Anti-Israel Professor Is Defended

From the archive (legacy material)

JACOB GERSHMAN | The New York Sun | 26 October 2004

A British professor who caused an international uproar after she fired two scholars because they were Israeli urged academics to sign a letter in support of a Columbia University professor, Joseph Massad, who she believes is under attack by the “pro-Israel lobby.”
A professor of translation studies at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Mona Baker yesterday urged academics to sign the letter calling on Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, to publicly defend Mr. Massad.
The campaign was spurred by a report in The New York Sun last week about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s reaction to an underground documentary film featuring Columbia students talking about what they perceive as an anti-Israel bias among a number of faculty members, including Mr. Massad.
In response to the Sun article and an editorial published in the New York Daily News condemning Mr. Massad, Mr. Weiner, who represents Brooklyn and Queens, called on Columbia to “fire” Mr. Massad, saying the professor does not have “carte blanche to spew hate.”
Mr. Massad and Ms. Baker yesterday refused to speak to the Sun.
On her Website,, Ms. Baker writes that Mr. Massad “is the target of a new and particularly vicious attack by the pro-Israel lobby in the States, aimed at getting him dismissed and destroying his highly promising career.”
Ms. Baker said she knows Mr. Massad “personally” and praised him for his “dazzling scholarship, academic and personal integrity” and his advocacy for “peace with justice” in the Middle East.
The attention surrounding Mr. Massad mirrors a controversy involving Ms. Baker two years ago, when she fired Gideon Toury of Tel Aviv University and Miriam Schlesinger of Bar-Ilan University from the editorial boards of two journals she owned.
Ms. Baker said she was following through on a boycott she signed against Israeli academic institutions. After carrying out an inquiry, her university said she had the right to fire people from her own journals.
On her Web site, Ms. Baker encourages readers to sign a letter in support of Mr. Massad written by a University of Texas professor, Neville Hoad. In his letter, Mr. Hoad states: “We, professors, scholars, teachers and students at universities world-wide are shocked by the slanderous campaign long launched in the New York media against our colleague Assistant Professor Joseph Massad.”
The letter said attacks against Mr. Massad “grossly misrepresent” his scholarship and said the Columbia scholar has spoken out against anti-Semitism.
Mr. Hoad, a professor of English who met Mr. Massad as a Columbia graduate student, said he has collected hundreds of signatures and plans to send his letter to Mr. Bollinger and Columbia’s provost, Alan Brinkley, tomorrow.
“It’s very important that the academic community remains self-regulating and people not be vulnerable to this kind of political pressure,” he told the Sun.
A spokeswoman for Columbia, Susan Brown, said, “We appreciate people taking the time to share their concerns with us and we take them seriously.”
Since the death of Edward Said, a Columbia literature professor, in 2003, Mr. Massad, a non-tenured professor of modern Arab politics, has become one of the most well-known opponents of Israel in academia.
To critics of Middle East studies at American universities, Mr. Massad represents the basic problem of the field, which they say has become corrupted by anti-Israel sentiment and has largely ignored Islamic terrorism and the lack of political freedom in the Arab world.
Although he has popular support among members of his Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department and among a number of students in his classes, Mr. Massad has caused Columbia some concern.
According to a report in the Times Higher Education Supplement, a British newspaper, Mr. Massad was forced to cancel a course he taught on Israeli and Palestinian politics due to the controversy over his writings and the content of his courses. He continues to teach other courses at the university.
Students writing on an unofficial Web site that collects student feedback on Columbia courses are divided about Mr. Massad. This spring, one student wrote: “Rather than just melting into the background as spoiled kids he must teach, he takes the students seriously and gives them the respect that many professors on this campus do not.”
In 2003, another student wrote: “He teaches a polemic, not an academic class, and abuses the position of teacher to rant at his students, offering little analysis grounded in anything resembling reality.”
In one scene in the documentary film “Columbia Unbecoming” an Israeli student is interviewed describing a lecture by Mr. Massad on the subject of the Middle East conflict in 2001. According to the student, who served in the Israeli Air Force in the 1990s, Mr. Massad wouldn’t answer the student’s question following his lecture but insisted that he say how many Palestinians he killed.
The David Project, the Boston-based pro-Israel group that produced the film, is expected to screen it for journalists later this week.
In his writings, Mr. Massad has argued that Israel is a racist, colonialist state that has never had legitimacy and does not represent Jews of the world. He has argued for a one-state solution to the Middle East conflict and believes that Palestinian-Arab refugees ought to have the right to return to Israel.
In an article published in Al-Ahram in 2003, Mr. Massad argued that Palestinian Arabs were losing international support because their leader, Yasser Arafat, was giving in too much to Israeli and American political demands.
“In light of Oslo, Arafat and the PA put a stop to the first Intifada and have been diligently trying to suppress the current one,” he wrote. “Our allies and friends, as a result, began to waver in their support for Palestinian resistance.”