Joseph Massad: Statement Before Columbia Committee

Roundup: Talking About History

This is an excerpt from the statement Joseph Massad made on March 14, 2005 before the committee at Columbia University investigating charges of intimidation in the Middle East studies program:

I have prepared a statement to read to you.  I would be happy to answer your questions afterwards. Before I begin, however, I want to ascertain that as professor Katzneslson has informed me, the only complaints that your committee has heard about me are the two complaints that the press reported from my students, namely the complaint by Noah Liben and the complaint by Deena Shanker. As for the complaint by Tomy Schoenfeld, who was not my student, I presume, his case is irrelevant to this body, as your mandate states that “as a result of the expression of concern by a number of students that they were being intimidated by faculty members and being excluded from participating fully in classroom discussions because of their views,” you are expected “to identify cases where there appear to be violations of the obligation to create a civil and tolerant teaching environment.”2 If there are any other complaints against me, unless I am told what they are and who made them, and the date and place where they allegedly took place, I shall not respond to them.

I appear before you today because of a campaign of intimidation to which I have been subjected for over three years. While this campaign was started by certain members of the Columbia faculty, and by outside forces using some of my students as conduits, it soon expanded to include members of the Columbia administration, the rightwing tabloid press, the Israeli press, and more locally the Columbia Spectator. Much of this preceded the David Project film “Columbia Unbecoming,” and the ensuing controversy. In the following statement, I will provide you with the history of this coordinated campaign, including the facts pertaining to the intimidation to which I am being subjected by the Columbia University administration, most manifestly through the convening of your own committee before which I appear today out of a combined sense of intimidation and obligation and not because I recognize its legitimacy. You need to bear with the details of the following narrative, as the campaign of intimidation against me is most insidious in its details.

I started teaching at Columbia in the Fall of 1999. At the conclusion of my first academic year, during which I taught my class on Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies, I received a Certificate of Appreciation for teaching presented by"The Students of Columbia College, Class of 2000," and was nominated and was one of the two finalists for the Van Doren teaching award which went that year to Professor Michael Stanislawski.  In my second year, I began to be told of whispers about my class on Palestinian and Israeli politics and Societies. Jewish Students in my class in the Spring 2001 would tell me that I was the main topic of discussion at the Jewish Theological Seminary and at Hillel and that my class is making the Zionists on campus angry. I took such reports lightly, as the class had doubled in size from the first year. I did notice however that the class included some cantankerous students who insisted on scoring political points during the lectures. I would always diffuse the situation by allowing all questions to be asked and by attempting to answer them informatively. I would do so in class and during office hours. I had strong positive evaluations from most of my students with some complaining that the class was biased. Although my course description explained that “The purpose of the course is to provide a thorough yet critical historical overview of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict to familiarize undergraduates with the background to the current situation,”3 I decided in the following year (Spring 2002) to emphasize that point more clearly. The course description read as follows:
The course examines critically the impact of Zionism on European Jews and on Asian and African Jews on the one hand, and on Palestinian Arabs on the other --in Israel, in the Occupied Territories, and in the Diaspora.  The course also examines critically the internal dynamics in Palestinian and Israeli societies, looking at the roles class, gender, and religion play in the politics of Israel and the Palestinian national movement.  The purpose of the course is not to provide a “balanced” coverage of the views of both sides, but rather to provide a thorough yet critical historical overview of the Zionist-Palestinian conflict to familiarize undergraduates with the background to the current situation from a critical perspective....

Click here to read the rest of this statement.

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