Besides writing the book, Busy Dying,
Hilton Obenzinger is a long-time Palestine solidarity activist who now teaches writing at Stanford University. Following is the text of a recent email interview with Busy Dying author Obenzinger. (See below for parts 1 to 6).
In recent years, U.S. university professors like Norman Finkelstein and Joel Kovel, who have written books that were critical of Israeli militarism and expressed support for Palestinian national self-determination rights, have ended up losing their academic jobs--apparently due to pressure from the Zionist lobby in the United States. How would you characterize the role that the Zionist lobby presently plays on U.S. university campuses in 2009?
Hilton Obenzinger: The campaign by Zionists to purge campuses of critical views has been going on for decades, and it’s shameful. Finkelstein and Kovel are by no means the first. For example, Breira—Choice--a Jewish peace group--was crushed in the Seventies with McCarthyite type attacks on those who worked in Jewish communal organizations.
I was on a list of people to ban from speaking on campuses in the early eighties – I was honored to be on the same list with Edward Said and Rabbi Elmer Berger and Noam Chomsky, probably the only time I would be on the same list with such luminaries.
When Jewish students at Stanford organized to support the divestment campaign, they were banned from meeting at Hillel until they denounced the “apartheid” label of Israel. They refused, and it’s the same old story.
The Zionist lobby has been focusing on campuses since the late Seventies because they correctly determined that it’s necessary to prevent critical approaches, alternate theoretical and historical frameworks, from becoming legitimate. They want only fringe groups or actual anti-Semites to become the critics of Israel so that they can smear everyone else as “anti-Semites” or “self-hating Jews.”
Now that they have attacked well-known academics like Tony Judt they are even crazier than ever, and even many who consider themselves pro-Israel think they have gone too far. Nonetheless, when you believe they can’t get more fanatical and shrill, they pull something even crazier else off.
I think their approach may be similar to Israel’s military thinking in their attack on Gaza: The military wanted to be regarded as a crazy animal, capable of doing anything, going totally bananas. That was on purpose, the lesson being that if Israel believes it’s provoked, it will unleash widespread, wild violence, and civilians will be chewed up in the IDF's jaws.
Likewise on the intellectual level. It seems absurd to attack Judt or Jimmy Carter, people who are not radical at all, but they are following that wild animal strategy, and any mild-mannered critic will be blown away. When I heard that Netanyahu called Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod “self-hating Jews” because Obama called for a settlement freeze, I thought that it’s consistent with that wild animal strategy.
Academics do resist, and there have been successes. But the fact is that the campaign has been debilitating, and, once again, a distraction from Israel’s on-going colonial project.
My bottom line is simple and not even ideological: Through everything in the past 40 years, Israel keeps doing one thing: they keep building settlements in land occupied in 1967. Rain or snow, storm or drought – intifadas or Oslos – they keep building gated, segregated housing projects on stolen land. Can professors and students object to such outlaw behavior without getting smeared?
If readers find that their local university and local public libraries did not purchase copies of your `Busy Dying' book, how can they obtain copies of your book?
Hilton Obenzinger: They can order from the usual outlets, such as Powell’s Books or Amazon, or they order from the publisher (CHAX). They can also go to a web site a friend made of my work. There’s information on how to order `Busy Dying’ along with other books, including `This Passover or the Next I Will Never Be in Jerusalem’, directly from me. The website is www.obenzinger.com