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Letter to the Editor: Professor Shulamit Reinharz full of contradictions

Published: February 9, 2007
Section: Opinions

Brandeis Professor Shulamit Reinharz recently wrote “Fighting Jewish anti-Semitism” as part of an effort to brand critics of Israel as “anti-Semites.” On February 6 Reinharz went on NPR's Point/Counterpoint to argue that view, concluding her remarks by saying, “I want to debate everybody.”

Professor Reinharz poses as somebody who is big on debating. The first sentences in her February 7 article in the Jewish Advocate attacking Jimmy Carter read, “As everyone knows, Jimmy Carter is generating lots of bad publicity for himself right now because of a major contradiction: He claims he wants to start a debate, but he wont debate.”

Yet, when I emailed Professor Reinharz saying I wanted to take her up on her offer to debate, she refused, with one silly evasion after another. I told her I wanted to debate her on the resolution, “There Should Not Be a Jewish State in Palestine” and that I would take the affirmative–opposing a Jewish state. I said I wanted a face-to-face debate with the public invited to be the audience.

Reinharz emailed back, saying, “The only place in the world that is called Palestine is Gaza, and no one wants a Jewish State there, so we agree.”

I replied that she could replace “Palestine” with “Historic Mandate Palestine” in the resolution. Now would she debate? Reinharz shot back, “We are debating, no?” I answered, “No, we are not debating in a public debate, which is what I proposed. Will you debate, publicly, 'Resolved: There Should Not Be a Jewish State in Historic Mandate Palestine'?”

Reinharz replied, “I am happy to debate on email.” I answered, “I propose a public debate, in person, eye to eye, in front of a live audience open to the public. Will you debate this way?” She replied, “No, but I will continue to debate you in email, if you like.”

When I cited the NPR audio file of her saying she would “debate everybody” she responded, “I debate everyone who is interested, on email. The idea of whether or not there should be a Jewish state is not a topic necessary to debate – the question was decided in November 1947 by the United Nations and never overturned.”

A topic not necessary to debate? The idea of a Jewish state is extremely controversial. In January 1946, in a reply to the question of whether refugee settlement in Palestine demanded a Jewish state, Albert Einstein (who later turned down an offer by the Israeli Knesset to be the President of Israel) told the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, “The State idea is not according to my heart. I cannot understand why it is needed. It is connected with narrow-minded and economic obstacles. I believe it is bad. I have always been against it”.

A major part of the world's population, especially Muslims, oppose the idea of a Jewish state. In Somerville, MA, voters in the 27th state district voted last November on a ballot question supporting “the right of all refugees, including Palestinian refugees, to return to their land of origin.” The pro-Israel opposition told them that “'right of return' is just code for abolishing the Jewish state of Israel.” Indeed, the idea of a Jewish state demands that Jews make up a large majority of the population (Israels's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, thought it had to be at least 80%) and if the Palestinian refugees were able to enjoy their right of return, then Jews could very well end up being a minority inside Israel, which would mean no more Jewish state. Knowing this, forty-five percent of the voters voted Yes in support of Palestinians' right of return.

Professor Reinharz won't debate in public because she knows that if she had to confront the real anti-Israel argument instead of the phony one she would lose. The phony “anti-Israel” argument is “Israel should stop occupying the West Bank.” The real anti-Israel argument is that there should not be a Jewish state in Palestine in the first place, because it is based on discrimination against non-Jews, including ethnic cleansing;

Palestine should be a state in which everybody is equal before the law and can live anywhere in it they wish, as equals–a state to which its former residents, now exiled refugees, would enjoy their right to return and right to be compensated for property that Israel illegally took from them, just as Germany allowed Jews to return after the Holocaust and compensated them for their lost property.

John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.