Middle East studies in the News
Law Prof Lashes Out in NYC
by Javier C. Hernandez
Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz delivered a fiery criticism of Columbia University's department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) on Monday, reprimanding faculty members for encouraging terrorists and thwarting peace efforts in the Middle East.
"The kind of hatred that one hears on campuses like Columbia, and let me say especially Columbia, is a barrier to peace," Dershowitz said at an appearance held at Columbia and sponsored by the Columbia Students for Israel and Columbians for Academic Freedom.
"[MEALAC professors] are encouraging the terrorists. They tell the terrorists you will have academic support even if you oppose the peace process," he said.
Dershowitz's comments came in response to widespread allegations of academic bias within Columbia's MEALAC department. Some allege that faculty members within the department have forced their pro-Palestinian views onto students inside the classroom.
Columbia has launched an internal investigation into the matter.
In an interview with The Crimson, Dershowitz stood by his remarks, calling the MEALAC department at Columbia the most "unbalanced" he has seen nationwide.
"There are some faculty members that are more extreme than Hamas, who would not even welcome a cease-fire, that believe the only answer is destruction of Israel by force," he said. "That view seems to dominate among the Middle East department at Columbia."
In the interview, Dershowitz called the situation at Columbia "unhealthy" and said that some professors in the MEALAC department are opposed to achieving a peaceful resolution in the Middle East.
"This is a time of great opportunity in the Middle East. It looks like Palestinians and Israelis are moving towards peace," Dershowitz said. "But on the Columbia campus, there are people on the Columbia faculty who would not agree to that peace."
Erol N. Gulay '05, co-founder and former president of Harvard's Palestine Solidarity Committee, took issue with Dershowitz's comments, calling them "unfair" and "unhelpful" in settling the arguments about the Middle East at Columbia and elsewhere.
"I think it will just polarize both sides even more," he said. "I don't think that criticism to the State of Israel is harmful to either side—I think it's helpful and constructive."
He said that although he did not attend the speech, he thought Dershowitz's comments did not coincide with mainstream opinions regarding the Israel-Palestine issue.
But Abby Deift, president of the Columbia-Barnard Hillel, said that Dershowitz's appearance "empowered" student groups and catalyzed debate at the university.
"I think his presence was extremely important in opening up a dialogue on campus," she said. "It created one model—not necessarily the model—on how to work through dialogue on a particularly contentious issue."
In the speech, Dershowitz also pledged to create a second, independent committee with no ties to Columbia if the school's own committee reaches what he considers a biased conclusion.
In January, Dershowitz publicly urged an investigation after learning of alleged classroom bias by Columbia MEALAC professor Joseph Massad. The allegations came to light in "Columbia Unbecoming," a film made by the David Project, a Boston-based Zionist advocacy group. Massad has been accused of asking a student to leave his classroom unless she supported his view on alleged atrocities committed by Israelis against Palestinians.
"A professor should be able to say whatever they want outside of the classroom—even inside the classroom, as long as they don't condition attendance on agreeing with a certain viewpoint," Dershowitz said.
Calls to Massad yesterday were not returned.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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