LETTER TO THE EDITOR | The Letter from Professors Weaponizes Expertise

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, “…

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Cornell’s Administration Was Justified in Criticizing Chants

Re: Everything That Happened on Day Four of the Encampment (news, April 29)

Cornell’s Administration was justified in calling out and criticizing chants on campus of “There is only one solution: Intifada Revolution!”  It was distressing to read the didactic and overly semantic excuses that certain faculty (letters, April 29) and a follow-up story (news, April 30) offered as cover for those violent taunts.  If our campus echoed with encouraging chants about the “Klan,” the outrage rightly would rain down from all quarters, and justifications based on the supposedly neutral meaning of the word would be cast aside.  Everyone knows what it means to call for “intifada” as the “solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict: It refers to the spate of murders of Israeli civilians.  It was no simple “shaking off” and it certainly is not the solution. While we defend the right of people to engage in protected speech, community members should call out offensive conduct —inside and outside the current encampment.  Those saying hateful things, and those providing hollow cover for hate, are deserving of condemnation. — David J. DellaPelle ‘17

Jonathan M. Fordin ‘80

Wayne Forman ’80

Marshall Gilinsky ‘92

Joseph Hellerstein ‘92

Donald Motschwiller ’80

Bennett Pine ‘76

Michael Reiner ‘78

Steven Rosenzweig ‘79

Jarett Wait ’80

Gary Weber ‘81

Barry Weiss ‘81

Sylvia Emmerich Fogel ‘94

Amy Richter ‘92

Ruth Serrousi ‘92

Mark Sherwin ‘80

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR | On Language, Misinformation and Divisiveness

We urge the provost, the president, the VP of University Relations and, indeed, the entire campus community to reach out to subject matter experts at Near Eastern Studies and other Cornell departments for education on matters related to Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish or Persian language and the history and culture (including conflicts) of the Middle East before making public statements that could cause further division and misunderstanding in an already very tense environment.