Mazin Qumsiyeh is a professor of genetics at the Yale Medical School and a hater of Israel, which he refers to as an apartheid state. Professor Qumsiyeh has recently indulged his hatred of Israel and its Jewish supporters in a manner remarkable for a university professor.
In the past Professor Qumsiyeh has railed against the an alleged "cabal" of Jews manipulating Bush administration foreign policy: "It is now clearly evident from their own documents that those who put Israel and personal wealth ahead of U.S. public interests were first to plan this war [in Iraq] over15 years ago." In a recent e-mail message sent over the Yale e-mail system to the members of the Yale Coalition for Peace, Professor Qumsiyeh disclosed his purported discovery that this cabal extends far beyond the Bush administration. In his e-mail message he warned that a similar cabal exists at Yale. Qumsiyeh wrote:
"For your information, I include here the list of members of Yale Students ‘for Democracy,’ the pro-war cabal that subscribes to the same Straussian theology that the neo-cons around Bush have been pushing (Wolfowitz, Perle, Wurmser, Kristol, Feith). I think you will find the list informative. Note that there is significant overlap of this list with the ‘Yale Friends of Israel’ listserve."
The names and e-mail addresses of 64 Jewish students followed his message. Professor Qumsiyeh’s research was not quite as brilliant as he believed it to be; he had mistakenly copied the Yale Friends of Israel member list for comparison purposes rather than the member list of the Yale College Students for Democracy. He was therefore comparing two identical lists of members of the Yale Friends of Israel; not surprisingly, he found "significant overlap" between the two lists. And not surprisingly, Professor Qumsiyeh mistakenly named many students who were staunch opponents of the war in Iraq, and who were horrified at being identified as members of a pro-war cabal by dint of their affiliation with the Yale Friends of Israel.
But the mistaken premise of Professor Qumsiyeh’s message is beside the point. The message bears an ugly subtext consistent with Professor Qumsiyeh’s fevered "Jews on the brain" mania. In an article he authored for Jerusalemites.org, he labels the same men to whom he likens Yale’s pro-war Jews—Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, in particular—"Israeli apologists" and "racists…whose main interest has always been a strong and domineering ‘Jewish State’…"
University professors and administrators frequently throw the term "McCarthyism" around as a term of abuse under inappropriate circumstances, but when the phenomenon actually appears, as in Professor Qumsiyeh’s message, they are tongue-tied. Professor Qumsiyeh’s message contains all the hallmarks of the phenomenon usually described as McCarthyism. It makes unfounded accusations from a person in a position of authority against students who possess no recourse against him. The accusations are intended to damage the reputations of the students he listed by smearing them as members of a sinister "pro-war cabal," as "Straussians," "neo-cons," "Israeli apologists" and "racists."
Even worse, Professor Qumsiyeh implicitly exhorts a student group -- the Yale Coalition for Peace -- to join his smear campaign and defame a group consisting of its presumed political opponents. The message blatantly seeks to stigmatize students for their political affiliations.
But Professor Qumsiyeh’s inflammatory accusations go beyond McCarthyism to anti-Semitism. He dubs the students "Straussians" and "neo-cons," not-so-secret code words for "Jews." All the named government officials are Jewish, and it is the Jewish students he seeks to identify as such. His subsequent intimation that the Jewish Yale students who support the war in Iraq do so in the interests of Israel, rather than the United States, is blatantly bigoted and unfounded. In one fell swoop, Professor Qumsiyeh seeks to brand every Jewish student even loosely affiliated with a pro-war group as guilty of dual national loyalties. His accusation that they act as agents of a larger Jewish cabal is equally offensive and equally false.
The incident was brought to the attention of the Information and Technology Service administrators, who have investigated the incident, responded promptly and determined that the message falls into a gray area of the university’s policies. Philip Long, the director of Yale’s Information and Technology Services, concluded that “Based on my understanding of current policies, then, I believe this is right at the edge of acceptable/unacceptable” because it falls within the boundaries of “the usual vagaries of freedom of speech.”
While Professor Qumsiyeh has violated no existing Information and Technology policies, his basic violation of the ethos of the University and his violation of most imaginable codes of civility could and should be addressed by those in the administration whose job it is to preserve and protect an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas without the threat of stigmatization by the university’s faculty members. But thus far silence has been golden. It is hard to believe that had the roles been reversed, had a Jewish professor stigmatized Arab students, that the prevailing response would have been the same from the highest officials in the administration.
Few would dispute that anti-Jewish conspiracy theories like Professor Qumsiyeh’s come without destructive consequences attached. One would hope and expect the forceful condemnation Professor Qumsiyeh’s actions from the Yale administration. If that is not to be, let us hope that Yale’s anti-war students know enough to reject Professor Qumsiyeh’s claims, his methods, and his example.
Eliana Johnson is a freshman at Yale University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.