Columbia history professor Richard Bulliet spent three weeks in Israel last spring, he told a packed room at an ominously named event — “War With Iran?” — hosted by the university’s Middle East Institute. “Iran was always coming up as an ‘existential threat,'” he said.
Bulliet was in Israel evaluating the country’s Middle East programs. He seemed disconcerted by what he found: There was very little study of this so-called “existential threat.” The designation was not backed by any rigorous academic examination of the country on the receiving end of the accusation.
“To my recollection,” he said, “there were five professors in Israel who were… specialists on Iran.”
Five is an awfully low number for a country with a robust university system that churns out research and, more importantly, whose work informs its (as well as, occasionally, the U.S.’s) policy structures, something Bulliet acknowledged.
“I have a very low regard for the quality of inputs that go into [policy thinking in Israel],” he said.
One of the five professors is Haggai Ram of Ben Gurion University. Ram published a book last year called Iranophobia: The Logic of and Israeli Obsession, which looked at Israeli assumptions about Iran (and vice versa) and how they were both products of and reflected in society.
While he didn’t name any others, he did note that not one of the five mirrored the prevailing national Israeli dialogue about the Islamic Republic: “Not a single one of them was a hawk on Iran.”
I’m not one to usually quote spiritual leaders, but given this situation — amid speculation that Israel is leaning toward attacking Iran — this tidbit from the Dalai Lama seems particularly apt: “Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”