[Marxism] Excellent Nation Magazine article on Columbia MEALAC controversy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 17 13:17:04 MST 2005

Nation Magazine, March 16, 2005
The Mideast Comes to Columbia
by Scott Sherman
In December 2003 Rabbi Charles Sheer, the director of the Columbia/Barnard 
chapter of Hillel, the Jewish campus organization, dispatched an e-bulletin 
to alumni, students and supporters. There was much to report: In 2002 a 
movement of students and professors had urged Columbia to divest from 
companies that manufactured and sold weaponry to Israel. In the end, Rabbi 
Sheer had vanquished the prodivestment forces with a well-executed campaign 
that garnered 33,000 signatures. "There have not been any major divestment 
campaigns on any US campus, and almost no anti-Israel student-initiated 
activity--speakers, films or demonstrations--on our campus," Sheer noted 
with pride. "That's the good news." The bad news? "The battleground 
regarding the Middle East at Columbia University has shifted to the 
classroom." Rabbi Sheer was mainly referring to classrooms in a single 
department--Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC)--and he 
hinted that a counterstrike against MEALAC was in the making: "A student 
group," he wrote, "is currently working on a video that records how 
intimidated students feel by advocacy teaching...."

Ten months later the New York Sun, a small but influential conservative 
daily, broke the story of the video Sheer was referring to. The film, the 
Sun noted, "consists of interviews with several students who contend that 
they have felt threatened academically for expressing a pro-Israel point of 
view in classrooms." Titled Columbia Unbecoming, the film was produced by 
the David Project, a shadowy, Boston-based group that has ties to the 
Israel on Campus Coalition, an organization whose members include the 
American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation 
League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee.

Over the next five months the Sun ran dozens of rough-edged stories about 
developments pertaining to the film, many of which appeared under the 
tagline "Crisis at Columbia." The paper also hammered the university in a 
series of editorials: "The Education Department recently indicated it will 
expand its enforcement activities in respect of campus anti-semitism," the 
Sun averred on November 19. "Our reporting suggests that eventually federal 
authorities will have to get involved at Columbia." Other local papers 
echoed the Sun's reporting. On November 21 the Daily News published a 
"special report" headlined "Poison Ivy: Climate of Hate Rocks Columbia 
University," in which the paper proclaimed, "Dozens of academics are said 
to be promoting an I-hate-Israel agenda, embracing the ugliest of Arab 
propaganda, and teaching that Zionism is the root of all evil in the 
Mideast." Similar sentiments appeared on the editorial pages of the New 
York Post and the Wall Street Journal, in the Village Voice (under the 
byline of Nat Hentoff) and on Fox News.

Local politicians, too, rushed into the fray: In late October US 
Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat who is running for mayor, wrote 
to Columbia president Lee Bollinger, demanding that he fire Joseph Massad, 
one of the professors assailed in the film, for "his displays of 

The MEALAC professors singled out by Columbia Unbecoming--Joseph Massad, 
Hamid Dabashi and George Saliba--did not cower before the allegations. 
"This witch-hunt," Massad declared in a furious riposte, "aims to stifle 
pluralism, academic freedom, and the freedom of expression on university 
campuses in order to ensure that only one opinion is permitted, that of 
uncritical support for the state of Israel."

Dabashi, for his part, greeted the controversy with a mixture of 
indignation and melancholy. He was born in Iran, and has lived in the 
United States since 1976. "This is not the face of the United States that I 
can any longer recognize," Dabashi said recently. "This is not the country 
to which I immigrated and chose to call home more than a quarter of a 
century ago--a place where my political heroes lived, people I grew up 
admiring: Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville, Ralph 
Ellison, Rosa Parks, Stanley Kubrick, Ella Fitzgerald. How in such a short 
time could the face of a nation and the promise of its hopes change so 
radically, so unrecognizably?"

full: http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050404&c=1&s=sherman



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