Academic, Politics, Race

Nathan Newman has an important post about attacks on Columbia University professors who express anti-Israeli views.

Professors who have voiced anti-Israel views are being targetted by rightwing forces in order to silence unpopular views.

This isn’t the first time that this has happened. A few years ago the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures was targeted by a right-wing web site,, about which The Nationwrote in 2002:

Based in Philadelphia and headed by anti-Arab propagandist Daniel Pipes, Campus Watch unleashed an Internet firestorm in late September, when it posted dossiers” on eight scholars who have had the audacity to criticize US foreign policy and the Israeli occupation. As a gesture of solidarity, more than 100 academics subsequently contacted the Middle East Forum asking to be added to the list.

… The Campus Watch site is a showcase for the signature distortions on which Pipes has built his twenty-five-year career. He twists words, quotes people out of context and stretches the truth to suit his purpose.

In an interview with earlier this year, Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi explained the recent increase in attacks on the department after he organized a Palestinian Film Festival in January 2003:

a three-pronged attack began to take formation. One was the intelligence arm that began to collect things about me and what I do. This was accompanied by two contradictory but complementary actions: one was the lunatic fringe who hacked my computer, spammed my email, subscribed me to obscene websites, and basically disrupted all my communications. The other was to mobilize the Millionaires’ Club’ among Columbia University Alumni, so they began to bombard the President’s office, and the University Development and Alumni Relations Office, with attacks against me and what it is they thought I was doing. At official university functions such as a recent John Jay Award, an alumnus attacked my department and myself. It is a nuisance more than anything else; but perhaps it is just an occupational hazard.

For junior faculty, however, it has serious repercussions. Graduate students, those who are just beginning their career, are of course the most vulnerable. When they look at the horror that comes the way of those who remain loyal to certain political and moral convictions, it may dissuade them from doing the same.

… Ironically enough, when I speak out against the depredations of the Iranian government or any Arab government or the Indian government, I am applauded and told how courageous I am. But the minute I begin to criticize the United States and Israel in conjunction, and speculate about the relationship between these sorts of colonialism — the US in Iraq, Israel in the Occupied Territories — then I am maligned and my name is added to these websites and so on.

The other problem is that the trouble that comes my way can have a negative catalytic effect on my junior colleagues. I have extremely courageous young colleagues who put their careers on the line to speak their mind. But the fact remains that they are professionally much more vulnerable than I am.

One of those junior colleagues is Joseph Massad, who has posted his own response to the latest attacks on his web page:

The recent controversy elicited by the propaganda film Columbia Unbecoming,” a film funded and produced by a Boston-based pro-Israel organization, is the latest salvo in a campaign of intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel. This witch-hunt aims to stifle pluralism, academic freedom, and the freedom of expression on university campuses in order to ensure that only one opinion is permitted, that of uncritical support for the State of Israel. Columbia University, the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, and I personally, have been the target of this intensified campaign for over three years. Pro-Israel groups are pressuring the university to abandon proper academic procedure in evaluating scholarship, and want to force the university to silence all critical opinions. Such silencing, the university has refused to do so far, despite mounting intimidation tactics by these anti-democratic and anti-academic forces.

The major strategy that these pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. But the claim that criticism of Israel is an expression of anti-Semitism presupposes that Israeli actions are Jewish” actions and that all Jews, whether Israelis or non-Israelis (and the majority of world Jews are not Israelis), are responsible for all Israeli actions and that they all have the same opinion of Israel. But this is utter anti-Semitic nonsense. Jews, whether in America, Europe, Israel, Russia, or Argentina, are, like all other groups, not uniform in their political or social opinions. There are many Israeli Jews who are critical of Israel just as there are American Jews who criticize Israeli policy. I have always made a distinction between Jews, Israelis, and Zionists in my writings and my lectures. It is those who want to claim that Jews, Israelis, and Zionists are one group (and that they think exactly alike) who are the anti-Semites.

This has gotten very serious, since, as reported in Haaretz, Columbia University President, Lee Bollinger has promised the accusers that he will conduct an investigation and take specific steps” which as yet remain unspecified.

Over 3,000 people have signed a petition to Bollinger, asking him

to rise to the occasion and issue a categorical statement in defense of Professor Massad and against this campaign of defamation, to ensure that teachers and professors be allowed to teach without intimidation from within or without the university.

Go sign.