- Marxist, anti-Israel professor of English at the State University of New York
- Refers to Israel’s 1948 creation as “The Catastrophe”
James Holstun is a Professor of English at the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo. Though his professional training is in English literature, his departmental website informs students: “My work is generally Marxist, and I think Marxist theory and political practice are more relevant now than ever, given the global dominance of the capitalist mode of production and American imperialism.”
Holstun received his Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature from Georgetown University in 1977; he pursued his graduate studies at the University of California, Irvine, where he earned both a Master’s Degree (1979) and a Ph.D. (1983) in English Literature.
Holstun began his teaching career at UCLA, where he was a Lecturer in the English Department from 1983-1985. The following year he was hired as an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Vermont and in 1991 became Associate Professor of English at SUNY Buffalo. Since 2000 he has been a full Professor of English at Buffalo.
Professor Holstun has authored two books: A Rational Millennium: Puritan Utopias of Seventeenth-Century England and America (1987), and Ehu’s Dagger: Class Struggle in the English Revolution (2000). He also edited Pamphlet Wars: Prose in the English Revolution (1992).
Since 2002, Professor Holstun has taught at least one course each year on Palestinian literature, though his academic degrees are all in the field of English Literature. The texts for the course are Palestinian writings penned since the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948. According to Holstun, the ensuing years have proven an unrelieved disaster for the proletarian Palestinians, who have been “occupied and exiled” by the powerful capitalist Jews.
In the syllabus, Professor Holstun is forthright about the polemical content of his course: “We will focus on Palestinian culture and society since Al-Nakbah (‘The Catastrophe,’ which is how Holstun and the Palestinian rulers at war with Israel refer to Israel’s creation in 1948), during which Zionists drove 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. We’ll be looking not just at Palestine’s struggles with Zionism, but … Joan Peters’ influential attempt to erase Palestinians, and Norman Finkelstein’s response.” The advocacy nature of this course is underscored by the reference to Peters’ scholarly work and to a Holocaust denier like Professor Finkelstein as the antidote.
In April 2004 the Graduate Group of Marxist Studies, at Holstun’s instigation, invited Finkelstein to Buffalo to deliver a lecture. In an email that was reprinted on Professor Finkelstein’s personal website following the lecture, Professor Holstun enthused that Finkelstein’s Buffalo talk was a “particularly welcome event” and “superb.”
Professor Holstun’s course on Palestinian literature includes such texts as A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples by Ilan Pappe, the virulently anti-Zionist professor at Haifa University. In his class, Holstun screens the film Jenin, Jenin, a discredited piece of PLO propaganda that falsely accuses the Israeli military of having carried out a massacre. He also shows his students Elia Suleiman’s film Divine Intervention, which, in the judgment of film critic Jordan Hiller, is rife with “pure hatred,” “ugliness,” and “intellectual dishonesty.”
In a February 2005 commentary on Buffalo’s National Public Radio, Professor Holstun accused Israel of perpetrating a “land grab” against the Palestinian people. On other occasions, he has referred to the Israeli security fence as an “apartheid wall” built to keep the Palestinians caged in like “criminals” or “livestock.”
Holstun has lent his name to more than a handful of anti-Israel petitions and boycotts, including “UB Faculty and Staff for Peace,” “Faculty For Israeli-Palestinian Peace,” “Palestinian Academics Call for Boycott of Israeli Academic and Research Institutions,” and “American Academics Join Israeli Colleagues In Warning Against Ethnic Cleansing.” The latter expresses concern that the “fog of war” in Iraq “could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.”
Among Holstun’s strongest critics is WBFO Radio commentator Dan Lenard, who calls Holstun the “most smug, nasty, anti-religious bigot” he has encountered in his lifetime; who says that Holstun’s “hatred of faith-based philosophy has put [the professor] on the side of Islamofascism”; and who accuses Holstun of “poison[ing] the minds of … students with [his] unbridled hate.”
This profile is adapted from the article “Buffalo’s Bullying Professor,” written by Karen Welsh and published by FrontPagemagazine.com on June 14, 2005.