President Bollinger’s Failure to Defend the FacultyThe response of the Columbia University administration to the David Project was swift. As I will show below, in statement and action, Columbia’s President Bollinger has prejudged the accused faculty, and failed to defend us or the MEALAC department, and he refused to defend Columbia’s own record of pluralism and tolerance, the variety of courses the university offers on the Middle East, or Columbia’s established commitment to promote Jewish and Israel Studies. Instead President Bollinger and his administration, as the evidence I will present will show, gave legitimacy to the film “Columbia Unbecoming,” referred to its claims as facts, and promised an “investigation.” His subsequent statements and actions have emboldened those engaged in the campaign to intimidate me and would confirm to the public that the allegations against me are in fact true, at least, as far as he was concerned. Let me illustrate how this transpired.
Columbia’s first response to the allegations contained in the film, “Columbia Unbecoming,” was a statement released by the President himself. This statement was released after Congressman Anthony Wiener called on Columbia to fire me in a letter to Bollinger, and after two newspapers (the New York Sun and the Daily News) added their voices to Wiener’s and asked that I be fired, and after a medical school faculty member, Moshe Rubin, sent me a racist E-mail which I had immediately forwarded to Provost Brinkley. In his statement, Bollinger referred to the “disturbing and offensive nature of incidents described in the film” without using the word “alleged” before incidents. This was certainly not an oversight, especially coming from a lawyer. He further added that academic freedom “does not, for example, extend to protecting behavior in the classroom that threatens or intimidates students who express their viewpoints.” Bollinger failed to make any reference as to whether academic freedom extends to protecting students engaged in intimidating professors by raising a media campaign against them. Nor did the statement address whether the intimidation of the faculty and the Columbia administration by outside pressure groups, the press, and government officials would be tolerated.31 In his statement, instead, Bollinger announced that he had asked the Provost to “look into” the students’ claims, which in subsequent press reports quoting him, he referred to as an “investigation.”32
The next day, on October 28, Bollinger met with national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, an organization that had targeted me since May 6, 2004, when it sent a letter to me copied to Bollinger accusing me of anti-Semitism. According to press accounts, Bollinger sought to meet with Foxman and other leaders of Jewish organizations. On November 11, after delivering a lecture at the University Club on Fifth Avenue, Mr. Bollinger was asked about the student accusations against Columbia faculty members, “according to an audience member who did not wish to disclose his identity… Mr. Bollinger… said he was committed to academic freedom but wouldn't condone "stupid" behavior by faculty members.”33 Such a biased and disrespectful choice of words would continue in Bollinger’s press declarations. In response to allegations by students repeated to him by a reporter from New York Magazine that “On day one, students say, [Massad] tells his class they shouldn't expect "balance." There's even a disclaimer in his syllabus.” Bollinger responded:
I believe a disclaimer before starting your course is insufficient…It doesn't inoculate you from criticism for being one-sided or intolerant in the classroom…That's not to prejudge any claims here. But if you're asking, in the abstract, ‘Can a faculty member satisfy the ideal of good teaching by simply saying at the beginning, I'm going to teach one side of a controversy and I don't want to hear any other side and if you don't like this, please don't take my course,' my view is, that's irresponsible teaching.34
Bollinger never contacted me to check whether this is true and has not seen copies of my syllabi. While he claimed that he was answering a hypothetical question to New York Magazine, he would soon be so emboldened by the very repetition of the claims against me that he would abandon the necessity he initially saw for the hypothetical caveat. This is how the reporter of the Jewish Week put it:
Bollinger is careful not to name names, but he makes clear he is at odds with some professors in the [MEALAC] department, whether or not they are guilty of the allegations against them…"Just as I can't go in to my First Amendment class and say you know, I happen to think that censorship is a very good idea, and if you want to take a course on freedom of speech that emphasizes, you know, against censorship, God bless you, and go do that,” he said.35
Indeed, Bollinger now speaks of these allegations as outright facts. Witness what he told students over dinner a few days ago as reported by the Columbia Spectator: “‘I’m not going to talk about whether the accusations are true or not. Let's just assume they’re true,’ Bollinger said.”36 The Spectator reporter adds the following:
The second claim made by the film, according to Bollinger, was that some professors did not permit students to voice their own opinions about matters of discussion in the classroom. He identified this action as a clear violation of academic freedom…The third claim was that some MEALAC courses are blatantly biased, presenting only one side of the spectrum of opinions on contentious subjects. Bollinger said that the warnings professors gave ahead of time about the one-sidedness of their courses were ‘unacceptable.’37
Note that the situation was no longer hypothetical. I should emphasize here that not only did Bollinger or Provost Brinkley never contact me about my course, neither of them responded to my announcement that I had cancelled it, which I made in my publicized statement in response to the intimidation to which I was being subjected. I had indeed sent a copy of my statement to Provost Brinkley before posting it. He wrote me back counseling me not to release it. However neither he nor Bollinger, nor even Vice President Dirks, expressed any discomfort that I, a Columbia faculty member, was canceling one of my courses because of intimidation. None of them informed me that I would be protected by the university were I to teach it again and that the university would ensure my rights and protect me against intimidation. Indeed, what I was subjected to is not more protection by my own university but more intimidation. The most concrete manifestation of which was the formation of your committee.
On the issue of the formation of your ad-hoc committee, the first point I want to refer to is the establishment of the committee and then move to its mandate. The step taken by the administration to establish a committee to investigate professors based on student grievances that were not lodged with any university body but rather aired through an off-campus lobbying group sets a dangerous precedent of violating the academic freedom of professors. The establishment of the committee coupled with the statements by Bollinger to the press have given the clear impression that the David Project had legitimate issues to raise with Columbia, and that even though Bollinger himself had assured everyone that there were no registered complaints against any of the accused professors through any Columbia channel, and that he had already convened a secret committee to investigate similar allegations the previous semester, the so-called Blasi committee, which found no evidence of bias, he still saw a need for a second special committee to become the address of such complaints.
The matter of the committee charge is of grave importance. I requested and had a meeting with Vice President Dirks in his office on December 9 to discuss this particular matter. I told him then that I would not consider the ad-hoc committee a legitimate body unless it included in its charge the investigation of claims of intimidation of faculty by students, by administrators, and by off campus pressure groups. He responded positively to my concerns by asking me for my telephone number in Amman, Jordan, as I was traveling the next day on December 10th. He said that I needed to be next to a phone and fax in the next day or two so that he could call me and fax me a draft of the charge to approve so that he could release it then to the public. I was satisfied with this arrangement. Vice President Dirks however never contacted me. I E-mailed him on December 14 to inquire about the charge. He wrote back on December 19th informing me that he had not “yet been able to come up with a statement about the committee. I'll send you something as soon as it is ready.” I never heard back from him. Upon returning to Columbia in mid-January, my students forwarded to me a mass E-mail that Vice-President Dirks had sent out inviting students to appear before the committee. I was taken aback by such a step, as I still did not know what the committee’s charge was. I wrote to the vice-president to inquire on January 20 as to what had transpired. He wrote me back clarifying that he had not promised to share with me the circular he had sent out to the students. As for the charge, he explained that he still had not finalized it and would do so in a couple of days. I heard again from him a week later asking me to pick up a copy of the charge from his office. I did and was shocked to find that it did not include the investigation of faculty intimidation by students and administrators. I never heard back from Vice-President Dirks who never offered an explanation or an apology for his disrespectful conduct, having failed to inform me of the change of plans and then offering me the charge as a fait accompli.
I am very concerned about the choice of Floyd Abrams as your advisor, a position whose mandate has not been made public. Mr. Abrams is publicly identified with pro-Israeli politics and activism. He has spoken at fund raisers for causes in Israel,38 has worked and consulted with the Anti-Defamation League, one of the parties campaigning against me, and received a major award from it in 2003, the Hubert H. Humphrey Award, and has endorsed the book The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz who has been speaking publicly in lectures and to the media against me, in the context of the ongoing witch-hunt, alleging that I support terrorism. In his blurb endorsing Dershowitz’s book, Abrams states:
In a world in which Israel seems always to be the accused, regardless of the facts, Alan Dershowitz's defense offers an oasis of sanity and straight talk. It may be too much to hope that Israel's accusers will read this powerful and persuasive response to their charges. It is not at all too much to ask that fair--minded observers do so.39
Given these statements by Abrams, the decision to appoint him as advisor to this committee conveys at the least the appearance of partiality.
On the question of my scholarship and my integrity as a teacher, Bollinger’s statements sadly suggest that he has taken sides against the faculty and the university in this controversy. Compare his recent declarations with those of Martin Kramer, one of the main people behind this witch-hunt. Kramer wrote on November 5, 2002 in a web posting:
The other issue of overriding concern here is the apparent absence of any effort by the Columbia administration to promote diversity. Here I don't mean the false diversity of academic mafias. They think it's crucial to assemble people of different ethnic, national, religious, racial, gender, and disciplinary backgrounds—provided they say the same thing. I’m talking about intellectual diversity, which used to be a value at Columbia. The only historian of the modern Middle East at Columbia [besides the possible employment of Rashid Khalidi] is another Palestinian, Joseph Massad, who is a militant follower of Edward Said. (He's now up for tenure.) Imagine that Khalidi were added, and Massad were tenured, both to teach history. They work in the same area, and their politics, while not identical, are very similar. The whole thing begins to look like a cozy club of like-minded pals, who peer at the Middle East through exactly the same telescope, from exactly the same vantage point.40
Compare Kramer’s statement with Bollinger’s. After reviewing Kramer’s views and those of others on the alleged lack of intellectual diversity at Columbia and in Middle East Studies more generally, and after citing Bollinger’s own record on “racial diversity” at the University of Michigan, New York Magazine’s reports that: “today, [Bollinger] says he's equally committed to intellectual diversity.”41 This led the reporter to conclude that this “may not augur well for professor Massad's longevity at Columbia, no matter how favorably disposed the provost's committee may be to him.”42 Bollinger would elaborate on that point later to the Jewish Week, where according to the newspaper, “Bollinger acknowledged, albeit elliptically, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not being taught in a balanced way that reflects the complexity of the region. He believes that ‘the historic, horrific treatment of Jews, especially in the 20th century, is not something to be taken as a matter of the past, and while I may not share all the policy judgments of the Israeli government, I believe the conflict cannot in any way be fairly regarded as lying at the feet of choices that Israel has made.’”43 Instead Bollinger recommends that MEALAC be “expanded” and that it continue to teach the Palestinian Israeli conflict but not as it has done so far:
I happen to think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of central importance in the modern world," he said, "and we want to be able to think about that in its full complexities. That's going to mean that there will be thoughts some people will find difficult, or even offensive, and yet we must be able to explore given our belief in academic freedom. However, it is our obligation to do that with full respect to the complexity, and if we don't do that, we have failed ourselves, we have failed our own principles.44
The implication being that those of us, and the reference is clearly to me, who teach the Palestinian Israeli conflict at MEALAC do not teach it with its “full complexity” or that I do not “respect” such complexity. Perhaps I need to state to the committee that I derive my authority as a scholar of the Middle East from my doctoral training here at Columbia’s Political Science Department which granted me my PhD with distinction, a rare honor that was further certified by the Middle East Studies Association which granted me its most prestigious award for a social science dissertation for 1998, the Malcolm Kerr Award. My book, which was based on my dissertation, was published by Columbia University Press, and has been endorsed and reviewed favorably by the most prominent Middle East scholars in the academy. The only unfavorable review, out of seventeen favorable reviews, it received was in Martin Kramer’s unscholarly magazine, Middle East Quarterly. My book and my articles on the Palestinian Israeli conflict are used as standard texts for courses on nationalism and on Palestine and Israel across the United States and Europe. My recent work on sexuality and queer theory is also taught across the country, and a book length study on the subject is forthcoming from Harvard University Press. I currently have two standing offers from prestigious presses for a book based on my published essays on Zionism and Palestinian nationalism. An attack on my scholarship therefore is not only an attack on me and on MEALAC but on Columbia’s political science department, on prestigious academic presses, including Columbia University Press, and on the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), an opinion expressed by Martin Kramer who also condemns Middle East Studies at Columbia and MESA itself. I should affirm here that President Bollinger is under the impression that he can set the research agenda for Middle East scholarship at Columbia much better than Columbia’s Middle East faculty. He told the Jewish Week that “we need to integrate better than we have other fields that have knowledge relevant to the work being done in MEALAC. What is the relationship, for example, between the environmental facts of life in the Middle East and Asia, or its diseases, and the culture there?”45 This retreat to 19th century climatology and medical anthropology is disturbing. Would President Bollinger also think that there is a relationship between “environmental facts, its diseases and the culture” of African Americans or of American Jews?
I am concerned that Bollinger may well be making an academic judgment about me that is based not on my scholarship or pedagogy but on my politics and even my nationality. A case in point is Bollinger’s recent response to a letter sent by one James Schreiber, a member of Columbia Law School's board of visitors and former federal prosecutor, who says that a lecture that I gave and which he attended at Columbia’s Middle East Institute three years ago was comparable to a speech at a “neo-Nazi rally.” Bollinger met with Schreiber privately at his home and reportedly told him that he found his letter to be “powerful” and that he seeks to “upgrade” the faculty in the Middle East studies department.46 In addition, when a number of faculty members and I signed a petition in 2002 calling on Columbia to divest from companies that sell weapons to Israel, a country guilty of human rights abuses, Bollinger’s response betrayed a strong emotional reaction and a stronger political bias:
The petition alleges human rights abuses and compares Israel to South Africa at the time of apartheid, an analogy I believe is both grotesque and offensive.47
While the campaigners against me off this campus do not have the direct power to influence my future employment at Columbia, Bollinger clearly does, and therefore his failure to defend academic freedom is detrimental to my career and my job. I am further chilled in this regard by reports that at the recent general meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Bollinger sought to change the fifty-year tradition regarding how tenure cases are decided at Columbia when he stated that he and the trustees, in accordance with the statutes but in contravention of a fifty-year tradition, would want to have the final say in tenure cases in the future.48
In conclusion, the foregoing has given you the minimum of details and historical narrative regarding this coordinated campaign from inside and outside the university targeting me, my job, and my chances for tenure, based on my political views, my political writings, and my nationality. That the Columbia University administration acted as a collaborator with the witch-hunters instead of defending me and offering itself as a refuge from rightwing McCarthyism has been a cause of grave personal and professional disappointment to me. I am utterly disillusioned with a university administration that treats its faculty with such contempt and am hoping against hope that the faculty will rise to the task before them and force President Bollinger to reverse this perilous course on which he has taken Columbia’s faculty and students. The major goal of the witch-hunters is to destroy the institution of the university in general. I am merely the entry point for their political project. As the university is the last bastion of free-thinking that has not yet fallen under the authority of extreme rightwing forces, it has become their main target. The challenge before us is therefore to be steadfast in fighting for academic freedom.
May 16, 2004Mr. Joel J. Levy, Director
Dear Director Levy,
I was deeply disturbed by the accusations that your letter of May 6, 2004 leveled against me. The “reports” that you have received from “ a student who attended the lecture” are utterly inaccurate and bear little relationship to the text of my lecture. My principled stance against anti-Semitism and all kinds of racism is a matter of public record and cannot be assailed by defamatory “reports” or by letters from the ADL that consider them credible sources. Indeed I have condemned anti-Semitism in my Arabic and English writings, regardless of whether the person expressing it was pro-Israel or anti-Israel, an Arab, an American Christian, or an Israeli Jew (you may consult with my review of Israel Shahak’s and Norton Mezvinsky’s book Jewish Fundamentalism published by the Electronic Journal of Middle East Studies and available at http://web.mit.edu/cis/www/mitejmes/issues/200105/br_massad.htm where I condemn the anti-Semitic approach used by anti-Zionist Israeli Jewish scholars to analyze Judaism and Jewish fundamentalism).
I therefore expect a prompt correction of the errors contained in your letter and demand an immediate apology, a copy of which should be sent to President Bollinger.
Policing the Academy
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly, No. 633, 10-16 April 2003
Joseph Massad* on the McCarthyism stalking American campuses
As I was reading one of the latest death threats I received via e-mail, I remembered the defamatory campaigns to which Edward Said has been subjected since the 1970s and which included the firebombing of his office in the 1980s. Since last summer, apologists for Israel's "right" to be a racistrr state (and to use whatever violence it can muster in defence of that "right") have begun a campaign of defamation against anyone in the US academy who dares to question any Israeli action or practice. This campaign is part of a larger effort to discredit US universities as arenas for independent scholarship and thought. It also aims to delegitimise universities who refuse to serve the interests of either the national security state or the Israeli government. The fact that those spearheading this campaign are almost exclusively part of a large conglomerate known as the pro-Israel lobby in the US is hardly surprising. Since 11 September, the campaign has expanded to include any academic who believes that Islam is not a terroristic evil religion bent on murdering the "civilised", and that Muslims and Arabs are humans who are entitled to civil, political, and human rights in their own countries as well as in the United States.
While academics live in a world where intellectual disagreements are registered through scholarly debates and discussions, and where methodological disputes are negotiated on the pages of academic journals and books and in the context of conferences, the new self- designated academic policemen refuse to acknowledge such modes of argumentation and fora as appropriate. In their fantasy world, the offending academics must be silenced, dismissed from their jobs, and their offending publications heaped and burned in an auto-da-fé. The strategy of the thought policemen consists of a refusal to address any of the offending contentions made by scholars and instead relies on the use of policing methods of discrediting, intimidation, and character assassination often used in societies run by the secret police. The overall purpose of this policing agenda is the destruction of academic freedom and the subversion of democratic procedure.
Take the examples of two of the better known academic policemen in recent years, the American Daniel Pipes and the Israeli Martin Kramer, neither of whom teaches in the US academy; as a result, some might say that they have an ax to grind with a system that refuses to recognise their talents, especially in the field of policing and propaganda. Pipes and Kramer are two of the most outspoken defenders of Israel's "right" to be a racist state. They are also keen to defend Israel's prerogative to kill and bomb anyone who stands in its way of protecting its right to discriminate on racial grounds. Their role in the debate is to extend Israeli violence to the US academic arena by bombarding all enemies of Israel with defamatory accusations. It is not Merkava tanks, Uzi submachine guns, or Apache helicopters that are used in this bombardment, but rather newspaper gossip columns and secret police-style dossiers to name the preferred methods; as for the e-mail spamming, identity theft, and the death threats to which the unrepentant have been subjected, one can be sure that Kramer and Pipes are unconnected to either of them. Admittedly, their campaigns, unlike the Israeli government's campaigns, have not yet eliminated anyone physically (although the death threats sent by others to many of us continue), but the main point is to eliminate us professionally, and, failing that, to terrorise us into silence. Like the Israeli strategy of indiscriminate violence and terror, these campaigns have failed to achieve their purpose, whether to stop the Palestinians from resisting Israel's illegal occupation and violence in the case of Israel, or to stop Israel's academic critics in the case of the academic policemen.
This campaign of intimidation against academics has been well planned and conceived with one major goal in mind: defamation. This is undertaken by following a number of steps involving refusal to engage any of the ideas or propositions put forth by the targeted professors, much less to refute them, consistent use of innuendo, fabrication of claims based on half-quotes pulled out of context, recruitment of young and impressionable defenders of Israel's aforementioned "rights" on college campuses, use of the right-wing press to whip up hysteria about anti- Israel sentiment being allegedly rampant on US campuses, and calls for outright dismissal of professors found guilty of not upholding Israel's "right" to be a racist state. The less the US public believes in defending Israel's crimes, the more intense the campaign becomes.
While the pro-Israel lobby's campaigns to discredit people who criticise Israel had decreased in relative terms after Oslo, they were revived after the failure of the Camp David talks and the eruption of the second Intifada. The lobby and its individual manifestations have become rabid in their campaigns of discrediting offenders to the point that they have become embarrassing to many Americans who support Israel.
The campaign against university professors and instructors began in earnest in the Spring of 2002 and has not abated since. Columbia University, where I teach, is a major focus of the campaign, as it is seen by Kramer and Pipes as a major battleground for their cause. In addition to the unceasing campaigns against Edward Said, the campaign is now focussing on new professors, namely University of Chicago Professor Rashid Khalidi who will be joining Columbia University next fall, Professor Hamid Dabashi, the chairperson of the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia, and myself. Other professors and academics targeted on other campuses include John Esposito, Juan Cole, Ali Mazrui, M Shahid Alam, and Snehal Shingavi, among others.
The effort was inaugurated by a newspaper article published by Pipes (who has no academic post whatsoever) under the title "Extremists on Campus", and a book published by Kramer who is "senior researcher" at Tel Aviv University's aptly named "Moshe Dayan Centre". Kramer, the cleverer of the two, assailed American Middle East academics for their "failure" to explain the Middle East to the US public. What Kramer means is that unlike many of their Israeli Jewish counterparts, American academics have failed to explain to Americans that Muslims and Arabs are violent uncivilised creatures and that Israel has a right to be a racist state (although in fact many of them do exactly that). As Kramer works at the Moshe Dayan Centre, named after that luminary of Israeli military conquerors, one hopes in vain that some of Dayan's wisdom would have rubbed off on Kramer. Alas, if Dayan acknowledged in reference to Israel that "there is no single place in this country that did not have a former Arab population", Kramer in turn chases down any academic who would remind the world of such forgotten facts and demands that such an academic repent his sins. Dayan, ever the pragmatist, was never upset with legitimate Palestinian rage at Israel which he was determined to crush. He insisted to the likes of Kramer: "Let us not today fling accusations at the [Palestinian] murderers [of Jewish colonial settlers]. Who are we that we should argue against their hatred? For eight years now they sit in their refugee camps in Gaza, and before their very eyes, we turn into our homestead the land and the villages in which they and their forefathers have lived."
Pipes, on his part, set up McCarthyist public dossiers on the eight professors of choice on a Web site and called on our students to spy on us and report any anti-Israel statements that we might make in class. Tens of professors (among tens of thousands who work at US universities and colleges) rushed to defend the blacklisted professors by demanding that their names also be added to the blacklist. For Pipes and Kramer, this was indication enough of how anti-Israel US academic culture had become, never mind the tens of thousands of professors who fell silent and did not defend academic freedom or us. This skewed view is all the more telling in the case of the ebullient Kramer who dubbed Columbia University "Bir Zeit on the Hudson".
Now, in the tradition of Zionist lobbyists, the issue is not to have an Israeli view balanced with a Palestinian view about the subject, but rather, failing the suppression of Palestinian views altogether, to insist on a second, a third, and a fourth Israeli view to "balance" the one Palestinian view. Take the campaign against a course that I teach at Columbia titled "Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies" as an example. This course has enraged Kramer and his ilk and is used as evidence that Columbia University is an anti-Israel university. The fact that there are many other courses at Columbia (in existence for years, long before my course was even conceived) covering topics on contemporary Israeli society and politics, on Zionism, on conflict resolution in the Middle East, on Israeli literature, as well as on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict itself, all taught from an Israel-friendly angle (and not always by full-time professors) is immaterial; it is this orphan course taught with a critical view of Israel (and of Palestinian nationalism) that is the problem and which must be balanced. The fact that Columbia University features an important centre for Israel and Jewish studies but no centre on Palestine and Arab studies let alone a centre on Arab studies more generally, is not taken to mean that Columbia is a place friendly to Israel, rather the opposite: the existence of one course that criticises Israel is sufficient to conclude that rampant anti-Israelism (often dubbed "anti-Semitism") has taken over the university.
If this was not enough, Columbia's Bir Zeit status is augmented by the divestment campaign started last year by the Faculty Committee on Palestine (of which I am a member), which indicates further to Kramer that US academics are not upholding Israel's right to be a racist state. The fact that Columbia has a counter-divestment petition whose signatures outnumber the pro-divestment petition by a factor of 33 to one (among faculty the rate is four to one against divestment) does not allay his fears or those of his followers, nor the fact that Columbia University's new president has publicly denounced the divestment campaign as "grotesque". Any questioning of the policemen's cause unto itself is seen as a thought crime, even a mortal sin against the sacrosanct cause of Israel. If anyone were to use these facts to label Columbia "Hebrew University on the Hudson", this would be seen legitimately as anti-Semitic. However, Kramer and his followers are never brought to task for their virulent anti- Arab racism.
What Kramer, Pipes, and their ilk want to achieve is a subversion of the democratic process as well as of the academic process. Their intent is to subvert the academy by deriding its independence and by attempting to make it subject to the national security state and the thought police. As far as the democratic process is concerned, their goals are to suppress dissenting views by defaming them and calling for people to be dismissed from their jobs if they expressed them. Kramer has called for the dismissal of Dabashi, myself, and others and began an unsuccessful campaign to pressure Columbia University to withdraw its offer to Khalidi. Notice that the academic qualifications of the targeted professors based on our recognised publications and academic records are negated a priori by Kramer who questions the very legitimacy of the institutions that have granted them to us, whether Middle East Studies as a field, the Middle East Studies Association, the university presses that publish us, or the universities that employ us (he lamentingly calls me "the flower of Columbia University"). In Kramer's and Pipes' fantasy world, the only recognition that academics should seek in order to qualify to teach and publish on the Middle East is that of Israel's academic police in the United States. As a gesture of good will, such academics should perhaps attempt to publish in Kramer's and Pipes' journal Middle East Quarterly, which is indeed impressive for the absence of scholarship in it. Maybe one day Kramer and Pipes would demand of the academy that publishing in Middle East Quarterly become a condition for any academic to obtain tenure or promotion!
Kramer and his young dupes have huffed and puffed lately about my recent article in Al-Ahram Weekly on "The Legacy of Jean-Paul Sartre", claiming that "The Jews, not being a nation by (Massad's) definition, cannot have nationalism. They have only racism..." I of course have not made such a claim. Israel is a racist state not because of Jewish nationalism but because of its legally institutionalised racism where only Jews (not Israelis) have rights and privileges based on their national belonging. I oppose any state that discriminates against its own citizens based on ethnic, religious, racial, national (or any other) grounds, and this especially includes those states that have discriminatory laws as Israel does. It is this and similar questions that Kramer and his followers do not want to draw attention to, as they have no convincing answers to offer. The question is: do Kramer and Pipes actually believe that these methods will work in suppressing our views and freedom of thought and force us to worship at the altar of their favourite settler-colony?
Kramer, Pipes, and co are angry that the academy still allows democratic procedure in the expression of political views and has an institutionalised meritocratic system of judgment (admittedly with its own faults) to evaluate its members. Their goal is to destroy any semblance of either in favour of subjecting democracy and academic life to an incendiary jingoism and to the exigencies of the national security state with the express aim of imploding freedom. Their larger success, however, has been in discrediting themselves and in reminding all of us that we should never take the freedoms that we have for granted, as the likes of Kramer and Pipes are working to take them away.
* The writer is assistant professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University .
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Al-Ahram Weekly Online : 10 -16 April 2003 (Issue No. 633) Located at: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2003/633/op2.htm
Statement in Response to the Intimidation of Columbia University
November 3, 2004
The recent controversy elicited by the propaganda film “Columbia Unbecoming,” a film funded and produced by a Boston-based pro-Israel organization, is the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel. This witch-hunt aims to stifle pluralism, academic freedom, and the freedom of expression on university campuses in order to ensure that only one opinion is permitted, that of uncritical support for the State of Israel. Columbia University, the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, and I personally, have been the target of this intensified campaign for over three years. Pro-Israel groups are pressuring the university to abandon proper academic procedure in evaluating scholarship, and want to force the university to silence all critical opinions. Such silencing, the university has refused to do so far, despite mounting intimidation tactics by these anti-democratic and anti-academic forces.
The major strategy that these pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. But the claim that criticism of Israel is an expression of anti-Semitism presupposes that Israeli actions are “Jewish” actions and that all Jews, whether Israelis or non-Israelis (and the majority of world Jews are not Israelis), are responsible for all Israeli actions and that they all have the same opinion of Israel. But this is utter anti-Semitic nonsense. Jews, whether in America, Europe, Israel, Russia, or Argentina, are, like all other groups, not uniform in their political or social opinions. There are many Israeli Jews who are critical of Israel just as there are American Jews who criticize Israeli policy. I have always made a distinction between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists in my writings and my lectures. It is those who want to claim that Jews, Israelis, and Zionists are one group (and that they think exactly alike) who are the anti-Semites. Israel in fact has no legal, moral, or political basis to represent world Jews (ten million strong) who never elected it to that position and who refuse to move to that country.
: Unlike the pro-Israel groups, I do not think that Israeli actions are “Jewish” actions or that they reflect the will of the Jewish people worldwide! All those pro-Israeli propagandists who want to reduce the Jewish people to the State of Israel are the anti-Semites who want to eliminate the existing pluralism among Jews. The majority of Israel’s supporters in the United States are, in fact, not Jews but Christian fundamentalist anti-Semites who seek to convert Jews. They constitute a quarter of the American electorate and are the most powerful anti-Semitic group worldwide. The reason why the pro-Israel groups do not fight them is because these anti-Semites are pro-Israel. Therefore, it is not anti-Semitism that offends pro-Israel groups; what offends them is anti-Israel criticism. In fact, Israel and the US groups supporting it have long received financial and political support from numerous anti-Semites.
This is not to say that some anti-Zionists may not also be anti-Semitic. Some are, and I have denounced them in my writings and lectures (see http://web.mit.edu/cis/www/mitejmes/issues/200105/br_massad.htm). But the test of their anti-Semitism is not whether they like or hate Israel. The test of anti-Semitism is anti-Jewish hatred, not anti-Israel criticism. In my forthcoming book, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question, I link the Jewish Question to the Palestinian Question and conclude that both questions persist because anti-Semitism persists. To resolve the Palestinian and the Jewish Questions, our task is to fight anti-Semitism in any guise, whether in its pro-Israel or anti-Israel guise, and not to defend the reprehensible policies of the racist Israeli government.
I am now being targeted because of my public writings and statements through the charge that I am allegedly intolerant in the classroom, a charge based on statements made by people who were never my students, except in one case, which I will address momentarily. Let me first state that I have intimidated no one. In fact, Tomy Schoenfeld, the Israeli soldier who appears in the film and is cited by the New York Sun, has never been my student and has never taken a class with me, as he himself informed The Jewish Week (http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=10049). I have never met him. As for Noah Liben, who appears in the film according to newspaper accounts (I have not seen the film), he was indeed a student in my Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course in the spring of 2001. Noah seems to have forgotten the incident he cites. During a lecture about Israeli state racism against Asian and African Jews, Noah defended these practices on the basis that Asian and African Jews were underdeveloped and lacked Jewish culture, which the Ashkenazi State operatives were teaching them. When I explained to him that, as the assigned readings clarified, these were racist policies, he insisted that these Jews needed to be modernized and the Ashkenazim were helping them by civilizing them. Many students gasped. He asked me if I understood his point. I informed him that I did not. Noah seems not to have done his reading during the week on gender and Zionism. One of the assigned readings by Israeli scholar and feminist Simona Sharoni spoke of how in Hebrew the word “zayin” means both penis and weapon in a discussion of Israeli militarized masculinity. Noah, seemingly not having read the assigned material, mistook the pronunciation of “zayin” as “Zion,” pronounced in Hebrew “tziyon.” As for his spurious claim that I said that “Jews in Nazi Germany were not physically abused or harassed until Kristallnacht in November 1938,” Noah must not have been listening carefully. During the discussion of Nazi Germany, we addressed the racist ideology of Nazism, the Nuremberg Laws enacted in 1934, and the institutionalized racism and violence against all facets of Jewish life, all of which preceded the extermination of European Jews. This information was also available to Noah in his readings, had he chosen to consult them. Moreover, the lie that the film propagates claiming that I would equate Israel with Nazi Germany is abhorrent. I have never made such a reprehensible equation.
I remember having a friendly rapport with Noah (as I do with all my students). He would drop off newspaper articles in my mailbox, come to my office hours, and greet me on the street often. He never informed me or acted in a way that showed intimidation. Indeed, he would write me E-mails, even after he stopped being my student, to argue with me about Israel. I have kept our correspondence. On March 10, 2002, a year after he took a class with me, Noah wrote me an E-mail chastising me for having invited an Israeli speaker to class the year before when he was in attendance. It turned out that Noah’s memory failed him again, as he mistook the speaker I had invited for another Israeli scholar. After a long diatribe, Noah excoriated me: “How can you bring such a phony to speak to your class??” I am not sure if his misplaced reproach was indicative of an intimidated student or one who felt comfortable enough to rebuke his professor!
I am dedicated to all my students, many of whom are Jewish. Neither Columbia University nor I have ever received a complaint from any student claiming intimidation or any such nonsense. Students at Columbia have many venues of lodging complaints, whether with the student deans and assistant deans, school deans and assistant deans, department chairmen, departmental directors of undergraduate studies, the ombudsman’s office, the provost, the president, and the professors themselves. No such complaint was ever filed. Many of my Jewish and non-Jewish students (including my Arab students) differ with me in all sorts of ways, whether on politics or on philosophy or theory. This is exactly what teaching and learning are about, how to articulate differences and understand other perspectives while acquiring knowledge, how to analyze one’s own perspective and those of others, how to interrogate the basis of an opinion.
Columbia University is home to the most prestigious Center for Israel and Jewish Studies in the country. Columbia has six endowed chairs in Jewish Studies (ranging from religion to Yiddish to Hebrew literature, among others). In addition, a seventh chair in Israel Studies is now being established after pro-Israel groups launched a vicious campaign against the only chair in modern Arab Studies that Columbia established two years ago, demanding “balance”! Columbia does not have a Center for Arab Studies, let alone a Center for Palestine studies. The Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures encompasses the study of over one billion South Asians, over 300 million Arabs, tens of millions of Turks, of Iranians, of Kurds, of Armenians, and of six million Israelis, five million of whom are Jewish. To study these varied populations and cultures, MEALAC has three full time professors who cover Israel and Hebrew, four full time professors to cover the Arab World, and two full-time professors who cover South Asia. One need not do complicated mathematics to see who is overrepresented and who is not, if the question is indeed a demographic one.
Moreover, the class that this propaganda machine is targeting, my Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course, is one of a number of courses offered at Columbia that cover the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. All the others have an Israel-friendly perspective, including Naomi Weinberger’s “Conflict Resolution in the Middle East,” Michael Stanislawski’s “History of the State of Israel, 1948-Present” and a course offered in my own department by my colleague Dan Miron, “Zionism: A Cultural Perspective.” My course, which is critical of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, is in fact an elective course which no student is forced to take.
Let us briefly review these claims of intimidation. Not only have the students (all but Noah have not even taken my courses) not used a single university venue to articulate their alleged grievances, they are now sponsored by a private political organization with huge funds that produced and funded a film about them, screened it to the major US media and to the top brass of the Columbia administration. Last Wednesday, the film was screened in Israel to a government minister and to participants at a conference on anti-Semitism. The film has still not been released to the public here and is used as a sort of secret evidence in a military trial. The film has also been used to trump up a national campaign with the aid of a New York Congressman to get me fired. All this power of intimidation is being exercised not by a professor against students, but by political organizations who use students against a junior non-tenured faculty member. A senior departmental colleague of mine, Dan Miron, who votes on my promotion and tenure, has recently expressed open support for this campaign of intimidation based on hearsay. Indeed with this campaign against me going into its fourth year, I chose under the duress of coercion and intimidation not to teach my course this year. It is my academic freedom that has been circumscribed. But not only mine. The Columbia courses that remain are all taught from an Israel-friendly angle.
The aim of the David Project propaganda film is to undermine our academic freedom, our freedom of speech, and Columbia’s tradition of openness and pluralism. It is in reaction to this witch-hunt that 718 international scholars and students signed a letter defending me against intimidation and sent it to President Bollinger, with hundreds more sending separate letters, while over 1400 people from all walks of life are signing an online petition supporting me and academic freedom. Academics and students from around the world recognize that the message of this propaganda film is to suppress pluralism at Columbia and at all American universities so that one and only one opinion be allowed on campuses, the opinion of defending Israel uncritically. I need not remind anyone that this is a slippery slope, for the same pressures could be applied to faculty who have been critical of U.S. foreign policy, in Iraq for example, on the grounds that such critiques are unpatriotic. Surely we all agree that while the University can hardly defend any one political position on any current question, it must defend the need for debate and critical consideration of all such questions, whether in public fora or in the classroom. Anything less would be the beginning of the death of academic freedom.
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 1
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 2
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 3
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 4
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 5
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 6
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 7
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 8
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 9a
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 10
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 11
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 12
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 13
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 14
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 15
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 16
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 17
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 18
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 19
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 20
Jewish and Israel/Palestine Issues Part 21
Activist Kicks Backs - Blognow archive re-housed - 2005-2009Red Jos Blogspot
This page updated 23 APRIL 2013 and again on 25 OCTOBER 2016