Middle East studies in the News
Columbia prof in
by Douglas Feiden
Joseph Massad compares Jews to Nazis, Israeli politicians to Gestapo exterminators and Zionists to white supremacists and European racists.
He believes "Israeli torturers" on the U.S. payroll may be brutalizing Iraqis - and that the Nazis were "a pedagogical model for the Israeli Army."
A constant theme: "Zionism has always been predicated on anti-Semitism, and on an alliance between Zionists and anti-Semitic imperialists."
Meet the angry Columbia University professor in the eye of the storm over charges that Jewish and pro-Israel students have been intimidated, bullied or ridiculed by faculty on campus.
The 41-year-old, Jordanian-born Palestinian was slammed by a five-member faculty panel that probed the allegations for failing "to show respect for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from" his own.
A report released March 31 criticized him for telling a Jewish student, "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!" Massad has denied making the statement.
But four days after he was said to have violated university standards, Massad got a standing ovation, sustained for minutes, from 400 teachers and students when he stepped on stage at a Low Library teach-in and attacked the panel as "illegitimate," saying it had caved in to outside pressure.
The applause was for an assistant professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history who has become a national symbol of Arab rage on campus - and a lightning rod for the critics of Israel-bashing in Columbia's Mideastern studies department.
But Massad has also written numerous academic articles on a variety of Mideast topics, a critically acclaimed book, "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan," and the soon-to-be-published "Desiring Arabs."
He teaches courses ranging from Civilizations of the Middle East and India to Culture in the Modern Arab World to Gender and Sexuality in the Arab World.
Asked for comment on the controversy enveloping him, Massad told the Daily News, "No, no, no! I don't have an interest in talking to you. Goodbye."
Approached outside his home off campus, he angrily snapped, "I will call the police, I am going to call the police."
Then he covered his face with a big black briefcase in an effort to block a News lensman from taking his picture.
Massad, who is on a seven-year tenure track, is undergoing a fifth-year review of his scholarship by an academic panel in a process that, if he survives, could lead to a tenure award in 2007.
The review process is closed and involves a searching examination of a candidate's writings and teachings. Among Massad's more controversial writings are:
A 2003 article in the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, in which he argues that Israel is a "racist Jewish state," the creation of the "foundational racism of Zionism."
Summing up what he calls the "ultimate achievement of Israel," Massad says it is the "transformation of the Jew into the anti-Semite, and the Palestinian into the Jew."
An article earlier this year in the scholarly journal Cultural Critique, in which he echoes his favorite theme: Israeli violence against Palestinians mirrors Nazi violence against Jews.
"His ideas may have a place ... but it's the way he expresses them that amounts to abuse of power over his students," said Ariel Beery, a senior who is student president of the School of General Studies.
Others see Massad as a victim of outside groups.
"Well-funded, right-wing organizations, media outlets and pro-Israel activists are intent on silencing the critics of Israel in academia," according to a statement from Stop McCarthyism at Columbia, a student group that champions Massad.
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