[This speech was delivered at the Columbia University Conference on the Middle East and Academic Integrity in New York City on March 6, 2005. -- the Editors.]
I'm honored to bring Columbia a unique perspective concerning the academic freedom issue. I see similarities between the issue and my personal experiences growing up. I was raised in an Arabic society in Lebanon that took impressionable young minds and filled them with propaganda. Minds that were young and didn't know any better. I am an eyewitness and a victim of the indoctrination of hate education, racism, intolerance, intimidation and fabricated lies by my government and religious influences.
This indoctrination was for one purpose: To eradicate the newborn state of Israel; To foment hatred and wipe out Jewish presence in an Arab dominated world. For Arabs, the simple existence of Israel was viewed as a catastrophe...al nakbah! This pan Arab hate indoctrination was a reaction to Jews returning to their homeland after Arabic and Islamic belief for 1400 years that the Yahuds were vanquished and subjugated as Dhimmi.
I believe hate motivated indoctrination fosters irrational thinking and faulty reasoning whether it influenced my education as a child in Lebanon or the "advocacy education" that roils the classrooms here at Columbia. This is the root cause, for the controversy swirling around several members of the Middle East Asia Languages Arts and Culture (MEALAC) faculty and their alleged intimidation of students and other faculty!
What is at stake is our future, the students of today who will become tomorrow's leaders. If their minds are poisoned with irrational hatred and the hate is not combated and eliminated, then academic freedom and free speech in an open marketplace of competitive ideas is dead.
But let me begin by talking about my experience growing up in Lebanon where doctrinal hatred of Jews and Israel was ever present.
From Television programs, to national songs, hourly radio newscasts and newspapers, our citizens were fed a steady diet of lies poisoning our attitudes towards the Jews. Israel - Aaesrael , Israel is the devil. Al-Yahud shayateen, The Jews are evil. Sarakou Al-Ard Al Arabiyah. They stole Arab land. Al Wakt al wahid allazi yassir endana salam huwa lamma naqtul kul al yahud wa narmihum bil bahr, The only time we'll have peace in the Middle East is when we kill all the Jews and drive them into the sea. Every time Israel was mentioned it was attached to the phrase, Al adew al Israeli. The Israeli enemy.
My country and others saw nothing wrong with practicing this form of mind abuse. Of taking a generation hostage, molding them into misguided weapons; some willing to be martyred in the name of Islam or Palestinian nationalism. It's a form of mental child abuse taking place in every Arab country.
As a Maronite Lebanese I went to a Christian private school. The pervasive national animosity toward the Jews affected us there to the extent that our Bibles did not include nor did we study the Old Testament. We didn't even know it was a part of the bible. We were told that the Torah is the enemy's book. We were young. We didn't know any better. These were our teachers. We respected them and trusted them.
Had I not had the opportunity for an up-close and personal experience with the Israelis, I would have had nothing by which to judge or compare what I was being told by my society.
My eyes were opened when I spent 22 days in a hospital in northern Israel in the early 1980's. I watched unbelievably as Israeli doctors treated my mother wounded by an artillery shell before he treated the wounded Israeli soldier lying next to her. They treated Lebanese Muslims and Palestinian militia fighters on a par with wounded IDF soldiers. I was shocked that this enemy, hated by the Arabs, treated us all with utmost courtesy, compassion, and respect. It was a transforming experience countering the lies and all the propaganda that I had been indoctrinated in as a child.
Ultimately, I made a commitment to leave my home country and move to Israel to be with these people whose values I respected.
I ended up working in Israel as a television news anchor. I never felt like a second class citizen in Israel. To solidify my commitment to Israel I buried my beloved parents remains in the same Mount Zion cemetery in Jerusalem where the grave of a "ger t'zeddik" or righteous gentile-Oscar Shindler would one day be. I was tired of the lies, exaggerations and manipulations of Arabic society, which brings me to another parallel concerning academic freedom and objectivity.
Where is objectivity in the Arab world when they claim that the destruction of the World Trade Center was a CIA/Mossad plot? Where is objectivity on campuses when similar claims and distortions are made? Can there be objectivity when advocacy and hatred is involved? Professor Richard Bullet was right when he coined the term "advocacy education". How can a student get the facts by which to make a decision when professors advocate in their courses using ideological distortions to force form opinion instead of providing objective information for students to form their own opinions?
The lies that Arab society tried to teach me as a child in Lebanon are the same as those spread under the guise of academic freedom on the Morningside campus of Columbia. During a recent speech at a Columbia Law school forum, Professor Massad repeated 24 times in a half-hour that, "Israel is a racist Jewish apartheid oppressive state." His exercise in academic freedom ignores the facts. As a Middle Easterner brought up on this patent "Israel is a racist state" propaganda, I discovered it is total hate inspired nonsense. I've seen with my own eyes what kind of society Israel is. I consider Israel to be one of the most multi-racial and multi-cultural countries in the world. There are no racial restrictions on becoming a citizen of Israel like there are in many Arab countries. Remember, Jews can't live in the neighboring Arab Kingdom of Jordan or in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Israel's multi-racial society belies the charge of Racism. More than 100 different countries of the world are represented in the population of Israel. Consider how the Israeli government spent tens of millions of dollars airlifting more than 40,000 black Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1984 and 1991. Since 2001 Israel has reached out to help others taking in non-Jewish refugees from Lebanon, the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Liberia, Congo and even Bosnian Muslims. How many such refugees have the 22 states in the Arab league taken in? The Arab world won't even give Palestinian refugees citizenship in their host countries.
Over one million Arabs are full Israel citizens. An Arab sits on the Supreme Court of Israel. There are Arab political parties expressing views inimical to the State of Israel sitting in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. Women are equal partners in Israel and have complete human rights. Professor Massad... show me an Arab nation with a Jew in their government. Show me an Arab country with half as many Jewish citizens as Israel has Arab citizens. I'll borrow some of your academic freedom now and say that Arab nations are the real racist and oppressive states.
In the David Project film, "Columbia Unbecoming," you hear a word familiar to us in the Arab world mentioned by these brave students and Rabbi Charles Sheer, the emeritus executive director of Barnard /Columbia Hillel. The word is: intimidation.
And people here at Columbia are up in arms that intimidation is mentioned? Let me tell you about intimidation. I know what using fear to deny freedom of thought is. In parts of the Arab world freely expressing your thoughts can get you killed. I said things as a news anchor that the Arabs did not like and it got my picture published in Hezbollah and PLO newspapers and magazines saying I should be killed.
What sort of academic atmosphere do you think that would foster here on American campuses? I'd like to think the ACLU would be up in arms and coming to my defense. As one who escaped repression and came to America I'm shocked that such elitists as the ACLU are the enemy to the pursuit of freedom. That people in America support the oppressive actions that I left in the Middle East simply astounds me.
Here at Columbia or DePaul I find more irony. When you speak out as a student you are told by some of the MEALAC faculty to leave the classroom. In the case of Professor Thomas Klocek at DePaul University you are suspended without due process for challenging lies about Israelis being Nazi occupiers by a Students for Justice in Palestine campus group. These are matters to be addressed by the Columbia administration, the ACLU and the AAUP now. What we're getting is people hiding behind psychobabble about academic freedom and free speech." What we see is freedom being used to spread lies, bar the facts, bend the truth and poison the minds of future leaders.
Speaking for millions who suffered and those still suffering under tyranny and oppression... we don't understand how people in American universities, who have enjoyed freedom for so long, can abuse that very freedom by doing things that hinder the spread of freedom throughout the world.
I see another parallel involving history that is happening here at Columbia and on other campuses. Anti-Semites and anti-Israelis have tapped into that part of the DNA of most Jews that paralyzes them from being confrontational when attacked. It's as if the Arabs studied Krystallnacht...the night of broken glass November 9th, 1938 in Nazi Germany. Scare Jews off and they will not respond or won't come back. Turning academic freedom into academic intimidation is the tactic being used here at Columbia and other campuses across the nation.
These ideologues know that they are teaching students who have no background or prior knowledge of the Middle East situation. What they are doing is an extension of what is taking place in schools in Palestinian and Muslim madrasses across the Islamic crescent. Repeat a lie enough and it becomes truth. You listen to what we say. If you don't there will be consequences.
I have heard that a graduate student at the School of International and Public Affairs here at Columbia approached a professor about holding programs on global anti-Semitism. The tenured faculty member said that he would be "blacklisted." Blacklisted by other Columbia faculty for even raising the topic. Further, this young graduate student was told not to even think of bringing up the subject of Genocide in the Sudan! Sounds like intellectual fascism to me.
This brings me to something I was surprised to discover. I have always known that Jews are into studying and debating and being informed people. I knew about the Bar and Bat Mitzvah preparation and really thought that American Jewish children were prepared for life. What shocked me, really confounded me was how totally unprepared teenage Jews are when it comes to understanding the history of the Middle East conflict. The Jewish community has let freshmen down in preparing them to face what biased or hate filled college environments are throwing at them today.
Let me tell you something else about hate in the Arabic environment. Arab children are taught hatred of the Jew from their mother's milk. They are constantly bombarded with stories and information presenting the Jew as barbaric, conniving, manipulative, warmongering people. You name it. While the Jew is taught patience, humility, service and charity to all:Olam tikkun olam-to repair the world. No wonder professors with an agenda of hate propaganda can intimidate and belittle young Jewish students. It is time for the Jewish community to wake up. It is time that Jewish youths are prepared to do battle in the open cockpit of debate in college classrooms.
It is also time for tenured faculty at Columbia, Carnegie Mellon, DePaul, Duke, the University of California at Irvine to find their moral compasses and rise up with their colleagues and administrations to reclaim their campuses from the poisonous indoctrination of hate. Reclaim it and return the classroom to an intimidation free environment for young minds to learn the truth through open debate and give them, us and the world a better future.