Jewish Journal

Santa Barbara professor compared Israelis to Nazis

by Brad A. Greenberg

April 27, 2009 | 5:43 pm

Parallel images from UCSB professor William Robinson

I’ve never heard students complain of anti-Israel sentiments at UC Santa Barbara. That’s the reputation of UC Irvine and, to a lesser extent, Berkeley. But I just received an e-mail, which included a link to the video seen after the jump, forwarding an e-mail from William I. Robinson, a USCB sociology professor. The contents of that e-mail, which Robinson reportedly sent to students on Martin Luther King Day and ran under the heading “Parallel images of Nazis and Israelis,” included 42 side-by-side photos (like the one at left) that have made Robinson the focus of an academic investigation.

Here’s a portion of what he allegedly wrote:

I am forwarding some horrific, parallel images of Nazi atrocities against the Jews and Israeli atrocities against thePalestinians.  Perhaps the most frightening are not those providing a graphic depiction of the carnage but that which shows Israeli children writing “with love” on a bomb that will tear apart Palestinian children.

Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw - a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs.  We are witness to a slow-motion process of genocide (Websters: “the systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group”), a process whose objective is not so much to physically eliminate each and every Palestinian than to eliminate the Palestinians as a people in any meaningful sense of the notion of people-hood.

Comparing Israelis to Nazis is nothing new. Criticism of Israel’s onslaught, particularly its intensity, on Gaza was arguably deserving. But the Zio-Nazi association is a strawman, typically reserved for rhetorical extremists, the Arab press and British MPs who lost family in the Holocaust.

According to KEYT, Robinson claims the complaint, initiated by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the two students who contacted the L.A.-based human-rights and Jewish-defense organization, is an attack on his academic freedom.

Robinson may have a point there. Tenure and academic freedom provide professors with a lot of latitude—less so for Ward “Little Eichmanns” Churchill than Kevin “The Foremost Anti-Semitic Thinker” MacDonald. And far worse things were said by professors at a UCLA symposium in January. As a refresher, here is what Tom Tugend reported then:

The final speaker was UCLA English literature professor Saree Makdisi, who stated that when Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the continuing blockade “made Gaza a prison and [Israel] threw away the keys.” He added that it was Israel’s “premeditated state policy” to kill Gazans and stunt the growth of their children.

While the four professorial talks were delivered and received quietly, interrupted only occasionally by applause, emotions escalated during the closing question-and-answer session.

Most of the questioners were adults, well beyond student age, and their softball questions about control of Washington by the Jewish lobby and how to divest from Israel were easily fielded by the speakers.

The mood changed when a few pro-Israel attendees got their chance, according to audience members. When Eric Golub asked Hajjar whether she would consider as prosecutable crimes Hamas’ murder of Fatah rivals, the use of civilians as human shields and recruitment of suicide bombers, the professor responded, “If you think I favor suicide bombings, then you have that Zionist hat on your head screwed on way too tight.”

Hajjar later retracted her comment, but her initial response was met by audience cheers and chants of “Zionism is racism,” “Zionism is Nazism,” “Free, Free Palestine” and “F…, f… Israel.”

Although there were no threats of violence and a policeman was at hand, when the meeting concluded, some members of the audience engaged pro-Israel students with further cries of “f… you.”

Shirley Eshaghian, a psychology senior and president of Bruins for Israel, said she left the symposium shaken.

“I never felt so unsafe on campus,” she said. “People were shouting, and I had this horrible feeling that I, as a Jew, was being attacked; that I was being called a Nazi.”

Offensive? Of course. Appalling? I’d say so. Anti-Semitic? Um ... yeah. But also, absent threats of violence, generally permissible on campus.

I can’t imagine the circumstances under which Robinson would be reprimanded by UCSB’s academic senate. I also have to wonder if this was a one-time affair sparked by Israel’s war in Gaza or if anti-Semitic sentiments have repeatedly manifest themselves in course lectures on Latin American history.

I’ve emailed Robinson for comment but have yet to hear back.

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