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July 09, 2014

Media Misses Palestinian Professor's Auschwitz Visit

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In March, Prof. Mohammed Dajani, head of the American studies program at Al Quds University in eastern Jerusalem, led 27 students on a trip to Auschwitz. The unusual visit and the uproar it caused among many Palestinian Arabs were reported by relatively few news media. One correspondent who did highlight Dajani’s effort was William Booth, Jerusalem bureau chief for The Washington Post.

Booth wrote that “the trip was explosive news to some, perhaps more so because it took place as U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians were in danger of collapse, and emotion surrounding the decades-old conflict is high. Controversy was also heightened by rumors—untrue—that the trip was paid for by Jewish organizations. It was paid for by the German government."

The Christian Science Monitor also found the visit newsworthy (“For Palestinians, empathy with Jewish suffering in Holocaust is complicated,” April 28, 2014) and noted, almost in passing, the criticism Dajani received: “While Dajani anticipated some pushback, he was unprepared for the ensuing vitriol. He was lambasted as a traitor who was brainwashing Palestinians so that they would give up their rights; Al Quds was pressured to fire him, even though he led the trip in a personal capacity.”

Much of the CSM article emphasized Palestinian Arab suffering, to the point it seemed the newspaper was implying a comparison to the Holocaust. Of Palestinian participants, the paper wrote “but they also saw echoes of their own suffering, including in 1948, when more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced out of their homes amid the chaotic fighting that surrounded Israel’s declaration of independence—an event Palestinians refer to as the nakba, or catastrophe.

“ ‘It’s a mixed feeling,’ says Hani Smirat, a trainer in conflict resolution who is also studying at Al Quds. ‘I need to feel as a human that what happened with Jews is not acceptable, and the other feeling that I face the same situation. So it’s a conflict between my story and the other story."

The Monitor inflates the number of Palestinian Arab refugees. It was more likely between 420,000 and 650,000—the former an estimate by a U.N. official on the scene at the time, the latter the difference in Arab population between the last British and first Israeli censuses. It also omits the 800,000-plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands, nearly 600,000 of whom settled in Israel.

More important was the Monitor’s failure to note that Palestinian setbacks, then and now, have been largely self-imposed. From rejection of the 1947 U.N. Palestine partition plan for two states, one Jewish, one Arab through joining the Arab states in their losing war against Israel, which led to the Arab refugee problem, to rejection of two-state offers in 2000, 2001, and 2008 Palestinian Arabs—unlike European Jews in the 1930s and ’40s, primarily have themselves to blame.

Although they recognized the trip itself as newsworthy, neither The Washington Post nor the Christian Science Monitor followed up to report on the severity of the criticism Dajani received. The Mideast Mirror did, depicting the intolerance Dajani experienced by reporting that “a Palestinian professor had to resign from al-Quds University in Jerusalem because he taught his students about the Holocaust. The courageous Mohammed Dajani received death threats after leading the first organized group of Palestinian university students to Auschwitz.” (“Return of the Cycle”, The Mideast Mirror, June 30, 2014)

Neither The Post nor the Monitor noted fact that Dajani was forced to resign from Al-Quds University, as reported by The Times of Israel, “Dajani had hoped the university would reject his resignation, sending a ‘clear and loud message’ to students, faculty, and ‘the Palestinian community’ that ‘the university supports academic freedom and considers my trip as an educational journey in search of knowledge.’ However, he was soon informed that the university had accepted his resignation and that it would take effect on June 1.” ("Palestinian lecturer who led Auschwitz trip quits after backlash”, Times of Israel, June 8, 2014)

Although not a major daily or broadcast network, National Review, a biweekly conservative opinion journal also reported that “[t]he trip was part of a program run in conjunction with Israeli and German universities and designed to promote tolerance, sympathy, and understanding. Many Palestinians understood: They threatened Professor Dajani with death until he resigned. He said he hoped that the university would not accept his resignation and instead stand up for his academic freedom. But they accepted, no doubt with relief.” (“The Week,” National Review, July 7, 2014)

The Post and CSM deserve praise for covering Dajani’s trip. Other media should have done so as well. Failure to report on the trip’s aftermath—the widespread, harsh criticism Dajani received, and his resignation from Al Quds, which he had hoped would defend him—by major media in general buried a revealing story about Palestinian readiness to acknowledge not just Jewish suffering but the legitimacy of Jewish claims in the land of Israel.—Ziv Kaufman


Posted by ER at July 9, 2014 05:03 PM

Comments

My heart (and respect) go out to Professor Dajani. I hope he will receive the praise he deserves. Every university needs courageous, tolerant and decent educators like him. Why are there not many more like him?!

Posted by: Rona Sands at July 13, 2014 01:18 PM

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