Center for Middle East Studies at University of Denver, Turkish Ministry Co-Sponsor Conference Featuring Antisemitic Tropes, Support for Violence

Center for Middle East Studies at University of Denver, Turkish Ministry Co-Sponsor Conference Featuring Antisemitic Tropes, Support for Violence

July 08, 2021

Screengrab from a booklet posted on website of the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University

From June 18-23, 2021, the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at the Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University held a conference entitled “Challenging Apartheid in Palestine: Reclaiming the Narrative, Formulating a Vision,” which featured dozens of prominent anti-Israel academics and activists from across the world. CIGA is led by former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, who was deported to Turkey in 2015 after pleading guilty, per the US Department of Justice, “to a charge of conspiring to provide services to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

The conference was supported by several co-sponsors, including the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter. After the conference convened, the University of Denver and the Korbel School publicly dissociated themselves from it.

Across roughly a dozen webinars during the conference, speakers repeated antisemitic tropes about Zionist or Jewish power and control, expressed support for Hamas and demonized Zionism and Zionists. Casting Zionism and Zionists as inherently nefarious and racist can also have a negative effect on a large number of Jews around the world, including a majority of American Jews, who view a relationship with Israel as part of their Jewish identities.

CIGA’s event featured a number of US-based speakers, including Profs. Rabab Abdulhadi of San Francisco State University and Joseph Massad of Columbia University; Prof. Emeritus Richard Falk of Princeton University; Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir; academic Norman Finkelstein; Students for Justice in Palestine’s Nerdeen Kiswani; author Susan Abulhawa; and representatives from various anti-Israel activist and journalistic organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace’s Estee Chandler and Phyllis Bennis, American Muslims for Palestine’s Osama Abuirshaid and Josh Ruebner, Al-Awda's Lamis Deek, International Solidarity Movement’s Huwaida Arraf, Palestine Chronicle’s Ramzy Baroud and Electronic Intifada’s Nora Barrows-Friedman.

Blatant and classic antisemitic tropes

In a number of instances, speakers espoused antisemitic rhetoric about global Jewish or Zionist power and control in media, culture and more.

  • June 22: Academic Omar Zahzah of anti-Israel activist and tourist group Eyewitness Palestine, which brings delegations from around the world to Israel and the Palestinian Territories:
    • Zionism plays a fundamental role in creating a “white supremacist capitalist imperial common sense...” He stated shortly after that this has “been so intentionally and strategically sewn in place.”
    • “The Zionist project, as many scholars have pointed out, is not merely one of physical colonization but also one of cultural domination. It is paramount that the Zionist narrative becomes the default in the cultural arena, the ultimate urtext against which various other narratological threads and perspectives are measured and challenged. And when I say culture and even narrative, I'm not excluding what is oftentimes referred to as ‘mainstream media,’ or as I prefer, given the current point in time, ‘corporate media.’”
  • June 21: Ubeyd Ruff of CIGA: “...people joke on the internet that if you want to commit murder just say that you're Jewish and claim that the person that you killed is antisemitic. Just put on the magic yarmulke and you can murder who you want, and although this is a joke it’s in practical reality not far from the truth of what’s happening in Palestine.”
  • June 21: Prof. Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut: “Zionist manipulation and lobbying” has skewed Western media coverage of Palestinians.
  • June 18: UK-based writer and activist Salman Abu Sitta: a “very difficult problem” facing Israel once it is “de-Zionized” will be “the [Israeli] military industrial economic complex, which serves the Jewish world power.”

Demonization of Zionists/ism and Denial of Israeli Jews’ self-determination and indigeneity

Speakers at the CIGA conference repeatedly argued that Zionism and Zionists are inherently illegitimate, racist and nefarious. They also used language delegitimizing Jewish self-determination in and indigeneity to the land of Israel.

  • June 23: Susan Abulhawa: Zionists have a “rapacious desire to indigenize themselves, you know, foreigners who really have no relationship with the land, no familial connection whatsoever…”
  • June 22: Discussing why he believes working with Zionists is the same as working with white supremacists, Omar Zahzah stated: “Zionism is white supremacy.”
  • June 22: Mouin Al-Taher, a researcher at the Doha-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, stated that Jewish people in Israel are “not a national group,” effectively denying Jews’ self-determination in that region.
  • June 22: Osama Abuirshaid:
    • “Zionism is a racist, fascist ideology” that “hijacked a religion.”
    • “…the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine is a Western colonial project aimed primarily at keeping the Arab region torn, weak and depleted.”
  • June 21: CIGA’s Ubeyd Ruff: Zionism “…is a supremacist movement, it’s a far-right movement that has hijacked Judaism just like the far-right in the US tried to hijack the capitol.”
  • June 20: Sami Al-Arian:
    • “I think what we need to do is to reject the nature of that Zionist State. I don’t want to be part of it. I don’t want it. I don’t want any Jew to be part of it! Because I’m cleansing the Jew from being a racist. I don’t want him to be a part of a racist state.”
    • The “crux” of the problem is Zionism. “I don’t want to give it any legitimacy whatsoever.”
  • June 19: Prof. Ilan Pappe of the University of Exeter expressed support for the reintroduction of the since-annulled 1975 UN resolution calling Zionism a form of racism; stated his bewilderment that contemporary discussions of racism do not include “Jewish racism” and “Zionist racism;” and advocated the idea that Zionism is “white Jewish racism.” 
  • June 19: Joseph Massad: Jews claiming they were returning to their homeland in Israel “is exactly what the French had done when they went to Algeria. They insisted they were going back to the Roman Empire, that they were going back to their own country...the Italians before and after Mussolini said exactly the same thing...what’s amazing about Zionism is its complete lack of originality and innovativeness, such lazy ideologues!”
  • June 19: CIGA’s Uveys Han referred to “...over a century of Zionism to colonize the land and expel the indigenous population and replace them with other people.”

Legitimization of Hamas violence

On at least two occasions, speakers articulated or seemed to imply their support for Hamas’ violence. Hamas has intentionally targeted, killed and injured scores of Israeli civilians since it was founded in 1987 with the mission of the eradication of the Jewish state. It is designated a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union.

  • June 23: Anti-Israel activist Miko Peled: It was “a success” that in May 2021 Hamas rockets, which Hamas intentionally aimed at civilian areas, shut down Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport and Israelis felt their security was “jeopardized.”
  • June 18: Palestinian Territories-based Catholic priest Fr. Manuel Musallam: “We believe that salvation shall come from God, first of all, but also from resistance, we shall resist. We shall fight with rocks and with the book and the pen and with the aches[sic], with the hammer and the knife and the rifle and the rocket and the missile and the bread loaf and prayer.”