Campus Watch in the Media
Columbia University and the New Anti-Semitism
by M. Junaid Alam
Rape, massacre, theft, torture, ethnic cleansing: these are not crimes which nations can defend with ease - especially when unearthed by their own historians. Israel recently faced this most troubling predicament. Combing through declassified state archives, Israeli scholars of the past twenty years have discovered their nation was founded upon the mass expulsion and deliberate destruction of the native Palestinian people. (1) Israel, it turned out, was far more Goliath than David. Since this presented somewhat of a public relations problem for a state still engaged in brutalizing Palestinians and stealing their land, a new self-justifying rationale needed to be authored.
Enter the "new anti-Semitism." This doctrine turns reality on its head, declaring criticism of Israel's racist behavior to be itself racist "anti-Semitic." Empathy for Palestinians being beaten, bullied, and bulldozed out of existence, the doctrine goes, is nothing but some disguised expression of Jew-hatred. Goose-stepping Germans and uprooted Palestinians are portrayed as part of the same unbroken line of anti-Semitism, even though those inhabiting concentration camps today "the largest ever to exist," says Israeli historian Baruch Kimmerling - are the Palestinians themselves. (2) But no matter. Abusing the memory of Holocaust victims to shut down criticism of Israeli crimes crimes unearthed mostly by Jewish historians - may be obscene, but it is also effective.
Wielding this new ideological weapon, Israel's champions aim to cut down pro-Palestinian voices inside America with the same ruthlessness Israeli soldiers employ to shoot up Palestinian children outside their homes. (3) The latest targets in this well-organized hit are Arab-American professors at Columbia University who teach Middle Eastern studies. The targets have been judiciously selected. Since these particular professors are Arab in an age when bombing and torturing Arabs has virtually become a national sport, they make for easy prey; and since they have added to their original sin of being Arab the even graver sin of speaking the truth about Israel's past no less in a country which subsidizes Israel's existence - they also make for necessary prey.
In full accordance with "new anti-Semitism" modus operandi, the attacks paint the professors themselves as the attackers. With Orwellian brushstrokes, they are rendered as demons bent on "intimidating" Jewish students at the university. This much is to be expected. Less expected, however, is the almost embarrassing shoddiness of the trumped-up production. The wild charges made against the professors are so poorly substantiated and the political motives of the accusers so painfully transparent, one almost forgets that America's well-financed pro-Israel network has extensive experience in smearing its opponents. (4)
Curiously, the charges of "silencing" and "intimidation" first made waves when it was learned that the accusing students made their case on camera. They appeared in a short film, titled "Columbia Unbecoming", produced by a Boston-based group called the David Project. At this point it is both necessary and prudent to ask: what is the "David Project"?
At its website, the organization describes itself as "a grassroots initiative that promotes a fair and honest understanding of the Middle East conflict." A noble enough endeavor, no doubt. But a few lines later, we come to this: "We train people to be pro-active in their Israel advocacy" Another page offers for a fee, of course an intense three-hour ideological session titled "Making the Case for Israel." Searching for a "Making the Case for Palestine" program yields no results. Similarly, a look at the speaker's roster reveals many pro-Israeli speakers, but not a single pro-Palestinian. Perhaps most revealing is the text prefacing their speaker section: "For more information on how to bring our speakers to your synagogue, school, church, or community center, please call" (5) Apparently churches and synagogues are welcome, but mosques need not apply. One wonders why.
The site then goes on to describe what it considers to be a "fair and honest position": "The essence of the Middle East conflict is about Jewish existence and self-determination in the face of a hostile Arab world and radical Islamists." (6) Israel's own recent historians take a rather different view. Commenting on the founding of Israel, Senior Lecturer of Military History in the IDF Aryeh Yitzhaki says, "a generation has passed, and it is now possible to face the ocean of lies in which we were brought up. In almost every conquered village in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes." (7) Describing Zionism the founding ideology of Israel another Israeli historian, Tom Segev, writes: "'Disappearing' the Arabs lay at the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition of its existence. With few exceptions, none of the Zionists disputed the desirability of forced transfer - or its morality." (8)
Committing war crimes and disappearing people from their homes doesn't quite square well with pious rhetoric about "self-determination." But the folks at the David Project are free to cling to their pro-Israel political line. That they do so while pretending to be some kind of impartial educational group, however, speaks volumes. So much for "fairness" - and, even more so, "honesty."
Given the clear ideological orientation of the David Project, one is forced to ask the obvious: why would students claiming to be "intimidated" and "silenced" by their professors bypass all university channels, and rush headlong into the arms of a political front group? Looking at the film itself provides us some answers.
In this half-hour production featuring 14 students, only six present firsthand complaints; standing accused are professors Joseph Massad, George Saliba, and Hamid Dabashi. Complaints range from random flyering incidents having nothing to do with professors, to general ideological disagreements with what professors have written, to statements they allegedly made in person. No evidence is presented for any of the charges.
Columbia student Adam Sacarny wrote in the school's newspaper upon seeing the film: "Much like the electoral campaigns, it uses talking points in place of pesky verifiable facts," adding, "The film's case is so shoddy that I fail to see how any critical viewer could leave the theater convinced that [the department] has violated academic integrity standards." (9) Even the generally sympathetic Israeli daily Haaretz admits, "The movie fuses few solid examples of intimidation only some of which involved professors and the students they were teaching with generalized complaints of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements and behavior on campus." (10) And despite these students' claims of being "silenced," "intimidated," and "denied"(their own words), not one of them say their grades were affected. (11)
Joseph Massad. He is accused of making outlandish comments and exhibiting an extreme intolerance toward pro-Israeli views in class. Yet only one of the students in the film has even taken a course with the professor. Moreover, precisely none of them even majored in the "offending" department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. (12) But rest assured. The complaining students have other "qualifications."
One student shuttles back and forth from America to Israel to explain how to adjust the prefatory sales pitch for the film depending on the audience. (13) Another served in the Israeli military, which, according to events personally witnessed by former New York Times Middle East Bureau chief Chris Hedges, "entice[s] children like mice into a trap and murder[s] them for sport," and which also, according to a CIA study, acquires "data for use in silencing anti-Israel factions in the West" and engages in "sabotage, paramilitary and psychological warfare projects, such as character assassination and black propaganda." (14) Another complaining student who was a lead organizer for the film, Ariel Beery, boasts an impressive resume: he served as a spokesman for the Israeli military, is the head of the on-campus Zionist group, and is also an agent and informer for Daniel Pipes' notorious CampusWatch.org website, where students are encouraged to "report" their professors' political views if they are deemed insufficiently servile to the conservative party line. (15)
But this is not all. None of the targeted professors were even allowed a chance to rebut the charges on the film. The reason for this, according to David Project head Ralph Avi Goldwasser, in comments given to the Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post, is that "the film wasn't meant to be a documentary; it was merely an effort to collect students' testimony about classroom incidents." Unsurprisingly, the David Project is simply being dishonest (again), since it turns out that they deliberately ignored the voices of Jewish and non-Jewish students who found such "incidents" to be fabricated and had no problems with the targeted professors. Eric Posner, who describes himself as "a Jew, an Israeli, a Jerusalemite, and an American," reports that "I was approached last year by Ariel Beery who wanted to hear my opinion about MEALAC and Massad, whose class I was enrolled in at the time. When I expressed my profound appreciation for Massad's critical approach and the multiplicity of perspectives that he offers in his classroom, Beery told me that he wouldn't be calling me back for a taped interview." (16)
Posner also took it upon himself to gather some highly illuminating statements from other students who took Professor Massad's classes. Below are four:
By now the general picture is quite clear. An ideologically motivated clique of Zionist students, possessing no actual evidence of "intimidation" but infuriated upon hearing their fairy-tale version of Israeli history dismantled, teamed up with a pro-Israel political front group masquerading as educators to smear a few Arab professors as "anti-Semites" - conveniently excluding the opinion of those "Semites" who fully support their teachers and actually took classes with them.
More damning than the poverty and hollowness of the film, however, is the fact that it was even produced. After all, what kind of "victimized" students are able to summon to their command the financial and technical resources of something like the David Project? Moreover, how do such "victims" procure for themselves a $3 million dollar building on campus, a privilege no other Columbia group enjoys? (18) Claims to victimization a central feature in the reverse-reality trick known as "the new anti-Semitism" - are also completely discredited by the fact that viciously right-wing tabloids in New York, the Sun and the Daily News, have joined in on the attack against the professors, castigating them as "firebrands" and demanding they be fired. Prominent New York City politicians have also demanded that the professors be "investigated" if not fired outright. (19) Truly remarkable is the "victim" so well-endowed in assets and allies.
I do not mean to suggest, however, that these Zionist students have no understanding of intimidation or persecution - far from it. Indeed, they well know of a place where people are intimidated in extreme ways, often "ordered to urinate and execrate on one other," "beaten and ordered to crawl around;" a place where children are forced to clean their masters' latrines and are then taken into rooms to be beaten senseless, until "they cannot stand up"; where passengers are pulled from cars and then "beaten with rifle butts and helmets"; where pregnant women are prevented from reaching hospitals; where the masters refer to the slaves as a "cancer" requiring "chemotherapy" or "amputation" where in essence, people are treated far worse than anything these students claim to have undergone. (20)
The "where" is occupied Palestine, the people being brutalized are Palestinians, and those doing the brutalizing are Zionists. Here is where millions of natives suffer under military occupation imposed by Israeli soldiers - at least 20% of whom "join the army with the preconception that Arab lives are worth less than Jewish lives, " according to Israeli Major General Elazar Stern. (21) Here is where unarmed 13 year-old girls can be shot twice "from close range at [the] head" and then "sprayed with automatic gunfire" afterwards without penalty. (22) Here is where real, actual, tangible "intimidation" and "silencing" takes place. And here is where our whining Zionists at Columbia could go and learn an object lesson in what intimidation is all about if only they were not preoccupied with endorsing it.
To resist this colonization of our compassion, to re-cultivate our resistance against those who believe in the "compassion" of colonization these are the pressing demands of the hour. How vigorously we respond to these demands will determine whether those bruised, beaten children of Palestine will ultimately receive some respite from their inhumane condition, or instead find themselves further abused by the silent whip of indifference. In their eyes we will read either the redemption or indictment of the moral standing of our own country.
M. Junaid Alam, 22, is co-editor of the radical youth journal Left Hook (http://www.lefthook.org), and a student at Northeastern University.
1. The Israeli historians who have gone through some of the state's massive archives of the pre-war and war period of 1947-9 sometimes refer to themselves as 'new historians.' They include Simha Flapan, Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Tanya Reinhart, Ilan Pappe, and many others. I would recommended as an introduction The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, edited by Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim, which contains a number of 'new historian' essays.
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