Shraga Elam has just sent me an eye-opening profile of Dan Schueftan, a senior Israeli Arab affairs specialist who directs an academic center at Haifa University and consults with the political, military and intelligence echelons. I’d call him Israel’s John Bolton. He even has the moustache. The article is translated from Maariv. When you read it you may be stunned. Or you may say: “So what? Didn’t we know this already?” I fall more into the former category than the latter, though I’m not exactly stunned to know that such vileness thrives in the halls of Israel’s most august institutions.
Whatever you want to say about America, we usually confine loonies like this guy to far-right cable news and talk radio. We don’t usually reward them with sinecures in our finest universities, board rooms and military headquarters.
If you want to understand why Israeli policies toward its Arab neighbors and specifically the Palestinians are so bizarre, ineffective and counter-productive, you have but to read this story to see why.
A note about formatting–the sub-headings below can be confusing and include interview Q&A with Schueftan and also interviews about him with others in which they comment on him:
Our Arab Affairs Expert
Maariv weekend supplement
23 October 2009
* “While Israel sends a satellite into space, the Arabs come up with a new kind of hummus”
* The best thing that has happened to the Arabs is that they agreed to be occupied”
* “There is no such thing as Iraq. The only thing they have in common is their pajamas”
* “The Arab world is a profound failure, and those who do not say that have eschewed the sharing of well-grounded understanding with their students and submitted to disgusting political correctness.”
Those are only a few pearls from the lectures of Dr. Dan Schueftan, a Middle East expert whose courses are attended by many senior members of the military establishment, and who is consulted by more than a few decision-makers.
Dr. Schueftan [replies]: “The quotes you have given were jokes.”
It was a perplexing scene. In the last class in the Master’s program in Diplomacy and Security for senior managers at Tel Aviv University one of the students read out selected utterances of the lecturer, Dr. Dan Schueftan. “The Arabs are the biggest failure in the history of the human race,” quoted the student. “While Israel sends while sends a sophisticated satellite into space, the Arabs come up with a new kind of hummus.” “There is nothing more fucked up under the sun than the Palestinians.” And in conclusion: “If you want to be a hero in the Arab world you have to get fucked. I am prepared to make a personal contribution.” Some of the students burst out laughing and applauded. Schueftan joined in the fun, laughed out loud with his students and announced that he was prepared to proofread the quotes.
Dr. Schueftan, the head of the center for National Security Studies Centre at the University of Haifa, lectures there on subjects in his field of expertise: Israel and the Middle East, Jewish-Arab relations, radicalism and the Palestinian people. Schueftan also gives the course as a guest lecturer at Tel Aviv University. Many high-level members of the military and political establishments have taken his course. Schueftan is one of the most influential academics in their circles.
“A senior official told me that he does not call me for consultation because I sit in his head and every time, before he makes a decision, he hears me telling him: ‘You idiot, what are you doing?’ And then he answers me and decides,” relates Schueftan. “Many people in the military and political establishments have taken my courses. My level of contact with that group is very high. A large proportion of Israel’s decision makers were students of mine or have listened to my lectures. I gave a lecture to all the division and brigade commanders of the ground forces and some of them invited me afterwards to talk to their units. Sometimes they contact me afterwards to consult with me. Nearly all the political-military establishment has some kind of relationship with me. I would not want them to be alienated from the important people who are outside the establishment. Access to decision-makers here is among the easiest in the world. It is easy to talk with senior officials and they exhibit a great deal of curiosity about what you have to say.”
Dr. Schueftan often says what he has to say in crude and aggressive terms. Some students have diligently recorded the energetic lecturer unusual statements. “The Palestinians are a repulsive part of the Middle East, let’s leave those ratbags,” he said in one class. “All over the Arab world they fire shots at weddings in order to prove that they have at least one thing that is hard and functional and can shoot.”
“Sometimes I listen to Ahmad for an hour in order to hear the filth that comes out of their mouths,” said he said in another lecture. “The best thing that happened to the Arabs is that they agreed to be occupied,” he explained to his students. “They are a waste of so many billions that the number has more zeros than members of the Knesset,” he added in another lecture. In a lecture on the Iran-Iraq war, Schueftan said to his students, “in the words of Hannah Senesh: ‘My God, My God, I pray that these things never end.’ Seven years of pure pleasure.” The Iraqis, in his words, are not nationally cohesive. “There is no such thing as Iraq. The only thing that is shared they have in common is 5.56 mm bullets and the pajamas they wear.”
Not all the students enjoyed Dr. Schueftan’s utterances. “Even if we appreciated the information we received in the course, we did not like the style,” says one. One student dropped the course after a few lessons. “I think it is dishonourable and even vulgar to talk that way in classes,” she says. “I did not like it, expressions of that kind are not acceptable to me, but I decided that instead of arguing with him, I would just not go, since I do not go to university to argue with lecturers and start world war; I prefer to leave the course.”
“I tend to speak in jest”
Dr. Schueftan does not understand why his statements arouse objections. “Nothing disgusts me more than political correctness. It is loathsome and dangerous to freedom of thought to refrain from asking what is true and appropriate for discussion and to transfer the question to the realm of what sounds good. If I offend political correctness, that is an aesthetical value judgment. If I say something that is not accurate, it should be corrected; but I do not care if it does not sound good, nor do I care who I am offending. I do not concern myself with the question of who will like or dislike a certain statement.”
We’re not talking here about whether is something is pleasant, but hurtfulness and offense.
“Those statements were made in jest, and above all I trust in the judgment of the students to distinguish between a systematic and comprehensive discussion and a good or bad joke. The source of the quotations that are attributed to me is a humoristic list that was made in preparation for the class party. Some of the things that are quoted look like they were said in the class or in conversations during the break, and were taken out of context. The presentation of a caricature like that is legitimate in a humoristic list, but distorted and misleading when it is represented as a teacher’s message to the class. The assumption that a student is so dim that he will be influenced by a joke and not a discussion is to show contempt for the student”.
Is it not you who exhibits contempt for your students when you say to them that “the Arabs are the biggest failure in the history of the human race, but they have one talent: violence?”
“That is a function of their record. There are peoples with a more impressive record and there are people with a less impressive record. Do you want that in order that the students feel better I tell them about great accomplishments in various domains that have no basis in truth? It is not as if I am influencing the students to see the Arabs as a failure. The claim that that is the message reflects a profound disrespect for the understanding of adult students who are already developed, and it assumes that the student will disregard a systematic, balanced and documented discussion over the course of many hours, and bases his understanding on a casual parenthetical comment.
“The students can see around them. They do not need me. You know someone who can represent matters otherwise? Explain to me what you expect? Do you want me to knowingly say something that is untrue just because it sounds good? No group of peoples has failed so dramatically to achieve the goals they set for themselves as the Arabs. Every time the Arabs have tried to achieve something great they have failed.
“Their scientific achievements are embarrassingly puny. We produce more scientific output than 300 million Arabs. They themselves say that among themselves. Since the 1970s the Arabs have received fantastical amounts of money from for oil, not for any achievement of theirs but because of a geological accident. Most of that money was wasted on corruption and wars and the result is GMG, gurnisht mit gurnisht [nothing with nothing – trans.]. All over the world there have been impressive achievements in the field of democratization, even in Muslim states like Indonesia and Turkey. In the Arab world, as a grouping of states, it does not exist. A study by the UNDP (the UN’s program for developing states) found that the Arabs occupy a low rung on the ladder of human development. The reason is the absence of political freedoms, a distorted education system and the low status of women. On the other hand, the Arabs are very creative in the field of violence. A lecturer who ignores that because of political correctness is not doing his job.”
There is a huge difference between pointing to failures in a certain society and making a statement like “the Arabs are the biggest failure in the history of the human race.”
“You are seizing on jokes and selected sentences in order to delegitimize like the delegitimization of Israel abroad when they only see a soldier shooting, without showing the context of the war. In the classes I also talked about impressive Arab personalities. This meeting is making me sick.”
Apparently the Palestinians also make you sick. What place is there in a university for an expression like “the Palestinians are a repulsive part of the Middle East, let’s leave those ratbags?”
“Could be that I said that. Do you think that I am not polite enough? OK then.”
It going far beyond mere impoliteness to say in a class: “If you want to be a hero in the Arab world you have to get fucked. There is no other way. I am prepared to convert Arabs into heroes, to give of myself personally if necessary.”
“I don’t know in what context I said that. If it was a reality in the Arab world in the 1960s that Syria wanted Israel to attack it, then there is justification in those words.”
And what justification is there to say that there is nothing more fucked up under the sun than the Palestinians?
“If someone were to say that there is nothing more fucked up than the Israelis who act only when there is a crisis like the water crisis, not only would I not be offended by it but I would see it as a lecturer’s responsibility. The Palestinians have indeed brought disaster on themselves again and again and again. In the late 1940s they knew that King Abdullah and Israel were going to make an agreement at their expense and they adopted a policy that facilitated the trend brought them disaster in the end.”
What did you mean when you said that “while Israel sends a sophisticated satellite into space, the Arabs come up with a new kind of hummus?”
“Israel is in fact on the international cutting edge in technology and the Arab world is immersed in scientific and technological backwardness. For sure there are good Arab scientists but they cannot thrive in the Arab world because there is no academic freedom and for that reason they really are immersed in backwardness. I develop that claim with references.”
What references do you have for the statement that “the only thing that is that Iraqis share is 5.56 mm bullets and the pajamas they wear?”
“Indeed Iraq does not have the coherent basis of states like Turkey, Iran, Israel and Egypt. There is no such thing as an ‘Iraqi entity’ and what unites them is the caliber of the 5.56 mm gun. That is no basis for the existence of an Iraqi entity.”
And how did you come to pajamas?
“I have a tendency to speak in jest. Some things are obviously jokes.”
Was the description of the Iraq-Iran as seven years of pleasure also a joke of that kind?
“Two enemies of Israel warred against each other. The alternative was that they would make war on Israel. Imagine that in the Second World War Japan and Germany were fighting each other. If there is a war, and because of its being waged, people do not come to slaughter us, I should mourn about that?”
What did you mean when you said that “they shoot at weddings all over the Arab world in order to prove that they have at least one thing that is hard and functional and can shoot”?
“In this country there are weapons that are used for shooting at weddings. So you don’t like the joke and you write an article about a joke.”
And then there’s your statement that ” ‘doves of peace’ is inane, I am willing to say ‘you promised a dove’ only to a waiter in a grill shop”. Is that a joke?
” ‘You promised a dove’ is a problematic song  of spoiled people who complain that they weren’t given peace. It ignores the complexity of the conflict, it ignores what is on the other side, the fact that the Palestinians are not willing to accept the Jewish state, so it’s childish self-pitying snivelling that Daddy didn’t bring them a toy. I see it in as part of the trend towards superficiality, self-pity and chutzpah to a certain extent. The pre-1973 generation owed nothing to the post-1973 generation apart from an attempt to come to a settlement. They don’t owe the settlement itself.”
Schueftan came to Haifa University after having done research on Israel-Arab relations at the Shiloh Institute at Tel Aviv University, and also worked at the Truman Institute at the Hebrew University and at Yad Tabenkin. In his lectures he repeatedly claims that peace is not possible in our region, there is no Palestinian party at all with which it is possible to reach an agreement. The Palestinians do not want to accept responsibility for anything, he told [right-wing Israeli media website] Arutz 7 about a year ago. At the Herzliya Conference he explained that “as far as the Arabs are concerned, nothing except the destruction of the Jewish national enterprise will be accepted as sufficient.”
Among his colleagues at Haifa University he is known mainly for his advocacy for absolute unilateral separation between Israel and the Palestinians. “I sometimes take the initiative in order to bring about a certain perception,” he says. “I was a proponent of unilateral separation between us and the Palestinians. I came to the conclusion that there was no chance of coming to a final-status resolution [of the conflict] with them, there is no society that is a partner to us on the Palestinian side. They have a political culture that does not make compromise possible. Integration will thwart the Zionist venture. I talked about that with nearly all the decision makers, I talked about it with several prime ministers and with two very very senior officials whom I take credit for changing their positions. I went from decision-maker to decision-maker, I gave them my book Korah Ha-hafrada (The Necessity of Separation). A large part of them was ripe for that idea. There is nothing as strong as an idea whose time has come. When I start to hear indications that a person is becoming doubtful about his current perception I propose to him a different perception because he understands that he needs a perception.”
He met Ariel Sharon when the latter was the Foreign Minister in Netanyahu’s government. “I called him ‘the biological’ because he was neither humane nor realistic. I told him: ‘I have come to tell your future.’ He said to me that I did not look like a Gypsy. I told him that I had left my crystal ball in my car because it was too heavy, but I knew that if he became prime minister he would erect a fence, recognize a Palestinian state and uproot settlements, and he would undergo the metamorphosis within three to five years. When the supreme responsibility is put on you, I told him, you will think like a Labourite from Kfar Malal  and then you will put the national objectives in a different place from in the past. We parted as friends, we met four years later at the Herzliya Conference at which he unveiled the disengagement plan. He said to me, ‘you bastard,’ which was sort of a compliment coming from him.”
Schueftan receives fewer compliments in the Academy. A lecturer at Haifa University whose field of specialization touches on that of Schueftan, says that Schueftan’s statements are a little racist regarding Arab matters. He tends to relate to them disparagingly, to him they are not cultured. It has more than a few implications regarding the way in which he studies the conflict. “Sometimes students come to my class after they have been in his class and they tell me what he said and they say that the racism there is excessive. I endeavour to explain to them that there is also another side in addition to the side that he presents to them. I would not say that he is a friend of mine, but he is not malicious, but I am speaking as a Jew. If I were an Arab, I would undoubtedly speak differently.”
Prof. Yoram Meital, head of the Herzog Centre for Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University, knows Schueftan’s positions. “They are positions that have no scientific basis,” he says, “there is no academic literature in which those positions have backing in research. One of the big perils is generalization that says that the ethnic origin of people creates backwardness. It is a baseless, populist and orientalist claim. There is not even a single study that says that. There are a great many explanations for the question why the rate of illiteracy is high, not only among the Arabs but also in south and east Asia and in Africa, but to hang it on culture and the Arab mind, there are no grounds for that. The explanations are local and not do not belong to the Arabs in particular. Not so long ago, part of the world’s science was developed in the Arab capitals. His approach is not science but populism and rhetoric that basically reflect on the one who is presenting it.”
He also claims that Iraq is not a solidified state.
“Before he rushes to throw around vacuous declarations like those he should read the work of Prof. Amatzia Baram of Haifa University, the university at which he teaches, which deals with Iraqi nationalism. The role of academics is to contribute from their knowledge to society. Statements like those throw sand into the public’s eyes, they mislead and dazzle instead of shedding light.”
Dr. Menachem Klein of the political science department at Bar-Ilan University, also knows of Schueftan’s statements. “He says that kind of thing at conferences, so I’m not surprised. What is surprising is that he says it in classes, because there you have to be more careful. Schueftan belongs to the Israeli neoconservative school, those that were in the Labour movement and saw the light. That school says what he says, though much less forcefully. The tendency towards extremism is making Schueftan popular.”
Could it be that if we disregard the populist side, it turns out that he is right, for example in what he says about the Iraq-Iran war?
“There has been such thought in Israel, but it is unpleasant to hear about ‘pure pleasure.’ There is something distasteful about taking pleasure in a war.”
And what about the scientific achievements of the Arabs?
“That triumphalist attitude is very characteristic of the neoconservatives. Such generalizations are not appropriate. Cairo has a subway; Tel Aviv does not. Damascus has become a centre for the translation of Israeli works into Arabic. It is illegal to import those translations into this country. So who here is the enlightened one here and who is the backward one? Who here is the suspicious one and who is more open? Arab culture goes back to the seventh century. It interpreted philosophy and took poetry to new heights. Not everything is measured on the basis of technological sophistication. Scientific achievements entail elements of anonymity and lack of compassion. There is a lot less alienation in Arab society than there is in technological societies. His words reveal more about him than about them. But the problem is not Dan Schueftan the person but rather Dan Schueftan the phenomenon. There is a public atmosphere that expects and wants to hear such things. There is a certain degree of obliviousness towards Arabs and the sufferings of others in Israeli society. Against that background, statements like those become possible. I would not be surprised if statements like that are also heard in other universities from the lips of others who belong to that school.”
Sueid Wahel, a communications and statistics student at Haifa University and a member of the secretariat of a Hadash cell, says that “it is a shame and disgrace that there is a lecturer like that in a university that claims to that it respects human rights. In the past we have succeeded in getting rid of a tutor who said similar things. Those statements reflect what much of Israeli society thinks and they hurt me as an Israeli citizen.”
“Those who call me a racist have no grounds at all,” says Schueftan. “It could be that he is using it in a demagogic way. I would not point to another lecturer and say that he is a “Hamas agent” or a “terrorist”, but I would try to argue with positions I disagree with.”
1. The Hebrew word for ‘dove’ also means ‘pigeon.’
2. “You promised a dove” is a line from the song Winter of Seventy-Three, expressing the longing for peace among the generation born to Israelis who had fought in the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
3. The moshav where Ariel Sharon was born.
Translated from Hebrew by George Malent
If you speak Hebrew, this article ignited a firestorm in the Israeli media especially on a Voice of Israel radio program, Distant Relatives (which covers Palestinian affairs). Shraga offers the interview in three parts: