Juan Cole, Phyllis Bennis – Lannan Does It Again

Take Action now to have an op-ed or letter to the editor in the New Mexican before April 6th.  Details below.


Once again on April 6, 2016 at the Lensic the Lannan Foundation is providing the Santa Fe community with extremely biased speakers against Israel, speakers who often argue that it is the US and Israel that cause the world’s problems.  Juan Cole is a University of Michigan professor of Middle Eastern history who, on his blog and in his lectures, often blames the world’s ills on the US and Israel, refuses to recognize radical Islam as a motivator of violence, and simply makes up history.  Phyllis Bennis, the “moderator,” is “a veteran Israel Basher” active in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and perpetuates one-sided discussions of the Palestinian dispute with Israel in her extremely biased book, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

Take Action – Lannan Lecture Attendees Should “Know Before You Go”

  1. Write a letter or op-ed  to the Santa Fe New Mexican decrying the Lannan Foundation’s ongoing smear campaign against Israel.  Santa Feans should “know before you go” who these speakers are and what biases they spout.  Take one or two issues associated with the speakers (see the “talking points” below) and write a letter to the editor.
    1. Information on how to write and send it can be found here.  Tips on writing letters to the editor and opinion-editorials are available here.
    2. For background on Lannan’s activities and why their actions can be considered anti-Semitic by the US Department of State criteria, see the earlier SFMEW blog, “Lannan Foundation:  Anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic?.”
    3. One of our members has an op-ed about Juan Cole that will be in the New Mexican in the next few days.  We need someone to write a similar op-ed about Phyllis Bennis.  If you are interested and would like feedback before you submit it, please prepare a draft and send it to media@sfmew.org.  Talking points are below.
  2. Spread the word – Talk with your friends, acquaintances, and others about the blatant bias of the Foundation and its speakers.
  3. Attend the lecture by Cole and Bennis, take detailed notes, then write an op-ed or letter to the editor pointing out the fallacies in Cole’s and Bennis’ statements (see links in #1.a. above about where to send the letter or op-ed and tips for effectively writing).
    1. Some may think attending the lecture “adds legitimacy” to their message.  This is one way to consider it.  Others would argue that you can’t legitimately refute arguments you don’t hear directly from the speaker.
    2. We can listen to a viewpoint without agreeing with it; our actions after-the-fact can reflect that disagreement.
    3. You can purchase seats ($2 – $5) on the Lensic website.
  4. If you are not comfortable attending the lecture, listen to it after-the-fact on the Lannan Foundation website, then write a letter to the editor or op-ed piece per #1 above:

Rebroadcasts of Readings & Conversations and In Pursuit of Cultural Freedom programs can be heard on KSFR 101.1 FM at 4:00 pm on the Sunday immediately after each event. Audio and video of most programs is available on the site generally within a week of the event and also in our podcast feed

“Talking points” regarding the Lannan Foundation’s on-going anti-Semitic activities:

  1. Presenting only one side of this issue in such a public way represents anti-Semitism per the definition by the US Department of State and other bodies.  It does a disservice to the Santa Fe community, misrepresents the facts, and foments anti-Semitism.
  2. Many of the speakers Lannan uses present historically inaccurate or blatantly false premises, present untrue pictures of what is going on in the Middle East and the Arab dispute with Israel, and are anti-Semitic besides being anti-Zionist.  Thus Lannan is perpetuating an anti-Semitic narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict.  
  3. The mainstream media in the US often present a distorted view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  Proof of this comes from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) where you can find many examples of  the reporting problems, for example at the New York Times or Washington Post .
  4. Presenting someone else’s perspective does not necessarily educate the public on the conflict or make the perspective true or historically accurate.  Patrick Lannan states that the Foundation brings in speakers who present a “perspective…underrepresented in the US media.” But doing so may be false, misleading, and, quite frankly, simply wrong.  Usually the Lannan speakers present some perspective that doesn’t include the whole picture, or they cherry-pick history and events to fit their own bias.  This doesn’t educate the public; instead it provides a propagandistic view of the Middle East and especially the Arab-Israeli dispute.

“Talking points” about Phyllis Bennis:

 1.  Bennis is proud of her activities in the BDS movement.  However the BDS movement’s purpose is not for peace, but to eliminate Israel.  BDS hurts the Palestinians by eliminating jobs in the West Bank and Gaza.  Even the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is against the BDS movement to boycott Israel (he does support boycotting goods made in the West Bank and Gaza).

Here is what Ronald Lauder, Chairman of the World Jewish Congress, said about the BDS movement earlier this week:

BDS tries to present itself as some sort of democratic movement concerned with human rights. That’s a lie. On the contrary, BDS is an international campaign to incite hostility toward Israel and the Jewish people.

Let me be clear: the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies. BDS has no interest in peace. And no interest in improving the daily lives of Palestinians. Its real aim is the destruction of Israel.

2.  Bennis overstates Israel’s actions, and understates (or more commonly ignores) the Hamas or Palestinian actions.  For example, regarding the Gaza war of 2014, Bennis stated, “Another hospital has been attacked. People have had to be moved out of UNRWA schools where they had tried to take shelter, because those schools appear to be targeted, and they’re having to be moved by the United Nations into other shelters.”  Yet she doesn’t mention the rocket attacks by Hamas militants against Israel emanating from the immediate areas of those hospitals and schools – she whitewashes Hamas actions and overstates Israeli actions.

In a review of Bennis’ book, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict:  a Primer, one reviewer states, “the author bends over backwards to justify [terrorist acts] committed by the Palestinians…while not extending the same courtesy to the Israelis.”  Another reviewer states, “I was very disappointed with this book. The title is misleading — this will not lead to understanding the conflict, only a one-sided view and anti-Israel bias. The author plainly ignores the other side of the issue.”

3.  Bennis blames the US for emboldening Israel and providing arms specifically to attack the Palestinians.  She states, for example,  that the US military assistance to Israel is responsible for an “uncritical endorsement” of all of Israel’s actions, including the 2014 activities in Gaza.  Here’s just one quote:  “[the U.S. is] simply escalating the military aids, making its endorsement, its uncritical endorsement of what Israel is doing in Gaza a reality, so that the U.S. complicity has been, shall we say, brought up to speed, brought up to date.”  Of course, US aid to Israel is no such endorsement, it is assistance to a democratic ally that provides many benefits to the U.S. at a time when Hamas has thousands of rockets, Hezbollah hundreds of thousands of rockets, ISIS is operating in the Sinai Peninsula, and ISIS and Al-Qaeda are destabilizing the previously stable Syrian-Israeli border.  Further, Egypt also supports the isolation of Hamas in Gaza through a closure on the southern end of Gaza between Egypt and Gaza.

4.  Bennis generalizes from minority Israeli opinions, and claims that all Israelis are warmongers and don’t want peace.  She argues that just because 91% of Israelis were supportive of the Gaza campaign in 2014 after Hamas had launched hundreds (and eventually thousands) of rockets into Israel, therefore this constituted a call to “genocide” of the Palestinians.  She quotes a single Knesset member (not by name, so one could conclude that this was not an influential member of parliament) and declares it Israeli policy that the children in Gaza should be killed.  This is blatant misrepresentation of the facts.

5.  Bennis uses all of the usual anti-Israel rhetoric common in the Israel-bashing community.  She talks about apartheid, colonialism, “illegal” settlements, etc.  All of these are easily refutable myths – see our resources page, Myths (and lies) about the Arab Dispute with Israel for more information on these specific items (sources are noted, except on colonialism, which is forthcoming).

“Talking points” on Juan Cole

  1. Cole makes up history.  In a posting about Cole by Martin Kramer in 2005, “Making Cole-slaw of History“, Kramer begins, “For a trained historian, even in Middle Eastern studies, Juan Cole is scandalously incompetent when it comes to cause and effect.”  He goes on to show how Cole, commenting on the UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that 9/11 “had not come in response to any Western attack”, claimed otherwise.  Cole states:

according to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon’s iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon’s threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless.

Except, as Kramer points out, “There’s not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon’s (or Israel’s) policies…Cole just made it up.”  Kramer points out a number of other errors Cole made in just characterizing the 9/11 Commission report in his “Sandbox” blog.

2.  Cole’s scholarship level was rejected by Yale.  In another “made up history” report, David White from Real Clear Politics gives a full story, “Juan Cole and Yale:  the Inside Story,” on Cole’s being rejected for a faculty position at Yale.  Cole claims a “concerted press campaign by neoconservatives…[which] was inappropriate and a threat to academic integrity” prevented his hiring.  Instead, White finds that the Senior Appointments Committee of Yale rejected the history department’s recommendation of him because:

Cole’s scholarship, which several professors deemed insufficient, was the decisive factor in the final decision against his appointment. Cole faced strong opposition from some of the most senior, influential, and highly-regarded members of Yale’s history department, including prominent Yale historians Donald Kagan and John Lewis Gaddis. And that was kiss of death, because the Senior Appointment Committee wants a faculty vote that’s nearly unanimous.

Cole would rather claim a conspiracy theory of unstated “neoconservatives” than take credit that his blog postings were more important to his daily activities than was his scholarship.

Peruse Cole’s blog, Informed Comment, and you’ll find he blames most of the Middle East problems on US “neoconservative operatives” and supporters of Israel, whom he calls “Likudniks.”  Just do a simple search on his site and you’ll find him using the term “likudnik” multiple times, characterizing them as “having colonialist and fascistic tendencies.”

3.  Cole blames much on US President George Bush.  Of course, so do many Santa Feans.  But that is beside the point.  For Cole wrote on January 8, 2015, just one day after the shootings and with little forensic evidence in yet, that the staff of French magazine Charlie Hebdo, murdered by Islamic terrorists in Paris along with four Jewish patrons of a kosher delicatessen, would perhaps be alive today were it not for George Bush and Dick Cheney:  “Maybe the staff at Charlie Hebdo would be alive if George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney hadn’t modeled for the Kouashi brothers how you take what you want and rub out people who get in your way.”

Let’s see, the perpetrators were radicalized by a war started 12 years earlier, by the US president and vice-president who hadn’t been in power for 7 years?  Hmmm…seems pretty thin.  But why not jump to such conclusions if you are a “scholar” who wishes to make up history anyhow?