March 6, 2005 was an historic day in the history of Academic Freedom and Academic Integrity in Higher Education in America. It was the day when three determined grass-roots faculty, 20 distinguished scholars, intellectuals, activists, alumni and 700 registrants served notice to Columbia University and all of academia that lies, polemics, intimidation and propaganda and ties to tyranny and genocide propagated and protected by rules of academic freedom will be challenged and defeated.
It was a day when tenured and untenured faculty members across many disciplines served notice to their colleagues that peer review of material that poisons the discussion on the Middle East in college texts and classrooms would be challenged in the strongest terms and that complicity in spreading “the New anti-Semitism” with its anti-Israelism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic overtones needs to cease and desist. In addition to the 700 people attending the conference an addition 150 or so watched the webcast of the day’s events world wide. Participants were given SPME’s statements on Academic Integrity & Moral Turpitude and Intimidation-Free Campuses, as well as the Background and Analysis of Columbia University Administration’s Response to Columbia Unbecoming.
The conference was organized and planned by: Professors Awi Federgruen of the School of Business, Judith Jacobson of the School of Public Health and Neil Shachter of the School of Business, three heroic and courageous scholars. With co-sponsorship with Columbians for Academic Freedom, The David Project, Jewish Business Student Association and Koleinu-Columbia Law Students for Israel and with 3 anonymous gifts, Miriam Belsky and Marvin Belsky MD, David Project, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Walter P. Stern, Dorothy Seidel Wigot and Robert M. Wigod, and The Zionist Organization of America, attendees had a full day of presentations from a wide range of views from the left, the right and the center. It should be noted that members of the Columbia administration and MEALAC programs were invited to participate with no response from either group.
Judith Jacobson opened the morning session with a statement from Prof. Elie Weisel, who could not attend the conference, but expressed his strong support for this historic event. Edward Beck, President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, hosted the morning session and set the stage for the conference with his address on ” Bring Academic Integrity to the Campuses.” He was followed by Martin Gross, JD, who was pitch-hitting for Susan Tuchman JD from the ZOA Center for Law and Justice on the importance and impact of Title VI legislation in funding Middle Eastern studies with a discussion of the original intent and the distorted realities of their cooption. Congressman Anthony Weiner, a candidate for Mayor New York and an early critic of the events at Columbia University and the Bollinger Committee gave a stirring talk about the need for academic integrity to return to one of New York’s most prestigious academic institutions.
Laurie Zoloth, Professor of Humanities and Bioethics and Professor of Religion at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwest University who served previously as Jewish Studies Director at San Francisco State University when Palestinian students engaged in physical intimidation of Jewish students, spoke about her experiences, ethics and the importance of academic integrity in bringing all sides of an important issue into the classroom. Rachel Ehrenfeld, Director of the American Center for Democracy and the author of the widely acclaimed book, “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It,” spoke of “The Promotion of Jihad Through Subversion of Academic Institutions in the United States.”
Natan Sharansky, Minister for Diasporan Affairs, State of Israel and noted human rights activist, spoke to the group from Milan, Italy on ” An American Education” with reflections of his 25 campus tours over the last few years and called upon more faculty to stand up and be counted and that Jewish children be better equipped to deal with the lies they will hear on college campuses.
Donna Divine, Morningstar Professor of Government at Smith College, spoke about her unique teaching methods to teach about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict calling it, “The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Teaching all sides without taking sides.” Phyllis Chesler, Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Women’s Studies from CUNY and a leading feminist, brought those assembled to their feet with applause with her discussion of “The Palestianization of the Academy.”
Martin Kramer, Senior Associate, Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University, was beamed in from Israel for the conference via webcast and spoke to the group about the need for the restructuring of Middle Eastern studies programs not just at Columbia, but throughout the discipline as it has been simply been coopted by anti-Israel personnel engaging more in propagandizing and historical revisionism than in important scholarship.
Charles Jacobs, Founder, American Anti-Slavery Group and The David Project with four guests from the Sudan and other African nations, spoke the critical issues of Reforming Middle Eastern Studies and the Blackout of Oppressed Minorities in Middle Eastern and African Countries. The film “Columbia Unbecoming” was shown, followed by a question and answer period with some of the students in the film.
Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter, Professor of Law, Harvard University addressed group on “Academic Freedom and the Controversy on the American Campus.” Ephraim Karsh, Professor and Head of Mediterranean Studies Program, King’s College, University of London, spoke to his experiences in ” The Decline of Middle Eastern Studies.”
Nat Hentoff, Columnist for the Village Voice, shared his views on the challenges of free speech verses hate speech and academic integrity and academic responsibility from the perspective of a veteran liberal journalist.
Rachel Fish, NY Regional Director of the David Project and Harvard Divinity School Graduate responsible for Harvard’s returning $2.5M to Sheik Zayed, spoke about her experiences at Harvard and Columbia with inappropriate funding sources for academic programs from the United Arab Emirates.
Debbie Schlussel JD, MBA, Syndicated Columnist, attorney and activist, spoke about her experiences with “Tax-Funded Islamic Terror on Campus at the University of Michigan.” Brigitte Gabriel, A native born Lebanese, now American, Founder of the American Congress for Truth and former correspondent for CNN and networks in Israel, spoke stirringly and passionately about growing up in Lebanon learning hatred towards the Jews and of the denial of freedoms in the Middle East.
David French, President Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), spoke about the importance of academic debate and the challenge of academic integrity to withstand that debate.
Harley Lippman, president of Genesis II and a Columbia alumnus, spoke of his disappointment and concerns with the deterioration of academic standards at Columbia University. Morton Klein, President Zionist Organization of America, spoke passionately of the distortion and delegitimization of the state of Israel by academics on campus. Kenneth Jacobson, Senior Association National Director of the Anti-Defamation League spoke about research results of the ADL showing faculty anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism on campus.
Edward Beck offered concluding remarks calling for more faculty to become engaged with peer review and demands for excellence, civility and integrity on campus.
Dr. Edward S. Beck is President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East