Middle East studies in the News
Joseph Massad Awarded Tenure at Columbia
by David Bernstein
Jacob Gershman has the scoop, including some details I didn't know about: Massad had already been denied tenure once, in 2007 and, according to Gershman, the excuse for giving him the extraordinary opportunity to go up again was that "Massad had switched his field of specialty from political science to cultural studies."
It's often alleged, as in the Finkelstein case at DePaul, that someone's anti-Israel views prevent him from getting tenure, or otherwise succeeding in academia. Putting aside the merit of those claims, Massad's case involves exactly the opposite scenario. He landed at Columbia to begin with as a disciple of leading Palestinian activist and Columbia professor Edward Said. And given not just the quality of his "scholarship," but his hostility to the international gay rights and feminist movements (which shouldn't matter for tenure purposes, but who are we kidding?), and his haranguing of a questioner at a university event based on his (Israeli) nationality, it's hard to imagine a university like Columbia tenuring him if he wasn't a leading Israel-basher, and therefore was able to pose as both a "progressive" and a martyr to academic freedom.
The good news is that if Columbia had denied Massad tenure, it would have been under severe pressure to hire someone just as anti-Israel to replace him, to prove that its decision wasn't politically motivated. And that replacement almost certainly wouldn't hold some of Massad's most cringeworthy positions and statements, such as: the "Gay International" conspiracy to create homosexuality in the Arab world; that "such practices [as the torture of Abner Louima by NYC police] clearly demonstrate that white American male sexuality exhibits certain sadistic attributes in the presence of non-white men and women over whom white Americans (and Brits) have government-sanctioned racialised power"; that the movie "Exodus tells the story of the Zionist hijacking of a ship from Cyprus to Palestine by a Zionist Haganah commander;" his dismissal of the significance of "honor killings" in the Arab world; and his insistence Israel is analogous to Nazi Germany, and the Palestinians to the Nazis' Jewish victims.
I think it's regrettable from the standpoint of academic integrity that Massad received tenure, but, in a perverse way, it's good news for supporters of Israel. We can look forward to many more years of Massad discrediting the "anti-Zionist" cause.
As an aside, here's an example of exactly what's wrong with much of campus pro-Israel activism. A Columbia student expresses her concern that Massad received tenure. She acknowledges (wrongly) that "Massad is a distinguished scholar," and "admittedly a talented, accomplished professor," and in any event she has no way to judge the "academic legitimacy" of his most inflammatory (and ridiculous) arguments. But she's upset because Massad disturbs Jewish students' "sensibilities." Ugh! To the extent that Massad has mistreated Jewish or Israeli students, that's a legitimate concern. But to the extent that he makes Jewish students feel bad because they don't like the implications of his legitimate arguments, that just victimhood politics that are just as bad, and as inadmissible in a debate about tenure, coming from Jews as from anyone else. The student in question, in other words, has written a post complaining about Massad's tenure that actually supports his case for tenure, because she relies on the fact that he hurts her feelings instead of educating herself as to why his scholarship is shoddy.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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