Middle East studies in the News
Intellectual Diversity Needed at Columbia
New York Sun
Columbia's MEALAC problems are symptomatic of a complex of ideas that form a prevalent ideology in the academy - so-called "anti-Zionism," a conception whose legitimacy I challenge. The extreme attention to and demonization of the Jewish state above all others can only be understood in the context of anti-Semitism. Zionism is an historical term for the national liberation movement of the Jews. Today, there are Jews and there is the Jewish state, whose right to exist and whose actions should be judged as any other state. "Anti-Zionism," by judging Jews by different standards and by failing to accept their nation-state's legitimacy, is a modern incarnation of anti-Semitism.
"Anti-Zionism," therefore, is defined as the hatred of an ideology, which is permitted, while anti-Semitism is the hatred of a people, which is not. Middle Eastern studies departments are populated by ideological third-world anti-Americans who were hired to function as the avatars of this secular religion. They cannot be challenged for these views nor for their scholarly deficiencies, when present - such attempts only confer upon them the status of martyr. Homogeneity of views is the rule in humanities and social sciences departments; such homogeneity, in general, leads to smugness, which escalates to arrogance, and then produces intolerance and harassment of those who disagree.
Our March 6 symposium was scheduled for Columbia professors to encourage meaningful reform. We do not endorse any attempt to fire or restrict the freedom of expression of those with whom we disagree. The solution to the problem of bias, intolerance, and harassment in MEALAC can only come via the introduction of greater intellectual diversity.
NEIL S. SHACHTER, M.D.
Columbia Conference Coverage
Re: "Activist Says Audience Members Threatened Him at Columbia Talk," New York Desk, March 8, 2005. The New York Sun's second article on the historic conference that took place at Columbia on March 6 has now provided American-born Palestinian activist Zaid Khalil with the platform he sought but failed to get at the conference. Mr. Khalil and his comrades were persistently disruptive. They yelled false but provocative accusations as I spoke about the "Palestiniazation of the Academy;" they continually hissed, booed, and took noisy cell phone calls from whoever else might have been involved in their "actzion." I, and the speakers who followed me, especially Charles Jacobs and the four African speakers from Sudan and Mauritania who had been colonized and/or literally enslaved by ethnic Arab Muslims, remained unfailingly polite even as Mr. Khalil and his supporters tried to maintain tension and to destroy a rather dignfied but passionate educational atmosphere. In response, people called out for him to be quiet.
Mr. Khalil and his group did not wait to ask questions. They were not interested in honest dialogue. They left, not because they were threatened or even felt threatened, but because their mission had been to create a disturbance and when they could not do so during the conference they decided to do it afterwards, in the media, with this false "threat" allegation. Mr. Khalil also cursed me personally. He called me a "bitch." His female companion thought this was unwise since they feared I might publish it in an article and post it on my Web site. Thus, in a handwritten note, which I have, Mr. Khalil apologized for doing so but said he spoke this way "because he was raised in a sexist country aka as the United States."
As one of the co-sponsors of the "Columbia Conference on the Middle East and Academic Integrity," I have found coverage of this conference lacking important facts. Several important talks were not mentioned. Professor Ephraim Karsh of the University of London discussed the use of phony footnotes and false references by so-called Mideast scholars to "prove" their anti-Israel allegations. Terrorism expert Rachel Ehrenfeld exposed the fact that Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries fund many Mideast programs and professors facilitating a powerful bias against Israel. And a paper by Susan Tuchman, Director of ZOA's Center for Law and Justice, was presented focusing on a recent 11-page complaint, filed by ZOA, to the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education showing that the University of California/Irvine has failed to ensure Jewish students an environment that is safe and free from intimidation and discrimination in violation of Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. Because of ZOA's complaint, the Office of Civil Rights has begun an investigation.
Sadly, our experience is that the problem at Columbia exists at colleges around the country. After this conference, we have received calls from students at six other colleges asking us for help.
MORTON A. KLEIN
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