In the name of truth

From the archive (legacy material)

Meron Rapoport | Ha’aretz | 28 April 2005

“Among Arabs, you will not find the phenomenon so typical of Judeo-Christian culture: doubts, a sense of guilt, the self-tormenting approach, `Maybe we weren’t entirely OK,’ or `Maybe we need to act or react differently.’ These phenomena are totally unknown in Arab-Islamic society, toward outsiders. They have no doubts about their positions or the justice of their side. They have no sense of guilt that they may have erred. They have neither twinges of conscience nor any regrets that they may have done wrong to anyone else … The phenomenon of the murderers by suicide, sometimes called suicide bombers, is an absolute indication. There is no condemnation, no regret, no problem of conscience among Arabs and Muslims, anywhere, in any social stratum, of any social position.” (Dr David Bukay, “The First Cultural Flaw in Thinking: The Arab Personality,” from Bukay’s book “Arab-Islamic Political Culture: A Key Source to Understanding Arab Politics and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” ACPRPublishers, 2003.)
Dr. David Bukay is a person of some standing at the University of Haifa. He teaches in the Department of Political Science in the Social Sciences Faculty and is considered close to the department head, Prof. Gabriel Ben Dor. My meeting with Bukay was held in Prof. Ben Dor’s office; Ben Dor and Bukay share the same secretary.
According to the student evaluation sheets about him and according to conversations with students, Dr. Bukay is a popular lecturer. True, he often uses “sharp and harsh” language, as one of the letters of support for him note, but as many of his students point out, there is a good atmosphere in the classroom and his students view him as a knowledgeable teacher. The subject he teaches – Middle Eastern affairs – interest them. He has also written position papers on Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat and Arab terrorism and publishes regularly in the right-wing journal Nativ.
He has also published a book about Arab political culture and is the editor of the English-language collection of essays “Muhammad’s Monsters: A Comprehensive Guide to Radical Islam for Western Audiences” (Balfour Books, 2004). “The American publisher is a religious extremist and he came up with the title,” Bukay explained to the university disciplinary board that dealt with the case.
Until last year there were no reports about untoward comments by Dr. Bukay in his classes, not even on the part of the many Arab students who attended them. It bears recalling that the University of Haifa has the highest percentage of Arab students in Israel, at least 20 percent. “I do not recall a semester when I did not have an Arab student,” Bukay says, “and I heard only praise and admiration from them.” Until, that is, the first semester of the present (2004-5) academic year – when the attorney general ordered an investigation against Bukay on suspicion of racist incitement.
There are two versions of what happened in the classroom, and they are mutually contradictory and divided along the lines of national origin: the version of two Arab students and, pitted against it, the opposite version propounded by the lecturer and the Jewish students. One of the two Arab students in question is a woman who prefers that her name not be used because she does not want to affect her future at the university, especially now that she has already testified before the university’s disciplinary board and before the rector.
The female student relates that she began to feel uncomfortable from the very first classes. Bukay spoke about the Muslim’s ties to Jerusalem and explained that Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran. She was outraged. She was certain that Jerusalem was cited in the holy book of Islam. Bukay sent her to the Koran and told her, she says, you will look, you will not find it and I will shame you in class. She then heard him say that terrorism is a problem of the Arab and that the prophet Mohammed was the first terrorist.
At the end of the lesson, the student went to see Dr. As’ad Ghanem, the head of the Government and Political Theory unit of the Department of Political Science, and complained about Bukay’s offensive remarks. Dr. Ghanem suggested that she write to the head of the department and to the rector. She did not do this. “I wanted to finish the course without any fuss,” she told the disciplinary board.
Then Fadi Abu Yunes got into the act. While the female Arab student wishes to remain anonymous and in the shadows, Abu Yunes loves the spotlight. Indeed, he actively seeks it out. He is a political activist, a member of Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace, an Arab-Jewish party) and chairman of the National Union of Arab Students. Abu Yunes joined Bukay’s course late, in the fourth class. “I didn’t have money, so I registered late,” he explains.
Bukay is convinced that Abu Yunes came to the course with the deliberate intention of interfering and of vilifying him. “He was sent and I know who sent him. He was a provocateur,” Bukay asserts, without elaborating. Ohad Wohlbuter, a Jewish student who later wrote a letter of support for Bukay, says he is certain that the Arab student who was upset over the issue of whether Jerusalem is mentioned in the Koran invited Abu Yones to the course. She denies this. “I know Fadi, just as I know the other Arab students in the department,” she says. “I did not tell him about what happened in class and he didn’t even know that I had gone to Dr. Ghanem to complain.” Abu Yunes also denies having known the female student earlier.
From the moment Abu Yunes crossed the threshold of Dr. Bukay’s lecture hall, the atmosphere turned volatile. He started to ask questions and make comments, shouting out while Bukay was speaking, usually without asking permission. Yelena Margovsky, a atudent in the course, says that Abu Yunes interrupted Bukay incessantly.
“He was always coming and going, going and coming, bringing books that had nothing to do with the subject. I used to be a student at Tel Aviv University and I never saw anything like that,” says Shlomo Zuckerman, who audited the course, told the disciplinary board. Yisrael Diamant, who also audited the course, told the board, “Fadi would get up and say to Bukay: I will ask what I want and you are obliged to answer me. I have rights and I am a citizen of this country like everyone else.”
Abu Yunes does not deny this. He says only that there was a reason for all the outbursts. Not one reason, but many reasons. He relates that he quickly understood that Bukay was making untoward remarks and so be began to write then down and document them. In one case, Abu Yunes recalls, Bukay said, “Terrorists should be shot in the head in front of their families” as a deterrent and that “a whole house should be demolished with the occupants inside” in order to liquidate one wanted individual. In another instance, Abu Yunes testified, Bukay explained to the class that “Arabs are nothing but alcohol and sex” and cited as an example his “good friend from Yemen” whom he met in America.
A whole debate developed over the Nobel Prize, according to Abu Yunes. Bukay, the student says, stated that “the Arabs are stupid and have contributed nothing to humanity.” Yelena Margovsky mentioned the achievements of the Arabs in the Middle Ages. To which Bukay retorted, “The Arabs only preserved Greek culture, they did not develop anything.” As an example, he noted the fact that only seven Arabs have won a Nobel Prize (“one of them unjustly – Yasser Arafat”), whereas 170 Jews were Nobel laureates. “Is it genetic?” one student asked. “Apparently,” Bukay replied, according to Abu Yunes.
Bukay categorically denies the exchange of comments over the genetic issue, branding it “a blood libel, fabricated things which have no foundation.” Nearly all the students in the course, all of them Jewish, confirm Bukay’s account. No such remarks were made, they insist, and Bukay did not say that “the Arabs are stupid.” They confirm that Bukay cited the very small number of Arab Nobel laureates as proof of the Arabs’ backwardness and that he said that the Arabs in the Middle Ages mainly preserved the achievements of the Greeks and the Romans and hardly developed anything of their own, apart from algebra.
“That reply was satisfactory to me,” says Yelena Margovsky, the student who cited the Arabs’ accomplishments in medieval times. She too did not hear Bukay call the Arabs “stupid.” “There was no such thing,” she maintains. However, the female Arab student confirms what Abu Yunes said and testified to that effect before the rector and the disciplinary board.
Even if Bukay did not make these explicit remarks, it is quite clear that his goal in the course was to persuade the students that the Arab society is weak, undemocratic, “anemic,” in the term of Ohad Wohlbuter, a right-wing student (“natural Likud,” as he puts it), who heads the supporters of Bukay in the course.
A corrupt and violent culture
“Both the Arabs, due to their tribal-clan structure, and the Islamic religion, which holds that Allah is the center of all and rejects human centrality, are characterized by the rejection of the opinion of people as individuals. Their views and concepts are not taken into account at all, only the opinion of the generality … This leads to tribal-communal conceptual conformity and perpetuates the pointlessness of the scientific study of polls and surveys. Therefore, anthropologists state, when an Arab or a Muslim opens his remarks with the expression wallahi, he is apparently intending to lie.” (Dr. David Bukay, “Surveys in Arab-Islamic culture,” distributed in his University of Haifa course on “The inter-Arab system and the Palestine issue”)
As part of his efforts to prove his argument, did Bukay cast aspersions of a racist character? It is difficult to know for certain, but it is clear that what he said was not easy for an Arab student to listen to. Margovsky, who wrote an ardent letter against Abu Yunes and his “blood libel,” stated that she understood from Dr. Bukay that “the Arabs are incapable of self-judgment, because of their feeling of superiority.”
The atmosphere was well summed up by Aiman Mansour, a student who is doing a Ph.D. under the supervision of Prof. Ben Dor and Dr. Bukay. “I have known Dr. David Bukay for nearly five years,” Mansour wrote to Ben Dor after the affair exploded. “For me and for many others he is not only a supervisor or lecturer, but a person who devotes all his time to the students … At the personal level, Dr. Bukay constitutes a dominant factor in shaping my personality. He is the only one who taught me that I must recognize the fact that my culture, the Arab culture, is corrupt, repressive, violent and anti-democratic.”
“Now I understand where Bukay wants to take me as well – to get me to admit that my culture is corrupt – and why I was so opposed,” Abu Yunes said after Mansour’s letter reached him from the prosecution on the disciplinary board. Things then began to snowball in November, a month after the start of the first semester. In the wake of the female student, though without coordination between them, Abu Yunes went to Dr. Ghanem to complain about Bukay’s remarks. The confrontations in class reached a peak in December. Abu Yunes shouted “racist” at Bukay several times. (According to one student, he also called him a “Nazi,” though Abu Yunes denies this and Bukay himself did not hear it.) Bukay decided to expel Abu Yunes from the course. “The students said he was bothering them and that if I did not remove him they would summon security guards,” Bukay relates. He also sent a letter of complaint to the dean of students, describing the shouts of “racist” which had been hurled at him and the repeated interruptions of the classes. “Furthermore,” Bukay added in the letter, “he [Abu Yunes] stated more than once that I am actually an Arab, and twice said mockingly in class, `Bu-ka-i.’ Commentary for those who do not understand the terminology: the Mizrahi Jews [those of Middle Eastern descent] are Arabs and should forge a coalition with the Arabs against the Ashkenazi Jews who are responsible for Zionism.”
When the discussion of Bukay’s complaint was delayed, the lecturer fired off another letter, this time to Ben Dor, the department head. “If you try to buy quiet,” Bukay wrote, “I am informing you that tomorrow everyone will be under threat … The alternatives are either appeasement and buying quiet (do you remember Munich?), or a struggle to uproot the phenomenon.”
Abu Yunes, for his part, also sent a letter of complaint, to the rector, in which he specified everything he says he heard in the course. He sent a copy of the letter to Nana, an Israeli Internet portal. Nana published the letter under the headline, “Haifa U lecturer: Shoot the Arabs in the head.” Abu Yunes had quoted Bukay as saying that “terrorists,” not “Arabs,” should be shot in the head, but the damage was already done. The publication of the text by Nana, and afterward by a local weekly, Kolbo, triggered a pitched battle.
Nearly all of Bukay’s students signed a letter of support for him, which denied everything Abu Yunes said. Some of Bukay’s former students also sent letters praising him. The deputy attorney general, Shain Nitzan, instructed the police to launch an investigation against Bukay on suspicion of incitement to racism, in the wake of the publication by Nana. The rector, Prof. Yossi Ben Artzi, conducted an investigation of his own and concluded that the remarks attributed to Bukay on the Internet and in the media “were not made in the way they were quoted and parts of sentences that were uttered in different contexts were yoked together by manipulation.”
It should be noted that Ben Artzi questioned Abu Yunes only about the headline in Nana (“shoot the Arabs in the head”) and not about the other comments attributed to Bukay. Ben Artzi stated that he would make it clear to Bukay that “it is important to moderate statements on sensitive topics and take into account that certain things are liable to be taken out of their context.” However, he declined to tell Haaretz which things had been “taken out of context.” The police have yet to open an investigation against Bukay, but the university’s disciplinary board is still discussing Bukay’s complaint against Abu Yunes.
Quarrelsome atmosphere
“The custom of hospitality, which is so famously an Arab social phenomenon, can be seen in the context of obtaining honor and externalizing it toward the environment; while the dancing around the guest derives more from fear that the latter might take up with the host’s wife and daughters.” (Dr. David Bukay, “The First Cultural Flaw in Thinking: The Arab Personality”)
It was not easy to get an interview with Dr. Bukay. At first he railed against the media that had “shed his blood,” generating threats against his life that led him to check under his car every morning for fear someone may have planted a bomb there. Then he provided a list of books on which, he said, he based his articles on “the Arab character.” He then announced that he would agree to be interviewed only if I promised not to talk to Abu Yunes. “That would be like talking both with the terrorist and with his victim,” he said, explaining the unusual request. “The imagined equality is unacceptable to me.” Finally he agreed, after I undertook to read the books on his list.
I read them – not all of them, but I read. I especially read the book that Bukay marked as “highly recommended, all sections of the book.” The work referred to is “The Temperament and Character of the Arabs,” the only book by Sania Hamady, published in 1960 (in English, by Twayne Publishers). None of the experts on the Middle East whom I asked have ever heard of her, and almost the only mentions of her book (in Hebrew) on the Internet are on sites of the Israeli right. The Hamady book is peculiar, to put it mildly. Put less mildly, Hamady’s book is chockful of prejudices, devoid of any proof and is on the brink of racism.
Bukay quotes selectively the literary sources cited by Hamady on the frequency of the lie in the Arab society, on the notion that the Arab society is a “society of shame” in contrast to the Christian “guilt society.” (This contrast, according to Dr. Ron Kuzar, from the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Haifa, was popular among conservative circles after World War II, and today is common mainly in racist circles). It is also clear to Hamady why the Arabs have no sense of guilt. “The Muslims deny original sin in any form,” writes the Lebanese-born Hamady, who is described in the book as “an adviser for social development in the Protestant Service Bureau.”In short, the Muslims are simply not Christians.
The whole book is rife with bizarre statements without any scholarly or other foundation. The Arabs are “arrogant,” she writes at one point. Arabs speak loudly, as is evident from the market. A quarrelsome atmosphere prevails in the Arab home. In the introduction to the book, in which Hamady states that she did not do any research but based herself exclusively on “literary sources,” she herself warns that her generalizations about the Arabs should be taken with a grain of salt. The Arabs, she writes in the introduction, have a number of “universal” traits which are shared by the entire human race. In other words, surprising as it may be, we should remember that Arabs, too, are human beings.
Sania Hamady, the anthropologist you so admire, writes that Arabs are arrogant, talk loudly and that the atmosphere in the Arab home is rife with quarrels. Don’t you think it is problematic to cite her as an authority?
Bukay: “Maybe what is problematic is your political correctness.”
Do Arabs talk in a loud voice?
“I don’t know. Were you in that society, that you can say whether it is true or not?”
I’ve been in Arab homes, and in some of them people spoke in a loud voice and in others they didn’t. That’s all.
“You are getting into questions of values now. She is a doctor of anthropology.”
What academic validity does a statement like this have? What do you think about these statements?
“I think she is an anthropologist and I think she is a good anthropologist. I will explain why: because your approach is exactly the Western one of the politically correct, of the mirror image. Both are problematic concepts from my point of view. We look at our mirror image, we make value judgments according to our mirror image, and political correctness, with all respect, is simply killing us.”
Reading this material, aren’t you prompted to ask who the prattler is who wrote it?
“I think that until you examine the issue, you don’t have any tools to work with.”
Is it research to say that people talk in a loud voice?
“Then nothing is research. Sania Hamady’s central message is that of a shame society, honor-shame-revenge, and that is the subject that [the late Prof. Yehoshafat] Harkabi worked on so much.”
Let us move to things you have written and to which you referred a class with members of the defense establishment as students (the article on “The First Cultural Flaw in Thinking: The Arab Personality”). You write that no Arab has guilt feelings, that it is impossible to rely on surveys done by them because they live in a lying culture. Aren’t those generalizations?
“Look at the context. Do you want me to make a statement and then say, no, in the Palestinian society it is different? What happens is that we take our mirror image, our values, and we, on that basis, judge the other society. But the other society differs from ours. It is not better and not worse, it is different.”
But the negative implication is obvious: lying is not good.
“When an Arab opens his remarks with the expression wallahi, he is apparently – it is not a fixed thing – intending to lie. Let us take Bernard Lewis. Take Harkabi.”
They say what when an Arab says `wallahi’ he intends to lie?
“No, no. You have the right not to accept what I say, that is exactly science, that is one of the approaches in science. Sania Hamady, David Pryce-Jones and Raphael Patai – look in the index under `lie’ – go to Bernard Lewis. Sania Hamady said so explicitly. Take two more things. One, go to the practice of Jews from the [Middle] Eastern communities. My parents came from Syria. Ask people from these communities how many times they say that when a person in that society says this [wallahi], he is lying. Moreover, go to the interrogators in the defense establishment and see how many times they say to the subject of the interrogation: `What are you saying, why are you saying these things?’ The subject replies, `Wallahi, that is what I am saying.’ Now the interrogator asks, `What is your name?’ He replies, `My name is XYZ.’ `Are you sure, Aqid?’ – the interrogators repeat the word in Arabic – `Are you sure that is your name?’ `Yes, that is my name,’ he replies. `Then why didn’t you say `wallahi’ this time?’ they ask.
“Obviously, this is a hard statement. But I say to you again, both in the practice of the Arab states and in the practice of the defense establishment, you will find it very often, that term, because in practice – apparently not always – the formulation is definitely correct.”
The example you used is from an interrogation by the Shin Bet security service, which is not exactly a situation in which a person customarily tells the whole truth.
“What do you want, for me to apologize because when he [an Arab] is being questioned by the Shin Bet, he is in this or that situation?”
You did not write that people do not tell the truth in Shin Bet interrogations. You say Arabs or Muslims, in general.
“Anthropologists say so. Sania Hamady.”
Elsewhere you write that an important phenomenon that typifies the Arab is a lack of basic trust, suspiciousness and hostility toward the other, even if he is a member of the same group. Isn’t that a generalization?
“No, it is not a generalization. Ask any Arab, I and my brother against my cousins, I and my cousins against the neighbor, it is one of the characteristics.”
An Arab has no doubts, he has no guilt feelings, he has not an iota of conscience, there is no condemnation, no contrition – nowhere, in no social class. Isn’t that a generalization?
“Yes, a generalization, but it is a quotation from Yehoshafat Harkabi, from Raphael Patai. Both those researchers address this question of the problem of the culture. It is true that it could have been formulated in less general terms, but fundamentally there is nothing [in such statements] that does not represent reality.”
There is no contrition in the Arab world.
“Not toward outsiders.”
Researchers who read your articles said essentially that it is not academe.
“Could be, and then all the researchers who have written are not academe, either.”
Don’t you feel that it should be well-based?
“Everything is well-based. I am giving you researchers, you don’t want to follow it up. There is no such situation that there is no argument in science. There is a different opinion which you can accept or not, object to it more or less, but that is exactly the essence of science.”
In his book “The International Jew,” Henry Ford, the automotive industrialist, wrote, “The Jew at trade is naturally quicker than most other men. It is said that there are other races, which are as nimble at a trade as is the Jew, but the Jew does not live much among them.” Is that science, too?
“I don’t know. I’m not an expert on that subject, so how would I know?
How do you relate to Ford’s remark?
“It is totally irrelevant, it is not in my context, I don’t know where it was said and when it was said.”
The important issue
“Above all, the most important continuum for understanding the Arab personality is that between submission to and fawning over those with perceived power, at one end, and cruel, violent, anarchic, unrestrained wildness, at the other.” (Dr. David Bukay, “The First Cultural Flaw in Thinking: The Arab Personality”)
Something strange is happening at the University of Haifa. On the one hand, the Anti-Defamation League is “very disturbed” by Bukay’s article because of its “destructive prejudices” (see box) and the attorney general has initiated an investigation against Bukay on suspicion of racist incitement. On the other hand, the university is conducting a disciplinary process against the student who accused Bukay of racism. However, in this process Bukay has gradually gone from accuser to accused.
The prosecutor Ayelet Tzur wanted to concentrate on just one issue – whether Abu Yunes interrupted Bukay’s classes. It makes no difference whether Bukay made the remarks or not, she argued repeatedly in the hearings, nor is it important whether he wrote anything racist or not. According to the prosecutor, the question is “whether a student has the right to behave” as Abu Yunes behaved, even if the lecturer made racist remarks (as Abu Yunes maintains).
The defense counsel, attorney Yusef Jabarin, took exactly the opposite line. It’s true, his client admitted, he called Bukay a “racist,” but he did so because he thinks he is a racist.
Jabarin tried to prove this by drawing on the letter of the student who thanked Bukay for teaching him that his Arab culture is corrupt and with the help of the page Bukay distributed in class. “The level of generalization, the sweeping formulation and the harshness of what Dr. Bukay wrote leave no room for doubt that this is writing of a racist character,” Jabarin said.
The University of Haifa apparently realized that things had gotten complicated. Senior officials say the university administration wrestled with the problem of whether to file a disciplinary suit against Abu Yunes (the university constitution leaves it up to the administration whether to accede to a lecturer’s request to file suit against a student). However, the rector was under enormous pressure and the suit was filed. Oddly, the rector also issued a statement “exonerating” Bukay after the disciplinary process had already begun.
The university administration responded that “the rector was not involved in the submission of the complaint, which was of course submitted by Dr. Bukay himself. In this case the rector did not know about the existence of the complaint until it was reported to him by the prosecutor.” Moreover, the university administration is not interested in the content of the articles written by Dr. Bukay in Nativ because “we do not check or approve articles by teachers at the university and the university is not responsible for that.” The university administration was also asked about the material that Bukay distributed in class to the students – specifically, “When an Arab says wallahi he is intending to lie” – but opted to ignore the question in its response.
Last week, more than a month after the police investigation was announced, the university suddenly remembered the matter and asked attorney Jabarin to defer the continuation of the hearings until the police conclude their investigation, which could take months. Jabarin refused: Either cancel the suit or proceed with it until the conclusion, he wrote the prosecutor.
The university decided to go ahead with the hearings, but then a new snag arose. Two weeks ago on Wednesday, the day before the hearing, the prosecutor announced that Bukay had fallen ill and the whole matter would therefore be postponed until July, when one of the judges returns from his sabbatical.
On that same Wednesday I met with Bukay for two hours. The next day – the day of the scheduled hearing – I spoke with him by telephone. He neither looked nor sounded sick. Did someone here say wallahi?
Jews need to know
Ken Jacobson, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was shocked after reading Dr. Bukay’s article on the “Arab personality.”
“Such generalizations are very disturbing,” he said in a call from his office in New York. “Dr. Bukay’s article falls into the trap of old and hurtful stereotypes, which express prejudices that are liable to be very destructive. Every generalization of this kind contains a grain of truth, otherwise it would not sound reasonable to listeners. It is clear that there are aspects like this in the Arab society, but it also has a thousand opposite aspects. Along with hostility one finds hospitality, and alongside an absence of contrition, one can find thousands who will ask for forgiveness. These are the worst stereotypes, from which it is difficult to move on. We, the Jews, should know better than anyone that we must not engage in utterances of this kind.”
Jacobson explains that the ADL does not have written criteria enabling it to decide when a text is racist or contains generalizations. “But we have been in the business for so long that we know it when we see it.”
Jacobson says that in the ADL’s view it is wrong to hide behind academic freedom: “Naturally we respect academic freedom and understand that this is the only way academe can operate, but we believe that university presidents should condemn such things. It is not enough for a university president to say that his institution practices academic freedom. He must also say that such statements are obnoxious.”