Columbia Culpa

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Although Columbia University (CU) administrators claim that a committee appointed by its president cleared the school of charges of an anti-Israel bias that borders on anti-Semitism, their feeling of exoneration may be a bit premature.

“Of the five members of the committee, two were members of MEALAC [Columbia’s controversial Department of Middle East Languages and Culture] and a third was the dissertation advisor of an accused professor,” CU alumnus Ron Lewenberg writes in an article on “A fourth, Mark Mazower has blamed Israel for post-war anti-Semitism and fathered the theory that a cabal of Zionists and neocons [neoconservatives] controls the U. S.”

Nonetheless, what the committee did confirm and verify was unsettling enough, to say the least. Still, said committee recommended no sanctions against the offending professors.

“Professor [Joseph] Massad (pictured) was discussing Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Gaza [in a spring 2002 class lecture] but I do not remember exactly what he was saying,” Deena Shanker remembered. “I raised my hand and asked if it was true that Israel sometimes gives warning before bombing certain areas and buildings so that people could get out and no one would get hurt.”

“At this, Professor Massad blew up, yelling, ‘If you’re going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom!’”

An Israeli student reported similar abuse from the same professor, dating back to a lecture from the 2001-2002 school year. When that student raised his hand to ask a question, Professor Massad asked if the young man served in the Israeli military. The student said he had been a soldier. “Well, if you served in the military, why don’t you tell us how many Palestinians have you killed?,” Professor Massad said.

The student, Tomy Schoenfeld, got fed up with being singled out. “As my frustration grew, I decided to show Professor Massad how absurd was his response since it was so stereotypical in nature,” Schoenfeld remembered. “I raised my hand and asked Professor Massad how many members of his family celebrated on September 11th.”

The denouement? “Professor Massad was very naturally very upset from my question, and the organizer of the event, at that point, decided to step in and stop the discussion,” according to Schoenfeld.

In the fall of 2001, then-student Lindsay Shrier was enrolled in a course called Introduction to Islamic Civilization. After one class, she approached the professor, George Saliba, with her concerns about the biases of a film that the class had just viewed.

“Saliba told me I had no voice in the debate,” Shrier recalled. “I was puzzled by his comment.”

“Then he slowly came towards me, moved down his glasses, looked right into my eyes, and said, ‘See you have green eyes, you are not a Semite. I am a true Semite. I have brown eyes. You have no claim to the land of Israel.”

The professor claimed that Shrier’s account was “a misquotation of an argument I sometimes make and may have made then.”

“Academic freedom implies that all officers of instruction are entitled to freedom in the classroom and in discussing their subjects,” according to the CU Charter, “that they are entitled to freedom in research and in the publication of its results; and that they may not be penalized by the University for expressions of opinion or associations in their private or civic capacity.”

So where does that leave students?

Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.