Middle East studies in the News
Search Committee for Israel Scholar Includes Two Harsh Critics of Israel
by Jacob Gershman
The search committee responsible for recruiting a scholar of Israeli studies to Columbia University includes one of the most outspoken critics of Israel in academia, as well as a faculty member who supported an anti-Israel divestment campaign on campus.
While the university was wrapping up its investigation of professors of Middle Eastern studies accused of intimidating Jewish students in the classroom, it announced last month that four of its trustees, David Stern, Mark Kingdon, Richard Witten, and Philip Milstein, had pledged $3 million to establish a chair in modern Israeli history, politics, and society.
The New York Sun has learned that the search committee for the chair is composed of five faculty members, two of whom have portrayed Israel as a gross abuser of human rights and an obstacle to Middle East peace. Those members are the director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, Rashid Khalidi, and an anthropology professor, Lila Abu-Lughod.
Mr. Khalidi and Ms. Abu-Lughod identify themselves as Palestinian and have been involved in Palestinian Arab activism.
Mr. Khalidi, for instance, speaking before a group of Arab-American activists in 2002, suggested that the Arab community could one day build a memorial in Washington dedicated to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948, using an Arabic translation of the word catastrophe to describe Israel's founding. He has also described Israel's policies toward Palestinians as racist.
Ms. Abu-Lughod in November 2002 delivered at the campus's Lerner Hall student center a speech in which she condemned Israel and urged Columbia's administration to divest the university of holdings in companies that manufacture engines for Israeli helicopters and bulldozers used by the Israeli military.
"We need the pressure of the international community to persuade Israel to seek a different solution than occupation of the Palestinian territories and the inhuman treatment of civilians that has accompanied this," she said, according to a transcript.
Ms. Abu-Lughod's father, Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, was a Palestinian Arab activist and scholar.
While Columbia officials say planning for the chair predated this year's controversy over the Middle Eastern studies professors, Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, has pointed to the professorship as evidence of Columbia's commitment to the study of Israel. The announcement of the chair - along with news of a rotating visiting professorship from Israel - has also helped to mollify Jewish alumni concerned about the level of anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
No committee member has veto power over any candidate approved or rejected through a majority vote.
A research associate at the Dayan Center of Tel Aviv University who has closely followed developments at Columbia, Martin Kramer, said, however, that the inclusion of Ms. Abu-Lughod and Mr. Khalidi would probably narrow the range of acceptable scholars to those who are "left-of-center to the far left in the Israeli political spectrum."
"Obviously, their interest will be driving the search in the direction of a 'post-Zionist,' " Mr. Kramer said. Post-Zionists argue that Israel should move beyond the ideal of the Jewish state.
The committee also includes a political-science scholar, Ira Katznelson; a Hebrew literature professor, Dan Miron, and a sociologist, Karen Barkey, who is a specialist on the Ottoman Empire.
Ms. Abu-Lughod did not respond to requests from the Sun to comment for this article. Mr. Khalidi has said he will not speak to the Sun.
Mr. Katznelson and Mr. Miron both played major roles in this year's controversy over accusations against faculty members in the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures. Mr. Katznelson was chairman of the committee appointed by Mr. Bollinger to investigate the complaints by Jewish students against the faculty members, which, in a report issued last month, mostly cleared the professors of any wrongdoing. Mr. Miron, a member of the department, was one of the few Columbia scholars who publicly defended the students.
The chairman of the search committee, Michael Stanislawski, a scholar of Jewish history, said the committee members were not chosen based on their politics, but on their scholarship and "interest in Israel."
Likewise, he said, the committee would judge applicants for the professorship based on their "academic qualities."
Mr. Stanislawski; the university provost, Alan Brinkley, and the vice president for arts and sciences, Nicholas Dirks, consulted on the formation of the committee, Mr. Stanislawski said. Mr. Dirks's name was included on an online list of divestment signatories early in the campaign, but was later removed from the Web site.
Mr. Stanislawski said the committee, which met for the first time in late March, was relying on Ms. Abu-Lughod's "professionalism and expertise" and said Mr. Khalidi, who has applied for a professorship at Princeton University, "knows an enormous amount about Israel and Palestine."
The chair is named after the prominent Israeli historian Yosef Yerushalmi, longtime director of Columbia's Center for Israel and Jewish Studies. None of four men who endowed it could be reached for comment.
The deadline for applicants will be in mid-December and the committee hopes to make a decision on the appointment by next spring, Mr. Stanislawski said. The scholar could be teaching at Columbia as early as the fall of 2006 and would probably serve in the department of political science, sociology, or anthropology.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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