Blogs > Cliopatria > More MEALAC

Feb 4, 2005 8:26 pm


The leadership of Columbia's MEALAC Department is nothing if not consistent. Today's New York Sunreveals that last Monday, MEALAC hosted a panel entitled"One State or Two? Alternative Proposals for Middle East Peace." Since the call for a"democratic, secular" Palestine has become a recent cause celebre among the anti-Israel far left, it wasn't hard to anticipate the message.

Naturally, no pro-Israel speakers were invited to participate. Instead, MEALAC professors Rashid Khalidi (fresh off telling New York magazine that Arab-American students and only Arab-American students know the"truth" about the Middle East) and Joseph Massad (accused of intimidating pro-Israel students in the classroom) gave their defenses of a single-state solution, with Massad regularly denouncing the"racist Israeli state." Among the sponsors of the event: the School of International and Public Affairs, whose dean, Lisa Anderson, is on the special committee looking into MEALAC abuses and who was dissertation advisor to Professor Massad. The Sun further revealed that among Anderson's assistant deans is Khalidi's wife.

Next week, through his capacity as associate director of the Heyman Center, MEALAC'S George Dabashi is scheduled to bring to campus the Irish poet Tom Paulin, who argued that"Brooklyn-born" Jewish settlers"should be shot dead. I think they are Nazis, racists, I feel nothing but hatred for them." He added:"I can understand how suicide bombers feel. . . . I think attacks on civilians in fact boost morale."

All of this makes somewhat amusing that the night before Paulin's scheduled talk, the Center for the Humanities at CUNY's Graduate Center is hosting a panel discussion with Eric Foner, Joan Wallach Scott, and Columbia Governmnent professor Mahmoud Mamdani called"Defending Academic Freedom in an Atmosphere of Terror." This panel follows up on an event today examining McCarthyism at City College, which is billed as the leadoff in"a series of events exploring the contemporary crisis." Oddly, the Center never defines precisely what it means by the phrase the" contemporary crisis"--apparently it's so self-evident that critics of US or Israeli foreign policy just can't get jobs in the academy or make their voices heard on college campuses that the Center for the Humanities didn't even have to identify them as those whose academic freedom needs defending.

Foner, Scott, and Mamdani certainly are distinguished scholars. Yet to convene a panel on"defending academic freedom" that solely reflects voices that represent the majority in the academy--the people who are doing the hiring, tenuring, and conceptions of new job lines--offers what could charitably be termed a highly limited conception of the threats that currently exist to academic freedom.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

Not to defend the triumphalist wielding of editorial board power--but didn't DC say that Chris sent it to HIM to try to get it placed? If so, I say that makes it a different matter. Even so, better to keep things private, but when dealing with a petty bully like Chris . . .

Sandor A. Lopescu - 4/16/2005

Mr. Luker:

I wholly agree, of course. I was merely saying that it might not be (quite) as bad as it sounds since it may have been more of a personal hate-fest than anything else. I would agree that DC's comments are unworthy of him but ultimately atypical. Chris's are all too typical.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

I don't much care about the identity of the individuals or their histories of bare-knuckled bar-fighting. I would prefer it if they carried it on elsewhere.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Mr. Lopescu, It simply isn't appropriate in a context like this or others, for that matter, to attempt to score debate points with the claim that one has the authority to determine whether the work of the person you're arguing with can be published. It's a rhetorical demand that the other person needs to get down on his knees and lick your boots (or whatever other analogy you care to supply). Decisions about publication should be about merit, not assertions of personal power and authority. Public claims like this ought to be grounds for the removal of the person making them from _any_ editorial authority.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/7/2005

Mr. Catsam,

Given the tone and nature of your exchanges with Mr. Pettit, I assume you have recused yourself from any discussions of the paper under review.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/7/2005

Derek, It is _really_ inappropriate to go public with hegemonic claims to peer review authority. If you have it, exercise it judiciously; if you don't, it rings pretty hollow. Do you really think that anyone cares to read these overly long slug fests you enjoy with Chris?

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/7/2005

Chris --
Nonsense. I do not need to defend my record on South African history to the likes of you. It is what got me on a journal editorial board that has me reviewing one of your articles that you sent to me to try to get placed in the journal. Do not tell me that I learned "little of South Africa's history." I know more of the history qua history than you can even imagine. This would be like me saying you know little of South African law. It is another of your dopey and unsubstantiated little personal attacks. Please tell me where the bigotry is in someone who calls for a two state solution. Please let me know where the bigotry is in saying that the ANC/MK response to apartheid South Africa was qualitatively different from the Hamas approach.
As usual, it is name calling in lieu of actually responding to evidence from you Chris. The problem is, as always, you have not earned that right. Don't tell others simply to ignore me, others who do not have their facts right, who clearly know little of either South Africa's or Israel's history. I deserve that courtesy. in any case, I could easily just ignore your article. Since I am not qualified and all, perhaps that is exactly what I shall do, especially since you had enough regard for me to ignore regular editorial channels then, and yet hold me in so little public regard now.
You love to dismiss folks who disagree wit6h you Chris, and yert you are substantially wrong. If you'd like to compare our South Africa vitas, I'll gladly do it. but on a num gber of times you've used phrases like "just because he's lives in South Africa a bit." No, actually. I have lived and worked in South Africa. i have written about it extensively. And I do not buy the stupid ;ittle South Africa-Israel analogy just as i reject all analogies intended not to enlighhten but rather to taint. If you want to criticize israel, do it on its own terms. I'll gladly engage in that debate. But if you insist on doing so, I guess that makes all vacuous anaoligies fair game. So if supporting israel is akin to supporting apartheid South Africa (an especially loathsome accusation to levy at someone who does a great deal of his work on the antiapartheid movement in South Africa in the 1980s) then I guess it is fair to compare your views on israel to Nazi Germany. If one is valid, the other one is. personally, I think both are the sorts of sciuzzball cmparisons that are not intended to further discussion, but since you insist upon it, if the jackboots fit . . .

As for Adam's points: Israel does not target civilians. Even international law distinguishes between civilians killed in war and those targeted. israel may kill civilians in the process of killing terrorists. We may have qualms with their methods (despite the misrepresentations Chris foists upon us with his utter lack of respect for truth, I have stated my qualms a number of times).
What does this have to do with historians? How does my profession and the fact that I know what I am talking about make me more ideological than you? I have no idea what your profession is and even if i did would not raise it as a point in an argument to taint thatlarger argument. If you can explain that irrelevency, please do. i doubt highly that you can. it's an odd argument that tries to diminish facts. But then it is an even more odd argument that apparently values patent untruths over facts, and then tries to taint the person who bothers to care about the truth.
palestinians who are not israeli citizens cannot vote, true. So what? Please name a single country in the entire world where noncitizens can vote? Does this mean that England is antiAmerican because i cannot vote there? Was South Africa anti-American because I could not vote in any of the elections that occurred when iw as there? If one is Palestinian and an israeli citizen, there are no prohibitions on voting in israel. This is why Israel is the only state in the Middle East in which Arabs can actually sit in the democratically elected parliament. So if your big ace in the hole argument is that israel is somehow antidemocratic because non-israeli citizens cannot vote, then you must loathe the US, because our electuion systemn does not allow citizens of New Hampshire to vote in neighboring Vermont!

I like how you were factually wrong on the seci=urity resolutions and then still try to claim some moral high ground. yes, the US has vetoed attempts to act against israel. We can debate those things on the merits. But I'd rather do it when the person with whom i am arguing has their facts right. In any case, i have on plenty of occasions levied my criticisms of the Us and its foreign policy. That you are unaware of those instances is your problem, not mine. no one is arguing for American perfection. I just happen to think that on matters related to israel, the US is right.

Another argument that i do not get is the fact that the death tolls are, as you assert, 3-1. The Palestinians declared the second intifada. This is a fact. Not an interpretation. It is a fact. They have lost more in blood and treasure. Why does being more effective make Israel the bad guy? Is that really how you guage good and evil? The side that kills more is automatically the bad guy? Even if they do not start the war? If a little guy starts a fight with a big guy in a bar and then gets the crap kicked out of him, does it become the big guy's fault?

What do your tax dollars have to do with anything? We all pay tax dollars. We all, I assume, accept that sometimes our tax dollars go for things that we may not support. This line of argumentation does not actually say anything.


chris l pettit - 2/7/2005

Despite spending time in South Africa (for those who do not know I am lecturing at U of Cape Town)...DC learned little of its history or political ramifications, and his bilnd ideological defense of Israel is simply ridiculous...there are many better sources on the issue, most of which DC would deride. Unfortunately, it is sad to see both him and KC being so bigoted about an issue and is part of the reason that their remonstrations on other topics, such as the Sudan can be seen as nothing more than ideological stances that ensure their loss of credibility and descent into the realm of sheer hypocrisy.


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/6/2005


If targeting civilians counts as terrorism, then how can you say that Israel doesn't engage in terrorism? Or is it ok when a state power kills civilians because then they, by some form of magic, become a cost to be paid? The problem with historians is they think they "know" things because they have the facts. What they often times don't examine is their own presuppositions that determine the way they read these facts. Of course that is probley just liberal bias and I should bring in some other views, like they do on Hannity & Colmes (what a wonderful example of balance).

Palestinians living in Israel proper are not allowed to vote, they never have been. Furthermore, they have no representation with the greater government. Any attempt at securing such representation has been token at best.

You are right, I spoke incorrectly about the security resolutions. 23 have been voted on, and almost all of them have been vetoed by a single member only - the United States. Of course, if we did it, it must be right. Still, I have reservations.

I apologize for leaving out a verb, I bow before you much larger intelligence. To my very simple mind, however, it seems morally reprhensible to talk about the Palestinians as if they were the aggressors who indiscriminatly kill when the death toll is much higher for Palestinians than it is for Israelis by a ratio of nearly 3:1. Thus it also seems to me that while we all claim to be pro-peace, being pro-Israel (by turning a blind eye to the crimes the State of Israel engages in, often with my tax dollars) gets in the way.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/6/2005

I'm not one to advise you or others about picking fights. In the case at Lincoln, the fight ought to have been made for the students' sake, as well as my Jewish colleagues' sake. By the time I got to the King Center, anti-semitism was so rampant in African American communities that I heard reasonably intelligent African Americans blaming Garrow's embarrassments to King's reputation on his being "Jewish." Really, the calculous about picking fights can be based on very short-sighted judgment. But, then, some people aren't even smart enough to recognize when and what they've lost.

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/6/2005

Ralph --
From what I hear, some folks know how to pick their fights!

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/6/2005

Anthony --
Wow. Quite the reading you did of what I wrote. I never said that Mandela did not engage in violence. However, he intentionally abvoided and disavowed terrorism. He did not target civilians. All violence is not the same. If I kill your child at a bus stop it is quite different from if I shoot at you if you are a soldier. A little sophistication might be nice.
Which Security Council Resolutions "have been ignored"? Name them. And explain which article of resolution they were. I do not think you can. Are we confusing the general Assembly and the Security Council, just as we confused Umkhonto we Sizwe's guerrilla warfare with terrorism?
Wait a second -- which Palestinians are not being allowed to vote? I thought you believed Gaza and West Bank are occupied territories. But if you are saying that the West Bank and Gaza are in fact permanently Israel proper, then fine. It is all Israel's. And they should be allowed to vote. Where, then, will the Palestinian state be? By your own standard, there will be none. I want a two-state solution. If there is one,will you be allowing the Jewish settlers to stay and to vote? Somehow I think not.
Then you write the following: "The massive gulf between how the deaths of Palestinians and between Israelis is something that can be ignored." Um, what? I have no idea what you are asking. Let's play a little game from here on out. Let's have our sentences have predicates. Typoes are one thing - God knows I have no place to criticize on that front. The use of those crazy little things we call "verbs" is another matter, however.
I am sure you can spew all sorts of trite little phrases like "I'm pro peace." Who isn't? Remind me: Who declared the second Intifada in September 2000?
From here on out, could we only get strident commentary from people who know what the hell they are talking about? Facts, verbs, these things count. Or they ought to.

Anthony Paul Smith - 2/5/2005

So Mandela didn't participate in violence? What about all the security council resolutions that have been ignored? Perhaps you want to argue that the Palestinian folks, who aren't allowed to become citizens even if they wan to, aren't being denied voting rights based on race. Is that it? The massive gulf between how the deaths of Palestinians and between Israelis is something that can be ignored?

I hope for mutual cohabitation between the two people's, but the so-called "Pro-Israel" side can't seem to see the crimes committed by Israel. I'm pro-peace.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/5/2005

I am reminded of the year I taught at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. It is an African American institution with some remarkably successful alums, including Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. I was there only a year, in the mid-1980s, but _every_ outside speaker who came to the campus attacked either the American Jewish community or the state of Israel. My Jewish colleagues there did not complain, but I suspect that they did not complain because they knew doing so would have no productive result.

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/5/2005

One of my standards of any department or subdiscipline has always been "could someone from an ideology fine a place as a a major?" It seems evident that at Columbia, MEALAC would not be hospitable for the hardly fringe student who supports Israel. A women's studies program where a sharp pro-life advocate could not get a fair chance to excel, an ethnic studies program where an anti-affirmative action student could not excel -- these are problematic. Now I am pro-choice and pro-affrimative action, but that is not the point. The point is that a department or discipline that is not in fact about free inquiry and openness and ideas does not deserve to have a place in a university as a separate department. Downshift it to a student club. Dissipate it into other departments where at elast disciplinary standards can prevail. But let's don't pretend that they are serious departments in which standards of scholarship and teaching are being maintained and in which ideas and debate are welcome.


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/5/2005

Haven't you ever heard of an Evangelical University?

Robert KC Johnson - 2/5/2005

It would seem to me that it's appropriate of administrators to expect departments to invite people relevant to their academic missions, and, over the course of time, reflecting all major points of view within their discipline.

As a rule, I care much less about outside speakers than in-class instruction--attendance at speaking events is voluntary, and except for extreme examples, like the current Brooklyn one, it seems to me that most good universities bring in people of differing viewpoints. This is one reason why I don't like the formal tit-for-tat balance desired by David Horowitz and others on the speaker front.

Certainly, however, if an African-American Studies department, over a several year period, invited only people who agreed with, say, Lani Guanier on the issue of representative democracy and elections, I think that would be a matter of concern for a college administrator.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/5/2005

Yes, I agree, but what standard of balance would you think might be appropriately obliged of a Women's Studies program or of an African American Studies program?

Derek Charles Catsam - 2/5/2005

The Young Republicans are a voluntary association within a university. MELAC is a department within a university that ought to be an area of free inquiry. MELAC's stance would be the equivalent of the political science department only being open to Democrats, or the history department only being open to Republicans. The standards of a university academioc department and a student club sem to be manifestly different.


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/5/2005

I do a lot of work on South Africa and a considerable amount on Israel. The Israel-South Africa analogy, broadly written, is absolutely morally vacuous, largely for the reasons that KC pointed out.

On the issues KC raises and to which Anthony Paul Smith responds:
1) KC: unlike South Africa pre-1990, Israel has no racial restrictions on voting and political participation. Unlike South Africa pre-1990. (APS response: Yes it does). Um, APS, what groups does Israel categorically deny from the political process? I do not thionk in requires much detail to understand South Africa's restrictions. Arabs in Israel can be members of the Knesse. Surely Israel has civil rights issues. It will be well nigh impossible to address those as long as bombs are exploding in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

2)KC: Unlike South Africa pre-1990, an elected leader of Israel has received the Nobel Peace Prize. APS: Does that really make a big difference?

APS may be right on this point. I am not certain that it doea matter. What is interesting is that ther blcak South African opposition consistently did gain recognition from the Nobel folks because of its work, including either nonviolence or consistently guerrilla, as opposed to terrorist warfare.

3) KC: Unlike South Africa pre-1990, Israel has no political prisoners. APS: Yes it does.

Um, ok. Who is a political prisoner in Israel who has not been arrested with direct charges as a consequence of participation in a crime or act of terror? What is Israel's equivalent to the States of Emergency of the 60s and especially the period after July 1985? Who is Israel's Mandela? (Hell, Nelson or Winnie?)(Answer: There is none).

4)KC: Unlike South Africa pre-1990, Israel does not operate under international sanctions. APS: No it doesn't, but that has more to do with American power than it does with the "goodness" of the Isreali state.

Or it has to do with America being right. Interesting how American presidents, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, have supported Israel. Interesting how those states that have initiated opposition to Israel in the UN have always been Israel's avowed opponents. (Oh, and even in the heart fo anti-apartheid, who was calling for the destruction of South Africa?)

5) KC: Unlike South Africa pre-1990, political freedoms in Israel are far greater than in any of its neighbors, and, indeed, greater than most countries in the world. APS:I'm pretty confidenct that the claim was made pre-1990 that South Africa gave more political freedoms than many of its neighbors, and knowing a Palestinian who is now a Citizen here and a conservative bible scholar who frequents Israel I don't think it is good enough. You are lowering the bar for "political freedoms".

This is easily APS's most nonsensical argument. Look at Israel's neighbors. Look at the freedoms Israeli citizens receive within Israel. Note how he does not address the substance, but rather simply says, I am sure that South Africa was saying the same thing, as if simply by tainting Israel with apartheid South Africa it stands in for actual argumentation. Tautology, thy name is Anthony Paul Smith. Israel simply is a liberal democracy, aparthjeid South Africa simply was not. Juxtaposing two regimes yopu oppose, both of which you obvious have an incomplete understanding of, does not an argument make.

6:KC: Unlike South Africa pre-1990, and despite the continuing security threat--hopefully diminished some by the recent actions of Pres. Abbas--Israel's Supreme Court has repeatedly, in recent years, ruled against the government in civil liberties cases. APS: Not sure the rulings have made much of a difference outside of convincing folks like yourself they have.

Are you kidding me? Name a judgment that Israel has simply ignored by its own couts. I think KC may be underestimating the putative power of the judiciary in apartheid South Africa, but the difference is, the South African judiciary went along with apartheid to a degree that the Israeli judiciary has curbed a large number of state excesses. This is simpym, a fact, and that you think that it has not had an effect on the ground is irrelevent to the fact that indeed it has.

Then, after ignoring the argument about invasion of neighbors, APS launches into a screed, without evidence, about how KC would rather just remove those who oppose him. That is a damned strong criticism based on zero evidence. The facts on the ground are that in the case he dioscusses, there is nothing but opposition to the only liberal democratic state in the Middle East. This is not a theoretical discussion about what hypothetically KC might think were it to happen. This is a case borne of concrete circumstances of what is up at Columbia. It is rather disingenuous, then, to couch it in terms that make KC look as if he is the one denying an open dialogue.

The South Africa analogy is a stupid one,. It ought to be dead in the water. It is a rhetorical tool intended to slur Israel rather than a historical analogy intended to enlight. There are small points of comparison that one may draw, but most often the comparison will result in clear contrasts, which of course does not serve the agenda of those who raise both cases, reveakling an understanding of neither. Oppose the Israeli course of action. Do not vacuously compare it to an evil regime out of some cheap sense of ahistorical grandstanding.


Robert KC Johnson - 2/5/2005

I'm unaware of any Israeli law that imposes racial restrictions on voting, nor am I aware of any Israeli political prisoners. As to the other points, I was simply responding to your question by listing the myriad differences between Israel and pre-1990 South Africa.

As to my agenda, if it's been my intent to hide it, I don't know that I've done a very good job: I support Israel's right to self-determination and believe that (somewhat to my surprise) Ariel Sharon has effectively balanced the pursuit of peace with the maintenance of security.

If there were academics in Middle East Studies departments who spent time in their courses intimidating pro-Palestinian students or organizing their classes around an intellectually dubious indictment of an Arab state, I'd similarly be concerned. I'm unaware of any academics who are following such a course, however.

Robert KC Johnson - 2/5/2005

Were it not for the current controversy, I would still object to the MEALAC event because of its deceptiveness--i.e., it called itself a balanced event, even though it was not. So I would think "truth in advertising" would be a good first start.

My criticism of MEALAC on the speakers' invites doesn't apply to Columbia--regarding outside speakers, Columbia clearly does bring in pro-Israel voices, and so balance exists.

Clearly not all speakers' panels need to be balanced--your example of the college repubs is a good one. And good academic administrators could resolve this issue (it seems to me) not through a formal policy, but simply by keeping in mind the need for ideological diversity in outside speakers.

I've been struck, for instance, at the enormous difference between Harvard and Brooklyn in this regard. Harvard has speakers from all sorts of ideological viewpoints; with the sole exception of the Brooklyn College Hillel (which is not technically a part of the college), I can't think of a moderate or conservative outside speaker at Brooklyn in the last two years--which, of course, is exactly as the Brooklyn administration desires.

There does, however, seem to me an important distinction between a student organization that is clearly partisan or ideological and an academic department that (at least theoretically) is supposed to be covering Middle Eastern matters from a variety of points of view. When such a department regularly sponsors events at which very extreme points of view are the norm, that might suggest a broader problem.

In light of the current controversy, that MEALAC has scheduled these two events--and that MEALAC professors have made the sort of arguments they have in them--confirms that the MEALAC folks don't think they've done anything wrong regarding their teaching of Middle Eastern matters. Were I a Columbia administrator, I'd certainly take notice.

Anthony Paul Smith - 2/5/2005

1)Yes it does. 2)Does that really make a big difference? 3)Yes it does. 4)No it doesn't, but that has more to do with American power than it does with the "goodness" of the Isreali state. 5)I'm pretty confidenct that the claim was made pre-1990 that South Africa gave more political freedoms than many of its neighbors, and knowing a Palestinian who is now a Citizen here and a conservative bible scholar who frequents Israel I don't think it is good enough. You are lowering the bar for "political freedoms". 6)Not sure the rulings have made much of a difference outside of convincing folks like yourself they have.

You criticism of the debate is fine, whatever, but you always seem to hide a deeper agenda beneath your "Free speech" rhetoric. It seems quite clear that if you didn't have to put up with folks who aren't pro-Israel you would be happier. Until such a time you'll keep calling for "free speech", as if the pro-Israel side doesn't get enough publicity.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/5/2005

I have another question, KC. We'd both agree, I think, that some university sanctioned activities make no pretense at balance. The Young Republicans are not required to balance a talk by Rick Santorum with a talk by Ted Kennedy. There are even some faculty-led forums that make no effort at balance: Viet Nam-era "teach-ins," for example. If you were drafting guidelines about what kinds of on-campus, university sanctioned events include an obligation of balance, how would you frame them? I assume, of course, that some events, such as a single speaker, can be balanced by another single speaker event.

Robert KC Johnson - 2/4/2005

With regard to a comparison between Israel and South Africa pre-1990: unlike South Africa pre-1990, Israel has no racial restrictions on voting and political participation. Unlike South Africa pre-1990, an elected leader of Israel has received the Nobel Peace Prize. Unlike South Africa pre-1990, Israel has no political prisoners. Unlike South Africa pre-1990, Israel does not operate under international sanctions. Unlike South Africa pre-1990, political freedoms in Israel are far greater than in any of its neighbors, and, indeed, greater than in most countries of the world. Unlike South Africa pre-1990, and despite the continuing security threat--hopefully diminished some by the recent actions of Pres. Abbas--Israel's Supreme Court has repeatedly, in recent years, ruled against the government in civil liberties cases. Unlike South Africa pre-1990, which repeatedly engaged in military intervention against its neighbors, Israel has more often than not been under attack from its neighbors, and has (with a few notable exceptions, such as the 1982 Lebanon intervention) attempted to negotiate with its enemies.

All that said, in this particular case, the title of the panel itself suggested that it would have a balance ("one state or two"), and then presented advocates only of one state. But, as we've discovered, that seems to be how Profs. Massad and Dabashi regularly operate.

Anthony Paul Smith - 2/4/2005


Robert KC Johnson - 2/4/2005


Anthony Paul Smith - 2/4/2005

Before 1990 were you demanding that academics who were pro-South Africa come speak in favor of apartheid to give balance to the debate?