Thursday, November 27, 2014

Was it Something I Said, Professor?

Gary Fouse

Note: I did not videotape the below event, and my writing is based on my handwritten notes.

On Monday, I attended an event at UC Irvine sponsored by the UCI Center for Global Conflict Studies. The speakers were UC Irvine professor Mark LeVine and former Swedish ambassador Mathias Mossberg. Both of them have co-edited a new book that puts forth a rather bizarre proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is not a two-state solution, not a one-state solution, but a parallel state solution. ("One Land, Two States:Israel as Palestine as Two States").

The event was notable for two things: First, your humble correspondent made a serious factual error when I asked Ambassador Mossberg during the q and a about an article I understood he had written for a Swedish blog in which I quoted him (erroneously) as having condemned Israel over the recent Gaza fighting and denying that Hamas had used its people as human shields and had actually wished for civilian deaths as a strategy.  His response was that he had never written it, and as it turns out, he was correct. More about that later. The event was attended by Professor LeVine's students as well as several older attendees. Of course the book they had co-edited was available for purchase.

The presentation was supposed to be accompanied by a power point presentation, but it never came off since apparently neither LeVine or Mossberg knew how to operate the power point. An appeal was sent out to students in the audience to get it sorted out, but to make a long story short, the power point never happened.

At any rate, as Mossberg explained it, the basic points of the parallel states plan are that:

The state would respond to people as opposed to the state.

Free travel in the territories.

There would be two presidents, two parliaments, and everybody would have to cooperate.

There would be a joint external security force.

The different economies (Israel-West Bank-Gaza) would have to joined in an equitable manner.

There would also have to be legal harmony between the Palestinian and Israeli legal

Ambassador Mossberg stated that since the two sides don't trust each other, it would be difficult but not insurmountable. As for reactions to the plan, he added that some people had positive reactions while others said it "was the most stupid idea they had ever heard."

But let's be fair. Ambassador Mossberg was having to ad-lib a bit because the power point presentation had not materialized. This article in The Guardian outlines it a bit better.

As for LeVine, he severely criticized the Oslo Accords even calling them "corrupt" at one point. At one point he said, "Don't Palestinians have rights?" and stated that the Israeli government acts like they don't know what they (?) are talking about.

Also, at one point Ambassador Mossberg said that Europe was likely to get more involved in the conflict and that Europeans were shocked by what they had seem from the recent Gaza fighting.

When the q an a came I got the first question, and it went something like this. (It was addressed primarily to Ambassador Mossberg.)

"If either party were to accept this plan they would want to be confident that the authors of the plan were impartial. With all due respect, professor LeVine is an anti-Israeli activist...

At this point Mossberg expressed disagreement  and I added that LeVine would probably say that himself. LeVine then said that was not the case and that I had "disrespected" him. I was then allowed to continue with my question.

I continued with the article in question which came from a Swedish blog called Vänstra Stranden (Left Bank). I quoted the author (whom I erroneously thought to be Mossberg) as criticizing a previous article in Svenska Dagbladet by Israeli ambassador to Sweden Isac Bachman who had blamed Hamas for the recent Gaza war and charged that Hamas was using its own population as human shields and wishing for civilian deaths. The author of the Vänstra Stranden article had said there was no evidence that Hamas had used its people for human shields and absolutely none that they wished for civilian deaths. I countered those assertions by quoting reports from international journalists who had witnessed Hamas fighters firing from civilian sites and also a German film crew that filmed Hamas personnel forcing civilians back into buildings they were trying to evacuate after having been warned by Israel that an attack was coming.  After being told by LeVine to come to the question instead of making points, I asked why should the Israeli government accept a plan whose authors were biased. Ambassador Mossberg asked for a copy of the article, took a look at it, and passed it back to me saying that he had never written it.

When the event concluded, I approached LeVine and said that I had intended no disrespect. I started to explain that Ambassador Mossberg might want to look into this further, but I was cut off. At this point, with many of his students and other attendees still in the room, a visably angry LeVine began to shout at me. He told me that my writing was "sh--" and he was not embarrassed to say that it was "sh--" in front of the room. He also shouted that if I ever called him "anti-Israel" again, I was going to have a problem-that it was "slander". He finished by saying that I was not qualified to teach at this university and that he didn't want to talk to me-"Goodbye."

Temper, temper.

As I listened to all this, I told him that I was not going to engage in a heated shouting match since it was not the appropriate place. That was true. His own students were standing there, and as a teacher, I was not about to engage in this behavior in front of students.

So I went over to Ambassador Mossberg and told him that we should look further into this article, which I again showed him. This time he took the article which had his name above the text as if he were the author.  I said that if he didn't write it, I would apologize for bringing it up. He was very gracious, and we parted on good terms unlike the aforementioned Professor LeVine.

Later, I checked further into the blog and determined that misleading as the post was, it was not Mossberg who wrote the article. If you Google Vänstra Stranden and Mathias Mossberg, you come up with this posting with his name above the text. However, if you Google say, Isac Bachman (the Israeli ambassador to Sweden) and Vänstra Stranden, you get the same result-a page that appears as if Bachman wrote the same article. This is a misleading feature of the blog, but I have no excuses. I thought I had an article written by Mossberg, when in reality, it was written by the blog's editor, Marie Demker. It was my mistake, and I take full responsibility for not checking deeper.

As soon as I found the problem, I sent an explanatory e-mail to Ambassador Mossberg with the appropriate links and repeating my apology. Here is the text of that e-mail:

Dear Ambassador Mossberg, 
I am the one who brought up the question today at UCI about an article in 
Vanstra Stranden that bore your name. Upon returning to my office I did further 
checking into the blog in question and have confirmed that as you stated, you 
did not write the article. For that I repeat my apology for bringing it up. 
The reason your name is attached to the article is due to some feature in the 
blog which can lead to confusion. I originally found the article by Googling 
your name and came up with an entry from Vanstra Stranden. As you can see from 
the copy I gave you the page would indicate that you are the author of the 
article when it is actually Marie Demker the blogger herself. Your name appears 
also at the bottom in a footnote by Demker that caused the problem. 
For example, if you Google the name Isac Bachman, the Israeli ambassador to 
Stockholm, and Vanstra Stranden you will get the same page with his name at the 
top suggesting he is the author. 
I hope that clears up the confusion, and once again I apologize for the error. 
Best regards, 
Gary Fouse 

As for Professor LeVine, if I was in error in calling him "an anti-Israel activist", perhaps it was due to the time I saw him as part of the Whither the Levant  event at UC Irvine in 2009-a veritable one-sided Israel bash.

Or perhaps, it was the time he brought a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ibrahim el Hudaiby to his class in 2008. I was there also.

Or how about this article from Campus Report Online and cross-posted by Campus Watch in 2006?

Or could it be articles like this written by LeVine for Al Jazeera?

Or how about that letter LeVine signed calling for an academic boycott of Israel? No anti-Israel activist there.

I could go on and on, but maybe I just got the wrong impression from all of the above (and much more).

But I will say this: There will be no apology to Professor LeVine. He embarrassed himself in front of his class with his meltdown, and I would hope that the next time he chooses to explode at me he will do it when no students are around. Then we can have a "real discussion."

And as for that Utopian idea of his for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it strikes me as well, Utopian.

As long as LeVine keeps signing blatant, one-sided petitions supporting boycotts of Israel academic institutions and placing disproportionate blame on Israel for all the problems in the Middle East, his credibility and ideas are not likely to be taken seriously by people who are truly interested in finding a peaceful resolution to this long-standing conflict. He may think his spoken and written words do not make him an anti-Israel activist, but others would disagree.

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