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The Witchhunts Continue
Columbia University and the New Anti-Semitism
By M. JUNAID ALAM
Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder
respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Rape, massacre, theft, torture, ethnic cleansing: these are not crimes
which nations can defend with ease - especially when unearthed by
their own historians. Israel recently faced this most troubling
predicament. Combing through declassified state archives, Israeli
scholars of the past twenty years have discovered their nation was
founded upon the mass expulsion and deliberate destruction of the
native Palestinian people. (1) Israel, it turned out, was far more Goliath
than David. Since this presented somewhat of a public relations
problem for a state still engaged in brutalizing Palestinians and
stealing their land, a new self-justifying rationale needed to be
Enter the "new anti-Semitism." This doctrine turns reality on its head,
declaring criticism of Israel's racist behavior to be itself racist "anti-
Semitic." Empathy for Palestinians being beaten, bullied, and
bulldozed out of existence, the doctrine goes, is nothing but some
disguised expression of Jew-hatred. Goose-stepping Germans and
uprooted Palestinians are portrayed as part of the same unbroken
line of anti-Semitism, even though those inhabiting concentration
camps today "the largest ever to exist," says Israeli historian Baruch
Kimmerling - are the Palestinians themselves. (2) But no matter.
Abusing the memory of Holocaust victims to shut down criticism of
Israeli crimes crimes unearthed mostly by Jewish historians - may
be obscene, but it is also effective.
Wielding this new ideological weapon, Israel's champions aim to cut
down pro-Palestinian voices inside America with the same
ruthlessness Israeli soldiers employ to shoot up Palestinian children
outside their homes. (3) The latest targets in this well-organized hit
are Arab-American professors at Columbia University who teach
Middle Eastern studies. The targets have been judiciously selected.
Since these particular professors are Arab in an age when bombing
and torturing Arabs has virtually become a national sport, they make
for easy prey; and since they have added to their original sin of being
Arab the even graver sin of speaking the truth about Israel's past no
less in a country which subsidizes Israel's existence - they also make
for necessary prey.
In full accordance with "new anti-Semitism" modus operandi, the
attacks paint the professors themselves as the attackers. With
Orwellian brushstrokes, they are rendered as demons bent on
"intimidating" Jewish students at the university. This much is to be
expected. Less expected, however, is the almost embarrassing
shoddiness of the trumped-up production. The wild charges made
against the professors are so poorly substantiated and the political
motives of the accusers so painfully transparent, one almost forgets
that America's well-financed pro-Israel network has extensive
experience in smearing its opponents. (4)
Curiously, the charges of "silencing" and "intimidation" first made
waves when it was learned that the accusing students made their
case on camera. They appeared in a short film, titled "Columbia
Unbecoming", produced by a Boston-based group called the David
Project. At this point it is both necessary and prudent to ask: what is
the "David Project"?
At its website, the organization describes itself as "a grassroots
initiative that promotes a fair and honest understanding of the
Middle East conflict." A noble enough endeavor, no doubt. But a
few lines later, we come to this: "We train people to be pro-active in
their Israel advocacy" Another page offers for a fee, of course an
intense three-hour ideological session titled "Making the Case for
Israel." Searching for a "Making the Case for Palestine" program
yields no results. Similarly, a look at the speaker's roster reveals
many pro-Israeli speakers, but not a single pro-Palestinian. Perhaps
most revealing is the text prefacing their speaker section: "For more
information on how to bring our speakers to your synagogue, school,
church, or community center, please call" (5) Apparently churches
and synagogues are welcome, but mosques need not apply. One
The site then goes on to describe what it considers to be a "fair and
honest position": "The essence of the Middle East conflict is about
Jewish existence and self-determination in the face of a hostile Arab
world and radical Islamists." (6) Israel's own recent historians take a
rather different view. Commenting on the founding of Israel, Senior
Lecturer of Military History in the IDF Aryeh Yitzhaki says, "a
generation has passed, and it is now possible to face the ocean of
lies in which we were brought up. In almost every conquered village
in the War of Independence, acts were committed, which are defined
as war crimes, such as indiscriminate killings, massacres and rapes."
(7) Describing Zionism the founding ideology of Israel another
Israeli historian, Tom Segev, writes: "'Disappearing' the Arabs lay at
the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition of
its existence. With few exceptions, none of the Zionists disputed the
desirability of forced transfer - or its morality." (8)
Committing war crimes and disappearing people from their homes
doesn't quite square well with pious rhetoric about "self-determination."
But the folks at the David Project are free to cling to their pro-Israel
political line. That they do so while pretending to be some kind of
impartial educational group, however, speaks volumes. So much for
"fairness" - and, even more so, "honesty."
Given the clear ideological orientation of the David Project, one is
forced to ask the obvious: why would students claiming to be
"intimidated" and "silenced" by their professors bypass all university
channels, and rush headlong into the arms of a political front group?
Looking at the film itself provides us some answers.
In this half-hour production featuring 14 students, only six present
firsthand complaints; standing accused are professors Joseph
Massad, George Saliba, and Hamid Dabashi. Complaints range from
random flyering incidents having nothing to do with professors, to
general ideological disagreements with what professors have written,
to statements they allegedly made in person. No evidence is
presented for any of the charges.
Columbia student Adam Sacarny wrote in the school's newspaper
upon seeing the film: "Much like the electoral campaigns, it uses
talking points in place of pesky verifiable facts," adding, "The film's
case is so shoddy that I fail to see how any critical viewer could leave
the theater convinced that [the department] has violated academic
integrity standards." (9) Even the generally sympathetic Israeli daily
Haaretz admits, "The movie fuses few solid examples of intimidation
only some of which involved professors and the students they were
teaching with generalized complaints of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic
statements and behavior on campus." (10) And despite these
students' claims of being "silenced," "intimidated," and "denied"(their
own words), not one of them say their grades were affected. (11)
Quite "coincidentally," the main target of the film is the untenured
professor, Joseph Massad. He is accused of making outlandish
comments and exhibiting an extreme intolerance toward pro-Israeli
views in class. Yet only one of the students in the film has even taken
a course with the professor. Moreover, precisely none of them even
majored in the "offending" department of Middle East and Asian
Languages and Cultures. (12) But rest assured. The complaining
students have other "qualifications."
One student shuttles back and forth from America to Israel to explain
how to adjust the prefatory sales pitch for the film depending on the
audience. (13) Another served in the Israeli military, which, according
to events personally witnessed by former New York Times Middle East
Bureau chief Chris Hedges, "entice[s] children like mice into a trap
and murder[s] them for sport," and which also, according to a CIA
study, acquires "data for use in silencing anti-Israel factions in the
West" and engages in "sabotage, paramilitary and psychological
warfare projects, such as character assassination and black
propaganda." (14) Another complaining student who was a lead
organizer for the film, Ariel Beery, boasts an impressive resume: he
served as a spokesman for the Israeli military, is the head of the on-
campus Zionist group, and is also an agent and informer for Daniel
Pipes' notorious CampusWatch.org website, where students are
encouraged to "report" their professors' political views if they are
deemed insufficiently servile to the conservative party line. (15)
But this is not all. None of the targeted professors were even allowed
a chance to rebut the charges on the film. The reason for this,
according to David Project head Ralph Avi Goldwasser, in comments
given to the Israeli daily The Jerusalem Post, is that "the film wasn't
meant to be a documentary; it was merely an effort to collect students'
testimony about classroom incidents." Unsurprisingly, the David
Project is simply being dishonest (again), since it turns out that they
deliberately ignored the voices of Jewish and non-Jewish students
who found such "incidents" to be fabricated and had no problems
with the targeted professors. Eric Posner, who describes himself as
"a Jew, an Israeli, a Jerusalemite, and an American," reports that "I
was approached last year by Ariel Beery who wanted to hear my
opinion about MEALAC and Massad, whose class I was enrolled in at
the time. When I expressed my profound appreciation for Massad's
critical approach and the multiplicity of perspectives that he offers in
his classroom, Beery told me that he wouldn't be calling me back for
a taped interview." (16)
Posner also took it upon himself to gather some highly illuminating
statements from other students who took Professor Massad's classes.
Below are four:
"Several individuals who audited this class regularly attempted to
disturb the progress of the class. During these disturbances, the
auditors often attempted to dominate the class discussion with
personal statements unrelated or extremely loosely related to the
course material. They were regularly unprepared for the classroom
discussion, not having completed the required reading, and for the
most part were largely ignorant of the class' subject matter. It was
fairly obvious that these individuals had registered for the course for
the sole purpose of disrupting the progress of the class. To my
amazement, [Massad] allowed each and every student in the class
an opportunity to speak, regardless of their familiarity with the class
subject matter and required course material."
"I am Jewish. I am not a Zionist. Joseph Massad is a man who
understands the distinction and does not attempt to conflate the two
around a vague connection with Israel. Knowing that he is being
accused of anti-Semitism is not only a slap in HIS face, it is a slap in
the face of every Jew who understands a legacy of oppression and
chooses not to become an oppressor."
"On the question of religion, he was openly critical of all religions
including Islam his anti-Israeli opinions could not reasonably have
been construed as anti-Semitic. Similarly, while being critical of Israeli
policy, he did not hesitate to offer critical opinions of Yasser Arafat. In
general, he maintained a tone of critical scholarly inquiry."
"As for academic discrimination, I am a Jew who wrote a term paper
criticizing Palestinian nationalism for its foundation in support for
violence, and despite Massad's supposed bias, he gave me an A."
- Benjamin Wheeler (17)
By now the general picture is quite clear. An ideologically motivated
clique of Zionist students, possessing no actual evidence of
"intimidation" but infuriated upon hearing their fairy-tale version of
Israeli history dismantled, teamed up with a pro-Israel political front
group masquerading as educators to smear a few Arab professors as
"anti-Semites" - conveniently excluding the opinion of those "Semites"
who fully support their teachers and actually took classes with them.
More damning than the poverty and hollowness of the film, however,
is the fact that it was even produced. After all, what kind of "victimized"
students are able to summon to their command the financial and
technical resources of something like the David Project? Moreover,
how do such "victims" procure for themselves a $3 million dollar
building on campus, a privilege no other Columbia group enjoys?
(18) Claims to victimization a central feature in the reverse-reality
trick known as "the new anti-Semitism" - are also completely
discredited by the fact that viciously right-wing tabloids in New York,
the Sun and the Daily News, have joined in on the attack against the
professors, castigating them as "firebrands" and demanding they be
fired. Prominent New York City politicians have also demanded that
the professors be "investigated" if not fired outright. (19) Truly
remarkable is the "victim" so well-endowed in assets and allies.
I do not mean to suggest, however, that these Zionist students have
no understanding of intimidation or persecution - far from it. Indeed,
they well know of a place where people are intimidated in extreme
ways, often "ordered to urinate and execrate on one other," "beaten
and ordered to crawl around;" a place where children are forced to
clean their masters' latrines and are then taken into rooms to be
beaten senseless, until "they cannot stand up"; where passengers
are pulled from cars and then "beaten with rifle butts and helmets";
where pregnant women are prevented from reaching hospitals; where
the masters refer to the slaves as a "cancer" requiring "chemotherapy"
or "amputation" where in essence, people are treated far worse than
anything these students claim to have undergone. (20)
The "where" is occupied Palestine, the people being brutalized are
Palestinians, and those doing the brutalizing are Zionists. Here is
where millions of natives suffer under military occupation imposed
by Israeli soldiers - at least 20% of whom "join the army with the
preconception that Arab lives are worth less than Jewish lives, "
according to Israeli Major General Elazar Stern. (21) Here is where
unarmed 13 year-old girls can be shot twice "from close range at [the]
head" and then "sprayed with automatic gunfire" afterwards without
penalty. (22) Here is where real, actual, tangible "intimidation" and
"silencing" takes place. And here is where our whining Zionists at
Columbia could go and learn an object lesson in what intimidation is
all about if only they were not preoccupied with endorsing it.
It is a resounding indictment of the intellectual and moral poverty of
our times that those who support murder, torture, brutality, and
racism - while lounging around in plush multi-million dollar offices on
an Ivy League campus and starring in pseudo-documentaries, no
less - are considered the victims, those speaking on behalf of the
suffering are considered criminals, and those actually suffering from
the real atrocities taking place are not considered at all.
For those concerned with justice, the course of action could not be
clearer. Now is a time not for interminable hesitance, but immediate
resistance. The extraordinary level of arrogance, cruelty, and hate
embodied by the forces promoting this and numerous other right-
wing witch-hunts cannot be allowed to prowl about unchecked. For
this is merely an extension of the war of bombs and bullets being
waged upon the Arabs abroad; it is an attempt to Guantanomize our
minds, Abu Ghraib our hearts, and Fallujah our souls - to remove
from us every last trace of what is the best in each of us: the instinct
to side with the weak and aid the oppressed.
To resist this colonization of our compassion, to re-cultivate our
resistance against those who believe in the "compassion" of
colonization these are the pressing demands of the hour. How
vigorously we respond to these demands will determine whether
those bruised, beaten children of Palestine will ultimately receive
some respite from their inhumane condition, or instead find themselves
further abused by the silent whip of indifference. In their eyes we will
read either the redemption or indictment of the moral standing of our
M. Junaid Alam, 22, is co-editor of the radical youth journal Left Hook
(http://www.lefthook.org), and a student at Northeastern University. He
can be reached at email@example.com.
1. The Israeli historians who have gone through some of the state's
massive archives of the pre-war and war period of 1947-9 sometimes
refer to themselves as 'new historians.' They include Simha Flapan,
Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Tanya Reinhart, Ilan Pappe, and many others.
I would recommended as an introduction The War for Palestine:
Rewriting the History of 1948, edited by Eugene L. Rogan and Avi
Shlaim, which contains a number of 'new historian' essays.
2. Kimmerling is cited by American Jewish historian Norman G.
Finkelstein in the Postscript to the German edition of his book, The Rise
and Fall of Palestine. (http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?
pg=4&ar=8) In the preface to Kimmerling's own 2003 book, Politicide,
which argues that Israel is trying to exterminate the Palestinians as a
political entity, he says his country is experiencing a "recent drift towards
fascism." (p. 7)
3. For an account of Israel's pattern of shooting Palestinian children,
see the article "Killing children is no longer a big deal," by Gideon Levy,
in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, October 17, 2004.
4. For an account of the treatment meted out to those who defy the
Israeli line in the U.S. by America's pro-Israeli lobby, see They Dare to
Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel's Lobby, by Paul
Findley, who served as congressman of Illinois for over two decades.
5. The David Project website is located at http://www.davidproject.org.
See the "Training" and "Speakers" pages.
6. See note 5, the website's front-page box titled "Understanding the
7. Yitzhaki is cited in the Israeli paper, Ha'ir, by Guy Erlich in his May 6,
1992 article, "Not Only Deir Yassin." Deir Yassin was an Arab village
whose inhabitants were massacred by Zionist militia in 1948.
8. Tom Segev, One Palestine, Complete, pp.404-5; cf. pp. 403, 406-7,
508 as cited in the matchless synopsis of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, by Norman G. Finkelstein, titled "An Introduction to the Israel-
Palestine Conflict." (http://normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?
9. "Shedding light on MEALAC," by Adam Sacarny, November 12, 2004,
10. "The 'Silent Jews' speak out," by Shoshana Kordova, Haaretz,
February 9, 2005.
11. About grades not being affected, see: "Non-academic debate," by
Uriel Heilman, The Jerusalem Post, December 23, 2004 (updated
December 29, 2004).
12. Only one student actually had Massad for class see "CAN Fights
Zionist Smear Campaign at Columbia Univ.," by Suzie Schwartz, a
Columbia student, Left Hook, December 17, 2004. (http://lefthook.
org/Ground/Schwartz121704.html); and none majored in the department
see Eric Posner, as quoted in Independent Press Association (IPA-NY),
"The Arab answer to the Columbia University question," by Amal Hageb.
13. See note 10.
14. Chris Hedge's A Gaza Diary, published in Harper's, October 2001;
CIA study is titled "Israel: Foreign Intelligence and Security Services,"
reprinted in Counterspy, May-June 1982 as cited in Noam Chomsky's A
Fateful Triangle Updated Edition, 1999, cited on page 11, sourced on
page 33, as note 9; one of the accusers in the film was Tomy
Schoenfeld - "a student who had served in the Israeli army" according
to "Mideast Tensions are Getting Personal on Campus at Columbia," by
N. R. Kleinfield, The New York Times, January 18, 2005.
15. Ariel Beery proudly advertises himself at his personal website, http:
//www.arielbeery.com, where it is written, "He finished his service in the
IDF Spokesperson's Unit where he wrote and translated information
packets" on this specific page: http://www.arielbeery.com/Ariel.html; a
host of his "documents" submitted to Campus Watch are kindly made
available at the website: http://www.campus-watch.
16. As quoted in IPA piece cited in note 12.
17. All quoted in IPA piece cited in note 12.
18. This is a reference to the Kraft Center - "Understanding the Attacks
on Pro-Palestinian Professors at Columbia," by Jonah Birch, a Columbia
Student, Left Hook, January 28, 2005. (http://lefthook.
19. Congressman Anthony D. Weiner has called for Massad's firing. The
New York City Council and members of the New York City Council have
called for an outside investigation against him, egged on of course by
the Sun and the Daily News.
20. On urination and execration, beating, and being ordered to crawl
around, see "Do not say: 'We did not know, we did not hear'," by Aharon
Bachar, in Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, December 3, 1982 as
cited in Noam Chomsky's A Fateful Triangle, cited on page 131, sourced
on page 176-7. On being forced to clean latrines and then being beaten
in rooms, see "Peace Now officers recount atrocities," in Israeli
newspaper Al Hamishmar, May 11, 1982 - as cited in Noam Chomsky's A
Fateful Triangle, cited on page 132, sourced on page 177; on being
beaten with rifle butts and helmets, see "Reports of Torture by Israelis
Emerge," by Lee Hockstader, Washington Post, August 18, 2001; for
pregnant women being stalled at Israeli checkpoints, see Israeli human
rights group B'TSelem's website, www.btselem.org, and see note 3; it
was Israeli Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon who said in an August 30, 2002
interview with Haaretz Friday Magazine that there was a "Palestinian
threat" the "characteristics of [which] are invisible, like cancer"; he then
goes on to elaborate, "There are all kinds of solutions to cancerous
manifestations. Some will say it is necessary to amputate organs. But at
the moment, I am applying chemotherapy, yes."
21. "General: 1 in 5 troops behave badly at roadblocks," by Gideon
Alon, Haaretz, December 6, 2004.
22. "Gaza girl death officer cleared," BBC News, October 15, 2004. The
article notes, "Without revealing their identities, soldiers from the Givati
brigade platoon told Israeli television how their officer sprayed Iman al-
Hams with automatic gunfire on 5 October" after having "approached
her and fired two bullets from close range at her head." The army chose
not to believe the platoon, and accepted the awe-inspiring explanation
of the commander that "he fired into the ground near the girl after
coming under fire in a dangerous area." The BBC adds wryly, "It has not
explained why the officer shot into the ground rather than at the source
of the fire."