Opinions in the Classroom

There is a lot of talk about biases, allegiances, expressing opinions, etc. in the academic world, especially in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Many on the pro-Israel side accuse Middle East studies professors, associations, and students in American and other academic circles as being one-sided, too pro-Palestinian, or anti-Israel. There is a lot of truth to these accusations. However, the issue is not black and white and there are differences between being pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel, less supportive of Israel than your neighbor, anti-Semitic, left-wing, etc. It is not useful to paint everyone with the same brush, nor is it useful to attack people solely because their opinions are different than your own. There are lines, and when these lines are crossed, people should be held accountable. However, for example, people need to understand that just because someone does not support Israel to the same extent as they do, that does not necessarily make that person anti-Israel.

On that note, and the real reason I began writing this post, is because I wanted to share something that happened in the classroom today. I hope to write more on this later, but of course Obama talk is very prevalent at AUC and around Cairo these days, and my professor was asking us if we were happy that Obama was elected. Of course the class was unanimously thrilled. However, one student, who is a very nice woman though she and I disagree on a lot of things, decided to add “yes, but he offered Rahm Emanuel the job of chief of staff, and he is a little too Zionist, so that is not good.”

Now, now. We are all entitled to our opinions. However, I was upset by this comment. First of all, I found it ironic that this same woman who was literally jumping up and down with excitement the day of the election in anticipation of Obama’s win, who did not come to school the day after because she stayed up all night watching the results, who told me that anyone who would vote for McCain is “retarded,” is already criticizing Obama’s decision making skills. I thought he was supposed to be perfect? I support Obama, but I was never under the illusion (or delusion) that he is perfect or that once he was elected, all of America’s problems were going to just disappear into thin air.

More importantly, the discussion of Rahm Emanuel’s politics, history regarding Israel, his father, etc, and being upset about these things I have no problem with. However, to me, the comment made in class served no purpose and was out of context of the discussion, unnecessary, and inciting. Personally, I try not make comments that I think could be inciting or might offend other people even if such a sentiment might be warranted based on my opinion. Especially in a classroom, especially when we are not really talking about politics, and especially when I know there are other people around who might disagree with it and/or find it offensive.

Not to mention the fact the Emanuel is the fourth ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, and by that logic is qualified for the job. Israel is not the only issue he will be dealing with and hence should not be qualified or disqualified for the job solely based on that criteria.

Anyway, these are the types of comments I hear often in Middle East studies academic circles.

2 Responses to Opinions in the Classroom

  1. Khawaga says:

    Joe,

    I’m not sure her comment was totally out of bounds for two reasons. One, Rahm Emanuel’s father was a member of the Irgun and, regardless of Rahm’s personal political views and competencies, that will send a certain message to the Arab and Islamic world and make it difficult to repair our image there. On top of that, Emanuel’s father was quoted by Maariv making an offensive slur against Arabs when asked about his son’s appointment.

    The second reason, and this is more my concern, is that he has particularly strong views on Israel and so he could alienate Israelis whom the administration would want to push toward cooperation and negotiations with the Palestinians. If Israelis believe Emanuel is to left by their standards, they might elect Netanyahu. That said, Emanuel is not an FP advisor and so his influence in this regard is questionable.

    Anyway, that’s my take. The first point is weaker because it’s an association argument and excuses the Arab media for making assumptions (and they will make assumptions) about what Emanuel thinks based on what his father did. That sort of thing is obviously wrong, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be predicted and taken into account.

    Max

    P.S. I deleted my first post because it contained two different misspellings of Emanuel’s name.

  2. Ibn Yaaqub says:

    Hey Khawaga,
    Thanks for your comment, and you make a good point. I need to amend my post (you got to it first) by clarifying that I do not object to people having concerns about Emanuel’s pro-Israeli tendencies or that actions of his father. It would help contextually if you had been with me when this happened and knew the person to which I was referring, who in my opinion is unfairly critical of Israel. Regardless, what I would like to say is that it is the context in which this comment was made was that made it inappropriate, and less so its content on its own.
    If someone wanted to comment on Emanuel being a good of bad choice for the position of chief of staff, I don’t think his views on the Israel-Palestinian issue are the most important factor.

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