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November 26, 2004

McCarthyism at Columbia

This is not the rhetorical kind.

This is the real thing.

Professors who have voiced anti-Israel views are being targetted by rightwing forces in order to silence unpopular views. Simple and direct McCarthyism:

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger plans "specific steps" soon in response to allegations that professors and lecturers at the Ivy League university made vitriolic and malicious comments against Israel in classes.
This assault follows a campaign by pro-Israel students campaigning against the students, culminating in an attack article in the New York Daily News:
In the world of Hamid Dabashi, supporters of Israel are "warmongers" and "Gestapo apparatchiks."
The Jewish homeland is "nothing more than a military base for the rising predatory empire of the United States."

It's a capital of "thuggery" - a "ghastly state of racism and apartheid" - and it "must be dismantled."

A voice from America's crackpot fringe? Actually, Dabashi is a tenured professor and department chairman at Columbia University. And his views have resonated and been echoed in other areas of the university.

Yes, how dare Columbia employ anyone other than those who agree with a single position on Israel? How can academic freedom survive if a diversity of viewpoints is allowed about Middle Eastern issues?

There are plenty of academics in American universities who describe Palestinians in equally unflattering terms and call for the end of their political project, namely a Palestinian homeland. So if it's acceptable to have anti-Palestinians in academia, why is there even a question about having people expressing opposing viewpoints?

We are seeing a raw edge of repression appearing from a lot of directions these days, but it might be worth reading this this piece by Arthur Hertzberg, a rabbi and scholar, who is the Bronfman Visiting Professor of Humanities at New York University, on the dangers of this kind of attack on academic freedom:

Certainly some blood does boil within the veins of concerned people, but I am very much afraid that those who would like to win arguments by charging that adversaries have limited their academic freedom may soon discover that those who would win by this sword can also lose in the same melee.

Jews have been the victims of comparable rhetoric and we only recently won the battle. For a long time, “Zionism is racism” was a favorite slogan of debates at the United Nations, and it took hard trench fighting to have it removed from the discussion — and the battle is not quite over. Are we Jews now going to be quick to say “ouch, our academic freedom is injured” when someone with a Ph.D. pronounces our Zionist views to be unacceptable?

Posted by Nathan at November 26, 2004 10:57 AM