Middle East studies in the News
Columbia professor faces probe on anti-Israel remarks
by Amiram Barkat
Columbia University's president, Lee Bollinger, said in an interview Friday that he asked that the university provost investigate accusations charging that a university professor allegedly expressed anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic views in class and displayed a hostility toward Israeli and Jewish students.
The said professor is Dr. Joseph Massad, assistant professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia's Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department
Bollinger told the New-York Times Friday that he considered 'serious' the claims by Jewish students who said they felt intimidated to express pro-Israel views in class.
"We've got to be able to talk about the most controversial subjects of our time and do it in a way that doesn't suppress passion but invites the full range of opinions. And no students should feel intimidated from participating," Bollinger said.
The New-York Times reported Friday that Dr. Massad had received a letter of support signed by hundreds of his colleagues from universities across the country. Massad himself flatly denied accusations that he intimidated students.
A Boston-based pro-Israel organization named The David Project recently produced a documentary in which Jewish students allege they were discriminated against by Massad and other Columbia professors. The film was screened on Wednesday in Jerusalem for participants of the Global Anti-Semitism Forum, headed by Minister Natan Sharansky. Columbia administrators had seen the film several days earlier.
The film features, among others, a student who identified himself to Massad as an Israeli. According to this student, Massad asked him in class whether he had served in the army, and when the student said he had, Massad asked him, "How many Palestinians did you kill?"
Massad called the documentary "a propaganda film" and claimed it was a part of a "racist witchhunt of Arab and Muslim professors".
The Jewish Week reported Friday that Massad had received several pieces of hate mail, since news of the film was made public last week. One of the senders, according to the newspaper, was a fellow Columbia professor who wrote to Massad to "Get the hell out of America. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar". The Jewish Week also interviewed an Israeli-born student who attended Massads' classes and said she had never felt intimidated by him.
Jewish and pro-Israel organizations have demanded Columbia University in dismiss Massad. The organizations claim that Massad's lectures compared Israel to the Nazis and argued that the Jewish state has no right to exist.
The conservative newspaper The New York Sun reported earlier this week that U.S. Congressman Anthony Weiner from Queens (Democrat), had called for Columbia University President Lee Bollinger to fire Massad.
The Israeli student interviewed in the film told the Sun reporter that Massad's conduct is not representative of the Middle East department, which he termed "usually balanced."
A review committee appointed by Bollinger in 2003 found no evidence that Columbia professors had expressed anti-Israeli views or intimidated students identified as pro-Israel.
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