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May 2, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | The Letter from Professors Weaponizes Expertise

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To the Editor:

Re: “On Language, Misinformation and Divisiveness” (letters, April 29)

In an April 29 letter to The Sun, a group of Cornell professors opposed the University’s condemnation of the chant “there is only one solution, Intifada Revolution” on the grounds that the University’s statement was “based on a failure to understand the literal and historical meaning of an Arabic word, intifada.” Their argument attempts to divorce the word “intifada” from its well-understood meaning within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, in so doing, give the air of academic legitimacy to a pro-terrorism chant. 

There are many examples of words with general meanings that take on specific meaning when applied to specific historical events.  For example, the word “holocaust’” has a literal meaning (a burnt sacrifice), but a very different meaning in the context of World War II.  Likewise, the word “intifada” has a specific meaning in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The specific historical periods that the word “intifada” refer to are the First and Second Intifadas, which took place from 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, respectively.  While both intifadas were characterized by Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis, the Second Intifada was a particularly painful and scarring period.  Over 1,000 Israelis were killed, largely in random acts of terrorism that were meant to make everyday life in Israel psychologically traumatizing (such as suicide bombings in buses, Passover seders, restaurants and markets).  As one article puts it:

Mind-numbing terrorism made it scary to ride a bus, nerve-wracking to send kids to school, a psychological effort to take the family downtown for a falafel. Everyone eyed fellow passengers warily on the bus at one time or another during these years – especially fellow passengers wearing coats on a sunny day – wondering if they may be hiding explosives.

But according to the professors, considering the meaning of “intifada” in the context in which it is being used is wrong.  To use the term properly, they instruct readers to  “reach out to subject matter experts … for education on matters related to Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian language …”  In other words, reach out to them.  

Their expertise, however, is questionable.  A closer look into the professors’ suggested readings for those interested in “expert” opinion on the intifadas reveals not only their false expertise, but also their real agenda. 

One of their suggestions is “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” by Dr. Ramzy Baroud.  An initial look at Dr. Baroud’s website reveals that he is no dispassionate scholar of the Middle East. He routinely writes about Israel’s lack of a right to exist or defend itself.  Even more shockingly, Dr. Baroud taped a video of himself on Twitter with the words “What Happened on October 7th and Why We Should Not Apologize for Palestinian Resistance” written on the screen.  In the video, Dr. Baroud claims, “… We actually don’t know what has happened on October 7th, and we don’t know so much about the lies that are communicated by the Israelis…”  In a separate video, Dr. Baroud denies the atrocities of Oct. 7 and films himself saying “there is no history of Palestinians raping women”  and that Israeli “propaganda” (i.e., Israeli accounts of Oct. 7) is “not supported by any real evidence.”

Perhaps it is a sign of the weakness of the professors’ position that their foremost authority is someone who denies the mass rape and murder of Oct. 7. What’s scary though, is not their faulty logic, but that they are entrusted by the University to shape students’ minds.  

The professors’ letter weaponizes their “expertise” to give authority to those who celebrate violence against Jews.  Using their credentials to obfuscate the meaning of “intifada” and give cover to those who call for Israel’s annihilation is an abuse of their academic positions.  The professors’ respective departments, and the University broadly, should be alarmed.

Sara Stober ’22

Raquel Zohar ’23

Talia Dror ’24

Simone Shteingart ’24

Melanie Schwartz ’25

Zoe Bernstein ‘24

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