but it surely would affect the discussion.

On Sept. 14, I had the pleasure of attending the first of his three-part joint lecture series at Fordham University (for its Judaic Studies program) with Hussein Ibish, entitled “A Different Take on Israel/Palestine: Shared Histories, Divergent Pathways.” Hussein Ibish, Ph.D., is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, a weekly columnist for The National (UAE) and Now Media, and a monthly contributing writer for The International New York Times.  I know him slightly from his years affiliated with the American Task Force on Palestine; along with the ATFP, he has long advocated a negotiated two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

In glaring contrast to being dubbed an “anti-Israel bigot” by David Horowitz’s “Fontpage Mag,” Myers showed himself to be a fairly conventional authority on the early Zionist years, from 1882 to 1948, the focus of their first joint lecture.  For example, Myers repeats the usual belief that the Dreyfus Affair made Herzl a Zionist; yet a recent biographer of Herzl, mining his diaries, indicates otherwise: “[Shlomo] Avineri reveals that prior events and circumstances had already converted Herzl to the Zionist cause.”

He and Dr. Ibish went back and forth seamlessly in presenting what was happening with both Palestinian Arabs and the growing Jewish community in Palestine.  Ibish presented the insightful view of Palestinian identity as fluid and evolving, a perspective I first encountered with Rashid Khalidi’s 1998 seminal work, “Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness.”  (Sadly, with the decline of the 1990s peace process, and in contrast to Ibish, Prof. Khalidi has been less willing to dialogue with liberal Zionists than previously.)  Ibish, although very much a critic of the occupation and Israeli policies that entrench it within the West Bank and East Jerusalem, has a long history of constructive engagement with mainstream Jews and liberal Zionists.

Their next lecture is scheduled for Jan. 15, 2018, on the period 1949 to 1979.  The third lecture, on 1979 to the present, is scheduled for March 20, 2018.  Again, both will be hosted by Fordham University and sponsored by its Judaic Studies program.

One can see a similar dialogue/lecture presented by Drs. Myers and Ibish in April 2016 for the New Israel Fund, at this link:  http://www.nif.org/news-media/out-loud/webinar-recording-shared-paths-divergent-courses-zionism-palestinian-nationalism/

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