[Marxism] Rift at Jewish School in Manhattan Over Canceled Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Talk

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 27 06:13:08 MST 2014

N.Y. Times, Feb. 27 2014
Rift at Jewish School in Manhattan Over Canceled Plan for 
Israeli-Palestinian Talk


During a presentation on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Peter 
Beinart, an author and columnist who writes frequently on the topic, 
suggested to a group of high school students that they invite a 
particular Columbia University professor to give his views.

It was a suggestion he had made to similar groups. Still, Mr. Beinart 
said, he was surprised when the students followed through.

But there was one problem. The students attend Ramaz, a prestigious 
private Orthodox Jewish school on the Upper East Side, and the 
professor, Rashid Khalidi, is well known for his outspoken support of 
Palestinian resistance to Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories.

The invitation came from a student group called the Ramaz Politics 
Society, or RamPo. Though the group’s faculty adviser and other 
administrators supported the invitation, Paul Shaviv, the head of the 
school, overruled them and rescinded it.

In response, the society drafted an open letter to Mr. Shaviv that reads 
in part: “I believe it is critical that Ramaz students are exposed to 
different perspectives and that open dialogue be encouraged at Ramaz, 
not limited.” The letter has garnered the support of nearly one-third of 
the high school’s student body, as well as more than 100 signatures from 
alumni, parents and outside supporters.

The dissent became loud enough that Mr. Shaviv felt compelled to 
respond. In a statement on Sunday to parents and faculty, he described 
Professor Khalidi as “an international personality of great political 
stature,” but went on to suggest that the professor’s visit would ignite 
a political wildfire that would probably outweigh meaningful dialogue.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been roiling college campuses 
across the country in recent years. Chapters of Hillel, the Jewish 
student group, at Swarthmore and Vassar Colleges recently said they 
would not abide by Hillel guidelines that prohibit collaboration with 
speakers or groups that “delegitimize” or “apply a double standard” to 
Israel. A nationwide professors’ group recently voted to boycott Israeli 
academic institutions.

More uncommon is this kind of debate at a high school, but Ramaz is not 
just any high school. Founded in 1937 by Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein, the 
school was set up to combine Judaic studies of a traditional yeshiva, 
taught in Hebrew and largely focused on the Talmud and the Torah, with 
secular study. As a modern orthodox school, Ramaz, which also has early 
childhood, elementary and middle school grades, is open to boys and 
girls. Tuition in the high school ranges from $35,600 a year for 
freshmen to $36,950 a year for seniors.

Mr. Shaviv said in an interview this week that he had met with Professor 
Khalidi personally and that the professor “understood the issue 
immediately.” Mr. Shaviv described Professor Khalidi, whom he overlapped 
with briefly while at Oxford, as a “world-class academic,” but suggested 
that any dialogue between the professor and students would be distinctly 

“It would be a bit like inviting the head of our high school tennis team 
to play an exhibition match with Andre Agassi,” he said. “We are not a 
university. We are not a graduate institute on the Middle East and 
politics. We are not a political organization. We are a high school. 
Given the sensitivity of this issue, this was simply not an appropriate 
or balanced dialogue.”

While the student leadership of the Ramaz Politics Society declined to 
be interviewed, they said in an emailed statement that the decision to 
invite Professor Khalidi was born out of the desire to “promote open 
dialogue at Ramaz and to give the student body the opportunity to hear 
an outside perspective on an issue important to us.”

The talk, according to the society’s leadership, was to take place on 
Feb. 19 and be a presentation about the two-state solution. Professor 
Khalidi would have talked for around 45 minutes, followed by a 30-minute 
question and answer session with the students. The society had also 
arranged for students to attend meetings before and after the 
presentation to “discuss the issues Professor Khalidi would have talked on.”

Daniel Gutkind, a Ramaz sophomore, said that while he was not sure if 
the invitation should have been extended in the first place, he was 
certain that the visit would not have disrupted the student body.

“I have been going to Ramaz for 10 years,” he said. “My parents are 
Israeli and I’m very Zionist. I think the students can take it. I 
probably would have gone to hear it and would have come out thinking, 
‘This guy makes some good points,’ but he’s not going to change anything.”

Mr. Gutkind’s classmate, Aaron Dahan, said that while he was initially 
interested in the talk when he was alerted through the society’s 
Facebook group page, he became skeptical after reading Mr. Shaviv’s letter.

“I started to think maybe he is not the best person to come to this 
school,” Mr. Dahan said. “It’s very Zionist.”

Professor Khalidi, who was born in New York City to a Palestinian Muslim 
father and Lebanese Christian mother, has written many books and 
articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is often quoted by 
journalists presenting a Palestinian view of affairs. His close ties to 
President Obama, whom he met and befriended while a professor at the 
University of Chicago, drew close scrutiny from Mr. Obama’s opponents 
during his 2008 presidential campaign.

Critics have accused the professor of having had ties to the Palestine 
Liberation Organization, which he has denied, saying on Tuesday that he 
“served as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation during the peace 
negotiations with Israel in Madrid and Washington from 1991 to 1993.”

In a separate telephone conversation this week, Professor Khalidi 
expressed little surprise that the invitation from Ramaz had been 
rescinded. But he declined to comment further, saying only that he has 
“nothing to add to what is out there already.”

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