In 2004, 14 students at Columbia University spoke in front of a video camera to document their allegations about anti-Israel bullying and intimidation by members of the school’s Middle East Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC) faculty. With support from the David Project, they created a compelling and controversial film titled “Columbia Unbecoming ,” which caused waves and was followed by an official Columbia University investigation.
Among those professors denounced was Professor Joseph Massad, associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History. In the film, Massad was accused of kicking a student out of his class for her pro-Israel views and refusing to answer questions from a former Israeli soldier until the soldier stated how many Palestinians he had killed.
Professor Massad was investigated by the university’s Ad Hoc Grievance Committee, which found he had overstepped the bounds of legitimate speech in one instance but did not find basis to the bulk of the charges.
In 2009, he was granted tenure and continues to teach today.
Columbia University is far from the only school where students have complained about anti-Israel bullying in the classroom. According to Professor Sam Edelman, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), the number of students bearing these complaints is on the rise.
Israel Campus Beat is preparing an extensive report on the questions raised at the juncture of academic freedom, accuracy, free speech and the rights of students and faculty. We have interviewed students and alumni from a variety of campuses, but we are looking for more examples and more perspectives.
The story will be published later this summer, and we welcome input, suggestions and personal stories from our readers. Tell us about your efforts to ensure safe discourse in the classroom, how your school’s administration responded to a formal or informal complaint, or share your ideas and perspectives on the many issues related to Israel in the classroom.
Send your comments and leads to [email protected] . While we may want to interview you and report on your story, requests for anonymity will be respected.
Prof. Edelman noted that “there are no statistics showing this increase,” but he said, “it is clear from the growing number of reports filed by students and faculty about outright hatred in the classroom and around campus.”
He cited Hampshire College as an extreme example of a campus where anti-Zionist sentiment runs rampant, although other examples crop up across the country and in Canada.
Many students who experience anti-Israel bullying in their classes express a defeatist attitude, believing they have no recourse and need to keep quiet to ensure that they are not penalized. But Professors Peter Haas and Edelman of SPME insist that students have options. Rather than remaining silent, they say, each and every student can and must speak up.
“If we remain silent, we are being complicit and they will think we agree with them,” Haas said. “We need to speak up and say ‘enough.’ Only once we put pressure on universities will we see a change.
“Pro-Israel students need to be educated on the basic history of Israel and the Middle East,” continued Haas. “With this basic understanding, they can respond to propaganda in class. As long as you point out the fallacies of their arguments with intelligent questions, you can expose other students to the truth.”
If speaking up in class is not enough, however, Edelman said that students should target professors for their bad teaching.
“It is a professor’s duty to promote critical thinking and present both sides of an argument,” Edelman said. “When professors only show one side, they are not fulfilling their duty as a teacher and should be reported by fellow faculty and students.”
Watch for the full story later this summer in Israel Campus Beat.