Juan Cole: The New McCarthyismRoundup: Talking About History
A member of the U.S. Congress calls for an assistant professor at a major university to be summarily fired. The right-wing tabloid press runs a series of vicious attacks on him, often misquoting him and perpetuating previous misquotes. Opinion pieces attacking "tenured radicals" and questioning professors' patriotism use him as their centerpiece. All of these attacks are spurred by a propaganda film made by an advocacy group, in which anonymous accusations are made and the professor is not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
It is not 1953, the Congress member is not Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and the professor is not being accused of being a communist. No, it is 2005, the Congress member is Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and the professor is being accused of being anti-Israel.
The lesson for academics, and American society as a whole: McCarthyism is unacceptable except when criticism of Israel is involved.
The targeted professor is Joseph Massad, of the Middle East Languages and Cultures Department at Columbia University. Massad is the author of "Colonial Effects: The Making of National Identity in Jordan" (Columbia University Press, 2001), and of a forthcoming book treating the sexual depictions of Arabs in colonial literature, "Desiring Arabs." He is well-published, and his first book received rave reviews in journals such as Choice and the American Historical Review. His career would have been no more controversial than that of any academic historian working on Argentina or Uganda, had he not been a Palestinian-American teaching about Israel and Palestine in New York City. Nor, had he been critical of Argentinean or Ugandan policies, would any eyebrows have been raised in the United States.
The attacks on Massad, and two other professors in the department, were led by off-campus right-wing Zionist organizations aligned with Israel's Likud Party -- notably a murky Boston-based organization called "the David Project," which produced the film in which the accusations were made. (In fact, according to an in-depth report by Scott Sherman in the Nation, there is no single "film"; at least six versions exist, and it has never been screened for the public. When the Nation asked to view it, the David Project refused to make it available. Its head, Charles Jacobs, also refused to provide details to the Nation about the group's financial backers or its ties to professional pro-Israel lobbyists.)
Almost none of the allegations against Massad (anti-Semitism, mistreatment of students, likening Israel to Nazi Germany) came from students who had taken his courses. In the most serious case, an allegation that Massad angrily told a student, "If you're going to deny the atrocities being committed against Palestinians, then you can get out of my classroom," the charge was corroborated by one other student and one auditor, but three other individuals present said they had no recollection of the episode taking place, and it did not appear in Massad's teaching evaluations....
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