David Project vs. MEALAC

Interesting student perspective on the effort by the David Project and friends to counter anti-Zionist professors with pro-Zionist professors (particularly at Columbia University). Something about bias, i believe. Remember kids, it’s only propoganda if you disagree…

Columbia, despite the specter of a hostile campus climate, also boasts one of the most vibrant Jewish communities of any major university. Columbia does have many students and faculty members who are pro-Palestinian, but seeing this as a problem suggests that students should learn only from those with whom they already agree. Some students apparently do feel this way. “Being challenged intellectually,” says Khalidi, “is taken to be, ‘I’m being made to feel uncomfortable.’ Instead of reacting and examining, saying, ‘OK, I don’t agree with that, let’s look at it and see where it comes from,’ people get offended.”

But not everyone gets offended: “I took a seminar with Rashid Khalidi,” says Seth Anziska, a senior at Columbia and a former LionPAC board member. “I think Khalidi is a wonderful scholar and an amazing pedagogue. He’s not someone who thinks Zionism shouldn’t exist, he’s critical of it but in a really constructive way.” Further, the idea that a hostile environment warrants intervention suggests that Jewish students cannot meet intellectual challenges head-on, something students’ own experiences contradict. “To me, it’s fine if a professor posits views that are completely antithetical to those who have sympathy for Zionism and Israel,” says Anziska, “and I would challenge the views I disagreed with.”

“The problem,” he continues, “is when professors won’t engage in an academic discussion with those who offer different and legitimate perspectives. It is not okay when professors become polemics and shut students down.” Academic intimidation is indeed a serious issue, to be confronted firmly. But it is not an issue of content. Professional misconduct is judged by the standards of appropriate faculty-student relations, not by the standards of teaching about the Middle East. It would seem logical that this be addressed on an individual basis – incident by incident – and directly, rather than through broad reform of the department, university, or field in which it occurred. Yet the Columbia administration confirms that no such complaint has been lodged against Massad or any other MEALAC faculty member. This may be because the real basis of the complaint is something else entirely.

For these pro-Israel students and advocates, the bottom line is that many professors are sympathetic to the Palestinian viewpoint – and not to theirs. If their solutions did not involve promoting Israel in the classroom, they would do nothing to remedy the problem they see. But if the efforts are to succeed, advocates will have influenced the university with political goals at heart – which in turn erodes the distinction between academia and advocacy.

Full story.

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