Writing shortly after the publication of Max Blumenthal’s anti-Israel screed “Goliath” a year ago, Eric Alterman noted that it would be “no exaggeration to say that this book could have been published by the Hamas Book-of-the-Month Club (if it existed).” As demonstrated at yesterday’s rather lavish “Palestine Book Awards ceremony 2014” in London – honoring, among others, the veteran Palestinian-American activist Ali Abunimah – there is actually something like a Hamas “Books-of-the-Year” Club.” It is sponsored by a website known under its acronym MEMO, which stands for Middle East Monitor. The site’s declared mission is helping “supporters of […] the Palestinian cause to master the art of information gathering, analysis and dissemination;” it also prides itself for going “one step further; reaching out to opinion-makers and decision-makers in a deliberate, organised and sustained manner.”
However, with good reason, MEMO has been criticized as a sometimes openly anti-Semitic “Islamist news outfit” and a “hate publisher” with close ties to Hamas. MEMO’s director Daud Abdullah has been described as an “extremist” with sympathies for jihadi terrorist groups, and the site’s senior editor Ibrahim Hewitt has been characterized as a “Muslim hardliner” and “one of Britain’s most prominent Islamic firebrands.” Hewitt also serves as the chairman of Interpal, a UK-based fund that is widely viewed as supporting Hamas and has been designated as a terrorist entity by the US government. MEMO’s Palestine Book Awards “Trustees” include not only several prominent “critics” of Israel, but also the outspoken Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi who has repeatedly expressed his desire to become a “martyr” and asserted that Hamas “is the true representative of the Palestinian people.”
Indeed, a short perusal of MEMO’s website is enough to reveal open sympathies for Hamas. MEMO’s homepage often includes a prominent display of news items featuring Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal; the site also offers “Fact Sheets” that provide a glowing picture of Palestinian terrorists like Ahlam al-Tamimi – without ever mentioning the murderous terrorist attack Tamimi helped to commit. But MEMO doesn’t shy away from openly glorifying terrorism: the most recent example praises the assassination attempt on Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehuda Glick a few days ago as a “blessed operation carried out by the hero martyr Moataz Hijazi,” while the current violent unrest in Jerusalem is hailed as “another victory and encouragement to add on to the victories during ‘Operation Protective Edge’, ‘Operation Pillar of Defence’, and ‘Operation Cast Lead’, as well as the first and second Intifadas.” Another recent MEMO op-ed promotes the preposterous claim that Egypt’s President Sisi “has been installed into power to execute all of Israel’s demands and implement its project. The current project pursued in the region is the complete elimination of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), which the Zionist wars failed to get rid of and erase the word resistance from the minds of the Arabs.” Other MEMO op-eds by the same author include a passionate piece hailing “Gaza’s victory” in the recent fighting with Israel, boasting that the “Zionists have been shamed by their defeat and labelled as villains and cowards.”
While Abunimah has made no secret of his support for Hamas during the terror group’s war with Israel this summer, his open association with MEMO can only deepen already grave concerns about campus anti-Semitism and the worrisome radicalization of student activists who admire Abunimah as a leading proponent of the relentless demonization of Israel as a uniquely evil “Apartheid” state that must be brought down by BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).
Given Abunimah’s own Orwellian definition of anti-Semitism, it was perhaps only appropriate that MEMO chose Dr. Ang Swee Chai to present Abunimah with his award (as pictured below). While Ang Swee Chai has long been engaged in efforts to improve medical care for Palestinians, she also participated in “Israel Apartheid Week” events and recently signed a controversial letter published in the British medical journal The Lancet that became an outright embarrassment when it turned out that the letter’s authors had not only concealed their longtime activism, but that two of them, including Ang Swee Chai, seemed “sympathetic to the views of David Duke, a white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard.” According to press reports, Dr. Ang defended her promotion of material produced by Duke claiming:
“I didn’t know who David Duke was, or that he was connected to the Ku Klux Klan. I am concerned that if there is any truth in the video, that Jews control the media, politics and banking, what on earth is going on? I was worried.”
Abunimah was certainly aware of this episode, not least because his fellow anti-Israel activist – and fellow MEMO “laureate” – Ben White devoted one of his regular MEMO posts to denouncing criticism of Dr. Ang and her colleague. But far from feeling even the slightest embarrassment, Abunimah emphasized both during and after the award ceremony that it was “so moving” for him to receive his award from Dr. Ang Swee Chai.
In addition to the award ceremony, Abunimah was hosted by MEMO on the two preceding evenings. For tweets about the first event, MEMO gave out the hashtag #AbunimahMEMO, and according to photos tweeted by people attending Abunimah’s talk, it was chaired by none other than Ibrahim Hewitt – which seems to indicate that Abunimah has no qualms about being hosted by a notorious Islamist who has advocated barbaric Sharia punishments for gays as well as for accused adulterers and apostates. It was then hardly surprising that Abunimah echoed the boastful sentiments expressed in the previously cited MEMO op-ed on “Gaza’s victory:” according to tweets posted by apparent audience members, Abunimah also disparaged the Israeli army as “really bad at fighting trained Palestinian fighters” but “good at massacring civilians with hi-tech weapons.”
On the second evening, MEMO announced that Abunimah would be joined by Diana Allan and gave out the hashtag #DianaAliMEMO. As it turned out, Diana Allan was MEMO’s choice for the award in the category of academic books. She is a post-doctoral fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University and was “honored” by MEMO for her book “Refugees of the Revolution” that focuses on Palestinians living in the Lebanese Shatila camp. A comprehensive review of Allan’s book notes at the end what Allan herself emphasized when she spoke at the MEMO award ceremony: that she did not want her detailed documentation of the sometimes ambivalent attitudes of refugees (or rather, descendants of refugees) to “be construed to mean that ‘Zionism has won,’ nor to in any way ‘undermine the rights and claims of the refugees.’” While this review indicates that Allan’s book is indeed a serious academic work, her expertise obviously also means that she must have been fully aware of the affiliations and political leanings of the organization from which she was accepting an award.
But if Allan had any qualms about accepting an award from an organization that openly promotes the ideology of Hamas and is led by notorious Islamists with obvious ties to a “charity” known to fund Hamas and therefore designated as a terrorist entity by the US, she may well have dismissed such entirely warranted concerns because she is, after all, not the first academic employed by a reputable American university to accept an award from MEMO. Previous academics “honored” by MEMO include Harvard’s Sara Roy and Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi.
While the US government may designate Hamas and its funders as terrorist organizations and entities, some academics from elite US universities apparently don’t mind lending their prestige to a publishing enterprise that promotes the ideology of Hamas and is led by its supporters, who undoubtedly cherish the opportunity to gain legitimacy by bestowing their awards not only on professional anti-Israel activists but also on willing members of America’s academic elite. The annual Palestine Book Awards sponsored by MEMO thus legitimize unabashed Hamas supporters with well-documented anti-Semitic views like Ali Abunimah or the notorious Ben White as fellow laureates of scholars who teach at prestigious American universities.