Middle East studies in the News
Soft on anti-Semitism
by Ryan Sager
COLUMBIA University is about to host yet another apparent anti-Semite. But President Lee Bollinger is still bent on saving his school's image — rather than grappling with its real problems.
On Feb. 10, Columbia's Heyman Center for the Humanities will host a talk by Tom Paulin, an Irish poet infamous for telling an Arab paper that Brooklyn-born Israeli settlers "should be shot dead . . . they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them."
Paulin also says that Israel has no right to exist and that he resigned from Britain's Labor Party because it was "Zionist."
In its defense, Columbia notes that Paulin will only be part of a panel discussing 18th century statesman Edmund Burke. "This has nothing to do with contemporary politics," says Columbia spokeswoman Katherine Moore. "We don't condone anti-Semitic behavior or expression of any kind."
Ariel Beery, an undergrad who's been a leader on this issue, sees it differently, saying: "Columbia would never invite a speaker who called for the killing of African-Americans or homosexuals."
All this follows a deluge of evidence of intolerance in Columbia's Department of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures.
But Bollinger doesn't seem to be up to the task of turning back the tide of hate. The problem had gotten bad enough last year that he was obliged to set up a panel to look into the possibility of bias and intimidation in Columbia's classrooms. It came up with zilch.
Which became an embarrassment in November, when the student documentary "Columbia Unbecoming" was screened on campus. The film details abusive behavior by professors toward Jewish students — charges aired initially in The New York Sun.
One Jewish girl was allegedly told by a professor of Islamic civilization, George Saliba, that she had no business questioning his views because, "You have no claim to the land of Israel . . . You have green eyes. You're not a Semite. I have brown eyes. I'm a Semite."
Joseph Massad, an untenured professor of Arab politics, allegedly demanded of one Israeli student, "How many Palestinians have you killed?"
Bollinger's solution? Create another committee to look into the problem. This one is due to report late this month or early next. But the conflicts of interest faced by its five members are enough to make Kofi Annan's "investigation" of the U.N. Oil-for-Food scandal look like a model of independence:
Lisa Anderson, the dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, was Massad's thesis adviser — and was thanked in his book.
Anderson was also involved in the campaign that raised $4 million to endow the Edward Said Chair of Arab Studies. In that capacity, she defended the university's decision — in contravention of state and federal law — to initially withhold the names of the 20 contributors from the public. One $200,000 donation came from the government of the United Arab Emirates, which denies the Holocaust on state TV. Columbia hasn't returned the cash.
Mark Mazower, a professor of history, wrote in The Financial Times that America went to war in Iraq for the benefit of Israel and that Israel is to blame for global anti-Semitism.
Farah Jasmine Griffin and Jean Howard signed a divestment petition against Israel in 2002. Bollinger himself called that petition "both grotesque and offensive" for comparing Israel to South Africa.
Ira Katznelson was the interim vice president for Arts and Sciences when students first brought their complaints to the university's administration in the summer of last year — they say he ignored them.
The kicker, however, is the man who hand-picked the committee for Bollinger is Nick Dirks — whose wife co-teaches a class with Massad.
In short, there's not even a nod to the concept of balance here. It's likely to be a second straight whitewash — which won't cut it. Columbia's name will keep on soaking in the mud.
The rot in the school's Middle East studies program certainly predates Bollinger. But how he deals with the brooking-no-dissent anti-Israel ferment among his faculty will define his tenure as president.
"He needs to have more people, respected scholars of course, that would bring up other views," says Dan Miron, a professor of Hebrew literature at Columbia.
But adding variety to the faculty will take some time. Meanwhile, if Bollinger wants to know where he could get started, he should look at what Harvard's Lawrence Summers has done to clean house at his campus.
Where Bollinger refuses to let go of $200,000 donated by Arab hatemongers, Summers returned a gift of $2.5 million from the same exact source. That's how you start building credibility.
Another way would be to let the odious Tom Paulin know: He's not welcome.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
Campus Watch contact e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org