Tuesday, October 26, 2004


Joseph Massad

There is currently a campaign to have Joseph Massad fired from Columbia University. You can read about it here in the Daily Star. Essentially, there is an underground film that alleges anti-Semitism on the part of Massad.
Produced by a two-year-old Israel-advocacy group calling itself the David Project, the film has yet to be distributed to the public. It seems a small audience of Columbia administrators - including Barnard College president, Judith Shapiro, and Columbia provost, Alan Brinkley - received a private screening. The Boston-based group has announced that it has sent a copy to Simon Klarfeld, head of the Hillel chapter of Columbia and Barnard, who plans to screen it for the organization's board of directors in November.
New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has written to Alan Brinkley asking that Massad be fired over this. What strikes me as dangerous is the fact that here we have an underground film that has been shown to some people involved and not to others (it is unclear whether Weiner has seen it, and I do not believe that Massad has seen it) and really pits the word of Massad against the word of those individuals (or individual) making claims against him in the film. Meanwhile, Columbia has been doing what most universities do (that is, carry out internal evaluations) and has found no evidence of misconduct by Massad.
In 2003, in fact, Bollinger convened a committee of Columbia professors devoted to drawing a more distinct line between academic expression and political activism. He told the New York Daily News that the committee found no evidence, indeed no claims, of classroom bias or intimidation.
Now, I have two things to say about this. First, Massad has said some things that push the envelope. He is a radical. But on the other hand, "evidence" of his anti-Semitism is mostly being propagated (if you do a web search you'll find this to be the case) by those affiliated with Campus Watch and/or far-right pro-Israel groups. Here is an online petition you can sign in support of Joseph Massad's academic freedom. The second thing I have to say is that one can support Massad's academic freedom, that is, his right to be held to the same standards as others within Columbia University and not be held to a different standard because of outside pressure groups, without necessarily supporting everything that Massad has said. I have posted this link to the petition neither as an endorsement of Joseph Massad and his statements nor as a condemnation of them, but simply as a vehicle by which you, the reader, can sign your name in support of academic freedom.

UPDATE: For interesting related background material, I recommend this piece by Sara Roy, Harvard historian, from the London Review of Books (forwarded to me by Amanda).

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