Middle East studies in the News
Dershowitz Speaks On MEALAC, Israeli State
by Morgan Sellers
The accusations against Columbia's Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures department and the tensions surrounding the issue were on clear display yesterday afternoon as Alan Dershowitz addressed a packed house in Lerner Cinema.
Dershowitz, the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard University, is a civil libertarian lawyer best known for defending high profile clients like O.J. Simpson in his murder trial. He also wrote numerous books including The New York Times bestsellers Chutzpah and The Case for Israel.
Yesterday's event was sponsored by Columbia Students for Israel; Koleinu, Columbia Law School's Israel advocacy club; the New York Roundtable; and Columbians for Academic Freedom.
Dershowitz's talk was a critique of the current allegations of intimidation and academic bias at Columbia as well as a defense of Israel. It was also an open commentary on the recent MEALAC debate, in which he staunchly defended students rights, warned against anti-Zionism as well as anti-Semitism, and criticized the overall atmosphere for Middle East issues on Columbia's campus.
"The prospects for peace in Israel itself are greater than they would be on this campus," he said. "People who deride Israel as a racist, apartheid, Nazi state ... those are not just rhetorical statements, they are barriers for peace—they encourage the terrorists."
He criticized the position expressed in a panel held last week by Joseph Massad, assistant MEALAC professor, who argued against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "I do not believe that those who advocate it genuinely believe that a one-state solution would create a secular binational democratic state," he said. "The demographics are such that a ‘secular binational' state would certainly become yet another state with Jews serving, if they could at all, as second class citizens."
Dershowitz also said that the line between anti-Zionism—the trigger of the events described in Columbia Unbecoming, a film made by the Boston based David Project documenting student testimonials regarding the academic bias of certain professors— and anti-Semitism was not clear, and that the two are related.
"This [Israeli] administration is moving toward peace," he said. "One would expect to see ... that the amount of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism in the world and our college campuses, and even the amount of anti-Zionism would be reduced dramatically. It's not happening."
While Dershowitz acknowledged that he did not have first hand knowledge of the current allegations of intimidation and academic bias, he criticized both the specific allegations that have been brought forth in recent months, as well as the overall makeup of the department, which has a reputation of being pro-Palestinian.
"Columbia University is failing to educate its students in the nuances of the situation," he said. "There is no alternative perspective presented to the students on this campus."
He encouraged students to cooperate with the ad hoc committee established by the University to investigate the allegations, but urged students not to accept "biased" results. If the committee returned with a decision that was "affected by the ideological makeup" of the members, he suggested the creation of a second committee composed of individuals with no connection to Columbia.
Throughout his talk, Dershowitz emphasized that discriminatory statements against supporters of Israel should be treated like those pitted against any other group, such as females, African-Americans, or gay students.
"A teacher is not entitled to discriminate based on the viewpoint of the student in the classroom," he said. Dershowitz went on to sharply criticize a letter sent by the New York Civil Liberties Union that defended the academic freedom of professors.
After the talk, Dershowitz said he welcomed the "tough questions," and opened the floor to audience members who wished to speak. A number of students criticized the speaker for his controversial views on torture. In 2003 he published a book entitled Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge, in which he argued in defense of "regulated" torture given that it exists in the world.
One of the students, holding a sign that read "torture defender not welcome," argued for the presence of a pro-Palestinian perspective at Columbia. "I find it refreshing when the minority view gets a center place on this campus," she said.
But Dershowitz maintained his position, saying "this is the most unbalanced university I have come across when it comes to issues related to the Middle East."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.
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