James Gelvin was born on February 12, 1951.
James Gelvin is a professor of Middle Eastern history at UCLA. He earned a B.A. from Columbia University in 1983, an M.A. from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs in 1985, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1992. Before joining the UCLA faculty, Gelvin taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, and Harvard. In 2002-2003 he was the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Visiting Professor of History at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. He has been a faculty member in the department of history at the University of California, Los Angeles since 1995.
In 2002 Gelvin was a signatory to a petition calling for the University of California to divest its assets from all companies that conducted any business whatsoever with Israel — a nation that was, he told reporters, “committing an invasion” against the Palestinian people.
In 2005 Gelvin addressed the Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Rick Shenkman, editor of the History News Network, reports that Gelvin used his lecture time to present an “astonishingly fresh analysis of the American responsibility for Islamists and extremists.” This was consistent with the theme of a lecture series Gelvin had given in 2001 and 2002, titled “Understanding the Roots of 11 September.”
In 2006 Gelvin was included in the so-called “Dirty 30” list of UCLA professors. Compiled by a group known as the Bruin Alumni Association, the professors made this list as a result of their “radical and anti-Semitic” approach to teaching.
On November 13, 2007, Gelvin was a featured speaker at a “Jihadi Islam Conference” held at UCLA. The focus of the conference was to take “stock of the various approaches applied to the study of jihadism and jihadi movements”; to “discuss the assumptions and methodological problems encountered by researchers”; and to “propose alternative approaches to the study of these phenomena that conform to more broadly applicable historical and social science practice.” Fellow speakers included Bruce Lawrence and Rola El-Husseini.
According to Evan Goldstein in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Gelvin likens al Qaeda-type jihadism to Western anarchism, noting that both movements claim to be defensive in nature, both target the power structures they hold responsible for their subjugation, and both define themselves as ideal “counter-communities.” Moreover, Gelvin rejects the term “Islamo-fascism” as mere “polemic masquerading as analysis.”
Gelvin describes the contemporary “quest for Palestinian rights [as] equivalent to the American civil rights struggle of the 1960s or the anti-apartheid struggle of the 1980s.” He states further that the Israeli security fence in the West Bank has been used, in the guise of an anti-terrorism measure, for the “illegal annexation of land by the Israeli government.”
A number of Gelvin’s pupils have reported that he commonly voices his anti-Israel views in the classroom. One student, for instance, described him as “not a historian but rather an advocate of the Palestinian cause”; another reported that Gelvin makes reference to “terrorism” only when citing the actions of Israelis. Still another student offered this assessment: “If you take his ‘History of the Arab/Israeli Conflict’ class you will understand why this conflict is so hard to resolve: because of people like Prof. Gelvin who choose sides and then attempt to [sell] their views to students who know no better.”
Gelvin has authored three books: Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (1998); The Modern Middle East: A History (2004); and The Israel-Palestine Conflict: 100 Years of War (2005).