Columbia University Needs to Fire Joseph Massad
"I think something extremely important is happening on our campuses. They are now turned into sites for cultivation of critical judgment for responsible citizenship in what we hope will remain a free republic. Even as late as five years ago no one would have dared stand on the steps of the Law Library on Columbia Campus and condemn the military thuggery of people like Ariel Sharon. Innocent people in Jenin, Kandahar, Shalamcheh, or Baghdad are brutally massacred and no one would have dared to condemn these acts publicly. But not anymore."
- Hamid Dabashi, speaking to the Electronic Intifada online magazine, September 30, 2002
Professor Hamid Dabashi, chairman of Columbia's notorious Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, is quite correct to point out that "something extremely important" is happening on our campuses. While Mr. Dabashi would celebrate this change - summarized as a growing hatred for America and Israel among students and faculty members - we believe it represents one of the most troubling trends in higher education and a critical problem for Columbia University. It has become increasingly clear that Columbia's standing as one of the great research universities in the nation is jeopardized by a contingent of professors whose disdain for Israel, America, democracy, and freedom has a remarkable influence over Columbia's curriculum and quality of its research. To appreciate how commonplace and accepted anti-Israel sentiment has become at Columbia, one simply has to take a look at the Web site Columbiadivest.org, the home page of a recent effort at the Morningside Heights campus to persuade Columbia's administration to divest its holdings in companies that sell arms and military hardware to Israel. More than a third of the full-time faculty of the MEALAC department signed the petition, as have a total of 107 Barnard and Columbia faculty members. Signers of the petition include Joseph Massad, a non-tenured professor of modern Arab politics who teaches a course on Middle East nationalism. Mr. Massad is not shy about his hatred for Israel, a country whose legitimacy as a Jewish state he denies and whose policies he routinely calls "racist." He is the professor, as described in an underground film produced by the Boston-based David Project, who upon completing a lecture refused to answer a question from an Israeli student but ordered the student to say how many Palestinians he killed as a soldier. Rep. Anthony Weiner is absolutely correct to call, as he did yesterday, for Columbia to fire him.
Another signer is Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said chair of Arab studies and author of "Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East." Mr. Khalidi, whose professorship was funded with $200,000 from the United Arab Emirates, is on record condemning terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, but he has also said he condones attacks on Israeli soldiers in areas he describes as occupied territories, violence that he describes as "resistance." His recent book was riddled with errors and anti-Jewish themes.
We recognize that the vast majority of the Columbia community is untainted by these hatreds. But these are the professors whose loathing of Israel, dismissal of Israel's security concerns, and contempt of Israel's democratic values cannot be explained or rationalized but are best understood as irrational expressions of anti-Semitism.
The fact that these professors share views that are abhorrent to a great majority of Columbia's community has not stopped them from shaping Columbia's research and teaching of subjects related to the Middle East. Take, for example, a course called "Hate" taught within the MEALAC department by comparative literature professor Gil Anidjar. Mr. Anidjar's interest isn't Islamic fundamentalism and its spread through the Middle East, but Jewish self-hatred and how it relates to Israeli culture and Zionism.
Columbia and other schools affected by this anti-Western strand of thought require leadership. Columbia and Barnard need leaders who can state clearly that their schools do not side with enemies of freedom and democracy. Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, has criticized the divestment campaign but has so far defaulted when it comes to confronting the academic issues or returning the money from the United Arab Emirates. Astonishingly, he told the Daily News that he appointed a committee that found not only no bias, but not even any "claims of bias." The way to begin correcting the situation would be with a grand gesture. A Columbia honorary degree for Prime Minister Sharon would be one way to do it. So would firing Mr. Massad, or giving back the money from the United Arab Emirates, or disciplining Mr. Khalidi for the errors in his book. Then Columbia could set about hiring some teachers who display genuine critical judgment
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Sam Robin Roberts - 12/5/2004
Defend Columbia Professor Joseph Massad!
Down With Zionist Witchhunt on Campus!
Reprinted from Young Spartacus pages of Workers Vanguard No. 837, 26 November 2004.
Columbia University is today ground zero in a right-wing witchhunt designed to intimidate and drive out any professor who does not toe the line of support to the state of Israel. The latest
escalation was triggered by a squalid little film by the David Project, Columbia Unbecoming. It slanderously accuses Professor Joseph Massad, along with other professors in the Middle East
and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) department, of “academic intimidation” of pro-Israel Zionist students. The New York City gutter press Daily News and the New York Sun have
embarked on a vicious campaign against Massad and several other professors. The Sun, along with New York City Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, has explicitly called for Massad’s
With the screaming front-page headline “Poison Ivy: Climate of Hate Rocks Columbia University,” the Daily News (21 November) featured a sinister “special report.” In it, respected
professors such as Massad, Hamid Dabashi, Rashid Khalidi, George Saliba and Nicholas De Genova are denounced as “Columbia’s firebrands,” the “faculty with the most strongly anti-Israel
views.” The article is replete with alleged quotes from the professors described as “venom disguised as classroom instruction.”
In response to the film, the Columbia administration has launched a formal investigation into the film’s accusations and promised to “take whatever steps are necessary.” Not content with this, the
Democrat-dominated New York City Council has announced they will demand an outside investigation if the university investigation “comes up dry” (New York Sun, 12 November). Down
with the Zionist witchhunt! Hands off Joseph Massad and the other professors!
The attacks on Massad and other professors are nothing less than a campaign to silence and drive out those who speak against the crimes of U.S. imperialism and its allies. Well before Columbia
Unbecoming, Professor Massad, a contributing writer for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, had long been reviled by Zionists. In 2002 a Zionist think tank, the Middle East Forum, set
up the Campus Watch Web site in an attempt to blacklist pro-Palestinian academics, whom it labels “apologists to terrorism.” Professors such as Massad, Dabashi and Khalidi were listed on this
A regular recipient of death threats, Massad declared in his statement responding to the charges in the film: “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.” An e-mail to Massad by a professor of medicine, Moshe
Rubin, expressed the real sentiments of the forces behind this campaign: “Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned. Get the hell out of America. You are a disgrace and a pathetic
typical Arab liar” (Columbia Spectator, 27 October).
In the context of U.S. imperialism’s bloody colonial occupation of Iraq and the post-September 11 bipartisan “war on terror,” the forces of the far right are pushing to roll things back to the
McCarthyite 1950s when Communists, leftists and even liberals were driven off the campuses while black students were excluded altogether. It was precisely the exclusion of black students that the
racist anti-affirmative action “bake sale” sponsored by the Columbia College Conservative Club last semester was all about (see “Campus Right-Wingers Target Black Students,” WV No. 821,
Indeed, the principal instigators of these assaults on campus dissent, such as Campus Watch’s Daniel Pipes, are closely linked to the Bush administration. Pipes is part of the neoconservative
Project for the New American Century, which has included Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his lieutenant Paul Wolfowitz. The main force behind the right
wing’s bogus “academic freedom” campaign is racist ideologue David Horowitz. Horowitz carried out his own witchhunting tour of campuses in 2001, apologizing for slavery and attacking the
gains of black struggle. He is involved in the highest councils of the Republican Party and is behind the grossly misnamed “Academic Bill of Rights.” Horowitz touts the myth that conservatives
are persecuted in American universities. The “Academic Bill of Rights” is in reality an attempt to provide the basis for a purge of the left from campuses, with demands for “duly authorized
authorities” to snoop into tenure and hiring decisions. This bill was passed by the Georgia State Senate.
Disguising their witchhunt as a campaign for “academic freedom,” this cabal of Zionist neocons, yellow journalists and government officials is in fact trampling the free speech rights of defenders
of the Palestinian people, as well as any voice of dissent against racist U.S. imperialism. This includes leftists, radicals, black and minority students. Columbia Unbecoming specifically singles out
the International Socialist Organization and attacks the campus left more generally.
Over 2,800 people have signed an Internet petition denouncing the attacks on Professor Massad. It is good that Massad’s case has garnered support. The Spartacus Youth Club is signing this
petition as an elementary act of solidarity with Massad, but we warn that the wording is based on a false conception that Columbia University is an ivory tower that exists to protect academic
freedom. The petition states: “We call on President Bollinger to rise to the occasion and issue a categorical statement in defense of Professor Massad and against this campaign of defamation,”
and that these attacks “threaten the very ideal of a university as a place of open and vigorous intellectual exchanges.” In fact, the “ideals” of elite universities like Columbia are to train the
intelligentsia necessary for the maintenance of the capitalist system. This includes the next generation of cadre for the CIA and State Department, researchers for the “military-industrial complex”
and union-busting lawyers. The campus administration exists to carry out this mission.
What is urgently necessary is for students and all those in the cross hairs of the witchhunt to mobilize in united-front protest in defense of the victimized professors and against the campus thought
Zionist Lies and Smears
The statement of Eric Posner, a former Israeli army medic and student of Massad’s, demolishes the scurrilous charges in Columbia Unbecoming:
“I am a Jew, an Israeli, a Jerusalemite, and an American. As opposed to the interviewees in the film, ‘Unbecoming Columbia,’ [sic] I am also a MEALAC major. Last year, I was approached by
Ariel Be’ery [General Studies student body president and a Zionist activist involved in the film]. He wanted to hear my opinion about MEALAC and Massad, whose class I was enrolled in at the
time. When I expressed my profound appreciation for Massad’s critical approach and the multiplicity of perspectives that he offers in his classroom, Be’ery told me that he wouldn’t be calling
me back for a taped interview.” [emphasis in original]
As an article in Jewish Week (29 October) based on interviews with more than two dozen other mostly Israeli and American Jewish MEALAC students stated: “Most of the complaints on
campus appear to be from pro-Israel activist students not in the MEALAC program.” According to Professor Massad’s statement, only one of the students in the film even took his course.
The classic tool of the trade for the Zionists is the slander that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Massad’s statement eloquently repudiated this claim:
“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.... Therefore, it is not anti-Semitism that offends pro-Israel groups; what offends them is anti-Israel criticism.”
In fact the Zionists have always reserved special venom for Jewish historians who defend Palestinian rights, like Joel Beinin and Norman Finkelstein.
The current wave of attacks on Columbia professors is part of an ominous mobilization going back years, which escalated after September 11. In 1985 the campus office of globally renowned
Columbia professor and prominent Palestinian activist, the late Edward Said, was firebombed. In 2000, after Said tossed a stone into Israel from across the Lebanese border, in a symbolic act of
celebration of the end of the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, the campus Zionists and the right-wing press, along with the Columbia Spectator, viciously attacked him (see “Columbia
Spectator Witchhunts Edward Said,” WV No. 743, 6 October 2000). Also the victim of a vicious witchhunt by the same reactionary forces was Professor Nicholas De Genova, for honorably
speaking in favor of the defeat of U.S. imperialism in Iraq at a 2003 campus antiwar teach-in.
Now there is the International Studies in Higher Education Act of 2003, or House Resolution (H.R.) 3077, which was passed unanimously by the House and awaits a vote in the Senate. Several
Zionist organizations are behind this piece of legislation, including the Anti-Defamation League and American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It would, if passed, among other things, lead to the
establishment of a government “advisory board” including representatives of national security agencies to oversee federally funded university programs, especially Middle East studies. Professor
Rashid Khalidi warned: “If implemented as its proponents intend, it would impose the pseudo-sciences of terrorology and the demonization of Islam and Muslims as integral parts of teaching and
research about the Middle East” (In These Times Web site, 11 December 2003). Down with H.R. 3077!
Defend the Palestinians!
Key to defeating the witchhunt against Columbia professors and MEALAC is forthrightly taking up the defense of the Palestinian people. While the recent Zionist attacks have been spearheaded
by forces of the far right, the Democrats are no less staunch supporters of Zionism and Israel than the Republicans. The Spartacus Youth Clubs have been active in protests around the country in
opposition to the Zionist attacks on professors and student groups, from the banning of the Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Berkeley to attempts to shut down conferences of the Palestine
Solidarity Movement (see “Defend Pro-Palestinian Protesters!” WV No. 792, 29 November 2002).
The SYC intransigently defends the Palestinian people against Zionist state terror. At the same time, we defend the right of the Hebrew-speaking population as well to self-determination. Against all
variants of nationalism, we counterpose a program of proletarian revolutionary internationalism. As we wrote in “Zionist Butchers Strike Gaza” (WV No. 834, 15 October): “The Palestinian
nationalists have tried nearly everything to beat back the Israeli garrison state: from fighting to negotiating to appealing to the UN and Western imperialists, to now pathetically begging to simply be
allowed to exist—and it has all been and will all be futile. So long as the national axis is emphasized, the situation will always be bleak and hopeless. But if the class axis is emphasized, there is at
least a realistic chance at an equitable resolution.”
The road to the social and national liberation of the Palestinian people lies through common class struggle by the Hebrew-speaking and Arab workers against both the Israeli and Arab ruling
classes, who likewise are oppressors of the Palestinians. Only within a socialist federation of the Near East can the right to national self-determination for both the Palestinian and Hebrew-speaking
peoples be equitably realized. The struggle to defend the Palestinian people must be linked to a fight against the U.S. imperialist occupation of Iraq. For a socialist federation of the Near East!
Down with the U.S. colonial occupation of Iraq! All Israeli troops and settlers out of the Occupied Territories! Down with the Zionist witchhunt on campus!
dg dg dg - 11/22/2004
As a Columbia undergraduate (who is neither Jewish nor Arab) and has taken many MEALAC courses, I find this article abhorrent and unpardonable. Most people swallowing such biased editorials are grossly misinformed and driven by unwarrented indignation. Firstly, anti-zionism is NOT anti-semitism. When one criticizes Israel (a country housing Jews, Arabs and Christians), she does not make any statement concerning Jews. It's helpful to remember the word "semite" includes both Jews and Arabs anyways. Secondly, the David Project simply produced propaganda masquerading as a "documentry." Anyone read on the topic knows it's full of false accusations that participants themselves have since acknowledged. Dr. Massad only had one of the students in the documentry in his class in the first place. Are we going to allow one students denounciation of a professore to wipe out years of scholarship contributing to peace in the Middle East? Stop the with hunt against people who have the courage to express deviant views and in our country anything Pro-Palestine IS deviant. Did the student ever recieve a lower grade for his opinions or excluded from discussion? Contrary to the documentry, other students in the class have since testified in the negative. Thirdly, professors expressing sympathy towards Palestine have continously been marginalized and targted by Israel-first advocates (lest we forget the fire bombing of Edward Said's office). Fourthly, Massad is a reputed scholar who has extensively published work that denounces anti-semitism in all its forms. Fifthly, neutral human rights organizations (including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch) have denounced the abuses perpurtrated by Israel's government. Simply reiterating facts in a classroom does not constitute intimidation. Sixthly, many Jewish students both appreciate and support the MEALAC department of Columbia. Seventhly, the baseless accusations launched in Columbia Unbecoming have spurred a new wave of hatred against Arabs from people completly disconnected with Columbia's MEALAC department and have not been reprimanded (as is consistent with the status quo double standard favoring blind support for Israel and punishing any solidarity with Palestine). For example, Moshe Rubin (a Columbia faculty at the Medical School) recently wrote hate mail to Professor Massad telling him he was a "typical, lying Arab" and should leave America. Seventhly, pro-Israel views are not in the least underrepresented at Columbia (many of the tenured professors are proud Zionist as are many MEALAC majors).Dear readers, I am sincerely worried about the direction discussion concerning the Middle East is going and how quickly the uninformed unite in unwarrented indignation. Please support academic freedom by signing the petition against the harassement of Columbia University by visiting: www.petitiononline/jmassad/petition.html
Also, regardless of your stance, INFORM yourselves and others so your not simply ingesting skewed news. A good place to start is by reading Dr. Massad's own comments on the issue (give the guy a chance to defend himself at least!): http://www.columbia.edu/cu/mealac/faculty/massad/
Brian Fitz - 11/4/2004
Criticism of Joseph Massad, MEALAC and academic bias in general at Columbia is not unwarranted. This is the environment that cultivated such anti-American and anti-Israel luminaries as the late Edward Said and Nicholas DeGenova, who shortly after 9/11 said "the only true heroes are those who find ways that help defeat the U.S. military," and called for "a million Mogadishus," as well as the visiting professor Tom Paulin, who stated that Brooklyn-born Jews "should be shot dead" if they live on the West Bank.
Massad, according to an article by Daniel Pipes in the NY Post, "seems to blame every ill in the Arab world on the United States. Poverty results from 'the racist and barbaric policies' of the American-dominated International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. The absence of democracy is the fault of 'ruling autocratic elites and their patron, the United States.' Militant Islamic violence results from 'U.S. imperialist aggression.'"
At a Palestinian film festival hosted by the university last year, Massad praised the films as "weapons" and "likened Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cultural views to those of Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels." Israel is "a racist Jewish state," the "offspring" of "the foundational racism of Zionism." The "European Jew is a colonizer who has used racist colonial violence for the last century against the Palestinian people." Israel was founded "by armed colonial settlers." "Zionist Jewish colonialism" was a "commitment to European white supremacy in Jewish guise." "Jewish colonists were part of the British colonial death squads that murdered Palestinian revolutionaries between 1936 and 1939."
Chris Beam for the Columbia Spectator makes a good point:
"Extreme accusations of MEALAC have often elicited extreme responses from targets. In an article for the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, Massad fired back, accusing Pipes and frequent collaborator Martin Kramer of '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.' In reaction to Campus Watch's attacks, [MEALAC Chair Hamid] Dabashi said in October, 'This is a war between principles of academic freedom for the cultivation of critical judgment at the service of responsible citizenship on one side, and a useless band of illiterate charlatans on the other.'
This language, while no more extreme than that of the opposition, does not fit Dabashi's--or anyone's--conception of a 'sane and productive language of debate and conversation.'"
Nor is it very becoming of people who consider themselves to be scholars, and if these types are taking such vitriol and applying it to their classes, I don't want my tax dollars or my tuition dollars funding it, nor do many others and that is why there is criticism coming out in the form of the David Project documentary and more recently in the excellent short film that is being made into a feature documentary, 'Brainwashing 101', as well as websites like Academia.org, AcademicBias.com and Campus Watch.
Massad shouldn't get his hankie in a twist if there is public criticism and serious questions about his usefulness as an educator, he's practically begging for it, and when he assumes, as he does hilariously in this statement, that such criticism is just the result of "pro-Israeli propagandists who want to reduce the Jewish people to the State of Israel [and who] are the anti-Semites who want to eliminate the existing pluralism among Jews," and goes on in his statement with a blistering screed on Israel's racist policies and how "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," it only secures in the minds of many how fanatical and detrimental to an institution that allegedly prides itself on scholarship this guy really is.
Finally, he doesn't do anything to address his intimidation of the Israeli student who addressed him at an off-campus lecture, he just blows it off with, "[well, he] has never been my student and has never taken a class with me." LAME.
Cary Fraser - 10/25/2004
It would be useful for Mr. Pipes to read Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times today. It is instructive for its measured analysis of the current context in the Middle East. I was unaware that Mr. Pipes can claim the high ground in denouncing "irrational expressions" of any sort.
Cary Fraser - 10/25/2004
It would be useful for Mr. Pipes to read Thomas Friedman's column in the New York Times today. It is instructive for its measured analysis of the current context in the Middle East. I was unaware that Mr. Pipes can claim the high ground in denouncing "irrational expressions " of any sort.
Christopher Osborne - 10/23/2004
I concur with the idea that no professors in MEALAC should be fired even if their views are deemed obnoxious by many. At the same time, however, I would only hope that MEALAC would not discriminate against any conservative job applicant in their hiring decisions--should such an application be submitted.
Michael Green - 10/23/2004
As one who loves Israel but doesn't think it is perfect, I am fascinated with Mr. Pipes. He claims to believe in freedom but wants people fired for expressing their opinions. No wonder George W. Bush likes him so much. Two peas in a pod.