This morning's Sunreports on the latest regarding Columbia's MEALAC controversy. James Schreiber, a former federal prosecutor who serves on the Law School's board of visitors, recently wrote Columbia president Lee Bollinger to describe his attending a 2002 campus lecture by Joseph Massad,"On Zionism and Jewish Supremacy.""Purporting to be a scholarly lecture," Schreiber noted,"I regret to say that it was instead an anti-Semitic diatribe with only a patina of scholarship that one might have perhaps heard at a neo-nazi rally." He added that as he was intimidated, he can just imagine how a student in one of Massad's classes must feel.
The basic argument was vintage Massad: that Israel is a racist state and Jews are racist. In the question session after the speech, Schreiber challenged Massad's (demonstrably false) claim that the PLO was offered only 65% of the West Bank during the 2000 Camp David peace negotiations. Schreiber mentioned that he had personally discussed this issue with the chief negotiator at the 2000 conference, Dennis Ross, and that Ross had expressed his concern that"such contentions were regrettably becoming part of a false mythology increasingly prevalent in the Region."
"At that point,," recalled Schreiber,"someone in the audience shouted out, 'Dennis Ross is a JEW!' the purpose of which obviously was to undermine a flat contradiction of the speaker. Neither the moderator nor anyone in authority in the room said anything. I sat there stunned." In Schreiber's words,"It was apparent to me that Massad was using his position as a Columbia professor, entitled to the respect of students, to promote vile and insidious anti-Semitic hatred in the language of anti-Zionism. He was ostensibly using his scholarship in doing so, but what in fact it entailed was transparently flimsy and more importantly factually and demonstrably untrue."
There is some good news from all of this: Schreiber recently had a personal meeting with Bollinger; and the president, according to Schreiber,"understands the need to recruit to Columbia top scholars and subject the scholars to rigorous academic criteria that may not have been applied in the past."
The Schreiber letter offers two points of insight into the MEALAC controversy. First, a line exists between scholarly debate and outright factual inaccuracy; at least Massad (and, as this editorial in today's Sun argues, perhaps other MEALAC professors as well) seems to be so consumed by hatred of Israel that he makes basic factual errors when talking about Israel. Second, a professor, whether in class or in a public lecture, has a considerable ability to shape the atmosphere of the gathering, and Massad regularly seems intent on not creating a climate in which all legitimate points of view about his topic are welcomed.
Louis N Proyect - 2/25/2005
Student Testimonies On Absence of Discrimination at the Columbia University Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures
Collected by Columbia Student Eric Posner (firstname.lastname@example.org). Posted at Semitism.net. The document may be downloaded as a Microsoft Word file here.
The following quotations are excerpted from the full testimonies that follow.
1a. John Taplett:
"Last spring during the class on Palestinian-Israeli Politics & Society several individuals who had audited the class regularly attempted to disturb the progress of the class. During these disturbances the auditors often attempted to dominate the class discussion with personal statements unrelated or extremely loosely related to the course material. These individuals were regularly unprepared for the classroom discussion, having not completed the required reading, and for the most part were largely ignorant of the class subject matter; to my knowledge these individuals did not attend any of the recitation sections led by the graduate students. It was fairly obvious that these individuals had registered for the course for the sole purpose of disrupting the progress of the class; I believe that the goal of these individuals was to limit the free expression of ideas and opinion during the class... I was rather surprised that he made a forum available at the end of his lecture for nonsensical statement, but to my amazement he allowed each and every student in the class an opportunity to speak regardless of their familiarity with the class subject matter and required course material."
1b. John Taplett:
"Despite the fact that [Professor Dabashi] spurned my request for a reference, I hold no ill will against him; rather, I respect him for his honesty and forthright treatment of an uncomfortable situation... At the beginning of the class Prof. Dabashi announced to the class that he understood that there was a protest that several members of our class had expressed interest in attending; he related that he understood that a substantial percentage of the class would be leaving, but he wanted to assure the class that regardless of how few students remained he would not deprive those students who chose not to walk out of the day's class lecture... I was left alone in a classroom with Prof. Dabashi and about three other students... he then began one of the best lectures I have ever heard... My political tendencies would best be described as extremely conservative, and the Colonialism course taught by Prof. Dabashi taught me to properly inform myself on issues in order to strengthen my positions as well as my intellect... Throughout the class discussion Prof. Dabashi pushed me to expand my position and my argument, he seemed to help ease my passage through the hostile class, pointing out weaknesses in the oppositions arguments despite the fact that he openly expressed a belief that I was absolutely and completely wrong... Despite the fact that I was not as prepared as I could have been and I was alone in a hostile argument, I felt that I had an ally in the discussion moderator; the fact that this one ally completely disagreed with me was immaterial, he believed that I had a right to speak and he allowed me to do so with his support."
2. Leeam Azulay-Yagev:
"As a Jewish Israeli 4th year student who has taken several classes in the MEALAC department, I have never experienced or witnessed intimidation or racism of any sort from university professors."
3. Hitesh Manglani:
"On the question of religion, [Professor Massad] was openly critical of all religions including Islam-- his anti-Israeli opinions could not reasonably have been construed as anti-Semitic. Similarly, while being critical of Israeli policy he did not hesitate to offer critical opinions of Yasser Arafat. In general, he maintained a tone of critical scholarly inquiry."
4. Erin Pineda:
"It has been my experience that Professor Massad has calmly and thoroughly answered the questions of students, even when those questions are very pointedly (and I would argue disrespectfully and inappropriately) calling in to question his credibility, if for no other reason than a fundamental difference of opinion on an extremely volatile issue."