George Bisharat is a law professor at the University of California*, Hastings College of Law. His is the son of a Palestinian father who immigrated to the U.S. several years before the creation of Israel, and an American mother.
I first learned of George Bisharat when we both were students at Harvard Law School. Bisharat was a year ahead of me. At the time, in 1981-1983, the hot topic was the PLO takeover of Southern Lebanon, rockets being lobbed into Israel, and Israel’s eventual retaliatory invasion of Southern Lebanon. Bisharat was a leader of attempts on the law school campus to delegitimize Israel by aligning the PLO cause with that of other “indigenous” peoples. Through this tactic, Bisharat and others hoped to portray the original indigenous people of Israel, the Jews, as the occupiers.
Bisharat operated mostly behind the scenes. He let other groups, such as the American Indian Law Student Association (led by Glenn Morris, now a confidant of Ward Churchill) lead the way. One of the key achievements of this coalition was inviting a PLO representative to campus, and aligning the Palestinian cause with that of other indigenous peoples. Although supporters of Israel may not have realized it at the time, the seeds of deligitimizing Israel through the operation of law and lawyers were being planted on campuses throughout the world. It isn’t coincidence that academics, particularly in Europe, are at the forefront of the boycott Israel movement.
I hadn’t thought much of Bisharat in the ensuing decades until I saw an article by Bisharat last January arguing that Israel exceeded its right to self defense. This time the issue was not the PLO, but the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the lobbing of rockets into Israel, and the inevitable Israeli retaliatory invasion. Strange how only the names and place had changed since 1982. Palestinians still sought to destroy Israel, to create a provocation, and then to complain when Israel responded in order to gain world sympathy. And once again, George Bisharat was there arguing the case.
So I did an internet search on Bisharat, and discovered that Bisharat has devoted the past 25 years towards deligitimizing Israel. The links are too numerous to list, but almost everything Bisharat does and says is geared towards isolating and demonizing Israel. But Bisharat doesn’t stop there, he also seeks to deligitimize Israel’s supporters in the U.S.
One piece is aptly named “Advance US – not Israel’s – interests.” The title sums it up; U.S. supporters of Israel are, shall we say, unpatriotic, and the invasion of Iraq was a plot to put Israel’s interests first. Another piece, Boycott Movement Targets Israel, seeks to justify an academic, cultural, and economic boycott of Israel.
The article which garnered Bisharat the most attention, however, was his personal recollection of how his father was victimized by the evil Jewish conspiracy in the U.S. to silence Palestinian voices. In an article in 2007 titled Pro-Israel Censorship Hurts Us All, which was reprinted throughout the blogosphere, Bisharat relates the following (emphasis mine):
One day in 1981, my late father, Maurice Hanna Bisharat, returned from a long day at his Sacramento, Calif., medical office with an extra bounce in his step, his eyes dancing with excitement. His friend, Michael Himovitz, the young owner of a local art gallery, had called, offering to hold a one-person show of my father’s paintings – mostly California landscapes.
My father was not a politician, but like any Palestinian living in the United States, he felt obligated to relate his people’s experience to American friends. Educated and articulate, he spoke publicly in defense of Palestinian rights, and was a frequent commentator on Middle East events in the local media.
Michael, a Jew, was perfectly aware of this side of my father’s life. It did nothing to diminish his appreciation of my father’s art, nor to inhibit their friendship.Some weeks later I saw my father sitting, stony faced. He turned to me and whispered: “I just got a call from Michael. My show has been canceled.”
Michael, it transpired, had been visited by a group from the Sacramento Jewish community. Their message: “If you show Bisharat’s art, we will boycott your gallery and close you down.”Michael may have been as crushed as my father, apologizing: “I just can’t risk it – it’s my livelihood.”
The indirect message to my father, of course, was: “If you speak critically of Israel, you will suffer pain.” Fortunately, art was not my father’s livelihood, and he survived this incident. But a deep sense of outrage never left him.
This story line of the poor Palestinian immigrant victimized by the American Jewish Lobby is compelling, but at least some people in a position to know claim Bisharat’s story is a lie. The Sacramento Jewish Community sent an open letter in response to Bisharat’s allegations (emphasis mine):
On the front page of the Forum section (Sunday, February 25, 2007), The Sacramento Bee published a commentary entitled, “Pro Israeli Lobby Is Silencing Dissent.” This was written by George Bisharat, who was described as a law professor. He is also known as a vocal Palestinian critic of Israel.
To many readers, this would have just been another glance article and chalked up as an all too common assault on Israel. However, this was not a typical outside news wire feed, or a selectively emotional photograph. Instead, Mr. Bisharat raised some curious and serious allegations involving the Sacramento Jewish community, albeit 26 years ago.
The introduction and centerpiece was an alleged 1981 telephone call between Maurice Bisharat, his late father, and a former Sacramento art gallery owner, Michael Himovitz, also deceased. The juxtaposition of these latter parties was that Mr. Bisharat’s father was an amateur Arab artist, and the gallery owner was Jewish. Mr. Bisharat alludes to this singular and very dated verbal exchange whereby the gallery owner allegedly communicated to his father that, due to pressure from some unnamed and unidentified members of the Sacramento Jewish community, a planned amateur landscape art show would be cancelled.
With this background, Mr. Bisharat expresses an all too predictable litany of criticisms about Jewish citizens and the all powerful Israeli lobby. Mr. Bisharat goes on to make a telling observation about his father that “a deep sense of outrage never left him.”
The problem with the foregoing scenario is that no one seems to have diligently verified the facts, nor the truth and veracity of this alleged incident which Mr. Bisharat assures us occurred 26 years ago. We have now learned that The Sacramento Bee did contact the Jewish art gallery owner’s then-partner about this alleged incident, and was told “it never happened.” In a letter dated February 28, 2007, which was submitted to the Bee by the partner, Hillel Salomon, he emphatically states that, prior to publication, he told The Bee that it never happened and these facts were ignored…
Moreover, it seems other relevant persons have no recollection of this alleged incident, including the gallery owner’s wife at the time, his general business partner and one with whom he shared offices, his former art gallery partner Mr. Salomon, and both the then-chairman and staff director of the Sacramento Jewish Community Relations Council, as well as other Jewish community leadership. In fact, few, if any, seem to have a recollection of this alleged telephone call, except for perhaps the Bisharats.
The person referenced in the Jewish community’s open letter wrote his own letter (same link) in which he recollects as follows:
I can’t speak to the facts of a conversation between two people that are deceased but I am sure that Michael Himovitz was never approached by members of the Jewish community threatening a boycott.
The list of whose work was being shown and when, was not public knowledge. Show dates were generally set 12 to 18 months in advance. I worked with Michael on the selection process for shows long before he and I became business partners. Dr. Bisharat was an amateur landscape painter.
As I told The Bee, I have no recollection of the Michael Himovitz Gallery or the Himovitz/Salomon Gallery ever showing work by amateur artists other that an occasional short show for a local school art class or fundraiser. In fact, the galleries showed very few landscapes even by professional artists. Most of the work shown was by emerging figurative artists.
As a result of irresponsible journalism The Bee helps perpetuate the canard that an American or worldwide Jewish conspiracy exists.
I don’t know if George Bisharat invented the story of his father’s victimization to advance his agenda. But it is interesting that at the time of his article, the two parties to the alleged conversation both were dead. So it was Bisharat’s second-hand, 26-year-delayed recollection which formed the basis for creating a family history of victimization at the hands of American Jews. If you read Bisharat’s numerous articles, you will see that such personal recollections form a key part of his narrative of Palestinian victimization.
Bisharat continues his quest today in The New York Times, in an op-ed article which argues that Israel committed war crimes during the invasion of Gaza. Bisharat’s take is not surprising; Bisharat’s legal intifada still has the goal of delegitimizing Israel, and he’ll make whatever argument is necessary to achieve that goal.
Noah Pollak effectively destroys Bisharat’s Times’ article. Not surprisingly, like Bisharat’s article about his father’s victimization, Bisharat bases his attack on Israel on personal recollections — this time by mostly anonymous Israeli soldiers based on rumors — which are open to dispute, but taken as true for the purpose of Bisharat’s argument:
The New York Times publishes an op-ed today by George Bisharat, the U.S. academic whose professional mission is the indictment of Israel for war crimes, no matter how implausible. His piece starts with a lie that the Times itself had an important hand in promoting:
Chilling testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law.
Except that there never was any “chilling testimony” — there were rumors circulated by an anti-IDF activist, which were breathlessly republished by Haaretz and its American counterpart, the Times. His opening claim does, however, set an appropriately mendacious tone for the rest of the piece.
Pollak addresses each of Bisharat’s arguments, and I highly recommend reading Pollak’s article.
But the truth really doesn’t matter when it comes to Bisharat’s intifada. What matters is the chatter of war crimes and apartheid and human rights violations which create an atmosphere which supports the odd alignment of leftists, Islamists, and anti-Israel academics, who seek the end to Israel.
What Bisharat doesn’t seem to understand is that his tactics work in a narrow sense, but fail the Palestinian poeple. The narrative of victimization will not create a state or prosperity or peace, although it will get you an op-ed at The New York Times.
*Correction: In the original post, I referred to Hastings College of Law as being part of U.C. Berkeley. It is not; it is part of U.C. but is in San Francisco, and is to be distinguished from U.C. Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law. I apologize for confusing the affiliation of these two excellent law schools, and this post has been corrected as of 4-6-2009.
UPDATE: Powerline has a very good analysis of the falsity of Bisharat’s op-ed arguments, as does Israpundit. But again, the truth doesn’t matter to people like Bisharat, who only care that they have perpetuated the false narrative of victimization as one of their weapons against Israel.
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