Columbia University’s Israeli Fall

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

A Mid East Studies professor who we have covered is in the news again, and once again the subject of investigations surrounding claims that his attitudes towards Israel could be labeled discriminatory.

“In January, Barnard Professor Rachel McDermott is alleged to have advised a student not to take Columbia professor Joseph Massad’s course on the Arab world because ‘he’s very anti-Israel,’ and ‘You’ll feel very uncomfortable,’” John K. Wilson wrote on his Academe Blog.  The academe blog is affiliated with Academe magazine, published by the Illinois chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

“If McDermott said what is alleged, it is troubling,” Wilson claims. “Telling students not to take courses that challenge their views because it will make them ‘uncomfortable’ is lousy advising.”

“It’s insulting, most of all, to the student who seemed perfectly willing to deal with criticism of Israel.”

In an anonymous interview with The Tablet, the student did remember telling McDermott, an India specialist, “That’s fine, I’ve heard anti-Israel things before, and I’m fine if it’s a culture clash. ” Nevertheless, the young lady “was apprehensive” about reporting the advice “because Prof. McDermott was just protecting me.”  After that tipoff, Columbia, and the U. S. Department of Education, launched an investigation, not of Massad, but of the professor who “steered” the undergraduate away from his class.

From what we’ve found, McDermott was actually soft-pedaling Massad’s approach.

“I attended a lecture in October on ‘The Persistence of the Palestinian Question’ given by Joseph Massad, Assistant Professor, Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) as part of a series sponsored by the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University, at our Heyman Center,” Rabbi Charles Sheer, then the Director and Jewish Chaplain of the Barnard Hillel at Columbia wrote in 2003. “Massad’s thesis was: Zionism is a European colonial system based upon racist principles; its primary goals are the eradication of Palestine – as a country and a culture, and the expulsion of the Palestinians, ‘if [they are to be] allowed to live at all.’”

Professor Massad’s ratings on are decidedly mixed on the question of whether he himself has an open mind on the Palestinian question. Nonetheless, as we reported in 2005, students who have taken his classes recall outright hostility to any and all information from the Israeli side.

“Professor [Joseph] Massad 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 recalled. “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.

Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.

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