Middle East studies in the News
Weiner: Disband Columbia Bias Panel
by Liel Leibovitz
Stepping up his denunciation of Columbia's handling of the controversy engulfing its Middle East studies department, Rep. Anthony Weiner called on the university to "disband" the committee looking into charges that Jewish students were intimidated by Arab professors in the department.
The call, the first by a public official urging an end to the committee, was made Sunday at a heated daylong conference at Columbia on how the Middle East conflict is taught at American universities and comes as the committee is less than a week away from revealing its findings.
The committee, which is expected to release its final report on March 16, has been taking testimony from students, faculty and others for several weeks.
Weiner, the Democratic mayoral hopeful who represents Brooklyn in Congress, said "free speech does not come without equal part responsibility. There is a rise of anti-Semitism that is almost indisputable on college campuses. We have a rise of anti-Semitism here in New York. It is our responsibility to stand up when free speech is used for intimidation."
Weiner also disclosed that he pressured New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to dismiss Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi from a program instructing the city's teachers on how to address issues pertaining to Middle East studies. Khalidi is not among the professors mentioned in "Columbia Unbecoming," the film in which Jewish students allege that they and others were intimidated by pro-Palestinian professors in the Middle East studies department, touching off the widespread conflict. Weiner has called for the firing of one of the professors implicated in the film, Joseph Massad.
Joining Weiner in pressuring Columbia for an independent investigation were David Weprin, chair of the City Council's Finance Committee, and Council Speaker Gifford Miller. Both urged the university to investigate allegations made in the film by Jewish students.
Miller, in a statement read by an aide, cited a letter written several months ago by members of the City Council advising Columbia University President Lee Bollinger that City Hall was closely watching the issue.
"We will not accept a whitewash," the aide said.
The conference, titled "The Middle East and Academic Integrity on the American Campus" and sponsored by several Jewish organizations, featured lectures from academics, activists and politicians pertaining to the ways in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reflected in American universities.
The auditorium, a brightly lit room at the business school, was packed with some 250 people, with at least 100 more in an overflow room close by. In a sign of how sensitive the conference topic was, everyone in attendance was subjected to heavy security, including magnetometer checks. The crowd was composed mainly of middle-aged Jews of diverse backgrounds.
At the outset, the audience listened patiently as the speakers repeated similar messages, mainly stressing the need for Jewish activists and the Jewish community at large to remain vigilant against increasing manifestations of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Notable among the presentations were Laurie Zoloth, a professor at Northwestern University, and Natan Sharansky, the Israeli minister of diaspora affairs, both speaking via satellite.
Zoloth gave a thoughtful talk about the anti-Semitic undertones of the American left. A bioethicist and a prominent figure in the 1960s student movement, she witnessed a slew of anti-Semitic attacks at San Francisco State University in 2002.
"There is a renewed sense of permission to speak anti-Semitism," Zoloth said.
Sharansky said "in an academic debate, when only one point of view is presented, that is extremely dangerous." In a clear reference to the situation at Columbia, he added, "then it's propaganda, brainwashing — something I know very well."
Sharansky, a former prisoner in the Soviet Union, toured several dozen American colleges last year and has spoken extensively about what he sees as unbalanced teaching on the Middle East conflict.
Soon after Sharansky spoke, the tone of the conference shifted drastically.
In an emotional address, Phyllis Chesler, emerita professor at the College of Staten Island and author most recently of a book titled "The New Anti-Semitism," equated anti-Israel activists on Duke University's campus with both the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis. (Duke hosted a pro-Palestinian rally in the fall that attracted criticism from pro-Israel activists.)
Chesler dubbed Palestinian terrorists "Islamikaze," a pun on the Japanese kamikaze suicide pilots in World War II. She also accused Islam of "gender cleansing" against women, as well as of apartheid.
When Chesler defended Israel's actions regarding the 2002 battle in Jenin, one woman in the audience shouted, "We should have bombed them from the start," referring to the Palestinian residents of Jenin.
"We should have killed them all," a man yelled.
Another man in the audience, who turned out to be a member of the leftist group Jews Against the Occupation, rose to ask a question, prefacing his remarks by saying that he had once been shot by the Israeli army.
He was drowned out by a sea of invectives.
"Too bad they missed," shouted a young man with a denim shirt.
Another man added, "They should have shot you in the head."
Members of the press, who sat in an easily recognizable section of the room, were not immune from the harsh words.
Several reporters were approached numerous times by angry audience members demanding that they identify themselves.
"I want to know who you are," one man told a freelance reporter, wagging his finger near the reporter. "I want to see how your obvious bias affects your reporting."
The Jewish Week's reporter was approached with similar demands for identification and was flash-photographed repeatedly by a woman in the audience. When asked to stop, the woman said, "We're taking pictures of you. We want to know who you are."
A New York Times photographer, taking photos of the silenced dissenter from Jews Against the Occupation leaving the room, was surrounded by a large group of people telling her to put down her camera.
"You have no right to do this," one woman yelled, waving her hand in the photographer's face.
Another man said, "It's our event, not his. Don't distort it like the Times always does."
The photographer left the auditorium.
Charles Jacobs, founder of the David Project, one of the event's sponsors and the man behind the "Columbia Unbecoming" documentary, called Jewish critics of the film, including some Columbia professors, "Marranos of Morningside Heights," a derogatory reference to Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid the Spanish Inquisition.
Jacobs added that Middle East departments in the United States are controlled by two trends: Palestinianism and Saidism, named after the late, controversial Columbia Professor Edward Said, a champion of the Palestinian cause.
Palestinianism, Jacobs said, "is a cult that obscures any credible academics regarding Israel. It's a highly cultivated weapon of mass distraction."
Saidism, on the other hand, is a "gag order on Westernism that enforces silence," he said.
Immediately following the speech by Jacobs, in which he introduced a small band of black Sudanese to talk about their torture by Arabs, the documentary was screened. As the film, which has gone through a number of edits, ended, a few students featured in it spoke.
Ariel Beery, the driving force behind the documentary, began by expressing his objection to many of the heated sentiments expressed both from the podium and by the crowd. He stressed the importance of a levelheaded and serious academic debate and denounced brash, hateful comments of any kind.
Beery was booed.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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