Maxwell’s Silver Hammer: Syracuse University Enlists in the Global War on Terror

Imagine my surprise as I leafed through what is usually a fairly bland magazine that, as an alumna (PhD. History ’84) , I periodically receive from the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship, to find that therein is a new ideal of citizenship. My alma mater now informs me that to be a citizen of the Maxwell School is to support continual and all-out war against a vaguely defined “terrorist” enemy, to condone lethal collateral damage to civilians, and to team up with Israeli military institutions in order to learn the methods that they have found “successful” against the Palestinians, a people they have occupied and suppressed for over 40 years.

Shouldn’t an institution of higher learning stand for peace, diplomacy and understanding among all nations? Why does my alma mater’s magazine feature photos of men masked, armed, and in full combat gear? Paul McCartney said his song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” involved a story of how bad things get much worse, and how senseless killing leads to more senseless killing. Definitely not the ideal of the humanities.

What we may have here is an indication of a very alarming trend. That trend is the continuing and accelerating militarization of American society. It seems that Maxwell has been militarized now — in an excess of patriotic fervor? Fear of unknown assailants? Or desire for federal or patriotic alumni money? Is the almighty dollar reigning supreme in academe, so that even though a program is abhorrent to someone schooled in peace and the humanities, if it brings money to the university, it is perfectly fine?

My husband and I met in Israel while doing volunteer teaching there in 1972-73. Having just been influenced by the peace movement of the 60s, it was always a bit uncomfortable for me there with soldiers everywhere and tanks on the birthday cards. I’ve taught and written history for years, and my husband has frequently written about the Middle East on the Internet, so we decided to try to find out more about what was behind this new unsettling Maxwell program of law and policy. What we found disturbed us.

In 2003, Syracuse University created an interdisciplinary program of the College of Law, which the Maxwell School joined in 2004, called the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT). According to the Maxwell Perspective article mentioned above, “The Old Rules No Longer Apply” by freelance writer Renee Gearhart Levy, the program’s purpose is to “tackle” questions of law and policy having to do with security and counterterrorism.

In 2005, INSCT formed a partnership with the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) of Herzliya, Israel — a program of higher education and think tank concerned with global terrorism and homeland security. The partnership purportedly will help both institutions promote the vision of a generational US-led war against Islamic terrorism (referred to as the “Long War” by Washington insiders) which has been the core of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Officials from both INSCT and ICT have expressed great enthusiasm about their joint venture. Maxwell Dean Mitchel B. Wallerstein, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, calls it an “exciting collaborative relationship.”1 It is not, in our opinion, at all clear that this effort is compatible with the greater educational and humanistic mission of a leading American university.

The ICT, part of the broader Interdisciplinary Institute (IDC), is one of the most influential Israeli security institutes, one which has extremely close connections to the Israeli government and military. The chairman of the board of directors of ICT is Shabtai Shavit, who is a former head of the Mossad (the Israel intelligence agency). The American zillionaire Ronald Lauder is one of the main benefactors of the IDC; in fact, the ICT is part of the Lauder School of Government. Lauder is a powerful member of the pro-Israel lobby. The ICT also contains a commercial security consulting business called Counter Terrorism Solutions Ltd. (CST). Naomi Klein recently wrote in The Nation, [on July 2, 2007] that Israel has turned the Long War into a “brand asset, pitching its uprooting and occupation of the Palestinian people as a half century head start in the ‘global war on terror.’” The institute also operates an office in Washington which lobbies Congress and other US government officials on behalf of Israel.2

The Israeli partnership makes sense to Syracuse law professor William Banks, the founder and director of Maxwell’s INSCT because, as he is quoted in the Perspective article, “[m]ost of the world has learned about terrorism from the experiences of the Israelis. … It’s a laboratory that can’t be beat anywhere in the world for learning first-hand from those who’ve experienced terrorism how to counter it.” It cannot be denied that Israel has first hand experience with terrorism, but its responses have not always been effective — to say nothing of legal, ethical or humane. For example, American armed forces in Iraq are presently emulating Israeli tactics in performing house-to-house searches in densely populated urban areas for the purpose of arresting terrorists and confiscating weapons. These operations routinely violate the rights of many innocent civilians, while producing few weapons or legitimate arrests. As in Israel, the searches also have the very deleterious effect of creating future enemies and terrorists.

What else might Maxwell students and faculty be imbibing from the partnership? The program in Herzliya (according to the Maxwell School’s web site) offers courses providing in-depth understanding of modern terrorism, gleaned by Israelis because “[c]ircumstances have forced Israel to develop counterterrorism techniques.” There are specific courses on strategy, psychology, patterns, hostage-taking — and — “Handling Terrorists in Correctional Systems and Prisons,” which of course includes “balancing public security issues and human rights.” Along with tactical expertise, the Israelis bring with them a political outlook and worldview that has been forged by years of war and bitter conflict with their Arab neighbors, as well as the experience of defending a 40-year-old occupation. It has become an article of faith within the Bush administration that US and Israeli interests merged after the 9/11 attacks. Yet as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt point out in their recent London Review of Books article, “The Israel Lobby,” American and Israeli interests are greatly divergent, and any policy based on the commonality of goals between the two could be harmful to the US. It is doubtful that officials of an Israeli institute who have close ties to their government’s military and political establishments will have a beneficial effect upon the workings of an American institute like Syracuse University, which has hopes of influencing US government policy through sober and unbiased recommendations.

It certainly does not seem all that sober, just, or even sane to try to change the rules of war and international law in order for powerful countries like the US and Israel to be able to occupy and subjugate Arab peoples with no accountability on their part. One of the major undertakings of the INSCT is coming out with recommendations for rewriting the laws of war. In the Maxwell article, Professor Banks claims that the “rules of war no longer apply.” He states that in order to currently fight terrorists it is necessary “to respond in ways that inflict heavy civilian casualties.” In one of the video-conferences sponsored by INSCT, the example of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon last summer was employed as an illustration of the outmoded notion of civilian casualties being against international law. Although ICT faculty and students may believe that criticism against Israel for not reacting “proportionately” in killing so many civilians is not justified, the rest of the international community was vociferous in its condemnation of the Israeli attacks.

Dean Wallerstein, in his “message” in the Spring ’07 Perspective, says the Israelis were left with “little alternative than to attack these villages, both from the air and on the ground.” Obviously, the pesky Hague Rules are not “adequate” to deal with the asymmetry of a “strong national government” and a “well armed non-state actor.” Asymmetrical indeed. The ICT’s Boaz Ganor, a prominent member of the ICT/Syracuse partnership, wants an entire rewriting of international law so that states aren’t “limited by international norms” protecting civilians.3 And how about other gems of applying Israeli-style justice: targeted assassinations, using soldiers illegally dressed as Arabs to infiltrate Palestinian villages, long-term imprisonments without cause/trial…? The ICT and INSCT have established teams to collaborate on providing recommendations for reshaping the laws of war which they will present at a conference in Washington this October.

Big money certainly seems to be in the arena of counterterrorism and “security.” The Israeli/Syracuse University partnership is the brainchild of alum Gerry Cramer, former owner of a highly successful financial services firm, and a major donor and trustee of the university. He funds numerous student fellowship and faculty chairs. Mr. Cramer brings the silver to Maxwell’s hammer. Cramer, whose wife is Israeli, lives part of the year in Israel, and is also a major contributor to the Interdisciplinary Center, of which ICT is part. IDC has had a strong American connection for years, as with the aforementioned Robert Lauder, the wealthy American donor to right-wing Israeli causes. The IDC is also the home of the Herzliya Conference, which is a major event in the Israeli political year attended by top Israeli politicians, including prime ministers. The conference has hosted many speakers who are considered part of the powerful American Israeli lobby such as Richard Perle, Alan Dershowitz and Abraham Foxman. It is not unusual for high level American politicians — such as John McCain and John Edwards — to speak at the conference, always professing their unwavering support for all things Israeli.

Apparently, Syracuse is not alone in creating counterterrorism and counterinsurgency majors. The global security and counterterrorism field has become a growth industry in higher education. Two other education-minded groups founded after 9/11 with a strong Israeli component, are the Institute for Global Security Law and Policy and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

The Institute for Global Security Law and Policy is part of Case Western University’s School of Law. Its director is Amos Guiora, who is an Israeli-American. Professor Guiora, who grew up in the US and holds a law degree from Case Western, spent 18 years in the Israeli Defense Forces where he was involved with national security and counterterrorism. He recently claimed, as quoted in the Cleveland Jewish News,4 that Israel is fighting a 100-year war with the Islamic world and that it is a proxy for the West in that war. As noted on its webpage, Case law students are presently assisting the Defense Department analyze legal issues relating to possible prosecution of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.5 Like Syracuse’s Banks, Professor Guiora and his assistant director Gregory S. McNeal, are researching issues of applicability of current international law to the “war on terrorism” with the aim of rewriting some of the current rules. The Institute for Global Security Law and Policy will participate in the October conference in Washington sponsored by Syracuse University’s INSCT and Herzliya’s ICT.

Another scary institution is the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a powerful think tank with a very strong pro-Israel neo-conservative character. Its board of advisors include such conservative luminaries as William Kristol, Richard Perle, Frank Gaffney and Charles Krauthammer. Influencing how security and counterterrorism is taught in American universities and colleges is a top priority. FDD offers fellowships which include one and two week educational programs in Israel on fighting terrorism for students and faculty.6 [11] The activities include visits to Israeli military bases and briefings with Israeli security experts and government officials. One of the student programs included a paint-ball war exercise against an elite army unit!7 In addition to these fellowships, FDD runs summer seminars for college faculty who teach or plan to teach college courses on global security. The professors are provided with “the tools they need to teach about the threat of terrorism and the methods used to combat it.”

What should Syracuse University’s relationship be to government agencies and think tanks and foreign institutes who promote a particular neo-colonial, imperialist, “above-the-law” mindset –? None.

  1. Wallerstein , Mitchel B, “Our Unofficial Motto: Dean’s Message,” Maxwell Perspective, v. 17 no. 2, Spring 2007, inside cover. []
  2. “The International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the [Interdisciplinary] Opens A New Office in Washington,” in Hebrew, from the Interdisciplinary Centers web site. []
  3. Rettig, Haviv, “Israeli, US Intellectuals Chart New Rules of War For Insurgencies,” Jerusalem Post, April 26, 2007, from the ICT web site. []
  4. Karfeld, Marilyn H., “Patience, Realism Urged in “New Hundred-Year War,” Cleveland Jewish News.com, no date. []
  5. DoD [Department of Defense] Relationship. []
  6. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, “Programs.” []
  7. Baclayon, Jovie, “Defending Democracy….” []

Linda Ford is an historian of US and women’s history. She most recently taught at Colgate University and is the author of Iron-Jawed Angels: Suffrage Militancy of the National Women’s Party. Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972 where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He has worked as a technical services and reference librarian. Together they currently own Half Moon Books: a used and rare bookstore in Madison, NY. Read other articles by Linda Ford and, or visit Linda Ford and's website.