A Critic Speaks: “Blame the Latest Israel-Arab War on… Singapore”

Strawberry Generation

The article below is republished with permission from WK. His blog is located at: http://thebluesweater.blogspot.sg

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I’m aware that it has been a long, long time since I last blogged. There were many things that I would like to blog about, but my schedule has been so packed with essay-writing and other assignments that I simply didn’t have the time to get down to writing, hence the neglect of this poor blog.

But today, I have cleared all my assignments, and in this brief but valuable window of time between now and the final exams, I would like to provide my own commentary on an article that I’ve read yesterday.
Jim Sleeper, a Political Science lecturer at Yale, wrote and published an article in the Huffington Post entitled “Blame the Latest Israel-Arab War on… Singapore?”
In this article, he tries to draw a connection between Israel’s behavior in the Middle East with the country’s defense links with Singapore; specifically in terms of the role Israel played in building up the SAF. He argued that Israel militarized Singapore’s society through the policy of conscription.
Suddenly, the entire emphasis of the article changed, to (once again, as he has written on more than one occasion) a criticism of the collaboration between Yale University and NUS (the Yale-NUS liberal arts college).
One has to read the original article to appreciate just how badly written the article is, as many commenters to the article have rightly pointed out as well. My summary above really doesn’t do such a conclusion justice. But in this post, I shall present my own views about the article, and how it is does far more damage than one might think it already has.
1. Where is the connection?
First of all, the article fails to answer the very question it sets out in its very misleading title. What role did Singapore play in the current conflict between Israel and Hamas? Sleeper has devoted much length in listing down the similarities between Israel and Singapore in terms of their demographic composition, strategic environment, and even socio-economic structures. He then emphasizes the role played by then-PM Lee Kuan Yew in inviting the Israelis to assist in the formation of the SAF, and consequently, the militarization of Singapore society.
I can see that Israel affected the development of Singapore’s military, but I do not see how the reverse (which is his point) is true. Did Singapore affect Israel with militarization as an outcome of that interaction? It’s an argument that is fundamentally difficult to prove, and Sleeper has provided no evidence in the article.
In addition, the article contains glaring factual and logical errors, which further undermined it. I shall highlight just one. Perhaps surprising given the similarities between them, Israel was actually not Singapore’s first choice in seeking defense assistance. The latter had actually first approached India, which did not respond favorably. While this may be a minor point, it does offer a critique to the implicit assumption that Sleeper made that Israeli-Singapore relations was natural and inevitable. This also points to the tenuousness of the connection that he tried to make between Singapore and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Singapore’s diplomatic position on the Arab-Israeli conflict is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice to say that it was well aware of the balance it had to strike between maintaining its security ties with Israel, and respecting the feelings of its Muslim neighbors.

2. What has it got to do with Yale-NUS?
The second, and more serious criticism towards Sleeper’s article was how he attempted, very sloppily and with malicious intent, to connect the Israel-Palestine conflict to the Yale-NUS scheme. Putting the controversies of the scheme aside, the fact that he had tried to do so exposes two particularly damaging and undesirable outcomes.
First, Sleeper has attempted to slip his personal agenda into a supposed objective analysis about the recent crisis in the Middle East. More than failing to provide a perspective into a renewed phase of the conflict, he has sought to promote his own agenda, a persistent and irrelevant criticism of the Yale-NUS collaboration, which undermines both the quality of his article and the credibility of his character. It is little wonder many commenters have cast doubt on his professorship. Tenure is a means to protect academic freedom, not to spew vicious misrepresentations and inject vested motives in a commentary about a serious international crisis.
Second, in writing his article, he has also trivialized the Israel-Palestine conflict. From the tone and approach he has adopted, it almost seems that the conflict was of no interest to him, and he just used it as a pretext to launch yet another attack on Singapore and NUS. Trivializing the conflict does no justice to the lives lost in the fighting, and the deep-seated problems and antagonisms inherent in the Arab-Israeli relationship.
So much for promoting “light and truth”, and honest academia.

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