to www.marxmail.org on April 14, 2005
Last night I attended a meeting organized by the ISO at
NYC's Cooper Union that was advertised as "Is there an academic
black-list?". Monique Dols,
a Columbia student and ISO member,
was the first speaker. She has been involved with organizing on campus to
protect the academic freedom of professors in the Middle East
and Asian Language and Culture (MEALAC) department. She wrote about the
struggle in Counterpunch a couple of days ago: http://www.counterpunch.org/dols04112005.html
She was followed by Joseph Massad,
a non-tenured professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History, who
has borne the brunt of Zionist attacks on this department. It would be very
useful if his talk could be made available on the Internet since it really gets
to the heart of the matter. Massad explained that the
Israeli government and its lackeys in the USA
are trying to eliminate scholarship
in the academy around Israel
and Palestine, but cloak their
attack in terms of rooting out anti-Semitism. He made the case that much of
what he teaches in his course is not that controversial in scholarly circles,
itself. These views are not acceptable to the Zionist establishment, however.
The final speaker was Tariq Ali
who offered biting commentary on the hypocrisy of these attacks. The Zionists
are for "balance" in departments like MEALAC, but where else are
there such calls for balance? You would think that from the howls of protest that
the media is filled with pro-Palestinian reportage and editorials. The demand
for "balance" has even effected his speaking engagements. He is told
from time to time from an organizer that they are under pressure to find a
speaker with an opposing viewpoint. Ali tells them fine, get Kenan Makiya, Fouad Ajami or Thomas Friedman--but these people have all
declined to debate him. Ali made the point that there is nothing wrong with
debate. The left favors a confrontation of ideas, but the real drive at Columbia
and elsewhere is simply to silence Massad and others
Also invited to speak but unable to make an appearance
because of illness was Harvard professor Sara Roy. I had no idea that the same
crap going on at Columbia is going
on at Harvard. Roy has an article
in the London Review of Books at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n07/roy_01_.html.
She begins as follows:
"Recently, at Harvard
University where I am based, a
Jewish student, using an assumed (gentile) name, began posting anti-semitic statements on the weblog
of the Harvard Initiative for Peace and Justice, an anti-war, pro-Palestinian
group on campus. The student, it turned out, is the secretary of Harvard
Students for Israel
- which dissociated itself from the incident - and had previously accused the
HIPJ of being too tolerant of anti-semitism. He now
went undercover as part of a self-appointed effort to monitor anti-semitism on campus. In one posting, for example, he
referred to Israel
as the 'AshkeNAZI state'. Incidents of this kind,
which are becoming commonplace on American campuses, reflect a wider
determination to monitor, report, defame and punish those individuals and
institutions within academia whose views the right finds objectionable. The
campaign is directed at area studies generally but the most virulent attacks
are reserved for those of us in Middle Eastern studies whose ideas are considered
anti-Israel, anti-semitic or anti-American."
It should not come as any great surprise that the Harvard
and Columbia administration are
caving in to pressure. In the fall of 2002, Larry Summers and Lee Bollinger
signed a full-page ad that ran in the NY Times calling attention to an alleged
rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campus. This ad was really inspired by a
growing movement for divestment from Israel.
Another signatory was Leon Botstein, president of Bard
College. My letter to Botstein can
be read at: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/jewish/Botstein.htm.
Essentially, people such as Summers
and Bollinger are in a quandary. They understand that free intellectual inquiry
and Zionism are pretty much incompatible. If you allow departments concerned
with Middle East affairs to set their own agenda and
hire without outside pressure, they will inevitably hire people like Joseph Massad who has impeccable scholarly credentials. He has 2
books scheduled for publication this year, one from Harvard and the other from Routledge press. Ali noted that the schools would be
hard-pressed to find a Zionist professor to replace him unless they scraped the
bottom of the barrel and found a Daniel Pipes.
Harvard and Columbia
want the cachet of having people like the late Edward Said on the faculty.
About 5 years ago, George Rupp--the previous president of Columbia--came
to speak to our department. He talked about the competition between NYU and Columbia
over which institution will achieve the most prestige. Key to the competition
was lining up top names in the faculty, such as Marxist scholar Jon Elster who had just joined the university. I was amused to
see Rupp specifically refer to Elster as a Marxist
and felt vindicated in front of my fellow programmers.
On April 11th, a letter appeared in the NY Times answering
an April 7th editorial calling attention to "Intimidation at Columbia."
It read as follows:
of a university lies in not sanctioning professors or students for the content
of their ideas - even when some find them offensive. Universities permit
radical ideas because they demand rigorous proof before accepting ideas as
not operate in the way you describe. Individual departments do not have the
"power to appoint and promote faculty," and therefore cannot have
that power "wrested away" from them. The tenure review process is
carefully designed to exclude a candidate's department from wielding any power
over the final tenure decisions.
A close reading of the faculty committee's report would
suggest that assertions against Joseph Massad, a
professor in the Middle Eastern studies department, have not been proved and
that sharp disagreement exists among students about whether the incidents in
question even took place.
Jonathan R. Cole Jon Elster New
York, April 7, 2005 The writers are, respectively, a
professor of philosophy; a professor of the university and a former provost;
and a professor of social sciences at Columbia University.<<
Clearly, what is called for (and which was insisted on at
the meeting) is a bold and energetic movement to protect academic freedom. Without grass-roots pressure, people like Jon Elster
and Jonathan R. Cole might be reluctant to step forward. Ali was
somewhat perplexed by the failure of tenured professors to come to Massad's defense. If they were tenured, why should they be
afraid to speak out? In fact, we can only salute Massad
himself who has been more visible and outspoken than anybody, despite being untenured.
A very important meeting, all in all.