Reports from Campus
Note: Student and faculty submissions to Campus Watch are screened for substance and tone, and are selected based upon their overall relevance to the study of Middle East studies in America. The opinions and assertions of the authors are theirs alone.
Bias incidents at University of Chicago
July 24, 2002
A. Classroom-Related Incidents
1. Autumn 2001: John E. Woods, Director of the U of C Center for Middle Eastern Studies, was a guest lecturer in Introduction to Islamic Civilization I on the topic of modern geography in the Middle East. When he pointed out Israel, he was rebuked by students and henceforth referred to all of modern day Israel as "Palestine."
2. In spring of 2002, Holly Shissler presented a completely propagandized picture of Israel. The reading material for the course was a survey of revisionist historians, which normalized the Nazi treatment of Jews and lambasted the Jewish treatment of Palestinians. Almost all of the links to the website for the course disproportionately refer to the Conflict. Historians such as Benny Morris were part of the reading material for the course. When the class was discussing the founding of Israel, she allowed a graduate student to lecture, and the entire class was an extended rant against Israel. None of the positive reasons for Israel's founding were mentioned. The graduate student said nothing about the need for Jewish self-sovereignty due to the persecution of Jews in Europe in the nineteenth century, and said nothing sympathetic about the Holocaust. Rather, the student described the founding of Israel as merely a catastrophe for the Arab world and noted that "fascist" Jewish students were responsible for the riots in 1939, ignoring the fact that there were no fascists in Israel in 1939. This was the only discussion of the founding of Israel in this course, so that the "lesson" on Israel was that Israel is utterly odious and without redeeming qualities. And in Shissler's course in general, Israel was consistently demonized while Arab actions were whitewashed-- for instance, Arab collaboration with the Nazis was minimized. The textbook for the course also played down Arab collaboration with the Nazis. Shissler also consistently played down every fault of the Muslim world. In discussing the Armenian genocide, she claimed that "some people" say that only 5,000 Armenians were killed, while other "extremists" claim that two million people were killed. Professor Shissler did not welcome critical student comments, and would not listen to objections to her presentation of "facts."
In autumn quarter, 2001, Professor Shissler taught another section of Intro. To the Islamic Middle East. When Professor Shissler referred to the modern state of Israel, students interrupted angrily; Shissler corrected herself and began referring to Israel as "Palestine."
3. In the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities Core Course in autumn, 1999, Tom Mitchell attacked Judaism when discussing the painting, "The Golden Calf." He noted that the ancient Israelites' God was perverse. In one student's words, Mitchell claimed that "the Hebrews' God would let one do anything, even commit murder, so long as one did not worship something in place of that God." When students tried to discuss their complaint with Mitchell, he grew furious and told an Orthodox student he could no longer attend Mitchell's discussion section, but would have to find another section. Judaism was the only religion under attack in this course.
4. In the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities Core Course in autumn, 2000, Candace Vogler and Ian Mueller made the Palestinian-Israeli conflict one of the main themes of an introductory writing colloquium. Students read Said's After the Last Sky, and the professors were not balanced in discussing the historical background of the text. Terrorist groups were referred to as "liberation organizations," and both professors presented Israel as merely a colonial power since its inception. They did not discuss the non-economic motivating factors of 19th-century Zionism, such as the desire of persecuted Jews to be self-governing. It was implied that Israel's expansion in 1967 was "colonial expansion," yet the fact that the 6-day war was self-defensive was never discussed. The Israeli perspective was reduced to silence. Also, though the University of Chicago bills itself as a marketplace of ideas in which professors and students should engage in open debate, professors in this course did not welcome critical student questions. This was a required course for all students in the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities, and the professors were not trained in Middle Eastern history.
5. Professor Fred Donner has also been quoted in one of our campus newspapers, the Chicago Weekly News (CWN), as saying that Israel is the only state in the Middle East to receive US foreign aid. Though this claim is false, he did not retract his quote.
6. An Israeli graduate student visited an Arab professor in the NELC during her office hours in order to ask about some practical departmental requirements. She said to him out of the blue that this isn't Israel, and so "you won't get any special treatment here."
B. Non-classroom Incidents:
1. In an open graduate school listhost in the Humanities division, a pro-Palestinian student joked about Auschwitz.
2. An offensive article ran in a University-funded newspaper, the Free Press, May 2002, vol. 7, issue 9, "Will U of C Jews Return to an Empty House: Possible Reasons for the Exodus of Jews from Hillel?" A fictitious author, Jacob Lee, attacked the only Jewish chaplain on campus, Rabbi David Rosenberg. The article implied that the Rabbi is unfair to Arabs and non-religious Jews. Fake quotations were invented to support the author's assertions.
3. On the back page of the same issue of the Free Press, Bible quotations were taken completely out of context to paint the Torah as a genocidal, racist and hateful text.
4. In a University-sponsored series entitled, "9/11 Causes and Consequences," many panels have been extremely biased and one-sided. In its first session on Thursday, October 4th, from 7-9pm, Salim Yaqub from the Department of History blamed U.S. foreign policy towards Israel as the cause of the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Centers. There was no pro-Israel voice on the panel, and so the Israeli perspective was left undefended. Many more anti-Israel than pro-Israel voices were invited to participate in this panel series, and even moderators sometimes bashed Israel.
Also, the Dean of Rockefeller Chapel, Alison Boden, allowed many of the "9/11: Causes and Consequences" panel events to be scheduled for the Jewish Sabbath, which meant that religiously observant Jewish students and panelists could not attend. A student, Rebecca Scharbach, brought this scheduling problem to Boden's attention before the panel took place, but Boden claimed that the majority of people on the planning committee wanted to schedule the panel for Friday even despite the fact that it was Shabbat. Ben Aderson, the President of Student Government, informed students that Boden had veto power on the timing of the panels, but did not exercise it.
5. Students formed a discussion group to bring Jewish and Arab students together to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Students felt that they should limit participation in order to ensure a safe and friendly discussion environment. However, they ended up excluding pro-Israel Jewish students who wanted to participate. Students decided to declare some students too "right-wing" to be invited to participate in the panel, where "right-wing" meant that they believe Israel has a right to defend itself from suicide attacks. Dean Boden attended the group, and did not object to the group's exclusivity.
6. A Hezbollah banner which featured their symbol and motto, "And we will conquer", has hung in the U of C's main library (Regenstein) for years. It was only removed last fall after articles were published in the campus newspaper, The Chicago Weekly News, and a Chicago daily newspaper, the Chicago Sun Times. The staff of the library was insensitive to the complaints of Jewish students, claiming that they see the Hezbollah as merely a "political organization." An Israeli student, Amir Sumaka'I-Fink, complained in an open letter to President Randel about the fact that he had to work near the poster as an employee at the library. He argued that, as an Israeli, it made for a hostile work environment to be forced to work near a poster that was a contemporary call to arms to kill Israeli civilians such as himself and his family. Library personnel were completely insensitive to his complaint. They never apologized for the poster; indeed, Bruce Craig and Marlis Saleh, bibliographers in Middle Eastern Studies at the library, dismissed his concerns. When they finally took down the banner due to media exposure, they also cut out the picture of the poster from the published newspaper article and hung it up in the banner's place. Jewish students contacted Saleh, Craig, and University administration, including President Randel, and asked them to apologize for the incident. No apology was made.
7. A Palestinian Film Festival was held at the U of C; the University of Illinois at Chicago refused to allow this festival. Films such as the "Gaza Strip" were shown (on 4/26 and 4/22), a film that is considered to be "virulently anti-Israel" by the Anti-Defamation League. The symbol of the festival was a map representing all of Israel as "occupied Palestine." Both this symbol and the website for the festival made many Jews and Israelis feel very unwelcome to attend. The website praises martyrdom and suicide bombers and threatens "enemies" to "beware," stating, "I will eat the flesh of my oppressor."
8. A week-long program of events was held at the U of C to commemorate Al-Naqba day ("the catastrophe"), which coincides with the Israeli Day of Independence (Monday, May 13-Friday, May 16). One program featured a lecture by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad (Thursday, May 16). His speech was titled, "Zionism and Jewish Supremacy." When the speech was advertised, Jewish students complained about its clearly anti-Semitic title, which prefigured what Massad later argued: that by maintaining a Jewish state, Israelis think Jews are superior to everyone else. Administrators were unsympathetic to student complaints and excused the talk by appealing to students' free speech. Yet administrators also would not agree to express disapproval of such anti-Semitism—a solution that would not have violated anyone's free speech. The talk itself was hateful. Massad called for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state and the end of Zionism. He painted a hate-filled monolithic portrait of Israelis and Jewish supporters of Israel as infected by Nazi Ideology and racism against Palestinians. His "evidence" was that Israeli placement of numbers on the arms of Palestinian detainees at detention camps resembled Nazi placement of numbers on those at concentration camps. He also claimed that IDF tear gas had caused a great number—we believe he said 1400—of miscarriages by Palestinian women during the first Intifada. As far as one can tell, no one can corroborate this number.
Massad and most of the pro-Palestinian audience members were hostile to the few Jewish students present. The Jewish students were the only ones to ask Massad critical questions, but he refused to answer them. The staff regulating Student Organizations was present, but did not insist on standards of civility; in fact, one staff member criticized a Jewish student who asked a challenging question for requesting that Massad actually answer the question.
9. For the past several years, a man has set up a table on campus with banners that are increasingly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. He insinuates that all Israelis are Nazis, that Israel should not exist, that "the Jews do not belong in the Arab Middle East," and that Jews are "carrying out national genocide." He not only makes people feel uncomfortable, but he once physically assaulted a student. In the last few weeks, a few of his friends who are La Rouche supporters have also begun to table at other places in the campus, including in front of our student union (Reynolds club) and in front of our campus bookstore (Barnes and Nobles). They have called a female student supporter of Israel a "baby killer" (5/16). They promote hate speech specifically at those students who are visibly Jewish.
10. A male student was walking at night on campus when a care drove up besides him and a person screamed out, "death to Jews, Hitler should have finished you all off when he had the chance."
11. In a campus dorm, a Jewish, pro-Israel student put up a sign publicizing a pro Israel rally on campus. It was defiled with the words, "Fuck Zionists, Fuck the Israeli pigs." Dorm personnel were informed, and no action was taken. Shortly afterward, a "Visual Zionist Manifesto" was put up where the pro-Israel flier had been. The manifesto consisted of 12 pages of photos of bleeding Palestinian children, and the last page stated that the Jewish Star = Nazi swastika. This incident was also reported to dorm personnel, yet no action was taken. After a meeting with campus administrators this May, Bill Michel set up another meeting with the Jewish student involved in this incident. The student wanted a public statement to be made before the end of the school year describing what happened and condemning such incidents, and so she suggested an email be sent to everyone in her dorm. A staff member of University housing said this would be a good idea, but no statement was made.
12. A visibly Jewish student was walking passed St. Thomas the Apostle school when a young student screamed out at him, "All Jews should go to Hell." Teachers monitoring the students at play did not intervene.13. Fliers for campus Jewish groups such as Hillel are routinely torn down all around campus, as are fliers for pro-Israel student groups.
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