"I think something extremely important is happening on our campuses. They are now turned into sites for cultivation of critical judgment for responsible citizenship in what we hope will remain a free republic. Even as late as five years ago no one would have dared stand on the steps of the Law Library on Columbia Campus and condemn the military thuggery of people like Ariel Sharon. Innocent people in Jenin, Kandahar, Shalamcheh, or Baghdad are brutally massacred and no one would have dared to condemn these acts publicly. But not anymore."
- Hamid Dabashi, speaking to the Electronic Intifada online magazine, September 30, 2002
Professor Hamid Dabashi, chairman of Columbia's notorious Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department, is quite correct to point out that "something extremely important" is happening on our campuses. While Mr. Dabashi would celebrate this change - summarized as a growing hatred for America and Israel among students and faculty members - we believe it represents one of the most troubling trends in higher education and a critical problem for Columbia University. It has become increasingly clear that Columbia's standing as one of the great research universities in the nation is jeopardized by a contingent of professors whose disdain for Israel, America, democracy, and freedom has a remarkable influence over Columbia's curriculum and quality of its research. To appreciate how commonplace and accepted anti-Israel sentiment has become at Columbia, one simply has to take a look at the Web site Columbiadivest.org, the home page of a recent effort at the Morningside Heights campus to persuade Columbia's administration to divest its holdings in companies that sell arms and military hardware to Israel. More than a third of the full-time faculty of the Mealac department signed the petition, as have a total of 107 Barnard and Columbia faculty members. Signers of the petition include Joseph Massad, a non-tenured professor of modern Arab politics who teaches a course on Middle East nationalism. Mr. Massad is not shy about his hatred for Israel, a country whose legitimacy as a Jewish state he denies and whose policies he routinely calls "racist." He is the professor, as described in an underground film produced by the Boston-based David Project, who upon completing a lecture refused to answer a question from an Israeli student but ordered the student to say how many Palestinians he killed as a soldier. Rep. Anthony Weiner is absolutely correct to call, as he did yesterday, for Columbia to fire him.
Another signer is Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said chair of Arab studies and author of "Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America's Perilous Path in the Middle East." Mr. Khalidi, whose professorship was funded with $200,000 from the United Arab Emirates, is on record condemning terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, but he has also said he condones attacks on Israeli soldiers in areas he describes as occupied territories, violence that he describes as "resistance." His recent book was riddled with errors and anti-Jewish themes.
We recognize that the vast majority of the Columbia community is untainted by these hatreds. But these are the professors whose loathing of Israel, dismissal of Israel's security concerns, and contempt of Israel's democratic values cannot be explained or rationalized but are best understood as irrational expressions of anti-Semitism.
The fact that these professors share views that are abhorrent to a great majority of Columbia's community has not stopped them from shaping Columbia's research and teaching of subjects related to the Middle East. Take, for example, a course called "Hate" taught within the Mealac department by comparative literature professor Gil Anidjar. Mr. Anidjar's interest isn't Islamic fundamentalism and its spread through the Middle East, but Jewish self-hatred and how it relates to Israeli culture and Zionism.
Columbia and other schools affected by this anti-Western strand of thought require leadership. Columbia and Barnard need leaders who can state clearly that their schools do not side with enemies of freedom and democracy. Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, has criticized the divestment campaign but has so far defaulted when it comes to confronting the academic issues or returning the money from the United Arab Emirates. Astonishingly, he told the Daily News that he appointed a committee that found not only no bias, but not even any "claims of bias." The way to begin correcting the situation would be with a grand gesture. A Columbia honorary degree for Prime Minister Sharon would be one way to do it. So would firing Mr. Massad, or giving back the money from the United Arab Emirates, or disciplining Mr. Khalidi for the errors in his book. Then Columbia could set about hiring some teachers who display genuine critical judgment.