Celebrating Africa, demonizing Israel: Chika Okeke-Aguru

Chika Okeke-Agulu

We’ve been looking at a recent New York Times article by Chika Okeke-Aguru, a professor of African Art at Princeton who fretted over the fact that rich Sotheby’s customers were snapping up artworks from the Dark Continent that should, in his view, remain publicly owned parts of Africa’s own cultural heritage.

Noting that most Africans have little access to the work of artists from their own continent – and that Lagos, for example, doesn’t have a single museum that exhibits a famous Nigerian artist – Okeke-Aguru whined: “This is no small problem.”

To which we asked yesterday, and will ask again now: compared to what?

GDP per capita, 2015

Compared to the fact that most of the 55 countries in Africa are considered “Not Free” by Freedom House, that most of the others are considered “Partly Free,” and that only ten – Senegal, Ghana, Benin, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Tunisia, Sao Tome and Principe, Mauritius, and Cape Verde – are considered “Free”? Compared to the fact that in a world map of countries that have been colored according to gross domestic product, on which GDPs below $5000 are bright yellow and richer countries are marked in ever-darkening shades of olive, almost the entirety of Africa shines out like the sun?

A neighborhood in Lagos

Nigeria, the country in which the aforementioned city, Lagos, Africa’s largest, is located, is actually one of the continent’s richest nations, with a per capita GDP of $2,640. Africa also jumps out on a map showing worldwide life expectancies, with most countries having an average age at death between forty or and sixty, while the corresponding ages in virtually the whole rest of the world range between seventy and ninety.

The University of Cape Town, considered the best university in Africa by the London Times, comes in at #148 in the world on the Times’s 2017 list

Want more? Look at the corruption statistics. The rape statistics. Gay rights? Forget about it. And how about the prevalence of primitive practices unheard of elsewhere on the planet – such as the murder of women suspected of witchcraft and the amputation of limbs from albino children by superstitious illiterates who think they bring good luck? How about the lack of a single decent university anywhere on the continent, with the exception of a few institutions in the Republic of South Africa?

This 2006 work by Yinka Shonibare also raked in the big bucks at Sothebys

Honestly, compared to all this, how important is it that a sculpture made of old bottle caps won’t be readily available for in-person scrutiny by the artist’s fellow Ghanaians? Yes, yes, as Okeke-Agulu puts it, “art is an important resource with which societies imagine their world.” And so on – blah, blah, blah. Any longtime reader of the New Your Times could quickly develop that point into a paragraph not so very different from the one in Okeke-Agulu’s actual article.

One wonders: if it’s so important that Africans be intimately familiar with their own continent’s artworks, why is Okeke-Agulu wasting his vast knowledge of the subject on the student body of Princeton University? Why isn’t he on the faculty of the University of Ghana, or the University of Ibadan, or the University of Nairobi?

Well, part of the reason is that Okeke-Agule doesn’t spend all his time teaching courses in African art. He also puts a lot of effort into an activity for which an Ivy League campus is the perfect setting: anti-Israeli activism. He calls Israel an apartheid state and a practitioner of ethnic cleansing. He supports academic boycotts of Israel. He has agitated on behalf of Palestinian terrorists who are currently incarcerated in Israeli prisons.

Benjamin Netanyahu

According to the Canary Mission website, he “tweets articles from Mint Press News, a ‘super anti-Israel’ website that frequently compares Israel to ISIS.” In a 2014 article, he “minimized the terrorist actions of Hamas” and criticized Israel for responding to those actions by destroying the terrorists’ “attack tunnels.” He has smeared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a racist and participated in a campaign to get Princeton to divest from companies with Israeli ties.

Okeke-Aguru (second right) at a Princeton ceremony where he won an award

It is interesting – though hardly surprising, in these twisted times – that a professor who teaches about African art at Princeton would appear to have little or nothing to say about the drastic poverty, severe lack of freedom, abominable human-rights records, primitive quality of education, rudimentary sanitation, massive corruption, and savage cultural practices that still reign in most of Africa, but is able to sheds crocodile tears over the purchase by rich white Americans of a few Ghanaian art works made of bottle caps. Add to that the fact that this Africa-centric fool, while blithely ignoring the multitudinous ways in which Africa is a holy mess, finds it useful to contribute to the demonization of the State of Israel – a world-class model of individual liberty, cutting-edge scientific and technological progress, and so on – in short, a land that’s far more advanced, in any way you can think of, than any of the 55 nations on the African continent.

Fighting the Jewish state from the Golden State

We’ll spend this week surveying a few of the more egregious useful stooges in the Golden State. We’ll kick off our tour with the faculty members of four northern California institutions.

Jess Ghannam

Jess Ghannam has a curious combination of academic posts. While serving as a professor of Psychiatry and Global Health Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco’s School of Medicine, he’s also UCSF’s Chief of Medical Psychology. But in addition, bizarrely, he’s a professor of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University (SFSU). An official of several fiercely anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups, he supports the so-called BDS movement, which seeks to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel. He considers Israel an apartheid state, has accused it of genocide and ethnic cleansing, champions an academic and cultural boycott of Israel, and serves on the executive committee of a group, Al-Awda, that calls for Israel’s eradication. He’s a vociferous supporter of Samer Issawi, a member of a terrorist group called the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who is currently serving time in an Israeli prison for manufacturing pipe bombs and attempting to kill Israeli civilians during the second Intifada. In 2010, according to the Canary Mission website, he “signed a petition to have an Israeli scholar ejected from an academic conference in Los Angeles.”

Sunaina Maira

Over at UC Davis, Sunaina Maira, a professor of Asian American Studies, is “an international leader” of the BDS movement as well as a co-founder of both Pakistanis for Palestine and the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. In recent years she has lent her support to a French boycott of Israeli products, advocated the shuttering of UC’s Israel Abroad program, called for an Israeli scholar to be thrown out of an L.A. academic conference, and publicly condemned the chancellor and provost of UC Davis for not opposing Israel. She’s complained about the “Israel lobby” in the U.S. While defending vile and violent anti-Israeli demonstrations as “peaceful,” she’s routinely leveled baseless accusations of brutality against peaceable Israel and Israelis. In one article she referred to jihadists, harmlessly enough, as “international aid activists” and She denies that the Jews are indigenous to Israel, calls Israelis “our enemies,” and has described Israel’s security fence as an “apartheid wall.”

Magid Shihade

Among Maira’s colleagues at Davis is her husband, Magid Shihade, a research fellow in Middle East/South Asia Studies. He is also, notably, on the faculty at Birzeit University on the Gaza Strip. Canary Mission describes Birzeit as “a hotbed of Jew-hatred” – in 2014 it ejected a fiercely anti-Zionist Haaretz reporter, Amira Hass, from a conference “for being an Israeli Jew”; in 2015 and 2016, terrorist Bilal Barghouti, who is currently in prison for his involvement in suicide attacks (and is famous for masterminding the Sbarro cafe bombing), became Honorary Chairman of its student council. Like Mairi, Shihade has denied the Jews’ historic ties to Israel (or, at least, to Hebron); he has spread Hamas propaganda and has used virulently anti-Semitic materials in his courses; and he has urged Palestinian to boycott U.S. products. In a 2006 essay, he wrote: “I was among many Palestinian-Israelis who cheered for Iraq whenever a scud missile hit Israel.” In a 2012 post for the Economist blog, originally headlined “The Auschwitz Complex,” he mocked Israel’s concerns about Iran’s determination to destroy it. Like his wife, he has told students and other audiences bald-faced lies about the history of Israel and Palestine, representing Israel, for example, as the aggressor in ever war it has fought and as “a violent state by nature.”

Deep in the heart of Texas: Jew-hatred

An outfit called Canary Mission, a watchdog group that “anonymously monitors anti-American, anti-Israel and antisemitic activity on US college campuses,” reported recently on a particular egregious finding.

college-park-center
UTA’s College Park Center

On both Facebook and Twitter, no fewer than 24 current and former students at the University of Texas-Arlington (UTA) have posted the vilest imaginable comments about Jews. They’ve advocated anti-Semitic violence, denied the Holocaust, celebrated the Holocaust, and written things like “Stuff Jews in the oven.”

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Some members of the UTA chapter of SJP

How can such extensive Jew-hatred have taken root in, of all places, a college in Arlington, Texas? Well, one clue to the answer is that most of the repulsive posts were made by members of the UTA chapters of two groups. One of them is Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has been described as a “front for Hamas and the Hamas intermediary American Muslims for Palestine.” The group, which has chapters on at least 200 campuses in the U.S., is viewed as playing a leading role in the spread of anti-Semitism among American college students. As a 2014 article observed,

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Mariam Ghanem

Instead of promoting justice, SJP and/or its members spend almost all of their energy demonizing Israel, advocating for its eventual destruction, showing an unfortunate affinity for pro-terrorist figures, bullying and intimidating pro-Israel and Jewish students with vicious and sometimes anti-Semitic rhetoric, and even at times engaging in physical violence. While SJP may pay lip-service to peaceful aims, their rhetoric and actions make it hard to avoid the conclusion that a culture of hatred permeates nearly everything the group does—making the college experience increasingly uncomfortable, at times even dangerous, for Jewish or pro-Israel students.

Three years ago, Northeastern University banned SJU entirely, “after years of anti-Semitic vandalism, glorification of terrorist groups, calls for the destruction of Israel, and other actions.”

The other group behind the rash of anti-Semitism at UTA: the Muslim Student Association (MSA), a front for the Muslim Brotherhood that has chapters around the world and that has not only routinely voiced a virulent anti-Semitism but has also aligned itself with Communist and other radical-left groups.

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Nancy Salem

Among the UTA students named in Canary Mission’s report is Mariam Ghanem, who belongs to both the SJP and MSA and who has “compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hitler, and tweeted a cartoon equating Nazi soldiers and IDF officers.” Ghanem, now a senior at George Mason University, has worked as an intern at the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve; her profile at the Society of Egyptian American Professionals says that she hopes to “use her education and background to give back to the global community and to improve the lives of as many people as she can.”

Also mentioned in the report was SJP member Nancy Salem, who once “retweeted a riddle asking: ‘How many Jews died in the Holocaust?’ The answer: ‘Not enough, HAHAHAHA.’” When a friend left for a visit to the Holy Land, Salem tweeted: “Have a safe trip Lulu. I love you baby girl! See you in 3 weeks! Kiss the Palestine ground for me and kill some jews! <3 #IMissYouAlready.” Then there’s Ismail Said Aboukar, who “referred to the Nazi genocide of the Jews as ‘#LiesToldInSchool’” and wrote that the “world would be sooo much better without jews man.”

Attention UTA administrators: perhaps it’s time for you to learn a lesson from Northeastern University and, in fact, do them one better by banning both of these hate-inculcating groups?