Defend Academic Freedom at Columbia University – Press Release

From the archive (legacy material)

Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee | Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee | 24 November 2004

ADC expresses its deep concern over increased attempts to silence free speech and academic freedom at Columbia University.
Professor Joseph Massad, an untenured junior faculty member in the department of Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) has been the target of a campaign designed to intimidate academics critical of Israel and U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world. Citing “the duress of coercion and intimidation,” Professor Massad has decided not to teach his course on Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies next semester.
A “special report” in the New York Daily News on November 21 accused the MEALAC department of “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.” Arguing that “Columbia has been infected with a contingent of faculty members whose hatred for Israel has eclipsed any academic mission that makes sense,” a November 19 New York Sun editorial went so far as to demand that Columbia University President expand his investigation to include “the content of the scholars’ research.” At least one Congressman, Representative Anthony Weiner, has publicly called for Professor Massad to be fired.
This flurry of attacks was triggered by private showings of “Columbia Unbecoming,” a film produced by The David Project, a Boston-based anti-Palestinian initiative formed in 2002 “in response to the growing ideological assault on Israel.” In the film, a small number of students affiliated with Lionpac, the University’s pro-Israel student club, accused Professor Massad of intimidating students who expressed views sympathetic of Israel. Not one of the students interviewed in the film has ever filed any kind of complaint against Professor Massad or the MEALAC through any of the appropriate channels. Few had ever taken a class with him. Students supportive of Professor Massad and appreciative of his classroom instruction were not interviewed by the filmmakers.
Citing concern over the “disturbing and offensive nature of incidents described in the film,” Columbia University President Lee Bollinger has already announced plans to investigate accusations of anti-Semitism and intimidation at the University. In October, he appointed Provost Alan Brinkley to lead the investigation into allegations of intimidation and assess the adequacy of the grievance process.
ADC has long expressed serious concerns about efforts to stifle free speech on US campuses by labeling any criticism of Israel as “anti-Semitism” and these latest efforts by The David Project must be seen within the context of the organized national campaign to intimidate and silence supporters of Palestinian human rights. For more information, see ADC’s earlier press release:
Leading the charge against any academic criticism of Israel is Daniel Pipes’ “Campus Watch” project (see: Launched in September 2002, Pipes’ website monitors the political views of US professors and graduate students, maintains “dossiers” on professors and academic institutions deemed insufficiently pro-Israel, and urges students to inform on their professors’ views. Since its inception, a number of professors, students and other prominent persons have been targeted. The “survey institutions” section includes condemnations of Colorado College for inviting Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi to speak at a symposium. In addition to Professor Massad, Columbia Professors Rashid Khalidi and Hamid Dabashi, as well as others such as Tariq Ramadan, have also been targeted.
ADC members are urged to contact the Columbia University administration to express support for academic freedom on campus and urge the University President not to bow to political pressure to silence professors critical of Israeli or American policy.
University President Lee Bollinger
Telephone: 212.854.9970
Fax: 212.854.9973
University Provost Alan Brinkley
Telephone: (212) 854-2404
Fax: (212) 932-0418