Bias of Massad Is Being Noted in His Classes
Crisis At Columbia
BY JACOB GERSHMAN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 7, 2005
Here's a quiz.
Israel is: a) a Jewish supremacist state, b) the worst human-rights abuser in the Middle East, c) a major factor preventing the democratization of the Arab region, or d) all of the above.
If you answered "d," you would fit right in at a core-curriculum course at Columbia University taught by an assistant professor of modern Arab politics, Joseph Massad, who is a rising star of the university's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures.
Mr. Massad, author of the forthcoming book "The Persistence of the Palestinian Question," is best known as one of the Columbia scholars whose alleged mistreatment of Jewish students is at the center of a campus controversy that has attracted national attention from Jewish and academic leaders.
Though the dispute has focused on allegations of intimidation and harassment of students, the more common criticism brought up by students of Mr. Massad has to do not with the appropriateness of his conduct, but with the quality and content of his teaching.
Students of his say he is relentless in his condemnations of Israel and America, even in a course he taught in the fall called Topics in Asian Civilization, in which Israel, at least according to the syllabus, plays only a minor role.
Mr. Massad is not without his admirers. For some Columbia undergraduates, Mr. Massad's political convictions are his primary appeal.
"Many students take offense at the very quality that makes Massad such a brilliant academic and honest, effective teacher," one anonymous student posted on a Web site that collects reviews of Columbia professors and courses. "He neither claims nor supports purported academic 'objectivity.' He holds an intellectual conviction and offers rational, clear, and cogent arguments."
For other students, like sophomore Bari Weiss, taking one of his courses can be "suffocating."
In the fall semester, she was a student in Topics in Asian Civilization. Mr. Massad taught the second half and was responsible for covering a history of the Middle East from the beginnings of Islam to 20th-century Arab nationalism.
"The course was supposed to be all about the Middle East," Ms. Weiss said. "The amount of time he spent talking about Zionism or the Jewish nation or Jewish culture was inappropriate."
In previous semesters, Mr. Massad taught a seminar course on the Middle East conflict, but "under the duress of coercion and intimidation" he chose not to teach it this academic year, he wrote on his university Web site. One student who took the course in 2002, Deena Shanker, said Mr. Massad told her to leave the class if she persisted in denying that Israel committed atrocities against Palestinians. Mr. Massad, who refuses to speak to The New York Sun, has denied mistreating any students and has accused his critics of trying to censor his political views.
According to three students' course notes from Topics in Asian Civilization, including ones Ms. Weiss took, Mr. Massad in his lectures repeatedly likened Israel to apartheid South Africa, dismissed its legitimacy as a Jewish state, and almost never addressed human rights abuses in countries such as Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The other two students whose notes were obtained by the Sun did not want their names to be used in this article.
"I was shocked knowing what was going on in the Middle East and the egregious human-rights violations that the professor either glossed over them or ignored them completely," Ms. Weiss, 20, said. She is one of the students who have pressed Columbia to investigate the conduct of professors in the Middle East studies department.
"In nearly all of his lectures, professor Massad found a way to denounce Israel and the West," Ms. Weiss, who received an "A" for the course, said.
"We were not presented with any material that argued that Zionism is not racist," she said.
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