Middle East studies in the News
Hatemonger U? [on Joseph Massad]
Columbia University is about to give tenure to an anti-Israel extremist. Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics, has a history of shouting down his students. He compares Jews to Nazis and bizarrely accuses Israel of "anti-Semitism" for its treatment of the Palestinians. (Massad is a Palestinian.) In a course description, he describes his class on Israeli-Arab relations as "not balanced."
Why does this ivory-tower controversy matter? After 9/11, we simply can't leave Middle East studies to partisans. We need genuine scholars to train future diplomats, analysts and officers. The government and the press rely on professors to explain events in the Arab world.
Of course, Columbia has long been home to anti-Israel scholars. Edward Said, who taught there until his death in 2003, spent more time worrying about "US imperialism" and "Zionism" than on injustices such as terrorism and the oppression of women and religious minorities in Arab societies. Most recently, Columbia's sister school, Barnard, tenured Nadia Abu El-Haj, who called the ancient Jewish kingdoms of David and Solomon "a modern nation's onging myth . . . " Why add one more?
Some Internet rumors claim Massad was denied tenure, but Columbia sources say that the process is ongoing; a spokesman insists the details are "confidential." The final decision is due soon.
Why shouldn't Massad get tenure - lifelong job security?
His critics cite three broad flaws that, taken together, could undermine Columbia's reputation:
Misstatement of facts: These are not simple errors; when they've been called to his attention, he has brushed them aside or unconvincingly denied making the statement.
* In class and in public, Massad has argued that Israel massacred Palestinians at Jenin in 2002. A UN investigation found no evidence of a massacre at Jenin.
* Writing in the Egyptian weekly al-Ahram, he suggested that Israel poisoned Yasser Arafat. He cited no evidence. In reality, Israel provided for Arafat's medical evacuation to France.
* Massad claims "Jewish colonists [in Israel] were part of the British colonial death squads that murdered Palestinian revolutionaries between 1936 and 1939 while Hitler unleashed Kristallnacht against German Jews." Note the false equivalency between British police and Jewish residents and the Nazis.
And, of course, there is no evidence of organized Jewish involvement. Indeed, the British also took armed action against the Jews.
Mistreating students: Over the last few years, a number of students have come forward to talk about how Massad treated them in the classroom.
One is Deena Shanker, who attended Massad's course in 2002. She said that Massad shouted her down and ordered her to leave his class if she kept denying that Israel committed atrocities.
Massad denied her account and said a faculty panel exonerated him. In fact, the panel's published report found him guilty. The relevant passage:
"Upon extensive deliberation, the committee finds it credible that Professor Massad became angered at a question that he understood to countenance Israeli conduct of which he disapproved, and that he responded heatedly. While we have no reason to believe that Professor Massad intended to expel Ms. Shanker from the classroom [she did not, in fact, leave the class], his rhetorical response to her query exceeded commonly accepted bounds by conveying that her question merited harsh public criticism.
"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,' to exercise 'responsible self-discipline' and 'to demonstrate appropriate restraint.' "
Why grant tenure to a professor who has an adversarial relationship with his students?
A non-scholarly temperament: Massad often seems far more a propagandist than an impartial analyst.
* His published work suggests that his heart lies with the terrorists of Hamas. In March, he mourned the "economic choking and starvation" caused by the "international isolation" of Hamas. Last November, he wrote that Hamas "can defend the rights of the Palestinians to resist the Israeli occupation and the well-armed Palestinian collaborators that help to enforce it."
And, yes, he is critical of Palestinians who criticize Hamas.
* The only book on Israel that he assigned in his introductory class was "Israel, a Colonial Settler State?" by a French Marxist scholar, Maxime Rodinson. It concludes, "Jews have as much right to Israel as Arabs have to Spain."
To students, Massad often seems less like a scholar than a prosecutor presenting his case. Three students recently came forward to say that Massad "repeatedly likened Israel to apartheid South Africa, dismissed its legitimacy as a Jewish state and almost never addressed human-rights abuses in countries such as Iraq, Iran and Syria."
Massad regularly told his students that "Zionism got its name from the Hebrew slang for penis, Zayin." While this is plainly untrue, is this the language of a Columbia professor?
If he's awarded tenure, Massad will be at Columbia for life. He will have no incentive to become dispassionate - and every incentive to become even more of an activist.
Can't Columbia do better?
Richard Miniter is a bestselling author and fellow at the Hudson Institute.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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