Middle East studies in the News
The Complaint Against Rashid Khalidi
by Elizabeth O'Neill
Editor's Note: UPDATE 6-21-05 New information has come to light since we originally went to press with this story. It now turns out that there has been conflicting information on whether or not Professor Khalidi was the author of the article posted under his byline on the website of the American Committee for Jerusalem (which is now defunct, though the news part of the website remains active). The president of the successor organization, the American Task Force on Palestine, Ziad J. Asali, reportedly told the New York Sun newspaper that Professor Khalidi was the author of the article. But on June 20, 2005 the executive editor of the organization stated in an email to HNN that Professor Khalidi was not the author. Professor Khalidi himself says that he was not the author and he is no longer listed as the author. This is the email we were sent:
The byline to the 'Jerusalem, A Concise History' article was changed from 'By Rashid Khalidi' to 'Compiled by ACJ from a variety of sources' for the simple reason that at the time of its 2001 posting, an ACJ staffer had mistakenly attributed the article to Dr. Khalidi. Dr. Khalidi had only contributed to the article at the time and was mistakenly given full accreditation for it. Even though Dr. Khalidi was president of the board of directors of the ACJ at the time, he was not involved in any way in posting articles on, or making changes to the ACJ website, nor in supervising day-to-day activities of the ACJ. The mistake escaped unnoticed until it was brought to our attention in May 2005 as a result of the plagiarism contention. That was when the byline change was made to correct the error. In addition, the ACJ website itself has been inactive since early 2003 after the organization was dissolved. The only section of the website still active is the section that holds the news archive.
Our original story:
An historian who remains anonymous has alleged in an email picked up by HNN (see below) that an online piece that for four years carried the byline of Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and former President of the American Committee for Jerusalem, contained plagiarized material. The article, "Jerusalem, A Concise History," was posted on February 27, 2001 at the website of the American Committee for Jerusalem, an organization that has since become the American Task Force on Palestine. Key phrases and sentences in the article appear to have been taken from a 1994 article by the late Kamil Jamil el Asali of the University of Jordan.
Khalidi denies responsibility for the piece. "I did not write the item in question, and have never claimed it as my own work. It was a compilation that was mistakenly attributed to me by the defunct website of a defunct organization," he wrote in an email.
The allegations are complicated by disputes over what constitutes plagiarism on the Internet and by ideological tensions over the article's content, which deals with the origins of the Palestinian people. In an email sent to HNN, the anonymous historian says that a search for "silly statements about national continuity between the ancient Philistines, Jebusites, or Canaanites and modern Palestinian Arabs" led her to the article in question. Khalidi, for his part, sees the anonymous historian's accusations as "part of a systematic, organized campaign of smears and harassment against faculty in the Middle East field." Columbia University recently completed an investigation into student complaints of anti-Israel bias against several faculty in the Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures department. Khalidi was not one of the professors under investigation.
Upon discovering the article, the anonymous historian " phoned a colleague on the Columbia faculty with the suggestion that she take it to Dean Quigley, the ordinary procedure in cases of plagiarism." But the colleague referred her to Appendix E of the Columbia University Faculty Handbook, which states, "In the event that the committee should find that an individual or individuals have made charges against a researcher for malicious reasons, or were otherwise not acting in good faith in making such charge, the dean will take appropriate action." This worried her. She reports that she felt intimidated.
The anonymous historian's email conveys her reaction: "Suppose a scholar not only believes in the right of Israel to exist––Khalidi denies the Jewish nation this right––but further believes, as many scholars do, that Khalidi's work is replete with half-truths and the selective use of evidence to make a political case against the Jewish State. Such a scholar might prefer to see an opponent of the existence of Israel take a fall. Is that malicious?"
She turned next to what she referred to as a "a major metropolitan daily," which Khalidi identified as the New York Sun––and which he derided as "a paper which prints perhaps 5000 copies and sells practically none, and which cannot be called ‘major,' by any sense of the word." He added, "I would doubt the judgement of any ‘historian' who describes it as such." The reporter at the Sun began researching the story by contacting a plagiarism expert, who, says the anonymous historian, called the article "a clear case of plagiarism." He also attempted unsuccessfully to contact Khalidi and the American Committee for Jerusalem. Before he could do more, however, his editor called off the story because of questions about whether the article, as "merely an occasional piece on a web site," according to the anonymous historian, should have to follow the same standards as those that appear in printed journals or periodicals. Khalidi characterized the Sun's decision not to run the story as a move made in a "rare fit of sanity," but he wrote that he shared their view that the online article fell into an area that did not necessarily follow the rules of printed works: "it was never ‘published' in any real sense of the word," Khalidi wrote.
By the time the anonymous historian brought her allegations to another journalist, Khalidi's byline had been removed from the ACJ website. In its place is a note reading, "Compiled by ACJ from a variety of sources." Lee Kaplan of Frontpagemag.com, who refers to the anonymous historian as "a friend," wrote a story on the allegations in which he suggested that the removal of the byline was a cover-up. Solomonia.com said such a change, which occurred without explanation, is "considered bad form on the internet" but made no further judgement.
That the plagiarism allegations have attracted attention at all concerns Khalidi. He wrote, "I am distressed that anyone is taking this canard seriously."
Statement by the Anonymous Emailer
Rashid Khalidi, Plagiarism, and Me
I was fishing. Googling for silly statements about national continuity between the ancient Philistines, Jebusites, or Canaanites and modern Palestinian Arabs when I came upon this:
"According to a number of historians and scholars, many of the Arabs of Jerusalem today, indeed the majority of Palestinian Arabs, are descendants of the ancient Jebusites and Canaanites."
The byline read Rashid Khalidi. Whoa.
The article was posted on the web page of the American Committee of Jerusalem. I wanted a better reference than a web page, so I googled a particularly absurd phrase: The simple fact is that the majority of the Arab people of Palestine are not descendants of those that arrived as part of the wave of Islamic-Arab conquest in the seventh century.
The search produced a nearly identical sentence, but this one was from a 1994 article on the history of Jerusalem written by the late Kamil Jamil el Asali of the University of Jordan. [i] The two articles share more than bad scholarship. They are alike. Very alike. Like, plagiarism.
Entire sentences appear in both articles:
"The names of the two oldest rulers of the city, Saz Anu and Yaqir Ammo, were identified by the American archaeologist W. F. Albright as Amoritic."
Khalidi uses the same sources and quotations used by Asali.
Finally, Khalidi condenses Asali's analysis, lifting strings of phrases from Asali to make the same point.
In the second millenium BC, Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites, a Canaanite tribe, and the culture of the city was Canaanite. The Jebusites built a fortress, "Zion", in Jerusalem. Zion is a Canaanite word meaning "hill" or "height." Jerusalem was also known as Jebus. Canaanite society flourished for two thousand years, and many aspects of Canaanite culture and religion were later borrowed by the Hebrews.
In the second millennium, Jerusalem was inhabited by the Jebusites. In the Bible the Jebusites are considered to be Canaanites. It was the Jebusites who first built the fortress Zion in the town. Zion is a Canaanite word which means "hill" or "height."
True, the Khalidi article was not in a refereed journal. It was on a web page. But it was the web page of the American Committee on Jerusalem, an organization of which Khalidi was President when the article was published in 2001 and for some years before and afterwards. [ii] The President of an organization is certainly responsible for articles published by that organization under his byline. Even on a web page.
I phoned a colleague on the Columbia faculty with the suggestion that she take it to Dean Quigley, the ordinary procedure in cases of plagiarism. She immediately pointed me to Appendix E in the Faculty Handbook. The relevant section reads:
"In the event that the committee should find that an individual or individuals have made charges against a researcher for malicious reasons, or were otherwise not acting in good faith in making such charge, the dean will take appropriate action." [iii]
Suppose a scholar not only believes in the right of Israel to exist – Khalidi denies the Jewish nation this right – but further believes, as many scholars do, that Khalidi's work is replete with half-truths and the selective use of evidence to make a political case against the Jewish State. Such a scholar might prefer to see an opponent of the existence of Israel take a fall. Is that malicious? If it were your career on the line, would you take the risk of making a complaint that others might characterize as maliciously motivated when the Faculty Handbook directs the Dean to "take appropriate action" in such an instance?
Call me a coward.
I sent both articles to a reporter at a major metropolitan daily. The reporter first contacted a plagiarism expert, who called it a clear case of plagiarism. He then phoned Rashid Khalidi, who refused to return the call. And he contacted the American Committee on Jerusalem, told them he was doing a story on plagiarism in the Khalidi article, and asked for a comment. Then his editor killed the story, on the grounds that the plagiarized article was merely an occasional piece on a web site. Not in a printed periodical. Some of these print guys haven't noticed yet that the world has changed.
I contacted a reporter at another paper, who told me that there was no Khalidi byline on the article. I went to the web page. Sure enough. The byline has disappeared. Someone at the ACJ changed the byline to read "Compiled by ACJ from a variety of sources." [iv]
For such situations does Wayback Machine exist. Entering the original URL[v] into this time travel machine[vi] reveals that the article with the plagiarized material was posted with the byline "by Rashid Khalidi" by Feb. 27th 2001, and remained on the site under that byline for four years during much of which time Khalidi continued to serve as President of the ACJ. I found it there on May 10, 2005.
Will somebody please tell Dean Quigley.
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