A professor coming to Columbia University this fall to head up a Middle East studies institute has said that killing armed Israelis is legitimate Palestinian “resistance” to occupation.
The money Columbia is using to pay the professor comes in part from Rita Hauser, a high-profile New York philanthropist whose former law firm was a registered agent of the Palestinian Authority. Also contributing was a foundation with close ties to Saudi Arabia.
Rashid Khalidi, a professor of history and Near Eastern languages and civilizations and director of the Center for International Studies at the University of Chicago, is set to move to Columbia University this fall, where he will teach as the Edward Said professor of Middle Eastern studies, a new — and supposedly anonymously funded — position at the school. He will also direct the school’s Middle East Institute.
The New York Sun has obtained an audio recording of a speech Mr. Khalidi gave on June 7, 2002, at a conference of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
While condemning violence against innocent civilians, which Mr. Khalidi said “means condemning Israel,”he appeared to condone the killing of armed Israelis in the next breath.
“…Killing civilians is a war crime. It’s a violation of international law.They are not soldiers. They’re civilians, they’re unarmed. The ones who are armed, the ones who are soldiers, the ones who are in occupation, that’s different.That’s resistance,” Mr. Khalidi said.
The text of Mr. Khalidi’s speech is posted on the Web site of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee with the above remarks omitted.
Reached for comment in Chicago, Mr. Khalidi first said that he did not recall making the remark. Then he defended the position and acknowledged that he may have said it. “Killing civilians is a war crime, whoever does it. But resistance to occupation is legitimate in international law.” Mr. Khalidi said.
Asked if it is okay to kill soldiers, Mr. Khalidi replied,“Resistance to occupation is legitimate,” but said that he would not say the same thing today, one year later.
“Things change and there are differences …. There’s no such thing as a blanket statement. I was describing a specific occupation at a specific time. At the time I said it, I think that, saying resistance to occupation, is legitimate.”
As for the current situation in Israel, “I would say it would be wise to show restraint because there is a political process under way,” he said.
A terrorism expert who heads The Investigative Project, which tracks militant Islamic activities, Steven Emerson, said Mr. Khalidi’s comment “raises serious questions about his attitudes on violence.”
“It’s constitutionally protected speech, but the question is whether he should be teaching this stuff to young students,” Mr. Emerson said.
Columbia University is refusing to disclose publicly the list of donors to the Edward Said chair, but The New York Sun has been able to independently confirm three of them after they were provided by the Investigative Project.
The funding of Middle East-related activities on campus has come under increasing scrutiny since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Harvard University’s divinity school, for example, has recently come under fire for a $2.5 million donation it accepted from the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan.
“Donors’ names are confidential, we don’t disclose them without their permission,” said a spokeswoman for Columbia, Katie Moore, adding that Columbia has “the same policy that every school would have.”
The Hauser Foundation, headed by New York philanthropist Rita Hauser, is one of the donors to the fund.
“I made a contribution,” Ms. Hauser said, describing the chair’s namesake, Professor Edward Said, as “a friend of mine. I admire him.”
As for the appointment of Mr. Khalidi to the position, Ms. Hauser said she was happy with his selection.
“I like him very much. He’s a splendid guy, a Palestinian intellectual, a first-class choice, and I think everybody’s pleased,” she said.
Ms. Hauser declined to disclose how much her foundation donated to the Said chair. According to disclosure forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service, her foundation gave a total of more than $1.8 million in gifts in 2001 to a wide variety of causes including the American University in Cairo, Refugees International, the Nixon Center, and the Manhattan Institute.
Ms. Hauser’s former law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, was registered with the Department of Justice as recently as 2001 as an agent for the Palestinian Authority.
Another donor is the Olayan Charitable Trust, a New York-based charity affiliated with the Olayan America Corporation, an arm of Saudi-based The Olayan Group.
The vice president of corporate communications at Olayan’s New York offices, Richard Hobson, said the trust doesn’t publicize its donations but that it is “very proud of that donation and every other donation we make.”
Mr. Hobson declined to say how much the trust had given to the Said chair, other than to say he believed they are “one of the lead donors but not the lead donor.”
IRS disclosure forms for 2001 show that the Olayan Charitable Trust listed a $50,000 gift to Columbia University.
Other donations listed for 2001 include $20,000 to an anti-Israel group called Americans for Middle East Understanding and $5,000 to the Arab American Institute Fund.
A third donor is Gordon Gray Jr., a graduate of Harvard and Columbia. Mr. Gray, a New York investor, gave $1.5 million to each university after September 11 for the study of Arabic, the Harvard Crimson reported.
Mr. Gray said he couldn’t remember how much he gave to the Said chair, but it was “in excess of $500,000.”
The vice president of development at Columbia University, Susan Feagin, said that the school often releases names of donors who have given permission to do so.
She confirmed the three donors the Sun had independently confirmed because they gave her permission to do so. She declined to release the full list.
Ms. Feagin said that as of July 1, 2003, the minimum amount to endow a chair at Columbia is $2 million. The minimum amount was $1.5 million before then, she said.
The author of the book “Ivory Towers on Sand,” a critique of Middle East studies in America, Martin Kramer, said the list should be made public.
“There are donors who wish to remain anonymous, and you can’t always turn away donors who want to remain anonymous,” Mr. Kramer said. “But there’s a significant difference between a donor who wants to give to medical research and one who wants to give to the study of the contemporary Middle East. They may have an agenda.”
Mr. Kramer said that the Middle East Studies Association, an organization of Middle East academics that Mr. Khalidi has served as president, has passed a resolution calling for program funding disclosure.
The head of the Philadelphiabased Middle East Forum and a critic of bias in Middle East studies programs, Daniel Pipes, criticized the school’s reluctance to make the donor list public.
“What is surprising is that the administration of Columbia is unwilling to be public about the sources of its funds. It’s highly unusual for a university. It points to the sense of guilt that they have that they are doing something this shady,” Mr. Pipes said.
Columbia University is this year receiving a federal grant for its Middle East program, worth about $300,000 a year for the next three years. Mr. Khalidi, as director of the Middle East Institute, will oversee those funds.
This is the first time the school has received such a grant in three years, said Richard Bulliet, a Middle East professor at the school.