Middle East studies in the News
by Dennis Schmelzer
For evidence of academic bias at Columbia, one need not ask The David Project or Columbians for Academic Freedom. More telling are the writings of those who attack these groups. In one such Spectator op-ed, Deena Guzder, a junior majoring in human rights and political science, sought to discredit Charles Jacobs of The David Project by lamenting that Jacobs did not recognize the legitimacy of professors teaching that "the Jews slaughtered Arabs in Jenin." Such criticism was illegitimate, she asserted, since "[d]ozens of human rights groups have documented the Jenin killings." Guzder continued that she "would be equally infuriated if some Arab-centric individual equated teaching students that the Germans slaughtered Jews in Auschwitz to anti-German provocation and pro-Jewish propaganda." These assertions, by a human rights major at that, should prompt serious academics to question the extent of serious scholarship of human rights on this campus.
There is a reason that I have never taken a class with professor Massad. Having heard numerous stories about his classroom behavior and comparisons of Jenin with the Holocaust, I simply decided to avoid him rather than see if they were true. Yet now, seeing how his students echo these comparisons as if they are beyond doubt, I refuse to remain silent.
Stories about Massad's classroom behavior are not merely hearsay: they have been verified by recent Ad Hoc Committee Report, which found credible that Massad "became angered at a question that he understood to countenance Israeli conduct of which he disapproved, and that he responded heatedly." As the report continues, "Angry criticism directed at a student in class because she disagrees, or appears to disagree, with a faculty member on a matter of substance is not consistent with the obligation ‘to show respect for the rights of others to hold opinions differing from their own.'"
Few deny professor Massad's right to discuss what he believes are Israeli atrocities. Yet what is at question, given the faculty handbook requirement that faculty "make every effort to be accurate," is his right to uncritically present his beliefs as if they were facts beyond doubt.
In reality, Israeli "killings" and "atrocities" at Jenin are not beyond doubt. For proof, one need only look at the United Nations Report pursuant to General Assembly resolution ES-10/10, which investigated the claims of all involved parties, including the documentation of all human rights groups involved, and found no evidence of a massacre. I can only guess that it is the United Nations' close ties with American neoconservatives that convince Massad its conclusions are not worth mention.
Even less understandable is Massad's failure to point out that many of the human rights organizations that initially published claims of a massacre later rescinded such claims. The final report of one such group, for instance, read, "Human Rights Watch Found no Evidence to Sustain Claims of Massacres or Large-Scale Extrajudicial Executions by the IDF in Jenin Refugee Camp." Citing a Palestinian death toll of 52, it noted that 22 were identified as civilians and that at least 27 were "armed Palestinians belonging to movements such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades." Moreover, HRW documents that "Palestinian gunmen in the camp endangered civilians by using it as a base for planning and launching attacks, planting explosives in the camp and intermingling with civilians." Not only were these claims left out of Massad's lectures; they were also the source of his classroom rage. To think that students would dare rely on Human Rights Watch to question the mighty professor Massad!
At its basis, comparing 22 civilian deaths out of Jenin's estimated population of 14,000 to the Nazi liquidation of European Jewry is not only academically dishonest; it is patently offensive as well. As the son of a Holocaust survivor and the grandson of a victim of Bergen Belson, I should know. The Anti-Defamation League confirms this notion, emphasizing that using the terms "massacre" and "war crimes" for Jenin "renders those terms meaningless and serves only to undercut the goals of the human rights movement."
Clearly, Massad's class is self-selective: most who realize how offensive his comparisons are, and how he treats those that disagree, will avoid his class at all costs. In the end, that leaves a class in which most students agree with Massad's views before they even enter the classroom. Once in class, it is clear that such students will not have their preconceived notions seriously challenged.
As Guzder writes, "At Columbia, I expect my preconceived notions to be rigorously challenged in an honorable spirit of scholarly inquiry. I certainly do not pay over $40,000 a year to hear my established convictions parroted by tiptoeing professors." She is right. So after three years of study without having their convictions rigorously challenged, students like Guzder certainly deserve their money back.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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